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Eisenberg: The Chess Match Stage for the Ravens Offense


The Ravens rolled out a truly overwhelming offense in the first seven games of their nine-game winning streak, averaging 35.8 points and 405 yards per contest.

But in their most recent wins, over the San Francisco 49ers and Buffalo Bills, they averaged 22 points and 270 yards – declines of 36 percent and 33 percent, according to my math.

The 49ers and Bills did a better job containing Lamar Jackson, limited the league's No. 1 rushing attack and kept the score close, even though the Ravens still did enough to win both games.

It's quite a statement that I'm asking questions about a pair of games in which Jackson threw for four touchdowns, ran for another and went 2-0, but nonetheless, I'm asking one question in particular:

Have we reached the chess-match stage of the 2019 season?

That is, have defenses started to adjust to Jackson and his record-setting attack, which means the time has come for the Ravens to adjust to what defenses are doing?

It's quite possible.

Yes, there could be other explanations for the diminished production of the past two weeks. Bad weather certainly was a factor. Injuries knocked center Matt Skura out for the season and forced Jackson's top receiving target, Mark Andrews, to miss most of the Buffalo game.

But regardless, the 49ers had relative success with a plan that included edge defenders staying in their lanes rather than rushing the quarterback, basically building a fence to keep Jackson from escaping to the outside. The Bills took a similar approach and also aggressively filled interior gaps, pushing Jackson back and giving Baltimore ball carriers less daylight to run through.

"They definitely had a plan and beyond. I think they did some of what San Francisco did to us," Ravens tight end Hayden Hurst said of the Bills.

Does that mean the league's defensive coordinators have "figured out" Jackson and the Ravens' offense?

It's a question we've heard before. Remember when the Los Angeles Chargers supposedly solved Jackson for everyone in last season's playoff defeat? How did that work out?

"I don't even know what that means," Ravens Head Coach John Harbaugh said when the figure-him-out scenario arose in a conference call with the Buffalo media last week.

(Idle question: When Tom Brady has a bad game, do experts wonder if the league has figured him out?)

My two cents, what mostly happened in these past two games was the Ravens just played tougher defenses. San Francisco and Buffalo are Nos. 2 and 3 in this week's league rankings. Seattle, Cincinnati and Houston, whom the Ravens thrashed earlier in the winning streak, are ranked in the bottom third.

Give the 49ers and Bills credit for playing a caliber of defense that most other teams can't replicate.

But by faring relatively well playing a certain way, San Francisco and Buffalo almost surely offered a template for others to attempt to recreate. That could lead to Ravens Offensive Coordinator Greg Roman countering with his own adjustments. He has no shortage of options.

"He's got the biggest playbook I've ever seen," guard Marshal Yanda said recently. "We do a ton of stuff, keep defenses on edge every single week. He's going to throw new wrinkles at them, keep them honest and that's what you've got to do."

I wouldn't be surprised to see more of those new wrinkles as soon as Thursday night's game against the New York Jets. The Ravens' players and coaches have repeatedly commented on the variable nature of Roman's running game, how they can do multiple things out of the same look. A few deep pass completions also could alter how defenses approach Baltimore.

Please understand: I don't think anyone should be wringing their hands over this. The Ravens are 11-2 and zeroing in on the No. 1 seed in the AFC playoffs. They've never scored less than 20 points in a game. All is well.

I'm just wondering if some adjustments might be coming because that's what coaches do, study and adjust.

"There will always be the chess game, the back and forth of the scheme part of it," Harbaugh told the Buffalo media last week. "Boy, you'd better be staying ahead at this level."

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