Three years ago, the Ravens went into the bye week with the assignment of a complete offensive overhaul. They were switching from Joe Flacco to rookie Lamar Jackson.
This year, the Ravens offense ranks fourth in the league in yards per game and the passing attack has gone from 32nd to ninth.
There's a lot to like about Jackson and the Ravens offense this season. On Monday, Quarterbacks Coach James Urban was asked whether Jackson has been better this season than he was in 2020, or even during his 2019 MVP campaign.
"I think he's better this year than he has been, and I hope that he's better next week than he was this week," Urban said. "That's just how we have to do it. We're always trying to get better – every single day, tick by tick."
If Baltimore is going to make a second-half playoff run, especially given all the injuries the team has sustained, Jackson is going to have to consistently play at a very high level. That means continuing to develop his game with Urban.
Urban said Jackson's improvements this season can generally be attributed to a "natural progression."
"Not to discount all the hard work that he's put in – he has. Not to discount some of the schemes that we've put in," Urban said. "He's in Year Four in this league, and that's the progression you need to make."
Urban said Jackson's consistency with his mechanics is "much improved," which has led to a more consistent throwing motion and better passing.
Jackson's overall completion percentage is about the same as last year (64.9 this year versus 64.4 last season), but he's hitting on more difficult throws – deeper and to the sidelines. Among all starting quarterbacks who have played every game, Jackson has the highest average depth of target in the league, per Pro Football Focus, and is fourth in yards gained per passing attempt.
Opponents are squeezing the middle of the field and Jackson has made them pay in other areas of the field. Jackson has been cooking with his outside wide receivers this year, as Marquise "Hollywood" Brown already has 566 receiving yards, the seventh-most in the league.
Urban said that consistency has opened up more possibilities for the Ravens' passing attack.
"Yes, there have been some areas where we've certainly been able to magnify that a little bit more than what it's been in the past, but some of that is [that] we have some players on the outside who are really making plays, as well – with all of our wide receivers outside," Urban said.
There are some areas where Jackson can certainly improve moving forward this season, and that's what the Ravens will drill into during the bye.
Baltimore has been getting off to slow starts over the past five games. The Ravens have only scored once in the first quarter over that span, a 14-yard rushing touchdown by Latavius Murray versus the Chargers. The Ravens got six yards and punted on their first two drives against the Bengals.
Part of the challenge is that opposing defenses continue to unleash unique plans against the Ravens offense. They've been cooking up plans for Jackson and Baltimore's atypical offense all offseason. Thus, part of every game is figuring out what defenses are going to do and adjusting on the fly.
However, Urban said the Ravens can't try to guess what new wrinkle the opponent is going to break out in an attempt to start faster.
"We don't chase ghosts in our room. We don't talk about 'what-ifs' and 'what could be,'" Urban said. "We look at the film, we study the film, and then we're focused on us. That's our goal – our execution. Our mentality is, 'It doesn't matter how they line up, we have plays and schemes, [and] as long as we execute, we'll defeat those schemes.'"
Jackson also has to be careful not to try to do too much. With running backs J.K. Dobbins and Gus Edwards on the shelf, as well as All-Pro left tackle Ronnie Stanley done for the year and other injuries along the offensive line, Jackson is carrying the offensive load. No player in the league has accounted for a higher percentage of his team's yards.
But Jackson has already thrown five interceptions, which is more than half of the career-high nine he posted last year. Part of that is because he's throwing the ball more with 32 attempts per game this season versus 25 per game last year, but any unforced errors bother him.
Jackson has also been sacked 21 times so far this season, tied for the second-most in the league. He's often tried to buy more time and make a play happen with his legs, but that has sometimes gotten him in trouble.
"That has to do with him always wanting to make a play, which is a great thing, right?" Urban said. "You'd rather coach him down than coach him up. You'd rather say, 'Hey, listen, just take what they give you,' instead of, 'Go try to do it.' So, that's a good fault to have. He's maturing in that way."
Jackson is off to another MVP-caliber start this season, but he's coming off the most lopsided loss of his NFL career and one of his personally tougher games of the year. Immediately after Sunday's game, Jackson said he was still too mad about the loss to think about how he planned to spend his bye.
"We just move on. They played a great game. I feel like our guys played a great game as well, a little bit, here and there," Jackson said. "But they got the 'W.' We're going to go into next week, [and] we're going to work, see where we messed up at when we watched film and move on."