Pundits Debate Ravens' Season-Long Outlook
The last two times the Ravens have started 5-1, it's ended with a Super Bowl title.
Oddsmakers still give Baltimore one of the best chances to hoist the Lombardi Trophy this season, but Sunday's 30-28 win over the Philadelphia Eagles left pundits with more questions than answers on the Ravens' season-long outlook.
"The Ravens improved to 5-1 for the first time since their Super Bowl seasons in 2000 and 2012," ESPN's Jamison Hensley wrote. "But no one will be talking about title aspirations after a win in Philadelphia."
"Yes, the Ravens are 5-1, but they seem no closer to fixing some of their nagging problems than they did a week ago, and it almost cost them against a depleted Eagles team that was rightly booed in the first half," The Baltimore Sun's Jonas Shaffer wrote. "Yes, the Ravens are 5-1, and the franchise's only two teams to start with five wins in six games went on to win the Super Bowl. But from week to week, from quarter to quarter, from play to play, they look at times like a team with all the pieces and only a faint idea of how to put them all together."
It was the first regular season win by single digits since last year's 24-17 Week 14 win against the Buffalo Bills. After leading 17-0 at halftime and 30-14 with four minutes left, it shouldn't have been so close.
There's something to be said about grinding out a tough win on the road, but it's fair to question where the Ravens stand among the NFL's best right now.
"It's true that in the NFL, a win's a win," USA Today's Mike Jones wrote. "None of them are easy, no matter what the box score suggests. But Baltimore — a team that, at 14-2, boasted the best record in the NFL last season and aims to make a deep postseason run this season — should have handily dispatched the likes of Cleveland, Washington, Houston, Cincinnati and Philadelphia, who own a combined 8-20-2 record.
"If the Ravens are to entrench themselves among the league's elite, some of the struggles from Sunday's game can't persist."
"You add up all the issues and they don't quite paint the picture of a 5-1 team, but that's where the Ravens are heading into their bye week, and [Deshon] Elliott and [John] Harbaugh put it best: They need to get a lot better," The Athletic's Jeff Zrebiec added.
Offense Lacks Firepower Beyond Lamar Jackson's Legs
On a day where the offense wasn't consistent through the air, Jackson proved lethal with his legs.
Late in the third quarter, Jackson took the snap and burst up the middle. He went untouched 37 yards to extend the Ravens' lead to 24-6.
NFL Next Gen stats clocked Jackson at 21.01 mph, the fastest speed he's reached on any play in his career.
Jackson finished with 108 rushing yards and a touchdown on nine carries, looking like his explosive self.
"Whether Jackson is completing passes or smacking the ground in frustration after missing on a throw, he still changes the game with his legs and did so again today," Press Box's Bo Smolka wrote. "After a long Eagles touchdown run cut the Ravens lead to 17-6, the Ravens faced third-and-3 from the Eagles' 37-yard line in what suddenly appeared to be a critical possession.
"... Jackson finished with nine carries for 108 yards, including two victory-formation kneel-downs, and even when the passing game is out of rhythm, he again showed he is capable of instant offense on every snap."
The problem was that Jackson's legs were really the only explosive part of the Ravens offense against the Eagles.
"In effect, Sunday's output might as well have been a microcosm of the offensive's performance through six games," Zrebiec wrote. "The Ravens scored 30 points and had 355 total yards. They flashed their offensive potential at times. But overall, they mostly leaned on getting short fields — of their six scoring drives, three started in Eagles territory — and moments of brilliance from Jackson.
"Otherwise, the Ravens didn't mount a consistent offensive attack. Whether it's because of penalties, offensive line busts or just a lack of execution from others, it's becoming a weekly storyline."
Marquise 'Hollywood' Brown was limited to just 57 yards on four catches. Mark Andrews finished with two catches for 21 yards, and no other receiver was targeted more than four times.
The presence of Fletcher Cox and Malik Jackson forced Jackson to rely on side arm throws as he completed just 59 percent of his passes.
Through six games, the offense hasn't played up to the historic level of last season. But even on days when the Ravens aren't dominating teams through the air, Jackson's threat as a runner gives them another thing to account for.
Jackson looked like himself on the ground as the rest of the offense still works to find their identity.
Bye Week Comes at the Perfect Time as a Season-Defining Stretch Awaits
If there's any such thing as the perfect bye week, pundits believe the Ravens have it. Because the Steelers-Titans game was moved due to a COVID outbreak, the Ravens' bye week was moved up from Week 8 to Week 7.
"If you had said before the season that the Ravens would win five of their first six games this season, almost everyone would have said, 'Sign me up!'" Baltimore Beatdown's Frank Platko wrote. "[T]his is a strange occurrence in which the Ravens 5-1 record on the year feels about as hollow as it could possibly be. This undoubtedly can be chalked up somewhat to lofty expectations, as the Ravens are now held to the standard of the 14-win, historically good football team that we saw in the regular season last year.
"With that being said, though, it's clear that the Ravens have quite a few kinks to smooth over and hash out. Sans the fourth quarter of Sunday's game and a poor showing against the Chiefs in Week 3, the Ravens defense has been fantastic."
Since 2008, Baltimore is 11-3 with an NFL-best 78.6 win percentage coming off a bye.
The extra time allows injuries to heal and adjustments to be made. It's even more important for the Ravens this season considering their upcoming schedule. Their next seven games are all against teams with winning records.
"The Ravens go into the bye week at 5-1 with their only loss coming against the defending Super Bowl champion Kansas City Chiefs," Smolka wrote. "It's a strong record, but to be sure, the schedule has been somewhat forgiving. Their past three opponents now have a collective record of 3-13-2.
"Last year's 14-2 run was driven by a remarkable stretch of top-notch execution with five wins in seven weeks over teams that eventually made the playoffs. The Ravens play throughout the next five games is going to have a lot to do with what their January looks like."
'Peanut' Tillman Happy to See Marlon Humphrey's 'Fruit Punch'
Marlon Humphrey's "Fruit Punch" is becoming a weekly occurrence. This time, his forced fumble on Greg Ward late in the third quarter rolled out of bounds, but it's becoming a signature move.
No one is happier to see that than the punch-out master himself, Charles "Peanut" Tillman, a former Chicago Bears cornerback who had a staggering 44 forced fumbles during his 12-year career.
"Really, it's just like, 'Dang, they're doing it. It's about time,'" Tillman told Shaffer. "... You don't just get out there and throw a haymaker. It's jab, jab. You throw a couple combos, and you're waiting to set that defender up, that fighter up, that opponent up. And then, at the last second, you shoot your shot."
Sunday marked the 19th straight game with a forced turnover by the Ravens defense. It's the longest active streak in the NFL.
"At Ravens practices, takeaways are a watchword," Shaffer wrote. "The defense keeps a running tally of forced fumbles. The only person who prioritizes punch-outs more than coordinator Don 'Wink' Martindale might be Mike Tyson."
Humphrey is making a good case to be considered one of the elite defenders when it comes to forcing fumbles, and he's got the attention from one of the best in that department.
A Reminder That Justin Tucker is Still Really Good
Death, taxes, and Justin Tucker.
In a year where things have been anything but normal, Tucker's leg remains a constant.
He proved again why he's the NFL's best kicker, finishing 3-for-3 on field goals and extra points, including a 55-yard kick that was probably good from at least 60.
After the game, Tucker said he did his best Tony Romo impression in the booth when lining up for the long kick.
- As Devin Duvernay continues to become more involved in the offense, Penn Live's Aaron Kasinitz has his stock going up.