Are Ravens No Longer One of Top Two Teams in AFC?
The prevailing opinion before the season began was that the AFC was a two-team race between the defending Super Bowl champion Kansas City Chiefs and Ravens, the team with the best regular-season record last year.
However, the combination of the Ravens' convincing loss to the Chiefs last week and the fact that they have yet to hit on all cylinders thus far has some pundits questioning whether Baltimore is still one of the two best teams in the AFC.
That notion is balderdash, according to NFL.com's Adam Schein.
"Yes, the idle Steelers and Titans are 3-0. Yes, I lead the league in Bills love and they've earned their 4-0 mark. Heck, with Indy's defense, don't rule out the 3-1 Colts," Schein wrote. "But it's still Baltimore. Shame on you if you downgraded the Ravens after the loss to Kansas City.
"The Chiefs are the defending champs and clear favorites to win the Super Bowl again. Baltimore lost in prime time to Patrick Mahomes and Co. No shame in that. And no surprise, Lamar Jackson and Mark Andrews bounced back with an easy win over Washington. Baltimore and Kansas City remain on an AFC Championship Game collision course."
Schein's point is well taken. On the other hand, several teams do appear to have closed the gap with the Chiefs and Ravens.
"This season began with only one team really having a serious chance of upending the Chiefs in Kansas City's quest for a second straight championship: The Baltimore Ravens," NFL.com's Jeffri Chadiha wrote. "Now it feels as if the list of quality contenders has ballooned as the first quarter of the season comes to a close.
"The Pittsburgh Steelers are legit. The Cleveland Browns are much improved. The Buffalo Bills have a blossoming star quarterback in Josh Allen and the Ravens – even after suffering a Monday night beatdown by Kansas City a week ago – still have enough talent to be considered a threat."
After seeing the New England Patriots hang with the Chiefs into the fourth quarter on the road last night despite not having starting quarterback Cam Newton, a strong case can be made that they should be in the conversation as well.
As for the Ravens, Ebony Bird's Chris Schisler said fans shouldn't be overly concerned at this point in the season about the team's uneven play.
"The expectations for the Ravens are too high for anyone to be happy. It's that simple," Schisler wrote. "The Ravens are supposed to be one of the best teams in the NFL. They are supposed to be legitimate contenders for the Super Bowl. The fact of the matter is that everything is still on the table. This team looks more put together than the 2012 team did that won it all. They have more going for them than the 2000 Super Bowl team did during their touchdown drought.
"Perfection has become the expectation. That's not happening, especially without a normal training camp and without the NFL preseason. … Let's get to a rough spot against a team that's not the Kansas City Chiefs (the world champs for a reason) before we lose confidence. Until then, enjoy wins no matter how they come."
The Reason Certain Players Haven't Been More Involved in the Offense
For those wondering why running backs Gus Edwards and rookie J.K. Dobbins aren't getting more touches, and rookie wide receivers Devin Duvernay and James Proche II aren't getting more snaps, The Athletic's Jeff Zrebiec said the answer is simple: The Ravens haven't had as many long drives as they did in 2019.
The Ravens are averaging 58 offensive plays per game and possessing the ball for just over 30 minutes this season, down from 67 plays last year and 34:37 average time of possession. Of teams that have played four games, only the Houston Texans (224) and Minnesota Vikings (223) have run fewer offensive plays than the Ravens' 232.
"Offensive Coordinator Greg Roman would surely like to get all four more involved, but the reality is, the Ravens just aren't running many offensive plays," Zrebiec wrote. "That's not necessarily a bad thing. The Ravens had two- and three-play touchdown drives Sunday. You'll take the quick strikes all the time. But they do impact how much the Ravens are able to get their myriad offensive players involved."
Those players include running back Mark Ingram II, who's averaging five fewer carries than last year; wide receiver Marquise "Hollywood" Brown (eight fewer targets than at this time last year); and Andrews (12 fewer targets).
"The Ravens haven't been able to spread the ball around and get as many players as involved as they'd like. They just haven't had enough plays to do that," Zrebiec wrote. "If they start maintaining a few more drives or circumstances change a bit with their possessions, I think you'll see them diversify who is getting the touches a little bit more."
Ravens' Light Travel Schedule Is an Advantage in More Ways Than One
If NFL teams flew commercial, the Ravens wouldn't be racking up many frequent flyer miles.
The Ravens will not board a plane again until Week 9 when they play at Indianapolis. It'll be their first flight since returning from Houston after their Week 2 win over the Texans.
"I think the Ravens won't get travel fatigue anytime soon," NBC Sports Peter King wrote. "In the 47 days between Sept. 21 and Nov. 6, Baltimore's schedule includes two trips: the 43-mile bus ride south to FedEx Field in the Washington burbs, and the 104-mile bus ride north to south Philadelphia."
The light travel schedule is even more of an advantage during a pandemic.
"Traveling takes a lot of time and energy in a normal world, but now especially with all the strict protocols in place," NBC Sports Washington's Ethan Cadeaux wrote. "By not having any long trips until November, Baltimore will assuredly be well-rested and ready to play their best football come game day."
Cadeaux noted that by not having to fly for the next several weeks, the Ravens can avoid a scenario like the one involving the Patriots this week, should Baltimore have a player or multiple players test positive for COVID-19. The Patriots' game in Kansas City originally scheduled for Sunday was pushed back to last night because Newton tested positive.
"New England did not depart for Kansas City until Monday morning, as the NFL made an exception for same-day travel due to the situation," Cadeaux wrote. "The Patriots were also forced to take two airplanes: one with players who came in close proximity of Newton, and one with those who didn't."
Handing Out Quarter*-*Mark Superlatives
Ebony Bird's Darren McCann offered his Ravens superlatives at the quarter mark of the season:
MVP and Top Offensive Player: Jackson
"Jackson has thrown for 769 yards, seven touchdowns and one pick. Spread out over a 16-game season, that would give Jackson 3,076 passing yards, 28 touchdowns and four interceptions — good for a passer rating of 111.3 Psst … that is good. He's also on pace to run for another 940 yards and four more touchdowns, and he's sat out some time with comfortable leads."
Top Defensive Player: CB Marlon Humphrey
"Calais Campbell is making his presence known, with batted passes if nothing else. But Humphrey is defending receivers inside and out, making sure tackles and causing game-changing fumbles."
Top Rookie: ILB Patrick Queen
"He is on pace for 132 tackles and four sacks, and made a highlight-reel goal-line stop against Washington. Queen is fast and aggressive, and will only get better with more experience and a clearer understanding of NFL offenses."
Top Coach:Offensive Line CoachJoe D'Alessandris
"Missing Marshal Yanda and juggling bodies to play different roles, the line is playing fine to this stage, and that is a testament to D'Alessandris. Last year's team was led by a steady diet of the same guys manning the line, and they impressed beyond expectations."