Multi-Dimensional Ravens Offense Is Giving Defenses Plenty to Worry About
It's often been said that the Ravens' run-heavy offense led by Lamar Jackson is an example of zigging while the rest of the league is zagging.
However, this season — especially the past two games — the Ravens have proven that they can zag with the best of them when they want to. In doing so, they've debunked the notion that they're one-dimensional on offense.
As much fun as it is to watch Jackson break a defender's ankles when he runs the ball, seeing him blow up game plans designed to stop the run is both entertaining and gratifying.
"In training camp, the Ravens' coaches and players talked about the importance of making teams pay for trying to slow down their run game. It seemed like a big challenge for a passing game that ranked last in the NFL last season," ESPN’s Jamison Hensley wrote. "But Baltimore has been in attack mode through the air all season.
"On Sunday [against the Denver Broncos], Jackson connected on the longest pass of his career (in terms of air yards), when he threw a spectacular 49-yard touchdown pass to Marquise 'Hollywood' Brown. Jackson's 19 completions of 20-plus yards ranks third in the NFL this season, trailing Tom Brady and Derek Carr."
The Ravens have gained more yards through the air than on the ground in three of their four games this season. In Jackson's 37 starts prior to this season, the Ravens had more yards rushing than passing 22 times. In the past two games, Baltimore has passed for 575 yards and rushed for 218.
"This is the development that Ravens fans and [Offensive Coordinator Greg Roman's] critics have been waiting years for," Ebony Bird’s Justin Fried wrote. "The Ravens are busting narratives."
The Baltimore Sun’s Jonas Shaffer noted that play-action is a significant factor in the success of the Ravens' passing attack this season.
"Jackson's technical improvements and an upgraded receiving corps explain part of the Ravens' recent passing boom. But so does their reliance on run fakes," Shaffer wrote. " … With every run fake supercharging the Ravens' passing attack and fortifying their pass protection, defenses have been caught between two impulses: Stop Jackson as a runner, or worry about him more as a passer?"
On Jackson's 54 play-action dropbacks, he's completed 72.2 percent of his passes for 542 yards — a remarkable 10 yards per attempt — and no interceptions, per Shaffer.
It's not as if the Ravens have eschewed the running game and suddenly become a pass-happy offense. The point is that they are putting opposing defenses into a "damned if you do, damned if you don't" predicament.
The Broncos, who have a talented secondary, stacked the box in an effort to contain the Ravens' running game and dared Jackson to beat them throwing the ball. Jackson made them pay, as he threw for 316 yards, which was just eight yards shy of equaling his career high.
"But NFL defenses adjust in real time, and where the Broncos fell short Sunday, the Colts might overcompensate next week," Shaffer wrote. "If Indianapolis' biggest worry Monday night is the threat of the run fake, though, the Ravens probably won't mind running and running until they're stopped. Just like they used to."
With the offense showing another dimension, the Ravens inched up in one power rankings this week.
|Source||Ranking||Last Week’s Ranking||Comments|
|NFL.com||No. 5||No. 5||“[Lamar] Jackson threw for more than 300 yards for just the second time in his career, while Marquise ‘Hollywood’ Brown atoned for his disastrous Week 3 with a gorgeous diving touchdown catch. The defense took it home: Don ‘Wink’ Martindale's group allowed just 254 yards of offense. It can take time, but the Ravens always seem to figure it out on that side of the ball.”|
|Bleacher Report||No. 8||No. 8||“The Ravens are an overtime loss in Vegas away from being undefeated and won't play a game on the road until Nov. 11. A 5-2 or 6-1 record at the bye is a real possibility, and the Ravens are looking the part of the team to beat in the AFC North.”|
|ESPN||No. 7||No. 7||“Baltimore ranked last in the NFL in passing last season, and Jackson finished 22nd in passing yards in each of the past two years. This season, Jackson has really stretched the field. His 19 completions of 20-plus yards rank third in the NFL, trailing only Tom Brady (23) and Derek Carr (21).”|
|Sports Illustrated||No. 8||No. 6||/ “I like that John Harbaugh made the decision to run one final play instead of kneeling out the clock so his team could keep alive its streak of 100-yard rushing games (43, tying the 1970s Steelers). One of the reasons the Ravens have had success with Lamar Jackson is that they’ve unapologetically gone all-in on an offensive identity that bucks the rest of the league. The 100-yard rushing streak is part of that identity, and because of that, Harbaugh knew it was important to keep it going.”|
|CBS Sports||No. 10||No. 13||“That was an impressive road victory against the Broncos. The defense had its best game of the season, which is a good sign.”|
|USA Today||No. 7||No. 6||“Really impressive all they've overcome en route to a solid 3-1 start ... even as unimpressive as John Harbaugh's decision to manufacture a record Sunday was.”|
Greg Roman, Wink Martindale Won Key Battles Against Broncos
The Ravens had a good day on both sides of the ball in Denver, and Russell Street Report’s Dev Panchwagh said Roman and Defensive Coordinator Wink Martindale deserve credit for their game plans.
Panchwagh noted that Roman was aggressive throwing the ball on first down, while Martindale "pitched a near perfect game for the defense on third down."
"In the first half alone, Wink's defense forced six third-and-7 or longer attempts. The results were two sacks, three incompletions and one penalty," Panchwagh wrote. "For the entire game, Denver converted three out of 14 third-down attempts.
"Wink used a varied approach to keep quarterback Teddy Bridgewater guessing. He mostly relied on a contained pass rush approach — usually four or five rushers. He showed some pre-snap movement but would drop blitzers into coverage to muddy the passing windows Bridgewater typically targets to keep the chains moving. The front responded by winning their one-on-one matchups and collapsing the pocket."
Chuck Clark Has Taken His Game to a New Level
Since becoming the Ravens' starting safety in 2019, Chuck Clark has been a steady player and team leader. So far this season, the businesslike Clark has played better than ever.
"Clark has been a good player for some time now, but has never entered the upper echelon of safeties and/or defensive backs in the league," Baltimore Beatdown’s Frank Platko wrote. "His play through Week 4 of the 2021 regular season screams one thing: it's time to change this narrative.
"The wily veteran has always made his mark by doing the little things, many of which don't show up in the box score: relaying play calls on defense, reading offenses before the snap, being in the right place at the right time, etc. He's still executing these nuances at a high level so far this season, but he's taken his game to a new level."
Clark's Pro Football Focus grade of 76.3 ranks in the top five among qualified safeties. He had his best game in the Ravens' win over the Detroit Lions in Week 3, when he was the team's highest-graded defensive player (87.8), according to PFF.
Clark's play this season has been especially important for a defense that has suffered more than its share of injuries, especially in the secondary.
"Take a second to imagine where the Ravens defense, and team as a whole for that matter, would be without him this season. The answer? Almost certainly in a much worse place," Platko wrote. "The Ravens have had their share of challenges and ups-and-downs already. They've managed to weather an early storm that could have derailed most teams. Players like Clark are a big reason why."
Ravens Select Mountainous Offensive Tackle in Mock Draft
In CBS Sports’ Ryan Wilson’s latest mock draft, he has the Ravens addressing the offensive line in a big way – a really big way. Wilson has Baltimore selecting mountainous offensive tackle Daniel Faalele of Minnesota, who is 6-foot-9 and 380 pounds, with the 24th-overall pick.
"Faalele, who opted out last season, weighs in the 380-pound range but moves more like he is a hundred pounds lighter," Wilson wrote. "Given the importance of the running game to the Ravens offense, adding an earth mover seems logical. Added bonus: Faalele is a solid pass protector, too."
Ravens Wire’s Kevin Oestreicher wrote: "Selecting an offensive lineman makes sense for the Ravens, especially a tackle considering that depth at the position has been a question mark in recent years. Faalele would be a great selection if he were to fall to Baltimore in the back-half of the first round."
- The Ravens were voted the second-most analytically advanced team in the league in an ESPN survey of analytics staffers across the league.