Offense's Quick Starts Have Ravens on Fast Track
You knew it was going to be a good day for the Ravens last Sunday when Lamar Jackson connected with Marquise "Hollywood" Brown on a 49-yard pass on the first play of the game. The Ravens scored a touchdown four players later en route to a 49-13 victory.
The fast start wasn't an anomaly. The Ravens (7-2) have scored on their opening drive eight times in nine games (six touchdowns, two field goals) this season, and have outscored opponents 85-24 in the first quarter. The Ravens' average of 9.4 first-quarter points ranks second in the league.
Getting ahead early has been one of the keys to the Ravens' success this year, as Penn Live's Aaron Kasinitz pointed out asserted. The only time the Ravens failed to score on their opening drive or lead after the first quarter was in their loss to the Cleveland Browns in Week 4.
"When ahead on the scoreboard, Baltimore can using its [top-ranked] rushing attack for 60 minutes, or at least make opponents wary of the possibility," Kasinitz wrote.
The offense's prodigious productivity early in games is a testament to how well Head Coach John Harbaugh and his staff have gotten the team ready to play. It's also a sign that Offensive Coordinator Greg Roman is doing a great job with his script. Coordinators go into games with a set number of plays scripted from the start, then adjust from there.
"Jackson's array of talents can put defenses in a bind," Kasinitz wrote. "And early in games, Roman and his players are taking advantage with laser-like efficiency."
Last Sunday, the Ravens immediately obliterated any concern they would suffer a letdown against the winless Bengals after an emotional victory over the previously undefeated Patriots the week prior.
"Sunday's game-opening pitch-and-catch was a good representation of how preparation, planning and skill can meld into a successful play," Kasinitz wrote. "The Ravens racked up a season-high 269 rushing yards when they beat the Bengals on Oct. 13, and before the first play of snap of Sunday's rematch, the offense trotted three tight ends onto the field.
"Cincinnati's defense committed to stopping the run when Jackson faked a handoff, and safety Jessie Bates crept up to cut off a short passing lane to tight end Mark Andrews. When that happened, Jackson said he knew Brown would be open over the top of the defense."
Thanks in large part to the Ravens' quick starts, they've rarely had to play from behind this season, but as Kasinitz noted, that could change as the team enters a tough stretch that begins with this Sunday's home game against the AFC South-leading Houston Texans.
If playing with the lead on a consistent basis could be considered a problem, it's not a bad one to have.
"Anytime you can get the lead, that's an advantage," Harbaugh said. "We want to get the lead. We want to keep the lead and extend the lead if we can. So, I really think our guys have done a good job of that. Being on point and coming out and being ready to play, that's really important."
Domata Peko, Justin Ellis Signings Were 'Sneaky Good Moves'
Domata Peko and Justin Ellis may not be household names to casual NFL fans, but that doesn't make the Ravens' acquisition of the two veteran defensive tackles this week any less significant.
Ravens General Manager Eric DeCosta continues to sign players during the season who can make an immediate impact and add depth. Linebackers L.J. Fort and Josh Bynes and defensive lineman Jihad Ward fit the mold, as do Peko and Ellis, who were signed to bolster the defensive line in light of Michael Pierce nursing an ankle injury.
Ebony Bird's Chris Schisler referred to the acquisitions of Peko and Ellis as "sneaky good moves."
"The Ravens signed two solid players," Schisler wrote. "These are under-the-radar players who have experience. They will strengthen the defensive front for a Ravens defense that has already been getting better."
Peko started all 16 regular-season games 10 times in his 13-year career with the Cincinnati Bengals and Denver Broncos, while Ellis started 42 games over five seasons with the Oakland Raiders. Both players are adept at stopping the run.
"Peko has a reputation as being a tough nose guard," Schisler wrote. "He's a guy who will do some of the dirty work in the trenches. If you think older Michael Pierce, that's exactly what the Ravens got here. Peko isn't flashy but he can push the pocket a little bit and he's hard to move out of his gap.
"[Ellis is] only 28, has starting experience and probably has a good bit of football left in the tank. In 2017 he was in on 48 tackles. If Ellis can return to the level of play he gave the Raiders, the Ravens just got a solid contributor for their defensive front."
In addition to Peko and Ellis helping the Ravens defend the run, they also could boost the pass rush.
"Whether or not Ellis and Peko provide more interior pass rush, they will make life easier on blitzing linebackers and defensive backs," Schisler wrote. "Expect more stunts and more ways for Don Martindale to bring pressure, because that was happening one way or another."
Six Ravens Who Should Make Their First Pro Bowl
While Ravens players have made it clear they're focused on team goals rather than individual accolades, there's no denying a number of them are making a strong case for the Pro Bowl.
Ravens Wire's Matthew Stevens identified six Ravens who could be in line to make their first Pro Bowl. Here's what he had to say about each of them:
Jackson: "Forget about the stats — though there are plenty to use as reasoning for Jackson to be in the Pro Bowl. Jackson has been electric on the field this season, both with his legs and arm. He's made Pro Bowl players tackle thin air and he's torched some solid secondaries. The NFL's all-star game is supposed to highlight the best and most exciting players, and Jackson is the epitome."
CB Marlon Humphrey: "Beyond his coverage skills, Humphrey has put up more points than plenty of offensive players. Humphrey has recovered three fumbles this season, returning two for touchdowns. He also has two interceptions in spite of not being targeted very often by opposing quarterbacks. Right when the Ravens have needed a big defensive play, Humphrey has routinely been the guy to show up and give it to them."
TE Mark Andrews: "In his second season, Andrews has cemented himself as one of the best receiving tight ends in the league. Those that paid attention to his rookie campaign saw it coming, but that doesn't make this season any less special for Andrews."
TE Nick Boyle: "Boyle is without a doubt one of the best blocking tight ends in the league. When the Ravens need an extra blocker on the offensive line, they'll almost always use Boyle effectively as a tackle. But this season has seen Boyle step up his game as a receiving option."
OT Ronnie Stanley: "Stanley has been the best pass-blocking left tackle in the league, according to Pro Football Focus. He's allowed no sacks on 319 pass-blocking snaps so far this season. While Stanley gets top grades for pass protection, people often forget just how impressive he is in the run game as well."
FB/DL Patrick Ricard: "Ricard is a big reason why the Ravens have been so excellent running the ball this season. His tenacity as a blocker is to be expected, but it's Ricard's surprising speed that has seen him used quite often to block outside the tackles on run plays, helping spring Jackson on more than one occasion. … Ricard is also incredibly versatile. While I listed him as a fullback and defensive lineman, he's also been thrown in at tight end more than a few times this season. He's a rotational player on the defensive line and even plays on special teams."
Pro Bowl voting opened Tuesday, and the Ravens have many players deserving of post-season honors.