Lack of Big Plays in Passing Game Continues to Be a Concern
There was an expectation before the start of the season that Marquise "Hollywood" Brown would have a breakout year and fellow second-year wide receiver Mikes Boykin also would take a big step forward.
Neither has happened to this point, as a lack of big plays in the passing game continues to be a glaring issue for the Ravens.
In the 23-17 loss to the New England Patriots Sunday night, the speedy Brown had difficulty getting separation and finished with two catches for 14 yards. In his past three games, Brown has six catches for 55 yards and a touchdown. Boykin did not receive a target and played just 19 snaps against New England.
"After talking all offseason about the need to create more big plays downfield, the Ravens have remarkably regressed in this area and the bar wasn't especially high," The Athletic's Jeff Zrebiec wrote.
ESPN's Randy Moss expressed a similar sentiment.
"I've been critical all season about the Baltimore Ravens. They have no big-play wide receiver on the outside for Lamar Jackson," Moss said. "Mark Andrews is a big factor in that offense, but he only works the middle of the field. Lamar Jackson needs a big-play wide receiver on the outside. Why? Because the defense has to respect that, and that's going to open up lanes in the running game, that's going to open up lanes in the passing game.
"Until the Baltimore Ravens get a No. 1 wide receiver with a big catch radius that Lamar Jackson needs, they're going to remain a running team."
Former Ravens wide receiver Qadry Ismail, who was tweeting his observations during Sunday night's game, was critical of Brown's performance.
On a positive note, rookie Devin Duvernay has seen a significant increase in snaps over the past four games and made seven catches for 115 yards during that span.
"[Duvernay] continues to present himself as an effective receiving option," Zrebiec wrote. "That play on the Ravens' first long touchdown drive, where Duvernay went in motion and Jackson hit him with a swing pass that gained 19 yards is the type of play that [Offensive Coordinator Greg] Roman needs to dial up more to get the ball in the hands of Duvernay and Brown."
Veteran Willie Snead IV, who has 14 receptions for 207 yards and two touchdowns over the past three games, has emerged as a reliable target for Jackson. But the Ravens need more big plays.
It's Time to Accept This Isn't Last Year's Ravens
Last November, the Ravens went 4-0, outscoring the Patriots, Cincinnati Bengals, Houston Texans and Los Angeles Rams, 172-46. This November, the Ravens are 1-2, equaling their total number of losses all season in 2019.
If it wasn't already apparent, it's obvious now that the Ravens' magical 2019 season has not carried over into 2020.
"Throughout the offseason, the thought of the Ravens picking up where they left off in a franchise-record 14-2 campaign a year ago was appealing, if for no reason other than to ease the disappointment of that shocking playoff loss to Tennessee last January," WNST's Luke Jones wrote. "Surely no team would challenge Baltimore in the AFC North as a few even dared to ask if John Harbaugh's team might go undefeated.
"It was a ridiculous notion in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic that can provide serious challenges at a moment's notice, but such discussion reflected how special last season truly was and how easy the Ravens made it look until that stunning Titans loss. It's time to stop waiting for that switch to be flipped. This isn't the same team."
Said ESPN's Dan Orlovsky: "This is not last year's Baltimore Ravens and we all need to accept that. Last year on offense Baltimore was two things: they were explosive and they were dominant. Explosive both in the run and the pass game. That's not happening this year. They were dominating at the line of scrimmage. That's not happening this year.
"Last year it was Lamar and the run game. It was the three tight end package. It was the play-action game. They don't have that this year. This is not last year's Ravens team."
However, even though the Ravens have not performed at last season's elite level, it's not time to wave the white flag, Jones wrote.
"There's still time for this team to find the optimal version of its current self, but it's become apparent that holding these Ravens to the 2019 standard is no longer realistic for reasons ranging from increasing injuries to opponents doing a better job containing Jackson and what had been a 'revolutionary' offense orchestrated by Greg Roman," Jones wrote.
"It isn't time to give up on this team by any means, but there's no sense waiting around for the ghost of last year to reappear. The Ravens just aren't the same juggernaut."
Colin Cowherd Has No Problem With Lamar Jackson's Performance Against Patriots
To paraphrase Jay-Z, the Ravens have 99 problems but Lamar ain't one.
Of course, they don't literally have 99 problems. It just seems that way in the aftermath of a distressing defeat and an alarming rash of injuries to key players.
Whatever the Ravens' actual number of problems was in the 23-17 loss to the Patriots, Jackson wasn't among them, Fox Sports' Colin Cowherd said.
"Lamar Jackson lost to Bill Belichick in a monsoon in Foxborough. Why would I change my opinion on him?" Cowherd said. "I look at the stats. He was good on third down. He dominated time of possession. He was 24-of-34 and [had] and 99 quarterback rating. … He worked better than 90 percent of the windshield wipers worked [Sunday] night in New England."
Cowherd contends that Jackson continues to be overly scrutinized after a loss because he isn't a prototypical pocket passer.
He also noted that Jackson has played well in both meetings against Belichick, who has feasted on young quarterbacks throughout his career. Conversely, Buffalo Bills quarterback Josh Allen, who was drafted 25 spots ahead of Jackson in 2018, is 1-3 against Belichick.
"A lot of people want to be right, and every time Lamar loses, [they say], 'That doesn't work,'" Cowherd said. "But Josh Allen loses, who is more like your classic quarterback, big arm, mostly throws, I never hear anybody bail on Josh Allen.
"Everybody's still in on Josh, who has faced [Belichick] four times. He's been awful [in] three of them and bad once. He faced him two weeks ago. Josh Allen two weeks ago: no touchdowns, a pick, a 65 passer rating, 11-for-18. You didn't bail on him."
NFL Network's Rich Eisen also praised Jackson's performance in difficult weather conditions Sunday night.
"That Lamar touchdown throw to Willie Snead in the third quarter to start leading what we thought would be the eventual comeback here, because everybody thought the Ravens were going to win this game, was dynamite," Eisen said. "Especially since Cam [Newton] had a wide open Jakobi Meyers in the end zone and dirted it. And he said today … it was like throwing a medicine ball."
NFL Network's Mike Giardi, who was at the game Sunday, did have a critique of Jackson's game, and it's not one we hear often. He felt Jackson didn't run enough.
"There were a number of times when running lanes were wide open," Giardi said. "I'm talking about 15-20 yards down the field was the next closest defender and he could just take it and run. He's not even looking to do that. He's got his eyes focused downfield trying to make a play, and that's admirable. He's trying to develop as a quarterback.
"But I think there are plays to be made there that would put them in advantageous situations and he just didn't take them last night. I'm telling you, the first play of the game, the whole left side opened up and I'm convinced he would have gone 80 yards for a touchdown."
Frustration Abounds for Ravens, Titans Heading Into Sunday's Game
NFL.com's Gregg Rosenthal compiled a list of 10 teams that should be frustrated after Week 10. Not surprisingly, the Ravens made the list.
"The Ravens trail the 9-0 Steelers by three games in the AFC North, which may be too much to overcome with seven games to play, even if the Ravens were to win out. Injuries are their biggest concern," Rosenthal wrote. "Left tackle Ronnie Stanley and tight end Nick Boyle, perhaps the best blockers at their positions in the entire NFL, are not coming back. The soft middle of the Baltimore offensive line was attacked by the Patriots, the latest team to limit Ravens runners not named Lamar.
"Injuries to run-stuffers Calais Campbell, Brandon Williams and L.J. Fort limit some of the creative ways Defensive Coordinator Don Martindale likes to call plays. It's hard to blitz with impunity if the opposition avoids long-yardage situations or simply refuses to pass."
The Ravens' opponents this Sunday, the Tennessee Titans, also were among Rosenthal's most frustrated teams. The Titans have lost three of their past four games after a 5-0 start, including a 34-17 loss Sunday at home to the Indianapolis Colts, who moved past Tennessee into first place in the AFC South.
The Ravens and Titans will try to take out their frustrations on one another Sunday at M&T Bank Stadium.
"The Titans-Ravens playoff rematch this week is fascinating for so many reasons, including the Titans being well-suited to adopt New England's run-heavy approach from Week 10," Rosenthal wrote. "When Baltimore and Tennessee last met, a spot in the AFC Championship Game was on the line. This year, it feels like survival is at stake.
"The Ravens still have enough strengths — starting with Lamar Jackson and their pass defense — to believe they can weather this storm. But their team is catching the injury bug later and harder than most, just as the games get more meaningful."