Will Teams Find a Blueprint for Jackson and the Ravens' Offense?
How viable can the Ravens' offense be facing a team the second time around?
That was the question posed on the “Move the Sticks” Podcast with Bucky Brooks, Daniel Jeremiah, and Rhett Lewis.
The Ravens are about to face the Cincinnati Bengals for the second time in four weeks. Lamar Jackson threw for 236 yards and ran for 152 in a 23-17 Ravens win in Week 10.
"The Ravens right now have been one step ahead of the curve in terms of everybody," Brooks said. "They're able to do these new wrinkles each and every week, but are they going to exhaust the playbook by the time they get to the [postseason]?"
"It's so fun to watch, but I think it does summon questions of long-term viability," Lewis responded. "Is this something you can coach your defense to deal with on a weekly basis when you only have three, four, or five days to prepare?"
It's been a consistent topic of conversation since Jackson took over as the starter midway through the 2018 season and things heated up following the wild card loss to the Los Angeles Chargers in January.
"I saw a Chargers team see this offense, then turn around and see it again, and I saw the difference," Jeremiah said. " … The teams that get more familiar with this offense do have a little bit better success."
But after watching Jackson rack up 224 yards of total offense and three touchdowns in the win over the Patriots, NFL.com’s Gregg Rosenthal isn’t buying that notion.
"Sunday night's performance highlighted just how difficult it is for even the greatest defensive mind to solve a problem like Lamar," Rosenthal wrote. "It's safe to say the Chargers' defense didn't provide a 'blueprint' in the playoffs last season to stop Jackson, a notion that was always ridiculous.
"Baltimore's offense is one of the best in football because it is so run-dominant on neutral downs. The Ravens have taken an approach that appears to have come out of the 1970s and made it new, because Jackson is unlike any quarterback in football, and he deserves an offense to match. This is the history of the NFL writ small, mixing the old and out-of-fashion with the cutting-edge, then racing to the end zone before the rest of the league can catch up."
Through eight games this season the Ravens lead the NFL in rushing yards per game (204.9) and rank second only behind the Dallas Cowboys in total offense per game (427). They're on pace to become the first team to average 200 passing yards and rushing yards in a season.
And while opposing defenses are adapting, so is the Ravens' offense.
The Baltimore Sun’s Jonas Shaffer broke down how Offensive Coordinator Greg Roman used new wrinkles to the Ravens' advantage against the Patriots.
"Roman's offense continues to evolve from game to game," Shaffer wrote. "The Ravens exploited what they had practiced but what the Patriots had not yet seen on film."
The first was the Pistol option, and Mark Ingram II burst up the sideline for 13 yards on the fourth play from scrimmage.
"Jackson lined up in the pistol formation, with Ingram behind him and fullback Patrick Ricard to his right," Shaffer wrote. "At the snap of the ball, the trio swung right. New England linebacker Kyle Van Noy was left unblocked along the edge. He could've kept pace with Ingram, but Jackson was too dangerous to leave alone."
Shaffer also noted that Ingram saw success during a similar play call during the third quarter.
The dynamic of having a quarterback with Jackson's running ability keeps defenders on their heels. By the time they make a commitment, either Jackson or another running back is already racing down the field.
The other wrinkle was implemented with the return of Marquise "Hollywood" Brown. The speed of the rookie wide receiver set up the Jet-motion shovel pass.
"Immediately after Ingram's 13-yard option carry, the Ravens went back to a heavy pistol formation, with Ricard next to Jackson and Boyle positioned as an in-line blocker," Shaffer wrote. "Lined up in the slot was Brown, who motioned from right to left. Just as Brown started to run behind Boyle, center Matt Skura snapped the ball. Jackson caught it, then flipped it like a hot potato to Brown, who didn't need to break stride to secure the shovel pass.
"Because the Patriots were in zone coverage, no defensive back mirrored Brown across the line of scrimmage. That left linebacker Jamie Collins Sr., lined up outside of Stanley's left shoulder, as the only defender capable of stopping Brown from breaking into the open field."
Brown broke free for a 26-yard gain that eventually set up the Ravens' first touchdown of the game.
As NFL Network's Brian Baldinger put it, "There's no scheme and there's no defense for Lamar Jackson. ... All hail Lamar Jackson. The game's best player, again, [Sunday] night."
Ravens Solidify Top-Five Spot in Power Rankings
The Ravens' win over the Patriots solidified them as legitimate contenders and earned a consensus top spot in the power rankings. It wasn't just a signature win for Head Coach John Harbaugh and company. Some pundits believe it may be the best win of any team this season.
"The Ravens may have just peeled off the single most impressive victory of the 2019 season," Bleacher Report wrote.
The Ravens ranked No. 4 or higher in all seven publications we looked at. Their biggest rise was six spots from No. 10 to No. 4 in ESPN and NFL.com's rankings.
"The Ravens welcomed the undefeated Patriots into their house on Sunday night and showed them how different life can be when you face a legit Super Bowl contender," NFL.com’s Dan Hanzus wrote. "That's exactly what Baltimore looked like in a convincing 37-20 win."
Sporting News’ Vinnie Iyer called it a "statement" win for the Ravens, and pundits were impressed how easy they made it look.
"It's not just that they beat the undefeated New England Patriots by 17 points," BR wrote. "Or that they gashed one of the NFL's best defenses for 210 yards on the ground. … There wasn't a facet in which the Ravens weren't markedly better. Baltimore didn't just beat New England. It spanked the defending Super Bowl champions."
Yet despite the win, only two publications (USA Today and CBS Sports) ranked the Ravens ahead of the Patriots. I'd make the argument for the opposition if the game was closer, but Baltimore never trailed throughout four quarters and won handily.
"Jackson is a legitimate MVP candidate," CBS Sports’ Pete Prisco wrote. "What they did to New England was impressive."
Radio.com NFL Insider Ross Tucker agrees and told 105.7 the Fan's "Scott and Jeremy" that the Ravens are a top-two team in the AFC. He even bumped Baltimore ahead of New England in his power rankings, just behind the San Francisco 49ers and New Orleans Saints.
If pundits have any remaining questions about the Ravens, the upcoming gauntlet of games against the Houston Texans, Los Angeles Rams, 49ers, and Buffalo Bills should answer them.
Earl Thomas Backs Lamar Jackson's MVP Case, Talks Facing Tom Brady and the Pats
There may not be a bigger Jackson supporter than Earl Thomas III. He told reporters following Sunday's win that Jackson is the MVP and the veteran All-Pro safety reiterated those comments in an appearance on the "Dan Patrick Show" Tuesday.
"That's our prize right there," Thomas said. "I feel like he's playing MVP-type football. If you're the MVP, that means you're the best, so I believe so."
Thomas told Patrick the Ravens were confident in their ability to beat the Patriots, but they didn't want to make that known in the week leading up.
"We just stayed humble with it," Thomas said. "We definitely didn't want to give Brady any bulletin board material. We understood that we had a great chance to win, but once we got out there … we knew we had a chance to win."
When asked about the possibility of facing the Patriots in the playoffs, Thomas didn't back down and acknowledged the loss could be used as fuel for Belichick and company.
"For them, it could add extra motivation," Thomas said. "Brady might have a better grasp on how we move, but I still like our chances."
Was Jackson Tipping Plays Against the Pats?
During Sunday night's broadcast, NBC's Cris Collinsworth suggested Jackson was tipping plays against the Patriots when he dried his hands on his towel before the snap. When Jackson did this, Collinsworth presumed it meant the Ravens would pass. When he didn't, it meant a run.
The Athletic's Sheil Kapadia used his best investigative journalism and dove into the film to see if Collinsworth's theory held up.
Kapadia found that on 39 plays after Jackson touched his towel, 21 were passes and 18 were runs. On 26 plays after Jackson didn't touch his towel, 20 were runs and six were passes.
"So was it more likely than normal that they'd pass when he dried his hands?" Kapadia wrote. "Yes. But the towel touch was not a tell that the Ravens were passing.
It looks like there wasn't a strong enough correlation between Jackson's pre-snap hand placement before the snap, but even if there was, pundits like ForTheWin’s Charles Curtis believe it wouldn't have mattered.
"Let's take a second to acknowledge that even if Jackson was tipping plays, he and the Ravens were still unstoppable," Curtis wrote. "That tells you all you need to know about how dominant Jackson has been this season."
- Is another primetime game in the works? The Athletic's Jeff Zrebiec noted that the Ravens-Texans could be flexed to Sunday night. For that to happen, the decision would need to be made 12 days before the game. The Sunday Night Football game is currently slated to be the Chicago Bears (3-5) at Los Angeles Rams (5-3).