Pass-Happy Approach Isn't Getting Results
With the Ravens on a three-game losing streak, their penchant for throwing the ball has become a topic of conversation among pundits. But not for the reason you might expect.
Not surprisingly, the fact that Baltimore leads the NFL in pass attempts with 391 (28 more than the No. 2 Minnesota Vikings), averaging 43.4 per game, has led some analysts to suggest their run-pass balance is off-kilter.
But The Athletic's Jeff Zrebiec believes there's another statistic that's even more telling.
"Here's an even bigger issue: they are averaging only 6.5 yards per attempt," Zrebiec wrote. "Only four teams are averaging less: Cleveland, Indianapolis, Arizona and Buffalo. That's not exactly the company the Ravens' offense wants to keep this year."
Not only have the Ravens been throwing the ball more than any other team in the NFL, but they're also in the bottom five for how far they're traveling per attempt.
"The Ravens are the marathon runner who is getting passed by everyone at mile 14," The Athletic's Michael Lombardi wrote. "Their offense continues to be a significant obstacle, as quarterback Joe Flacco is unable to carry the team."
Understandably, when the passing game struggles, the first person pundits point to is the quarterback. During this three-game losing streak, Flacco has thrown three touchdowns to two interceptions. He's averaged just 225.7 yards per game.
WNST's Luke Jones believes it's harsh to put all the blame for the passing game's struggles on Flacco. However, Jones also believes Flacco "hasn't been a big enough part of the solution either."
"[Flacco] was under duress quite a bit Sunday, but he easily missed a half-dozen throws working from a satisfactory pocket," Jones wrote.
Lombardi thinks Flacco would benefit from the offense putting more of an emphasis on running the ball, as he has historically done better when he has a strong running game on his side for defenses to consider. But the Ravens are averaging just 3.6 yards per rushing attempt this season, an average that is only higher than Arizona's.
That average has made it difficult for the Ravens to continue to run, and thus, made it harder for Flacco to be able to find success through the air.
"Flacco is not a rhythm thrower; he is a play-action quarterback, yet the Ravens have been unable to run the ball or set up the run because they are always calling pass plays," Lombardi wrote. "The Ravens throw the ball 66 percent of the time in the first half. Even though they know Flacco is not able to carry their offense, they continue to put the ball in his hands over 40 times a game."
One cause for optimism is that the Ravens run game has started to show some life, with running back Alex Collins averaging just under four yards per carry over the past two weeks. If that continues to improve, the Ravens offense as a whole should start to do better.
"He ran hard, was explosive through the hole and looked much closer to what we saw him do last year," RavensWire's Chuck Mills wrote of Collins' performance against Pittsburgh.
The bye should also offer time for the offense to regroup. The running backs could also get a spark from Ty Montgomery, who was acquired in a trade last week with the Green Bay Packers, and didn't play against the Steelers. Getting back left tackle Ronnie Stanley and right tackle James Hurst will also help along the offensive line.
The pass game should also get a boost from who the Ravens still have on the schedule. As ESPN noted, "All eight remaining opponents rank in the bottom half of the NFL in pass defense, including five of the bottom six (Cleveland, Kansas City, Atlanta, Tampa Bay and Cincinnati)."
"It sets up for a strong finish for Flacco," ESPN wrote.
Are We About to See a Better Jimmy Smith?
Prior to this past Sunday's game against the Steelers, cornerback Jimmy Smith had been enduring a rough return to action. Smith missed the [ADD] first four games of the season due to suspension, and wasn't tested much in his first two games back.
Then, cornerback Marlon Humphrey got hurt and Smith had to play more. He struggled, giving up big plays two weeks in a row, and simply not looking like his usual self.
That changed this week, as Smith played much better and was rated by Pro Football Focus as Baltimore's second-best defender (behind safety Tony Jefferson).
"I don't believe it was a coincidence that Jimmy Smith played better with Marlon Humphrey back in action and [Defensive Coordinator] Wink Martindale once again rotating those two and [cornerback] Brandon Carr on the outside," Jones wrote. "The defense has certainly had its recent issues, but that luxury should still pay off down the stretch."
Head Coach John Harbaugh is thinking along the same lines as Jones, saying "This is the best corner situation that we've ever had by far, since I've been here."
In terms of how the cornerbacks were used against Pittsburgh, Carr led the way with 66 snaps, while Smith played 52. Humphrey was on the field for 49.
"Smith's share of snaps fell from 98.6 percent in Week 7 and 95.4 percent in Week 8 to 64.2 percent Sunday," The Baltimore Sun's Jonas Shaffer wrote. "After recent struggles, Smith made several plays in the second half against the Steelers."
Something that's important to remember with Smith is that not only is he returning from suspension, but also a season-ending Achilles injury he suffered back in December. Smith returned much sooner than was initially expected, and he simply may have needed more time to knock the rust off.
Having Smith return to how he was playing last season before getting injured would be a major boost for a Ravens defense that is looking to consistently put together the dominant displays they've its shown in flashes this year.
NFL Network's Brian Baldinger Critical of Orlando Brown Jr.'s WWF Style
As LFW noted earlier this week, rookie right tackle Orlando Brown Jr. had a play on Sunday where he absolutely buried Pittsburgh Steelers outside linebacker T.J. Watt. It was an impressive display of strength by Brown that many Ravens fans loved during the game.
One analyst that thought Brown went too far, however, was NFL Network's Brian Baldinger. To be fair to Baldinger, he commended Brown's ability to get in excellent position and effectively block Watt, who has seven sacks this season. It's the slamming of Watt to the ground that Baldinger had an issue with, saying "Brown wants to be in the WWF [World Wrestling Federation]."
Yes, for all the wrestling fans out there, we know it's the WWE. Now we proceed …
"This is what Zeus does. He wants to finish, he wants to pound, he wants to sit on top of his victims ...," Baldinger said. "He has to learn, in this league, they're going to call that, even if he's in good shape."
Brown was called for a holding penalty on that play, but he was not called for holding on this one. After the game, Brown said he wasn't so sure he should've been flagged for holding.
Outside of Baldinger's criticism, reviews of Brown have been positive through his first three NFL regular-season starts. There's even a chance he will keep his starting gig after the bye this week, when Hurst is expected to return from a back injury.
Though Hurst was doing well before his setback, Zrebiec thinks the Ravens "would be wise to keep Brown at tackle and move Hurst inside."
"It would be quite difficult to make the claim that Brown isn't one of their top five offensive linemen right now," Zrebiec wrote. "And one more thing about Brown: His teammates and coaches just love him. They love the attitude that he brings into the building every day and how intent he is on learning and growing as a player."
Mike Tomlin's Son Commits to Terps
Don't be surprised if you see Steelers Head Coach Mike Tomlin in Maryland next year more than during his team's annual game in Baltimore. Tomlin's son, Dino, a consensus three-star wide receiver prospect by various college football recruiting websites, committed to play at Maryland yesterday.
Dino Tomlin is the first prospect to commit to the Terps since previous Head Coach D.J. Durkin was fired last week.
Dino won't be the only son of a key figure in the Ravens-Steelers rivalry playing for Maryland next fall. As Shaffer noted, "He's set to overlap for at least two years with Rayshad Lewis, the son of Ray Lewis and a sophomore cornerback who started his career at Utah State."
Putting aside any disdain you may have for the Steelers, it's pretty cool that Lewis' and Tomlin's sons will be on the same team together. Seeing Mike Tomlin wearing Maryland gear will also be a bizarre sight.
- CBS Sports' Jason La Canfora commended Harbaugh's abilities as a coach during a recent appearance on The Tony Kornheiser podcast, saying he's "really damn good. He sets a culture, and there's certain standards and people are held accountable." La Canfora was more critical of Ravens players though, saying "take a look at that Ravens roster. Who on that roster would a GM trade a first round pick for?"
- In NFL.com's Dan Parr's latest 2019 draft order, he thinks the Ravens should use their No. 15 pick on an edge rusher. "The Baltimore pass rush didn't get to Ben Roethlisberger nearly enough on Sunday," Parr wrote. "There could be some major turnover in that area this offseason – [outside linebacker] Terrell Suggs is 36 and in the final year of his deal, as is the much younger [outside linebacker] Za'Darius Smith."