Could Baltimore's Offense Be the Start of a New Trend in the NFL?
Baltimore's rushing attack, which on Sunday eclipsed 200 yards for the fourth time in five games with rookie quarterback Lamar Jackson starting, has become a frequent subject in the national football conversation.
The New York Times’ Bill Pennington referred to it over the weekend as an "iconoclastic strategy," and referred to the Ravens as "feared, eccentric nonconformists — radical thinkers who make the rest of the league nervous and jumpy. With good reason."
But, is it possible that the Ravens could go from nonconformists to trendsetters?
Pennington spoke with former Atlanta Falcons and Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Michael Vick, who is considered one of the best mobile signal-callers in NFL history. He thinks there's a chance the Ravens are onto something that could change the league.
"Maybe this could be something that transforms the game, where more teams go to a run-oriented style," Vick said. "I think that would be really cool."
Vick might be biased towards a run-heavy offense because of how dangerous he was with his legs when he played. During an appearance on Fox Sports' Undisputed, Vick said of Baltimore's offense, "If I could've played in an offense like that, I would love it. You want to make football easy."
There are certainly aspects of the Ravens' offense that other teams should want to emulate. Baltimore is 4-1 with this new strategy, and has also dominated time of possession since Jackson became the team's starter. Before Jackson took over, the Ravens ranked No. 14 in the NFL in time of possession (30:12). Baltimore is now No. 1 in time of possession (32:05).
There's also the difficulty that opposing defenses have in preparing for Baltimore's offense. Going against the grain has made it tough for defensive coordinators to prepare for such a different looking offense, with Pennington writing that Baltimore's performance against Kansas City "sent a thunderbolt through the rest of the league's Super Bowl contenders, whose defensive coordinators simultaneously had the same thought: Wait, we might have to play these guys? And how far back do we have to go to find a defensive game plan for stopping a run-first team with a run-first quarterback?"
Emulating the Ravens' offense might not be easy though, and it starts with the dynamic rookie they have quarterbacking. Prior to Jackson being made the starter, Baltimore ranked No. 31 in the NFL in yards per carry (3.6). Inserting Jackson, with his speed and elusiveness, into the lineup was a total game changer. There simply aren't many quarterbacks who can contribute what Jackson brings to an offense.
"There is a path to success at the NFL level for Lamar Jackson as a starting quarterback and it's just not going to look like the path for every other quarterback," Pro Football Focus' Sam Monson said. "He is a different kind of quarterback and that's what we're seeing.
Furthermore, it also helps having the No. 1 scoring defense in the NFL. Having just an average defense would make it tricky for this strategy to work because it would give the opposition better chances to score and force the Ravens offense more often into catch-up mode.
As Fox Sports' Shannon Sharpe said during Vick's appearance on Undisputed, "The Ravens possess the ball so long, they don't give you very many possessions. And then when you do get the ball, that Baltimore defense is ready for you."
So, yes, it is possible to emulate Baltimore's strategy. But is it likely, and will it start a new trend in the NFL? Probably not, but that does not mean it can't be successful.
"They are the unconventional, even radical Baltimore Ravens," Pennington wrote. "The end of their run might not be predictable or successful, but no one wants to play them in January."
Is This John Harbaugh's Best Season Ever*?*
Head Coach John Harbaugh has overseen some excellent campaigns for the Ravens. The 2012 Super Bowl triumph obviously stands out, as does the previous year when the Ravens won 13 games and the AFC North. His overall career mark is 110-74, which is good for a .598 winning percentage.
Despite Harbaugh's impressive resume, Russell Street Report’s Todd Karpovich thinks we could be in the midst of the 11-year head coach's best campaign.
"Despite some bumps along the way, this season might have been Harbaugh's finest performance," Karpovich wrote. "The Ravens lost quarterback Joe Flacco to a right hip injury on Nov. 4. At the time, the team was mired in a three-game losing streak that put its playoff hopes in jeopardy. Enter rookie Lamar Jackson. The Ravens had to overhaul the offense to highlight the strengths of the rookie first-round pick. Jackson has responded by going 4-1 as the starter and has the Ravens in the driver's seat for the playoffs."
It is a pretty impressive coaching job to go 4-1 after entirely reshaping an offense, and switching from a seasoned veteran to a rookie midway through a season. That the transition has gone as smoothly as it has is a testament to Harbaugh and his coaching staff.
Still, as impressive a job as Harbaugh has done this season, it's premature to label this season as his best. The Ravens did win the Super Bowl under Harbaugh, after all, and that campaign also included the head coach making a major decision that proved pivotal: replacing Offensive Coordinator Cam Cameron and installing Jim Caldwell.
How the next two weeks play out will also obviously impact this season compared to Harbaugh's others. If the Ravens win out and win the AFC North in the process, then it'll definitely get trickier to refute Karpovich's claim.
Bradley Bozeman is Carving Out a Role Along the Offensive Line
The Ravens have gotten contributions from a variety of rookies on offense this season, including Jackson, running back Gus Edwards, tight ends Hayden Hurst and Mark Andrews, and right tackle Orlando Brown Jr. Another player that has done quite well is offensive lineman Bradley Bozeman.
"Bozeman has quietly overdelivered as a sixth-round pick," The Baltimore Sun’s Childs Walker wrote. "As training camp wound down, Bozeman seemed like a candidate for the practice squad. … Instead, he made the team, and the Ravens now plug him into temporary holes in their offensive line with confidence that he'll handle the job."
Against the Buccaneers, Bozeman split time with left guard James Hurst, getting on the field for 28 of the offense's 77 snaps. He also sometimes joined the offensive line as essentially an extra lineman, reporting as a wide receiver to provide extra blocking.
Though Bozeman and Hurst both played well against Tampa Bay, PFF believes the rookie had the more efficient performance.
"While [the Ravens] got quality contributions from both, the rookie from Alabama outperformed his veteran colleague on this occasion," PFF wrote. "Bozeman gave up nothing in pass protection and created consistent movement and creases both inline and on the move in his most extensive action since Week 7."
In fact, Bozeman has done so well during his rookie season that Walker believes he could be in line for an even bigger role in 2019.
"Bozeman was primarily a center prospect coming out of college, so it will be interesting to see whether the Ravens pit him against Matt Skura in a job battle for next summer," Walker wrote. "For now, he's increased his long-term value by demonstrating competence at guard. He's exactly the type of the player the Ravens need to rebuild depth on their offensive line."
Reliable C.J. Mosley Excels Once Again
Cornerback Marlon Humphrey has deservedly received a lot of attention for his magnificent play against the Buccaneers. Humphrey was the lone Raven named to the PFF Team of the Week, and Russell Street Report’s Ken McKusick believes his performance "deserves consideration among the greatest performances ever by a Ravens cornerback."
He wasn't the only member of the defense playing well on Sunday though, as inside linebacker C.J. Mosley quietly put together another excellent performance. Mosley has been a steady presence in the center of Baltimore's defense for much of this year, and he was at his best against Tampa Bay with eight tackles. McKusick named him as the best defender besides Humphrey, and Mosley set the tone early in the game by picking up a half sack.
"Mosley played well. He wasn't picked on in coverage. He led the team with eight tackles, none of which came on long plays," McKusick wrote. "We haven't yet seen much of the playmaking in the passing game from previous years, but it appears he's healthy again."
Baltimore Beatdown’s Kyle Barber was particularly impressed by a solid play Mosley had against a Tampa Bay screen pass that looked to be good for a big gain, writing "it was going for gold but the middle linebacker sniffed it out quick and hit the hole. Good to see some speed from the bigger linebacker."
If Mosley is flying around the field, playing fast and shutting down runs and short passes quickly, the Ravens will be difficult to beat.
- CBS Sports’ John Breech gave the Ravens a B for their performance against Tampa Bay. "The Ravens should probably change their team logo to a bulldozer and that's because their rushing attack has been bulldozing the opposition ever since Lamar Jackson took over as starting quarterback," Breech wrote.
- The Ringer’s Robert Mays highlighted the Ravens' creativity in the red zone on Sunday's first touchdown, which came as a result of Jackson pitching the ball to wide receiver Chris Moore. "This would be a cool play design no matter what, but the threat of Jackson as a rusher actually causes linebacker Riley Bullough to chase Jackson and take himself out of the play entirely," Mays wrote. "A running quarterback is a weapon in the red zone, and the Ravens now have the best one in football."