What Plays Have Been Key for the Ravens' New Offense
A lot has been made of the Ravens' run-heavy offense since rookie quarterback Lamar Jackson became the starter five weeks ago. In an age when the NFL is becoming more enamored with throwing the ball, the Ravens have "swung further in the direction of option football than any team in modern NFL history, and they've looked like one of the best teams in the league since doing so," according to Pro Football Focus' Mike Renner in an article he wrote for The Washington Post.
As Renner and many other pundits have noted, the Ravens have not simply added a more athletic presence under center, called the same plays they ran with quarterback Joe Flacco, and gotten drastically different results. The Ravens reworked their playbook to make Jackson's dynamic running the focal point.
Renner took a look at what plays have been featured more heavily with Jackson and found two, with the first being the option. According to Renner, the Ravens have run 109 options since Jackson became the starter, which is 50 more than the next-closest team.
The options have been tremendously successful, as the Ravens are averaging 5.5 yards per carry, which is a full yard more than the league average. To Renner, a key for the option being so successful for the Ravens has been the various wrinkles the team has added to those plays.
"Baltimore isn't simply reading the edge defender on the line of scrimmage with your standard inside zone play over and over," Renner wrote. "Instead, they're throwing all kinds of distractions at opposing defenses, and wishing them good luck in trying to guess where the ball is going."
Indeed, the various motions the Ravens have been running prior to snapping the ball have given defenses a lot to think about. Not only do opposing defenses have to guess where the ball is going, but they also aren't sure what kind of runner they're going to have to try to stop: the ridiculously quick Jackson, or on many plays, the bruising style of running back Gus Edwards.
Renner also believes running options puts less pressure on the offensive line. Yes, the line cannot allow opposing defenders to run through unimpeded and break up the play. But with the variety of runners the Ravens can hand the ball to, defenders have to guess more, which means a missed block here or there doesn't matter quite as much.
"This isn't a bad Ravens offensive line by any means, but there is a reason over that same span they're only averaging 4.5 yards per carry on non-option runs," Renner wrote. "Options can create positive plays through nothing more than scheme and athletic ball-carriers, and the Ravens have both going for them right now."
The other type of play Baltimore has utilized heavily with Jackson is play-action passes. A league-leading 39.5 percent of Jackson's dropbacks have been on play action, with the next-closest being Los Angeles Rams quarterback Jared Goff at 34.2.
The strategy has made passing much simpler for Jackson, with Renner writing "The scheme has given Jackson simple throws via the threat of the run," because the opposition has to worry about the threat of the run.
It's also made Baltimore's talented tight ends even more effective in the passing game because defenses don't know if they'll be blocking or threats to catch the ball.
Expect to see a lot of options and play action in Los Angeles on Saturday, and let's hope the Chargers struggle to stop them like the last five opponents have.
Chargers Safety: Lamar Jackson is as Dangerous as Patrick Mahomes
The Ravens learned firsthand just how talented Kansas City quarterback Patrick Mahomes is. If it weren't for an unreal 48-yard completion on fourth-and-9 with under two minutes in regulation, the Ravens would have beaten the Chiefs.
The Chargers have played Mahomes twice now, including last Thursday, and while there's no doubt how talented the Chiefs quarterback is, Chargers safety Adrian Phillips believes Jackson is just as good.
That's a nice compliment for Jackson that NFL.com's Kevin Patra initially believed to be "absurd." After considering where Phillips is coming from though, Patra thinks he may have a point.
"When taken from Phillips' perspective, the comparison holds more water," Patra wrote. "As a defense, corralling Jackson isn't about just hitting the quarterback, it's about containing the QB run while also defending a bus-like ball carrier in Gus Edwards. The Ravens have a one-two combo punch that no other NFL offense is running. Their uniqueness makes them fun and dangerous."
Yes, Mahomes' 4,543 passing yards and 45 touchdowns both easily lead the league. He's also led the Chiefs to an 11-3 record, which is tied with the Chargers for the best record in the AFC.
But, don't forget that when the two played, Jackson had his team in position to win late in the fourth quarter. And while he hasn't started as many games as Mahomes, Jackson has still been plenty dynamic and not looked overwhelmed by being an NFL starter. He already leads quarterbacks in rushing yards (566) this season, and became the first quarterback in NFL history to run for 70 yards in five straight games.
No, it hasn't been the most conventional way to be successful, but there's no denying how dangerous the rookie has been.
"You can sense the tremendous energy it takes trying to defend Jackson and this offense, and over the course of an entire game, it takes its toll," PressBox's Bo Smolka wrote.
It should also be noted that while Mahomes has had a superb season, he hasn't had the same amount of success in the two games against the Chargers. Mahomes is averaging 324.5 passing yards per game, but in two games against the Chargers, he's averaging 249.5 yards.
Maybe the Chargers feel like they've figured out how to slow Mahomes. According to Phillips, they're still trying to figure out what to do with Jackson. Like many teams, the Chargers have struggled to simulate playing Jackson in practice because of his unique arm strength and speed combination. As Digiovanna put it, "Backup quarterbacks Cardale Jones and Geno Smith will try to simulate Jackson on scout teams this week, but neither is as electrifying with his feet as Jackson."
"Throughout the week we'll have drills that focus on keeping the quarterback in the pocket and not letting him get out," Phillips said. "But he's a great athlete. He's gonna get out. We just have to make sure that when he does, we get him on the ground quick."
Matthew Judon Is a Big Difference-Maker for the Ravens
FanSided's Ian Wharton named each playoff contender's biggest difference-maker, and listed outside linebacker Matthew Judon as Baltimore's. To Wharton, "the Baltimore Ravens have built a tough, nasty, and physical team that punishes foes into the ground, despite recent overtures across the league to be more offensive-friendly."
Few players better epitomize Baltimore's approach on defense than Judon, and that's why Wharton feels he could play a big role in the latter stages of the team's playoff push.
"The 26-year-old has great size, suddenness, and play strength off the edge, allowing him to be a force in the run game in addition to getting after the quarterback," Wharton wrote. "He's taken on the second-most edge snaps on the team as he's beaten out recent investments because of his well-roundedness."
After a slow start to the season, Judon has been one of the defense's best players since the bye week. He's registered 13 tackles, including 4.5 sacks, over the past five games. Judon was at his best against Kansas City, when he had a sack, five quarterback hits and recorded more than a half-dozen quarterback pressures.
Wharton sees Judon as an essential piece in Baltimore's playoff push, as well as the team's matchup if the current playoff rankings stay the same.
"He'll play a critical role as a finisher for Baltimore come playoff time as they're slated to play the New England Patriots at this time," Wharton wrote. "Should that hold, there's no greater key to victory against the Patriots than hitting Tom Brady as often as possible."
Ravens Snubbed in ESPN's Defensive Backs Awards
There's been a lot of talk this week about some Ravens that were snubbed from making the Pro Bowl, especially kicker Justin Tucker (seriously, how does the most accurate kicker in NFL history not get voted in?). Unfortunately, the snubs continued for the Ravens in ESPN's defensive back awards, which were determined by Matt Bowen.
The former NFL safety handed out a variety of superlatives for defensive backs, including biggest hitter, best range and most versatile. The closest the Ravens came to getting a winner was cornerback Marlon Humphrey in the best footwork category, which Bowen awarded to New Orleans Saints cornerback Marshon Lattimore.
I guess being the No. 3 defense against the pass (202.6 yards per game) and the No. 1 total defense (290.2 yards per game) doesn't count for much in the eyes of Bowen, though it should be noted that the Ravens were also mentioned in the best secondary category. Bowen wrote, "I love the physicality of the Ravens' secondary," but still gave the top prize to the Chicago Bears.
It's just a fun article, but I can't think of a better way for Baltimore's secondary to show Bowen he may have slighted them by slowing down Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers and his plethora of talented wide receivers, which is the No. 8 passing attack in the NFL (270.1 yards per game).
- PennLive's Aaron Kasinitz believes defensive tackle Brandon Williams will be a key player on Saturday, naming him among his seven Ravens who could be especially important this week. "As good as Rivers is, the Chargers' balance on offense makes the team unique," Kasinitz wrote. "[Chargers] Running back Melvin Gordon, who averages 5.2 yards per carry, could return from injury this week and pose a threat to the Ravens on the ground. Williams is arguably Baltimore's best run-stopper on the defensive line and could help slow Gordon, making Los Angeles one-dimensional."