Did Washington Provide Blueprint for How Ravens Offense Should Attack Cowboys?
When the Ravens host the Dallas Cowboys tomorrow night, they'll either start a quarterback who hasn't had a full week of practice since Week 11 (Lamar Jackson) or one who had not thrown a pass in an NFL regular-season game until the fourth quarter of last week's contest (Trace McSorley).
As the Ravens continue to work their way back to some sense of normalcy after dealing with a COVID-19 outbreak, a conservative game plan on offense — like the one Washington used in its 41-16 win over the Cowboys on Thanksgiving — could be the way to go, The Baltimore Sun's Jonas Shaffer wrote.
Washington leaned on a running attack that gained 182 yards and scored three touchdowns. Quarterback Alex Smith was 19-for-26 for 149 yards and a touchdown, with his longest completion going for 26 yards.
"According to the NFL's Next Gen Stats, Smith averaged just 4.1 air yards per pass attempt in the win. No other quarterback in Week 12 targeted receivers closer to the line of scrimmage, and only one other quarterback has won a game with such a low downfield rate this season," Shaffer wrote. "Surprisingly, it was Jackson, normally one of the NFL's more aggressive throwers; he averaged just 4.1 air yards per attempt in the Week 9 win over the Indianapolis Colts."
With Robert Griffin III getting the start against the formidable Pittsburgh Steelers defense last week, the Ravens were even more conservative than Washington was against Dallas.
"He didn't attempt a pass longer than 5 yards until under four minutes remained in the first half," Shaffer wrote. "Of his first 10 pass attempts, four were thrown behind the line of scrimmage, four were between 1 and 5 air yards, and none were longer than 17 yards. He entered the fourth quarter averaging just 2.8 air yards per attempt, though an incomplete deep shot to [Marquise] Brown later boosted that number."
The Ravens will be facing a Cowboys defense that is last in the league against the run. Griffin, McSorley and running backs Gus Edwards and Justice Hill combined for 129 yards rushing against the Steelers. Running backs J.K. Dobbins and Mark Ingram II have returned from the Reserve/COVID-19 list.
Like last week, the Ravens will be without tight end Mark Andrews and wide receiver Willie Snead IV, their two most reliable pass-catchers across the middle.
"If the Ravens have to pass like they did Wednesday, they will probably need more of what Brown provided — not only catches downfield, but production after it, too," Shaffer wrote. "Entering Week 13, the Ravens didn't have a receiver among the NFL's top 70 in total yards after the catch, partly a function of the team ranking last in the league in completions per game."
Wink Martindale Deserves to Be Among Leading Head Coaching Candidates
Defensive Coordinator Wink Martindale was getting buzz as a head coaching candidate at this time last year, and he should be on some short lists again, The Athletic's Jeff Zrebiec wrote.
The Ravens defense entered this week No. 3 in points allowed and No. 8 in yards allowed.
"He's done another nice job with this defense," Zrebiec wrote. "He has strong leadership skills, a charismatic personality and players from both sides of the ball love him.
"What's held him back is that he doesn't fit the mold of the young, offensive-minded head coach that every team is seemingly looking for."
Martindale, 57, interviewed with the New York Giants in January but the job instead went to former New England Patriots Special Teams Coach Joe Judge.
Three Ravens Who Have Raised Their Stock
Forced to play with a depleted roster against the Steelers, the Ravens took the "next man up" mantra to the extreme. Several players thrust into starting roles made the most of their opportunity.
Ebony Bird's Chris Schisler identified three Ravens who improved their stock heading into tomorrow night's game against the Cowboys:
C Trystan Colon-Castillo
An undrafted rookie, Colon-Castillo had never played in an NFL regular-season game before taking every snap against one of the league's most talented defensive fronts. He delivered the lead block on a 1-yard touchdown run by Gus Edwards.
"At 6-4 and weighing in at 315 pounds, Colon-Castillo looks the part. His technique looked solid. He didn't play too high, he didn't get too reachy or overextend and become off-balanced," Schisler wrote. "With more experience, Colon-Castillo should have a chance to become a quality starter.
"The reason Colon-Castillo's stock is up is clear, the idea of him being the starting center next season isn't crazy. This was his first shot in the NFL, in a tough spot to be in. He did well considering all the circumstances. This is a player potentially on the rise. He showed a good beginning point to his career."
OLB Tyus Bowser
Bowser picked off Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger in the end zone to give him interceptions in back-to-back games. The 2017 second-round pick also had three quarterback hits against Pittsburgh.
"While Bowser hasn't proven to be the dominant pass rusher the Ravens were hoping for, he's taken a Matt Judon-like path of development where he's become good at a lot of different things," Schisler wrote. "Bowser could be an affordable player for the Ravens to bring back, who could provide value as an underrated and well-rounded linebacker. In just about every game this season, Bowser has provided at least one example of something good he brings to the table. In a contract year, that's important."
QB Trace McSorley
Before the season began, there was some question as to whether McSorley would make the 53-man roster. Now the question is whether the 2019 sixth-round pick out of Penn State can follow Griffin as the main backup to Lamar Jackson.
McSorley's 70-yard touchdown pass to Brown late in the game was the Ravens' offensive highlight against the Steelers. McSorley, who entered the game early in the fourth quarter after Griffin exited with a hamstring injury, also had 16 yards rushing on three carries.
With Griffin going on injured reserve, McSorley has moved up on the depth chart, at least for now.
"[McSorley] doesn't have a cannon arm, and he doesn't have the measurables you typically look for. What he is, is a super athletic quarterback who throws a pretty pass, that is completely a work in progress," Schisler wrote. "There is a reason he was a sixth-round pick and there is a reason the Ravens have always liked him. Both points are valid at the same time."
- Cool story about former Ravens public relations intern Eddie Healy, who is putting 23 of his late dad's 1974 Topps packs up for auction. [The Washington Post]