Late for Work 9/15: Is the Ravens Offense Having an Identity Crisis?

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RB Latavius Murray

Marcus Spears: 'Thirty Passes for Lamar Jackson Ain't It'

There was a lot of talk this offseason about the Ravens improving their passing game, but after watching Lamar Jackson attempt 30 passes in Monday night's season-opening loss to the Las Vegas Raiders, at least two pundits believe the team needs to stick with their proven formula of smash-mouth football.

"Y'all ever heard of an identity crisis? That's what the Ravens are having," ESPN's Marcus Spears said. "This team is formulated one way: We all know they want to physically pound the rock, they want to use Lamar Jackson and a plethora of running backs in what they like to create offensively, and it opens up the passing game.

"Thirty passes ain't it for Lamar Jackson in this particular situation. … The bottom line is this: They did not build this football team to drop back and protect Lamar in the pass over 30 times."

To Spears' point, when Jackson throws 30 or more passes, the Ravens are 4-5 (including the postseason). Jackson was 19-for-30 for 235 yards and a touchdown Monday night.

Spears' argument is somewhat flawed, though. He attributed the Ravens throwing the ball little more than usual against the Raiders to the season-ending injuries to their top two running backs, J.K. Dobbins and Gus Edwards.

The fact is that Baltimore ran the ball 34 times for 189 yards. Jackson led the way with 86 yards on 12 carries, but running backs Ty'Son Williams, Latavius Murray and Trenton Cannon combined for 98 yards and two touchdowns on 21 carries.

NFL Network's Bucky Brooks said he isn't worried about the Ravens' running game because Jackson "is what makes the running game go" and "whoever plays running back is going to have yards."

Brooks said the flaw in the Ravens' approach against the Raiders was that they went for speed over size.

"I understand their thought," Brooks said on the "Move the Sticks" podcast. "Their thought is, 'We're going to draft these guys and we're going to have a faster, more dynamic wide receiver corps. We're going to put Marquise Brown and Sammy Watkins and Devin Duvernay and all these guys on the field so now we have an explosive track team.'

"In my mind, when they do that, they negate some of Lamar Jackson's advantages. When they are at their best in my mind is when they put their bigs on the field – tight ends and fullbacks. Because defensively, you've got to counter with linebackers and defensive ends. Lamar has a significant speed advantage when they're playing big on big. When you put all the little guys in, you now have dime and six, seven DB's on the field, and now his speed isn't as impactful as it is against the big guys.

"I understand the push to, 'Hey, we've got to refine the passing game.' The thing is, I think the passing game needs to be a passing game that comes off play action, comes from under center and comes from their big guys being on the field rather than all those little guys. I think they come back to the pack when they play 10 and 11 personnel versus being different with 12, 13 personnel and all the big bodies on the field. … You're slowing yourself down by putting more of these small guys out there. And also these small guys don't block like the big guys."

The whole debate is somewhat odd because all offseason, pundits talked about the Ravens' need to take the next step in the passing game. After one loss on opening weekend, now we're back to "just pound the rock"?

Concern Over Offensive Line Is Warranted, But Analyst Says Unit Just Needs Time to Jell

It's no secret that the biggest concern for the Ravens' offense coming out of Monday night's game is the offensive line.

The concern is warranted. Jackson was consistently under pressure against the Raiders, and it clearly affected his performance.

"When the Ravens kept Jackson clean Monday, good results followed," The Baltimore Sun's Jonas Shaffer wrote. "On 21 clean drop-backs, according to [Pro Football Focus] he was 13-for-18 for 170 yards, with three scrambles. But on his 18 pressured drop-backs, he attempted only 12 passes, completing six for 65 yards and a touchdown. He scrambled three times and was sacked three times."

Veteran Alejandro Villanueva, who was signed during the offseason to replace Pro Bowl right tackle Orlando Brown Jr., was the target for much of the criticism of the unit's performance. He got PFF's lowest pass-blocking grade across all NFL offensive tackles in Week 1.

"The Ravens, who have offensive line-friendly schemes and one of the most elusive quarterbacks in NFL history, felt that Villanueva would be plenty serviceable," Zrebiec wrote. "And the soon-to-be 33-year-old still could be, but his play against the Raiders must have raised legitimate concern among the Ravens' decision-makers. [Maxx] Crosby is an ascending, quality pass rusher, but he's not Myles Garrett or T.J. Watt, whom the Ravens will have to block in four games this season.

"If Villanueva doesn't warm to the task, there will be plenty of time to question why the Ravens ignored the Steelers' lack of interest in re-signing him and gave Villanueva $8 million in guaranteed money. At least right now, however, the Ravens have to start considering contingency plans if things don't get better."

NFL Network's Brian Baldinger had a more optimistic viewpoint regarding the offensive line, saying the unit is still a work in progress and should get better as the season goes on.

"They're all new here: [Tyre] Phillips in at left guard; [Bradley] Bozeman's at center; [Kevin] Zeitler, Villanueva; they're all new," Baldinger said. "You've got to give them a little bit of time.

"They're still talking to each other. They're still thinking. It's going to take a little time."

Unfortunately, the Ravens will be without Phillips, who was placed on injured reserve yesterday and is required to miss at least three games. The Ravens will miss Phillips' versatility as the starting left guard and a swing tackle.

Why Was Ty'Son Williams' Role Diminished in the Second Half?

Although the Ravens' running backs cumulatively were productive against the Raiders, how the workload was distributed is being questioned. Specifically, Zrebiec questioned why the Ravens went away from Williams.

Williams, who spent all of last season except for one game on the practice squad, picked up where he left off in the preseason, rushing for 64 yards and a touchdown and catching two passes for 23 yards in the first half against the Raiders. However, he had just two carries for one yard and one reception for six yards after halftime.

"The Ravens leaned primarily on Latavius Murray with the game on the line," Zrebiec wrote. "Murray, who was just signed four days earlier, wound up getting 10 carries to Williams' nine."

Zrebiec offered some potential explanations:

"One, the Ravens may have just trusted the veteran Murray more late in a close game, particularly with ball security. Two, it's not out of the question that Williams was a bit banged up. He took a good shot on one play in the third quarter and he walked slowly off the field a few times in the second half. At one point, Williams had his helmet off and he was stretching on the sideline. Three, it did seem like Williams lost a bit of his aggressiveness as the game went on. He struggled in pass protection, which loomed large on the overtime sack and strip of Jackson. Still, it was such a small second-half sample size."

Ravens Tumble in Power Rankings

Not surprisingly, Baltimore took a tumble in the latest power rankings.

The Ravens' biggest drop was in USA Today's rankings, as they fell from No. 8 to No. 18.

"Their apparent defensive decay could be far more problematic than their depleted running back room after coughing up what should have been a Week 1 W," USA Today's Nate Davis wrote.

The Ravens also fell out of the top 10 in CBS Sports' rankings, dropping from No. 7 to No. 11.

"Losing on the road on a Monday night isn't a disgrace, but now they get the Chiefs on a short week," CBS Sports' Pete Prisco wrote. "The injuries are starting to become an issue."

Baltimore remained in the top 10 in rankings by Bleacher Report (No. 9), ESPN (No. 10) and Sports Illustrated (No.10). NFL.com had the Ravens ranked highest, at No. 7 (down from No. 5).

"This did not look like the Ravens team we are accustomed to seeing," Bleacher Report wrote. "And now they have to get ready for Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs."

Table inside Article
Source Ranking Last Weeks Ranking Comments
NFL.com No. 7 No. 5 “[Lamar] Jackson's fumble on a sack in overtime set up Derek Carr's game-winning, 31-yard touchdown pass to Zay Jones, dooming the Ravens to their first season-opening loss since 2015. The long plane ride back to Baltimore couldn't have been any easier knowing that Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs are on tap Sunday night.”
Bleacher Report No. 9 No. 7 “This did not look like the Ravens team we are accustomed to seeing. And now they have to get ready for Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs.”
ESPN No. 10 No. 6 N/A
Sports Illustrated No. 10 No. 7 “A strange night for the threadbare Ravens, who saw a bit of their façade stripped away once the window dressing of their heavy-personnel offense was gone. Lamar Jackson was impressive as a pure pocket passer but could obviously not bolster himself with the running game when so much is predicated on an intimate RB-QB relationship, and all of Baltimore’s top backs are out of commission.”
CBS Sports No. 11 No. 7 “Losing on the road on a Monday night isn't a disgrace, but now they get the Chiefs on a short week. The injuries are starting to become an issue.”
USA Today No. 18 No. 8 “Their apparent defensive decay could be far more problematic than their depleted running back room after coughing up what should have been a Week 1 W.”

Goal-Line Stand in OT Showed 'Ravens' Culture Still Intact'

One of the positives to take away from Monday night's gut-wrenching loss was the goal-line stand the defense made in overtime.

The Raiders had a first-and-goal inside the 1-yard-line after an apparent 33-yard touchdown catch by Bryan Edwards was overturned, but the drive ended with Anthony Averett intercepting Derek Carr's pass on third down from the 5.

NFL Network's Daniel Jeremiah said the Ravens' resiliency at that moment spoke volumes about the team's culture.

"The culture is still intact," Jeremiah said on "Move the Sticks." "When they're at the 1-foot-line, and this comes from having been there and knowing how they operate and their mindset, there is a toughness ingrained in that team that's been there for 20-plus years. So they're at the 1-foot-line. They were all shaking hands. Lamar's congratulating the Raiders, who think the game's over, but then they end up putting the ball at the 1-foot-line. I think most of the people watching were sitting there thinking, 'OK, it's one quarterback sneak, maybe two quarterback sneaks, and the game's over.'

"And I'm sitting there going, 'No, no. This team will fight until the very end. This is not over.' And sure enough, they're situationally aware, John Harbaugh does a great job. They call a little movement up front and just slide the line, and [Alex] Leatherwood, the rookie right tackle jumps. He takes the bait, so now you back them up, and they get a stinking turnover out of the thing. That is the Ravens' culture. How many teams at any level of football … when you're out there there's a resignation of, 'It's inevitable, we're going to lose.' Not [the Ravens]."

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