Late for Work 9/19: Ravens Have ‘Most Balanced And Dangerous Offense Right Now’

091919_LFW

Ravens Have ‘Most Balanced And Dangerous Offense Right Now’

The best offense in the NFL will be playing at Arrowhead Stadium this Sunday, and it’s not Patrick Mahomes and the Kansas City Chiefs.

That’s the opinion of NFL.com’s Adam Rank, who contends Lamar Jackson and the Baltimore Ravens “have the most balanced and dangerous offense right now.”

“Don't take this as a slight against the Chiefs,” Rank wrote. “I always hate when you tell people you prefer one awesome thing to another awesome thing, and they take it to mean you believe the other awesome thing is washed. This is not the case. The Chiefs have a great offense, and I love them, as my fantasy lineup will attest. The truth is, I'm just really feeling the Ravens.”

It’s a very small sample size, but the statistics back up Rank’s feeling. Through two games, the Ravens are averaging a league-best 541.5 yards per game; the Chiefs are third (479). The Ravens are first in points scored (82 overall); the Chiefs are fourth (68). As for the balance Rank referred to, the Ravens are fourth in passing yards (318 per game) and first in rushing (223.5); the Chiefs are first in passing (407), but 26th in rushing (72).

Rank’s belief in the Ravens offense starts with Jackson. The significant progress Jackson has demonstrated as a passer has rendered the notion that he’s more of a running back than quarterback obsolete, Rank wrote.

“It turns out Lamar Jackson is a pretty good passer – for a quarterback,” Rank wrote. “After finishing 2018 with a 58.2 percent completion rate and 84.5 passer rating, Jackson leads the NFL with a 145.2 passer rating. He's completed nearly 72 percent of his passes, too. And, no, it's not because he's completing a lot of dink-and-dunk tosses, inflating that stat. Jackson is fifth in the NFL with 10.1 air yards per attempt, according to Next Gen Stats -- ahead of Patrick Mahomes (9.4). So Jackson detractors are going to need to find some new material.”

Rank admitted that facing two rebuilding teams in the Miami Dolphins and Arizona Cardinals has played a role in the success of the Ravens offense, but it doesn’t diminish his opinion that the unit is for real.

He even mentioned Jackson in the same sentence with two Hall of Fame quarterbacks.

“Jackson can beat you in so many different ways, like John Elway or Steve Young in their heyday, that to me, he's matchup-proof,” Rank wrote. “And the great thing about the NFL is that the schedule changes week to week. This week, doubters will get to see what Jackson and the Ravens can do against one of the premier teams in the AFC.

“I won't be surprised if we get to see that again in January -- maybe against a different opponent (Baltimore has the best chance of the contenders in the conference to give the Patriots trouble), but with a trip to the Super Bowl on the line.”

Regardless of how good the Ravens offense may be Sunday, it may not matter unless the defense can slow down the Chiefs’ high-powered offense. It’s a daunting task for sure, but the Ravens defense – which is currently ranked second – has a better chance of succeeding than most because of how aggressive it is, Sports Illustrated’s Andy Benoit wrote.

“An offense like Kansas City’s can make a defense overthink its strategy,” Benoit wrote. “Teams assume that they have to show Mahomes and [Head Coach] Andy Reid something they haven’t seen before and do something extra. The Ravens, however, took the opposite approach [last season against the Chiefs] by becoming not something else, but rather, more of what they already were.

“For [Ravens Head Coach] John Harbaugh’s team, that meant blitzing. Fighting fire with fire, Harbaugh and defensive coordinator Wink Martindale attacked the Chiefs’ offense with the same gusto that Kansas City’s offense had for attacking them. … Strategically, the Ravens won that battle … but Kansas City still won the game, simply because their wizardly QB conjured a handful of unthinkable big plays when things broke down.”

Lamar Jackson Is Among Early MVP Candidates

A few months ago, Pro Football Talk’s Chris Simms placed Jackson at No. 30 in his preseason quarterback rankings. Now he believes Jackson is in the early discussion for league MVP.

Simms and fellow “PFT Live” host Mike Florio drafted their MVP candidates, and Simms took Jackson third overall, behind Mahomes and Dallas Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott. Florio said Jackson was second on his list to Mahomes.

“Lamar Jackson has been phenomenal through the first two weeks,” Simms said. “[He’s] making NFL quarterback, big-time throws.”

Florio added: “There is a confidence in him, a swagger. There was a play against the Cardinals where he was running to the left and he did a little bit of a high step. It seemed like every time I looked up at the screen of the 10 games that were going on in the early window on Sunday, Lamar Jackson was completing a pass. … I think Lamar Jackson is special.”

“Good Morning Football’s” Kay Adams also believes Jackson could be a legitimate contender for MVP.

Not everyone is sold on Jackson just yet, however. Count Fox Sports Radio’s Doug Gottlieb among the doubters.

“I’m supposed to sit here and tell you that Lamar Jackson is changing the league and that all of our opinions about him were wrong, and he has in fact performed like it,” Gottlieb said. “Lamar Jackson has beaten the Dolphins and the Cardinals. … The Dolphins are going to be a ridiculously, remarkably bad team. The Cardinals, there aren’t great expectations.

“Does that mean I think he’s going to all a sudden be crummy and be the worst quarterback in the league? No. But I think when you’re running kind of a unique, quirky, different style, it takes people time to adjust. And you happen to be playing against two of the worst teams in the National Football League, you’re going to look better. … Once you get tape on what they’re doing and how they’re doing it, everything changes.”

I’m not discounting Gottlieb’s opinion, but keep in mind he is the guy who inadvertently put his pants on backwards during his college basketball-playing days at Oklahoma State. He also got roasted recently for a hot take on Andrew Luck’s retirement.

Justin Tucker, Hollywood Brown, Jackson Rank High

Several Ravens are at the top of pundits’ rankings in various categories.

It’s no surprise the Ravens’ Justin Tucker, the all-time leader in field-goal percentage, was No. 1 on NFL.com’s Greg Wesseling’s kicker rankings heading into Week 3.

“Tucker has established a new standard for accuracy and distance since landing in Baltimore as an undrafted free agent out of Texas back in 2012,” Wesseling wrote. “Not bad for a specialist who plies his trade outdoors on real grass in the AFC North elements. … With the game on the line, Harbaugh knows he has an inherent advantage on every opponent: once his offense crosses midfield, the Ravens are in reasonable Tucker territory.”

On a side note, New Orleans Saints kicker Wil Lutz, who the Ravens signed as an undrafted free agent in 2016, was No. 2.

“Harbaugh knows kickers,” Wesseling wrote. “When Lutz inevitably failed to unseat Tucker in training camp, New Orleans plucked him off the waiver wire.”

Ravens wide receiver Marquise “Hollywood” Brown was No. 1 on CBS Sports’ Cody Benjamin’s rookie power rankings.

“Is anyone more explosive down the field than this guy right now?” Benjamin wrote. “The way he and Lamar Jackson are connecting is incredible. And people thought the Ravens would never be throwing deep!:”

Speaking of Jackson – as we tend to do here – he landed on three sets of rankings on NFL.com.

Quick Hits

  • ESPN’s Dan Graziano lists the Ravens as one of five trade fits for Jacksonville Jaguars cornerback Jalen Ramsey, who will suit up for tonight’s game against the Titans but reportedly could be traded on Friday.
  • ESPN’s fantasy crew speculated on end-of-season rankings for Jackson, Brown and Mark Andrews.

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