Pundits Debate Whether Ravens' Offense is Sustainable
Before the start of the regular season, words such as "revolutionary" and "explosive" were used by pundits regarding the potential of the Ravens' offense.
Another buzz word in the discussion was "sustainable," and it has come up again on the heels of the Ravens rushing for a season-high 269 yards -- including a career-high 152 yards from quarterback Lamar Jackson -- in their win over the Cincinnati Bengals on Sunday.
Before delving into the debate, let's first look at how the offense has fared thus far. On this point, there is no debate.
The Ravens are first in total yards per game (450.7) and rushing yards per game (205), and second in scoring (30.7). They have amassed 1,230 rushing yards; no other team has reached 1,000.
The Ravens are on pace for 3,280 rushing yards, which would break the all-time record of 3,165 set by the 1978 New England Patriots. Baltimore also leads the league in yards per carry (5.5) and rushing first downs (70; no other team has more than 50).
With 460 yards on 69 carries, Jackson is on pace for 1,227 yards and 184 carries, which would shatter the single-season records for rushing yards (1,039 by Michael Vick in 2006) and carries (139 by Cam Newton in 2017) by a quarterback.
So, is the Ravens' run-heavy offense led by Jackson sustainable? The topic was discussed by the "Good Morning Football" hosts.
Nate Burleson said, "If it's working, don't fix it," and his colleague Peter Schrager agreed.
"It is what's working," Schrager said. "We did flips over the fact that, 'See he's not a running quarterback, he's not a running quarterback,' the first two weeks because it felt like they wanted to prove he can pass. Well, he's both. He passes and he runs and he's a really great running quarterback.
"It would be a crime not to use him this way if the coverage and the defense allows it to be. … They win, they control the clock."
Kyle Brandt took a dissenting opinion.
"I have to put on the grumpy old man hat. There's a question of sustainability," Brandt said. "It's not like they're just running him a little bit. They're running him a lot. If you keep running this much, every metric that we have says it's a matter of time before you get banged up."
Well, perhaps not every metric. As noted in “Late for Work” yesterday, a study done by Sports Info Solution's John Verros found that the "risk for a scrambling quarterback is almost equal to the quarterback who is sacked: once every 91.7 plays for the scrambler, once every 92.5 plays for the guy getting sacked."
I hate to bring this up because it feels like tempting fate, but Jackson never missed a game during his three years at Louisville.
Still, analysts such as Tony Dungy and Chris Simms of NBC's "Football Night in America" also believe it's inevitable that Jackson will get hurt if he continues to run as frequently as he has."
Per The Athletic's Jeff Zrebiec: "Former NFL coach Tony Dungy said during Sunday night's pre-game show that Jackson can't stay injury-free 'like we're seeing now. You're a 195-pound guy; you're not a 220-pound running back. He can't take all those hits.' His NBC colleague, former pro quarterback Chris Simms, agreed and said he doesn't know how Jackson has managed to avoid injuries to this point."
(Not to quibble, but the 6-foot-2 Jackson is officially listed at 212 pounds.) It's not like Ravens coaches and Jackson aren't cognizant of the risks associated with his style of play and are not taking precautions.
"The goal was not for him to take certain hits [in the Bengals game]," Ravens Head Coach John Harbaugh said Monday. "There were probably two in there that we would rather see him not get hit on. I think we also have to acknowledge that those are going to happen over the course of the year – hopefully less rather than more. I wouldn't expect him to be running that many times very many times this year."
Zrebiec believes the Ravens ultimately need less dependence on Jackson, "specifically as a runner," but "he's not going to change the way he plays, nor should he."
"He's fast and elusive, and he's gotten better about veering out of bounds or getting down rather than welcoming a big blow," Zrebiec wrote. "Look, for all the talk about Jackson's health, there are a lot of 'true' pocket passers getting hurt in the NFL these days."
Lamar Jackson Should Remain in MVP Conversation
Jackson entered the league MVP discussion after a red-hot start to the season, but when he cooled off a bit, so did the MVP talk.
Such is the fickle nature of the sports media, but not everyone is quick to jump off the Lamar-for-MVP train. Pro Football Talk’s Mike Florio, for one, believes Jackson should still be under consideration for the award.
"If [the Ravens] secure the No. 1 or No. 2 seed and if Jackson continues on this pace, he could become the favorite to win the award," Florio wrote. "It will be fun while it lasts, but it may not last. If it does, he may be the 2019 NFL MVP."
Bucky Brooks referred to Jackson as "the complete package" on the “Move the Sticks” podcast.
"A lot of the conversation with Lamar Jackson coming out was, 'Could you get him to utilize all the best aspects ofhis game in the National Football League? Can he be a guy that is a competent passer and a dominant runner?'" Brooks said. "And what we're seeing -- the Baltimore Ravens have kind of found the secret sauce to unlocking all those skills and all those aspects of Lamar Jackson's game.
"You talk about a guy being really able to impact the game. What Lamar Jackson did is what we typically see on Friday nights in high school games. The quarterback is the best guy on the field, he runs around, he makes all the plays and he does everything. Lamar Jackson is just doing it on a bigger and brighter stage in the National Football League."
NFL Network's Michael Silver also praised Jackson for his versatility and winning attitude.
"What I like about Lamar is his temperament and the fact that doesn't need to do it a certain way," Silver said. "He does what he needs to do. … We hear about guys, 'All he wants to do is win. That's all he cares about.' I think this is a young man who's really living it and not worrying about the outside noise."
Zrebiec: Ravens Should Trade for a Pass Rusher
With the NFL trade deadline two weeks from today, Zrebiec speculated on whether the Ravens will be active. While most of the chatter has been about the Ravens adding an impact player to an injury-ravaged secondary, Zrebiec wrote that the Ravens should be looking to make a deal for a pass rusher.
"ESPN's Adam Schefter reported Sunday that multiple teams have inquired with the New York Jets about the availability of defensive lineman Leonard Williams. I don't know for sure whether the Ravens are one of those teams, but they should be," Zrebiec wrote.
"While the Ravens need an edge rusher, an interior pass rush is every bit as important. Williams, the sixth overall pick in the 2015 draft, is having a quiet year, but he had five sacks and 20 quarterback hits in 16 games last season. He's in the final year of his rookie deal, so I don't know what would be the Jets' asking price. It's at least worth exploring."
Zrebiec noted that trades "are relatively rare in the NFL, and they're particularly unique with the Ravens."
"Since 2010, the Ravens have made a total of five regular-season deals, and the only one of significance was acquiring offensive tackle Eugene Monroe from the Jacksonville Jaguars in October 2013 for fourth and fifth-round draft picks," Zrebiec wrote.
"My guess is General Manager Eric DeCosta will swing a trade to help out the defense. Now would be an ideal time, because the player would provide immediate help with the Ravens' schedule getting tougher, and they'd also have next week's bye week to learn the defense better. But as I've been saying for a while now, it's probably best to keep your expectations in check."