Mailbag: Should the Ravens Be a Pass-First Offense Now?

QB Lamar Jackson

Mink: For multiple reasons, the Ravens have certainly become more pass-heavy this season, and I think that should continue. I think they were already planning to shade more in that direction because they recognized the need to have a stronger counter punch. Baltimore signed Sammy Watkins and drafted Rashod Bateman to improve their wide receiver corps and lean on them more. This offense has evolved from the tight-end heavy attack of a couple years ago. The other reason they've thrown more is because they lost their top two running backs, J.K. Dobbins and Gus Edwards, to season-ending injuries. You adapt to your personnel.

The last reason why the Ravens are throwing the ball more is because that's what defenses are giving them. The Lions and Broncos dared Lamar Jackson to beat them with his arm and that's exactly what he's done. In 2019, Jackson had five games with at least 30 passing attempts. Last year, he had just two last. This year, he's thrown 30 or more times in three of four games. If defenses keep coming with the same approach, the Ravens will continue to air it out so long as it keeps working. If Jackson keeps burning them, especially for big plays, teams will eventually adjust and so will Baltimore's offense. It would be a mistake to dismiss the Ravens' rushing attack and go all-in on throwing the ball. Balance (and being good at both) is the objective.

Downing: I knew these questions were coming. As soon as news broke this week that Jaylon Smith and Stephon Gilmore were available, the tweets started rolling in about the possibility of them landing in Baltimore. Let's start with Smith. I'm intrigued about the idea of adding him to this defense. He's a former Pro Bowler who was just two years into a six-year contract extension reportedly worth $68 million. He doesn't have great numbers this season and saw his role reduced in the Cowboys defense before ultimately getting released. However, Pro Football Focus still has his graded as the 11th-best inside linebacker in the NFL and the third-best in coverage. The Ravens linebackers have had some tough moments in the early part of the season, and the team recently brought in veteran Josh Bynes to help the group. I'm still high on linebacker Patrick Queen despite the missed tackles this year, but adding Smith to the group would certainly elevate the competition.

With Gilmore, he fits into just about defense in the league. He's been a premier cornerback throughout his career, but he's been on the physically unable to perform list with a quad injury. He's also been in the middle of a contract dispute with the Patriots as he seeks a new deal. Obviously, the Ravens have deal with injuries in the secondary, particularly with the season-ending knee injury to Marcus Peters. Anthony Averett has played well in stepping in for Peters, but it sure would be nice to have Gilmore on the roster. When Gilmore is healthy, he's one of the best in the league at his position.

But with all the said, the bigger issue here is that the Ravens likely don't have the money to sign either player. They are tight against the salary cap, with only $2 million in cap space, according to Russell Street Report’s Brian McFarland. Could they try to re-do contracts to free up more cap space? Sure, but they've already reportedly gone that route to some extent to sign veterans like Justin Houston and Latavius Murray. At a certain point, teams just can't create money and cap space out of thin air, and the Ravens are close to that point. Smith and Gilmore won't come cheap, and there are teams who could use them with much more cap space available.

UPDATE: Well this possibility didn't last long. The Patriots traded Gilmore to the Carolina Panthers this afternoon in exchange for a 2023 sixth-round pick. Now before you ask, "Why didn't the Ravens give up a sixth rounder???," the reason here is that they just don't have the cap space to take on Gilmore's contract.

Mink: Cleveland's snaps have grown slightly the past three weeks as he's shared the left guard job with Ben Powers. Cleveland played 42% of the snaps in Week 2, 45% in Week 3 and 47% in Week 4 with a season-high 34 offensive snaps. According to Pro Football Focus' grades, Cleveland had his best game in Detroit and his worst in Denver, where his pass protection grade dragged him down. He still only allowed one pressure, however.

Like you, I've similarly been impressed with the 6-foot-6 road grader and think he will continue to get better the more game reps he gets. For a player with such size and physicality, it's about technique and experience. I think the Ravens are trying to get him up to speed as fast as possible so that he can take over as the full-time starter.

Downing: I like the confidence, but I think we're putting the cart before the horse a bit here. It's Week 5 and we're talking about being playoff ready!? To be honest, I think that 2012 team was more prepared than any other team I've seen for those playoffs. They had the veteran leadership of Ray Lewis, Ed Reed, Terrell Suggs and Haloti Ngata. They had the emotion of Ray's last ride. They also had played plenty of tight games during the season – remember the Sunday Night Football win over New England or the "Hey Diddle, Diddle" play in San Diego? All of that experience paid off as the Ravens showed their mettle to win the Super Bowl that season. I do think this year's team is building a great track record of showing they can win close games, but let's hold the horses on the 2012 comparison.

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