The Ravens have kept winning, but lately they've had trouble scoring.
Baltimore has averaged just 14 points in its last three games, after averaging 27.6 points through the first eight. The Ravens have the best record in the AFC (8-3) and have won two straight, but they recognize they need to produce more points. Offensive Coordinator Greg Roman wants to see more production, though he's grateful the Ravens have been resourceful.
"Some of those games when you find a way to win are some of the most beautiful games you'll ever be a part of," Roman said. "Bad things happen and you're not playing your best and you still have the guts and will to land the plane. We landed the plane."
The ride was unusually bumpy for Lamar Jackson, who threw a career-high four interceptions during Sunday's 16-10 win over the Cleveland Browns. Jackson said he "played like a rookie" and has thrown nine interceptions over his last five games, but Roman isn't overly concerned about the quarterback's recent turnovers.
"Those plays were addressed. We have to learn from it and use it moving forward. We never want to turn the ball over like that," Roman said. "He did a lot of great things in that game to help us put that game away. They're all a little bit different (interceptions), but very, very correctable."
As he gameplans for the rival Pittsburgh Steelers on Sunday, Roman said even more emphasis will be placed on finishing drives with touchdowns. Baltimore dominated time of possession against Cleveland, 37:04 to 22:56, and had four drives that lasted at least nine plays. Yet, they settled for field goals on three of those four drives.
Baltimore's lone touchdown came on a pass from Jackson to Mark Andrews, when the two players adlibbed beautifully to produce a 13-yard scoring play.
Baltimore's last three games have all had a different feel offensively. The Ravens succumbed badly to constant blitz pressure in a 22-10 loss to Miami. With Jackson too sick to play in Chicago, Tyler Huntley led a superb game-winning drive to beat the Bears, but Roman pointed out that the circumstances of that game were highly unusual.
"Ninety minutes before the game we found out Tyler was playing," Roman said. "I certainly called that game differently than I might [with Jackson], and we played a different style. You do what you have to do to win games."
Roman is confident Baltimore is on the verge of breaking out offensively. Marquise "Hollywood" Brown and Andrews are having their best seasons, while Sammy Watkins, Rashod Bateman and Nick Boyle have come back from injuries. Roman hopes the offensive floodgates open in Pittsburgh.
"The thing we're doing extremely well is controlling the football game," Roman said. "It's kind of unique. Honesty, I can't put my finger on being a part of this kind of dynamic, where you're averaging 38 minutes of possession, you're getting 23 plus first downs – we've got to turn those and finish drives into points.
"Maximize possessions. That's very important to us. That's what we've got to really focus on."
Marlon Humphrey and Odafe Oweh Miss Practice
Two of Baltimore's top defensive players landed on Thursday's injury report.
All-Pro cornerback Marlon Humphrey (illness) did not practice, nor did rookie outside linebacker Odafe Oweh (shoulder), who is second on the team in sacks (5.0) behind Tyus Bowser (5.5) Both Humphrey and Oweh practiced Wednesday and have played every game this season.
Humphrey's absence left the Ravens with just two cornerbacks on the 53-man roster who practiced Thursday – Anthony Averett and Jimmy Smith. Nickel cornerback Tavon Young (illness) and cornerback Chris Westry (thigh) didn't practice for the second straight day. Averett (shoulder/ankle) was limited after missing practice Wednesday, but Smith improved from limited to a full participant Thursday.
Tight end Nick Boyle (knee) and offensive tackle Cedric Ogbuehi (thigh) did not practice for the second straight day. Others who were limited Thursday were starting right tackle Patrick Mekari (finger), wide receivers Devin Duvernay (thigh) and Miles Boykin (finger), and outside linebacker Jaylon Ferguson (illness).
Pro Bowl defensive lineman Calais Campbell (concussion) was a full participant, as was starting center Bradley Bozeman (skin laceration) and starting inside linebacker Patrick Queen (ribs). Veterans Justin Houston, Alejandro Villanueva and Brandon Williams were given the day off.
Brandon Williams Feels Healthier and More Rested
After missing three games because of a shoulder injury, nose tackle Brandon Williams returned to the lineup and made a significant impact, helping Baltimore's defense hold the Browns to a season-low 40 yards rushing.
The season is a grind for defensive linemen, but Williams should have fresher legs down the stretch and the Ravens won two of three games that Williams missed.
Williams and Calais Campbell are the veteran defensive line stalwarts, but Justin Ellis, Justin Madubuike and Broderick Washington have all played major roles in the rotation with Derek Wolfe (back) out for the year. Williams credited his linemates, who held the fort when he was gone.
"Kudos to the guys who stepped up," Williams said. "Khalil McKenzie, big Broderick. A bunch of guys definitely stepped up and proved they can play in this league and showed some great things to build off of. I appreciate them for giving me that time to come back and do my job."
Ravens Will Manage Nick Boyle's Workload the Rest of the Year
After playing 32 snaps in his season debut against the Chicago Bears, Boyle played just 10 snaps against the Browns. It has been a long road to recovery for Boyle, who had two surgeries after a major knee injury ended his 2020 season.
However, the Ravens want to keep Boyle healthy the rest of the way, and when he's on the field, he's making an impact as one of the NFL's top blocking tight ends.
"Nick's getting better all the time," Roman said. "He's still getting used to things. He'll be the first to admit that he's not where he wants to be yet. But we want to keep dosing him in and keep letting him take those steps up the ladder to get him back to his form.
"It's definitely going to be a process, I'd say throughout the rest of this year. He will definitely be a big part of helping us the rest of the year, because even him at 70 percent is very valuable."
Chris Horton Discusses Successful Fake Punt That Officials Negated
There was a bizarre sequence during Sunday's game when the Ravens thought they had executed a successful fake punt, only to have it taken away by the officials.
Anthony Levine Sr. took a direct snap and ran for four yards on fourth-and-two. But the officials ruled the whistle hadn't been blown yet to begin play, and Levine's run was erased. The Browns called a timeout before the next snap because they had too many men on the field. But on the next play, the Browns still had an extra man on the field, and the 5-yard penalty gave the Ravens a first down.
Things worked out for the Ravens, but Special Teams Coordinator Chris Horton thought the fake punt should have counted.
"When you talk to the refs … they pretty much said that play from a mechanics standpoint should have been officiated a little bit better," Horton said. "We can also learn from it. But normally, when that umpire's out of there that play's ready to go. We executed a good play."
Kristian Welch Joins Inside Linebacker Mix
Inside linebacker Kristin Welch has been a regular on special teams all year, but he saw his first action on defense against the Browns, playing 10 snaps. Defensive Coordinator Wink Martindale said Welch worked hard for the opportunity to join Patrick Queen, Josh Bynes and Chris Board in the inside linebacker rotation.
"Guys earn their stripes playing special teams," Martindale said. "When they start making plays on special teams, it's time to get them in the mix defensively. He knows the system and he played well. So he'll continue to get reps. I don't know how many it will be. It just all depends on how the game goes."