'Plenty of Reasons to Be Optimistic' About Ravens Offense
The Ravens offense under Todd Monken has produced mixed results through the first three weeks of the season, but a closer look at the statistics suggests Lamar Jackson and the first-year coordinator are in sync, according to USA Today’s Larry Brown Jr.
"While things haven't been spotless for the Baltimore Ravens offense, there are plenty of reasons to be optimistic," Brown wrote. "Despite four fumbles and one INT on the season, quarterback Lamar Jackson has the second-highest completion rate in the NFL. Jackson is completing passes at a 73% rate through 86 attempts and this suggests that Offensive Coordinator Todd Monken has an adequate scheme.
"So far, we've seen Monken scheme dynamic run concepts for Jackson out of shotgun formation and deploy a plethora of three-step drop pass concepts. With the Ravens plagued by the abrupt injury to running back J.K Dobbins and the absence of wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr., Monken has improvised, utilizing wide receiver Zay Flowers in screen plays and getting the ball out of Jackson's hands quickly."
Brown contended that Jackson needs to trust his first reads more going forward.
"His comfortability will grow in time but at times he's holding the ball too long in the pocket and this has allowed the pass rush to get home," Brown wrote. "Baltimore has allowed 11 sacks so far this season. As Baltimore prepares for Cleveland in Week 4, they'll need to minimize the amount of sacks they take and win the field position game. Even still, Jackson's second-ranked completion percentage behind Los Angeles Chargers quarterback Justin Herbert through Week 3 should be an indication of Baltimore's offensive potential."
The Baltimore Sun’s Brian Wacker said Jackson might have been getting the ball out too quickly in Sunday's loss to the Indianapolis Colts.
"Coming into the game, Colts Defensive Coordinator Gus Bradley had blitzed just 17% of the time through the first two weeks. But against Baltimore, the Colts blitzed on 58% of the Ravens' dropbacks in the fourth quarter and overtime, and it caused Jackson to get rid of the ball a little too soon at times, even before a defender reached him," Wacker wrote.
The consequence of quickly unloading the ball in those instances is that the Ravens missed out on gaining significant yards had Jackson held onto the ball a hair longer and seen open receivers or open running lanes.
Jackson said yesterday that the offense remains a work in progress, but he's optimistic about its potential.
"We didn't really play [in] the preseason, so we're trying to figure it out," Jackson said. "We just had one great game against Cincinnati. [We tried to] piggyback off that when we played the Colts, and we just had little mishaps. That happens. Every game is not perfect, but if we clean it up in Cleveland, I feel like the sky is the limit for us, like I always say."
How Ravens and Browns Are Managing Injuries to Their Star Running Backs
One unfortunate thing the Ravens and Browns have in common is that they have lost their star running backs to season-ending injuries, with J.K. Dobbins suffering a torn Achilles in Week 1 and Nick Chubb a torn MCL in Week 2.
Both teams will look to maintain their strong running games without their most explosive backs in Sunday's AFC North showdown in Cleveland. Since the start of the 2020 season, the Ravens have run for an NFL-best 8,744 yards rushing and the Browns rank second with 7,817 yards, per ESPN.
ESPN’s Jamison Hensley and Jake Trotter analyzed how the Ravens and Browns are handling the major void in their running games:
"Ravens: The hope is a combination of Justice Hill and Gus Edwards will replace Dobbins. Hill, a fourth-round pick in 2019, has the speed to hit the edges but has to prove durability. Edwards, a long-time backup, is a power runner in between the tackles who has to show he's fully recovered from a devastating knee injury in 2021. Baltimore added veteran backs Melvin Gordon III and Kenyan Drake to the practice squad and both were elevated to play Sunday. Undrafted rookie Keaton Mitchell could become a factor once he returns from injured reserve."
"Browns: The Browns drafted Jerome Ford in the fifth round last year and declared him the lead back following Chubb's left knee injury. Cleveland also signed Kareem Hunt last week. The Browns have been excited about Ford's talent and potential since training camp last year."
How it's going
"Ravens: Hill missed Sunday's game with a foot injury, and Edwards left the game with a concussion. Baltimore's best runner has been Jackson, who has been using his legs more since Dobbins' injury. In two games without Dobbins, Jackson has run 26 times for 155 yards and two touchdowns. All of the Ravens' running backs have totaled 186 yards and one touchdown during that span."
"Browns: The Browns got little going on the ground against Tennessee's stout defensive front. Ford rushed for just 18 yards on 10 carries, while Hunt ran for 13 yards on five carries. Still, both backs made plays in the passing game, with Ford — who lined up on the play as a wide receiver — hauling in a 19-yard touchdown grab to help get the Cleveland offense rolling in the first half. The Browns might not have the same efficient rushing offense they did with Chubb, but their revamped backfield should still give them production."
Ravens Will Be 'Major Factor" in AFC North if They Can Weather Injury Storm
The Cincinnati Bengals entered the season as the favorite to win the AFC North crown for an unprecedented third consecutive season, but they are currently in last place in the division with a 1-2 record.
It's still early, and the Bengals recovered from an 0-2 start last season to finish 12-4, but ESPN’s Dan Graziano doesn't see Cincinnati repeating.
"I had the Bengals as the division favorite and Super Bowl winner, but the rough start and the persistence of the Joe Burrow calf injury have conspired to make me think this was not my best pick," Graziano wrote. "The Browns could be a major factor in the division if Deshaun Watson can just start playing decent football, which he kind of did Sunday. Bringing in Jim Schwartz as defensive coordinator could turn out to be the offseason's best addition, and edge rusher Myles Garrett looks primed for a Defensive Player of the Year run.
"Baltimore will be a major factor, too, if it can find a way to weather this flood of early-season injuries. I still don't think the Steelers have enough on offense, but Mike Tomlin's likely going to coach more wins out of them than their talent might predict. The Bengals' slow start and Burrow's injured leg may end up costing them a lot more than expected."
The Ravens, Browns and Steelers are tied for first in the AFC North with 2-1 records. Baltimore has an opportunity to distance itself from the rest of the division over the next two weeks, as it plays at Cleveland and then at Pittsburgh. The Ravens already own a road win over Cincinnati.