All-Pro cornerback Marlon Humphrey predicted this summer that the Ravens would get some major playmaking from their wide receivers this season. Trying to cover them every day during minicamp was a major challenge for Humphrey, and he loved it.
"Something I definitely have noticed different with our wide receiver corps," Humphrey said in June. "I felt a major energy change. Whatever group makes it, we'll have a really serious, good passing attack – just what those guys can do."
Humphrey was right. Sunday's victory over the Denver Broncos was a breakout game for James Proche II, who had career highs in catches (five) and receiving yards (74). Sammy Watkins (four catches, 49 yards) and Devin Duvernay (three catches, 31 yards) got open consistently. And the week after Marquise "Hollywood" Brown struggled with drops in Detroit, he laid out in the end zone to make a spectacular 49-yard touchdown catch.
This is what the Ravens envisioned, a diverse and deep group of targets that would give Lamar Jackson more weapons than he's ever had since he became the starting quarterback in 2018. That vision is coming to fruition, even though first-round pick Rashod Bateman and Miles Boykin have yet to return from injured reserve.
Opponents that focus their attention on stopping the run and containing Brown and tight end Mark Andrews are finding the Ravens' passing attack more difficult to defend. Jackson had the second 300-yard passing day of his career (22 for 37, 316 yards, one touchdown) on Sunday, spreading the ball around with accuracy. Jackson targeted eight different teammates.
Brown and Proche won consistently against a Broncos secondary that is regarded as one of the NFL's best. They were getting wide open, with Proche topping all wide receivers in separation in Week 4, while Brown was No. 2.
"The route-running was great," Head Coach John Harbaugh said. "The pass protection, especially the play-action pass protection, was excellent. So, it was a group effort. Lamar made some throws. The throws outside the numbers, those deep-out throws that a lot of people are saying Lamar can't throw – obviously, he's proven them wrong on that. And the downfield throws – he hit those throws."
Jackson sees Sunday as just the tip of the iceberg for Baltimore's receiving corps, and looks forward to taking the passing game to another level, especially once Bateman and Boykin return.
"The sky's the limit," Jackson said. "We've just got to keep it going. One play at a time, one practice at a time. Just stay locked in and focused on our duties."
Brown and Watkins are proven NFL players, but the development of Proche and Duvernay in their second seasons is intriguing. Both are hard workers who've had to earn their playing time. Proche is often the first player on the practice field and was the most impressive wide receiver during training camp.
Proche was one of college football's most prolific receivers at SMU with 93 catches as a junior and a nation-leading 111 catches as a senior. Having the best game of his career Sunday should only boost his confidence.
"No surprise there, he's been doing it in training camp, and he did it in preseason games," Harbaugh said. "He did it when we went down to Carolina. He started doing it whenever he got into games. Five catches and seventy-four yards. He is going to be mad about the one he didn't catch, the shoe-string type catch. He had a big-time game and a key third down conversion late in the game. I am very proud of him."
Trying to contain the Ravens' prolific rushing attack, which Jackson is a huge part of, will remain a point of emphasis for any team Baltimore faces. Denver loaded the box and dared the Ravens to rely on their passing attack to move the ball. That's exactly what Baltimore did, and Proche viewed Sunday's victory as a statement, not for him, but for the wide receivers as a whole.
"It was a collective, just always doing our job, and you love to see that because later down the road they've got to respect us now," Proche said. "All the talk on Twitter and all that nonsense, they've got to respect us now. It's going to help the run game, and the defense is going to help everything. Everybody is doing their job."
Part of the energy Humphrey saw from the wide receivers this summer has been generated by Wide Receivers Coach Tee Martin and Pass Game Specialist Keith Williams. New to the staff, Martin and Williams have brought a fresh approach that the wide receivers have embraced. A great college quarterback at Tennessee, Martin can talk to wide receivers about running routes from a quarterback's perspective. Williams already had a close relationship with Watkins as his personal offseason coach, and numerous players have given props to Martin and Williams for the passion they bring to their jobs.
"I'm seeing the wide receivers coaches act like DBs, and I'm like, 'They need to put on some cleats,'" Humphrey said.
There is no need for Martin and Williams to suit up. Baltimore's wide receivers are getting the job done, and they plan to build off their Week 4 performance.
"It was great to see," Brown said. "Sammy, James, Devin, Mark, everybody touched the ball and made plays. Going forward I hope we can continue with that."