Which Raven Will Have the Biggest Impact When He Returns From Injury?
Running back Gus Edwards (ACL) returned to practice yesterday after being sidelined for more than a year. All-Pro left tackle Ronnie Stanley (ankle) had another full practice and could make his 2022 season debut Sunday night. Meanwhile, outside linebacker Tyus Bowser (Achilles) is "really close" to returning, according to Head Coach John Harbaugh.
All three players are difference-makers, but which of them will have the biggest impact? The topic was discussed by three Baltimore Sun reporters during their Ravens roundtable, and there were three different answers.
"Ravens coaches have said that Stanley is in the best shape of his career. If his surgically repaired left ankle cooperates, the trickle-down benefits of getting an elite athlete and an elite technician back at an essential position could be enormous," Jonas Shaffer wrote. "A healthy, confident Stanley would open up coordinator Greg Roman's playbook and expand the offense's margin for error. When he first hurt his ankle in 2020, Stanley was one of the NFL's best pass-protecting and run-blocking tackles."
Childs Walker agreed that Stanley returning to form would be huge, but said what Bowser brings to the defense should not be overlooked.
"Stanley is the most important player who has yet to return, but the Ravens' pass protection has been serviceable without him. So let's go with Bowser, whose versatility was so important to their defense in 2020 and 2021," Walker wrote. "The Ravens have asked a lot of Odafe Oweh, Justin Houston and, most recently, Jason Pierre-Paul, and Bowser will take stress off all of them. More importantly, he will give Defensive Coordinator Mike Macdonald an important chess piece in the pass rush and in coverage."
One of the reasons the Ravens failed to seal wins over the Miami Dolphins and Buffalo Bills was their inability to convert in short-yardage situations, and C.J. Doon said a healthy Edwards would rectify the situation.
"The Ravens have missed having a big, bruising running back to complement [Lamar[ Jackson's speed," Doon wrote. "Think about their struggles in short-yardage situations this season — getting stopped at the goal line against Miami, failing to convert a fourth-and-1 to ice the game against the Dolphins, coming up empty on three plays inside the 5 on their final drive against Buffalo. If running back Gus Edwards has the same burst he showed in his first three seasons, when he averaged 5.2 yards per carry, this rushing attack should become a lot more dangerous."
Is Lamar Jackson Playing Better Than His 2019 Unanimous MVP Season?
Remember a few months ago when Jackson was snubbed from a list of the top 10 quarterbacks in the NFL in an ESPN survey of more than 50 league executives, coaches, scouts and players? How about a similar survey by The Athletic that ranked Jackson as a Tier 2 quarterback and 10th-best overall?
Those rankings look even more ludicrous now than they did then. With Jackson's hot start this season, the question being asked isn't whether he's a top 10 quarterback; it's whether he's playing even better than he did in 2019 when he was named the second unanimous MVP in NFL history.
"In many ways, yes," ESPN’s Jamison Hensley wrote. "Just like his MVP season, Jackson leads the NFL in touchdown passes (11) and ranks in the top 10 overall in rushing (316 yards). It's even more impressive this season because he has played behind three different starting left tackles and has received no help from his run game."
ESPN’s Matt Bowen and Jason Reid were each asked to rank the top five quarterbacks in the league right now. Bowen placed Jackson at No. 2 (behind Buffalo's Josh Allen), while Reid had Jackson at No. 3 (behind Kansas City's Patrick Mahomes and Allen).
Meanwhile, NFL.com’s Marc Sessler put Jackson at No. 3 in his weekly quarterback rankings (behind Mahomes and Allen).
"We're talking differently about Lamar's Sunday if Jordan Poyer doesn't pull off the most impressive pick of the weekend," Sessler wrote. "I have no problem with John Harbaugh's decision to pull the trigger on fourth-and-goal with the game tied deep in the final frame. Jackson was put in a tough spot, though, darting away from enemy rushers to fling a dangerous pass off his back foot. The Ravens never saw the ball again, but Lamar — enjoying an incredible campaign — continues to spin magic behind a line that asked fourth-string bookend Daniel Faalele to fend off Von Miller."
Jackson, Mark Andrews Excel on High-Efficiency Routes
ESPN's Bowen and Seth Walder "dove into the data to find the six most productive routes in the NFL, and then picked out the teams, receivers and quarterbacks who stand out in each concept." Jackson and tight end Mark Andrews were both recognized in the study.
Jackson is the most efficient quarterback on a deep cross (an in-breaking route with the receiver working across the field at a steep angle to attack man coverage or zone windows), which was ranked as the most efficient route. Andrews is the most-efficient pass-catcher for this route, averaging 7.6 yards per route.
"With the personnel to win (Andrews and Rashod Bateman) and a solid offensive structure under coordinator Greg Roman, Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson pops here," Bowen wrote. "He has 15 attempts targeting the deep cross and a 99.3 QBR on those passes. Andrews can adjust to the ball or shield defenders using his frame on a crosser thrown inside of the numbers. That's a second-level throw from Jackson with play-action pulling down the linebackers, and it doesn't need to be a precision pass every time. With Bateman, Jackson gets into the third level shot plays — the schemed throws that create open grass for the receiver to attack."
Andrews also was ranked as the most-efficient pass-catcher on a slant (a quick-game route, with the receiver pressing three yards up the field and breaking inside at a 45-degree angle), which was ranked as the third-most efficient route.
"This is already the second time that Mark Andrews has shown up as the most efficient pass-catcher for a route, as he averages 4.7 yards per slant," Walder wrote. "While he is good at getting open for a tight end, he really excels on these quick slants because of his contested-catch ability. He frequently has a defender right on him but is still able to snag a high-velocity throw from his quarterback."