In an anonymous preseason poll by The Athletic, one NFL executive ranked the Baltimore Ravens 11th in the AFC. His rationale:
“They have no skill players at all other than Mark Andrews. Who is Lamar Jackson going to throw to? The thing about those receivers, those guys are inexperienced. That is going to be a big impact on the offense. Where are you going to get your production on the outside?”
About the same time, former Minnesota general manager Rick Spielman was quoted: “I don’t know if they have enough receivers. They’re gonna have to have some receivers step up for them.”
This is NFL groupthink at its worst. It fails to understand Baltimore’s offensive formula, the league’s most unique.
Ravens Run Things In Non-Traditional Manner
The Ravens told us in April how they want to play by trading their WR1, Marquise “Hollywood” Brown, then not replacing him in the draft despite having 11 picks.
They tell us by deploying a fullback on 71 percent of offensive snaps. They tell us by leading the league in frequency of 2- and 3-tight end formations. And they tell us with roster construction – a WR room that costs $6.9 million against the cap, a TE room (the NFL’s best) that costs $15.8 million.
Unaccountably last Thursday night in Tampa Bay, Baltimore deviated from its philosophy in the first half, throwing 30 passes against only seven runs, scoring a mere three points.
At halftime, the offensive line, top-5 league-wide, implored offensive coordinator Greg Roman to “run the f—ing ball.” The result: 26 second-half rushes for 204 yards, lifting their ground attack to second-ranked in the league.
Two plays from the Bucs game typify the Ravens’ rare blend of a dual-threat MVP quarterback with a dynamic running game:
- On a read-option, QB Jackson pulled the handoff and shed tackles for a 25-yard ramble while rookie center Tyler Linderbaum blocked his man 17 yards downfield, then pancaked him onto his back.
- Lamar drew nine defenders forward with a down-the-line sprint-option look. But rather than pitch to a trailing back, he dropped a 17-yard pass over their heads to breakout rookie TE Isaiah Likely.
Baltimore runs the outside zone so well that companion play-action creates sizable passing lanes. Jackson was 8-of-8 for 94 yards and two TDs in the second half. While his deep accuracy remains inconsistent, he is deadly in the middle of the field with stick routes, shallow crosses and RPO slants.
Baltimore Is A Stealth Team, Improving Weekly
Young as they are, the Ravens are a stealth team, improving perceptibly every week. Six members of their touted rookie class are getting significant playtime. Linderbaum and Likely are studs, and the three rookie defensive backs have grown since their Week 2 meltdown versus Miami.
Contrary to the pundits’ predictions, Baltimore’s two young, ascending receivers, Devin Duvernay and Rashod Bateman (injured in Tampa Bay), have caught 65 percent of their targets for nearly 600 yards and five touchdowns.
And Monday, in a vote of confidence to the locker room, the club traded for Chicago LB Roquan Smith. He’s a perfect piece to insert into the middle of their defense.
If not for three blown double-digit leads, the Ravens would be 8-0. They will be favored in their next eight games. Their opponents in that stretch currently show a collective record of 20-43.
Mark this down for verification in January: Buffalo seems to be in a class by itself but, given the difficulty of Kansas City’s schedule, Baltimore may be playing for the AFC’s second seed in Week 18.