Going into the bye week, the Ravens sit at 5-1, with their only loss coming to the defending superbowl champions and arguably the best team in football, while also sporting the best point differential in the league. Despite this, there is unrest among Ravens fans relating to how the team has played, specifically as of late on the offensive side of the ball. The Ravens offense in 2019, put up historically efficient numbers and were a freight train to every opponent they faced, however that same feeling is not there in 2020 through 6 weeks.
It’s difficult to pinpoint one or even two reasons to why the Ravens offense hasn’t clicked so far. Many Ravens fans have called out offensive coordinator Greg Roman for his play calling and his willingness to abandon the run, especially when the team falls behind and breaks game script. One reason for the uptick in passing this season is due to the run game not being as efficient as it was last year. In 2019, the Ravens led the league in rushing EPA per play and it would’ve been 7th in passing which is just absurd efficiency. This year, the Ravens only rank 3rd in the league, which is still well above average but not where it was last year, which is forcing longer down and distance situations where the Ravens are forced to pass more traditionally. Fans and the media also point to the run game regression stemming from the loss of future Hall of Fame guard Marshall Yanda, who has been replaced by 3rd round pick Tyre Phillips who has struggled mightily with run blocking so far. They also point to opposing teams game planning better with the d line keeping gap assignments and linebackers forcing Lamar out to the boundary before he can turn the corner. While those reasons might be true, Lamar Jackson has received a large amount of blame. The Ravens pass offense is currently last in the league in terms of total yardage, and many people around the league attribute that to Jackson’s lack of ability to execute traditional passing schemes. Despite the feeling that Lamar Jackson has not played at the level he did last year, through the first 6 weeks of both seasons, Lamar Jackson has a higher passer rating, better TD:INT ratio, higher pass TD%, more yards per carry, and a better record in 2020 compared to 2019.
The last factor brought up for the offensive struggles, is the lack of play makers in the offense. The Ravens first off, do not have that truly elite weapon like a Julio Jones or George Kittle, but do have two excellent receivers in Mark Andrews and Marquise Brown.However, the drop off after those two is huge, and the Ravens desperately need another guy to step up. GM Eric Decosta in order to address this, signed Dez Bryant to the Ravens practice squad, and will likely activate him to the active roster following the cut of safety Marcus Gilchrist. Bryant figures to be the Ravens big possession receiver on the outside, a role that Miles Boykin has not been able to fully fill this season with his inconsistencies as a route runner. The Ravens hope Dez brings a veteran presence to the offense and can be a third option in the passing game that defenses somewhat fear and a reliable outlet for Lamar Jackson. While all the factors listed have all been issues for the Ravens offense, they have still been productive enough to get this team to 5-1, and there are reasons for optimism that they can improve and return to a dominant offense down the stretch that can challenge any team in the league.
On the other side of the ball, you can hardly find anything to criticize. The Ravens have easily been a top 3 defense in the NFL and a huge reason this team is 5-1 heading into Pittsburgh. Coordinated by Wink Martindale, the Ravens extremely aggressive style of defense which features a heavy amount of blitzes, leaning on the extremely talented secondary and forcing turnovers, currently are allowing the least amount of points in the NFL. However, the one game that everyone points to, is the week 3 game against the Kansas City, where Patrick Mahomes and Andy Reid picked apart the Ravens blitz and the defensive backs were exploited against a lightning quick group of receivers. Blitzing takes away help in coverage as everyone knows, which is why teams do not blitz most of the time and rely on 4 or less rushers to get to the quarterback, but the Ravens really struggle to generate pressure when not blitzing. With the highly dissapointing play of Matthew Judon, lack of talent, and inconsistent play from the edge group as a whole, the Ravens went out and acquired Yannick Ngakoue from the Vikings in exchange for draft capital. Ngakoue plans to provide a pass rusher with the ability to defeat blocks and get to the quarterback on more traditional pass rush sets, while also being a weapon on stunts and blitzes. Ngakoue now reuinites with Calais Campbell, where in Jacksonville they were terrific on stunts. The Ravens who love stunts and scheming up pressure through matchups, will be vary happy if the duo can replicate that here in Baltimore. This team is 5-1, and still has a lot of room to get even better coming off the bye, where John Harbaugh has consistently been dominant. Get ready NFL, because the Ravens aren’t going anywhere.