The Baltimore Ravens offense is off to one of its fastest starts in years, showing more explosiveness and consistency than any Joe Flacco led attack since 2014. It speaks a bit to how bad some of those units were over the last several seasons that this 2018 offense, which teeters between good and average depending on the week, is finally bringing some real excitement to a big play starved Baltimore fan base.
The results can’t be argued with though, as the big plays have been there and the improvement is self evident. Part of the reason for this surge back to relevance is the commitment general manager Ozzie Newsome showed to infusing it with talent this past offseason.
One of the players he sought out to bring life to the passing game was former Arizona Cardinal John “Smokey” Brown, a once highly thought of speed demon who saw his career derailed by injuries. In Baltimore though, the train is firmly back on the tracks as Brown has posted 28 receptions for 558 yards and four touchdowns through seven games.
It’s fair to say the Ravens haven’t seen this type of consistent effort and explosiveness from a receiver since Steve Smith Sr. had a renaissance of his own in purple and black. Brown’s resurgence hasn’t just been good for his career, it’s been critical to the Ravens success this season. He has shown up in some of the biggest games of the season, as Brown has almost always been on the receiving end of a big passing play when it’s needed.
This was evident in Week 2 against Cincinnati when he made big plays out of nothing to keep Baltimore in the game, as well as in Pittsburgh when he had an early touchdown and a long reception on a deep ball from Flacco. But this was maybe no more evident than on Sunday against the New Orleans Saints when the Ravens needed big plays to stay in the game against their toughest opponent all season.
Brown made them, and in clutch moments too. His long catch and run near the end the first half set up Lamar Jackson for a short touchdown scamper, and his rabbit-from-a-hat touchdown with just seconds left should’ve forced overtime if not for an errant PAT kick.
In an article in which he discusses Brown making the Ravens offense relevant for the first time in years, Pro Football Focus writer Ben Cooper discusses this play among a few other reasons why Brown has become invaluable to Flacco:
A 72.8 grade through Week 7 for the speedster isn’t flashy by any means, but it does lead all Ravens receivers. Much of Brown’s value comes downfield. Of his 49 targets, 42.9 percent are on throws of 20 or more yards downfield. Flacco hasn’t targeted a receiver on deep passes that often since Torrey Smith — and even then, Smith was more known for drawing pass interference calls than he was for catching the ball. Brown is the NFL leader in deep targets through seven weeks, and it’s no surprise Flacco is using him as often as possible considering his lack of a deep threat in previous years. The new dynamic that Brown adds to the Ravens’ offense takes some pressure off a defense that has been often tasked with stopping another team’s offense at the end of games. Against the New Orleans Saints on Sunday, it was the offense who needed to get the job done. Flacco found Brown in the end zone with mere seconds left to play to draw within one point. And although the subsequent extra point missed, the sequence is indicative of a newly branded offense — one that can be largely attributed to Brown’s speed and ability to get open. Brown’s 115.9 passer rating when targeted far exceeds that of Snead and Crabtree, who both have a wide receiver rating under 90.0. That’s not to say each isn’t valuable to the Ravens’ revamped offense; it’s more to show just how effective Brown has been when targeted. Against the Saints, Brown showed just how valuable he is to Flacco.
Brown showing up the way he did against New Orleans signifies just how much his efforts have helped push this offense into a higher gear. For the first time since Steve Smith, Flacco has a receiver who is not only talented, but one he also seems to completely trust.
That is an entirely different element to add onto a Ravens team that hasn’t had a consistent offense with a dominant X factor such as Brown making his presence felt. This has shown up in the first half of the season and they’ll need more of it from Brown down the stretch in order to end the season on a successful note.
The obvious elephant in the room surrounding Brown, his inevitable contract negotiations, will hopefully be dealt with at a more appropriate time, But for now Ravens fans should enjoy the Smokey’s breakout while it’s still happening. They’ll need more strong play out of him in Charlotte on Sunday to end the first half of the season on the path to the playoffs.