clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

‘The Big Picture’ at the midway point

What can we draw from the Ravens first half?

New England Patriots v Baltimore Ravens Photo by Will Newton/Getty Images

We’ve reached the midway point in the Ravens schedule. Eight games down, eight to go. Let’s just have some fun, first, and look at what stat totals would look like through 16 games at the Ravens current pace.

Interesting statistics

Lamar Jackson is on pace to account for:

  • 3,626 passing yards
  • 1,274 rushing yards
  • 24 passing touchdowns
  • 10 rushing touchdowns

His QBR ranks 5th in the NFL, his EPA ranks 6th and his 64.3 completion percentage is well above the mass-media’s expectations going into his second year.

The most impressive part of Jackson’s first half is that he’s only turned the ball over in two games. Most second year quarterback’s are happy to have six turnover-free games in a season. Jackson did it in eight games.

Jackson is legit. That is all. Moving on. . .

Mark Ingram is on pace to easily eclipse 1,000 yards (1,170) and on pace for 14 touchdowns. His pass protection as a blocker has been a revelation, as the Ravens haven’t had a true three down back since Ray Rice. He might be the best signing, considering cost, of any free agent in 2019. Kudos, EDC.

Mark Andrews current pace translates over 16 games to be:

  • 76 receptions
  • 940 yards
  • 6 touchdowns

Considering that Andrews has taken less than 50% of offensive snaps (47.3%) his efficiency and productivity are astounding. Andrews has taken the 28th most snaps of any tight end in the league, 17th most snaps on passing plays.

Despite much less usage than other premier tight ends, Andrews ranks among the top 10 in:

  • Receiving yards/yards per game (6th, 470 yards, 58.8)
  • 20+ yard gains (1st, 10)
  • First down percentage (6th, 63.2%)

Andrews is being used with maximum efficiency as a receiver, while garnering more than respectable blocking grades from PFF (69.5 RB is 7th, while widely respected blocker George Kittle is 6th)

Marquise Brown has also excelled in his rookie season. If Brown is able to stay healthy and sustain his current pace, his per game totals average out to (in 14 games):

  • 56 receptions
  • 872 yards
  • 7 touchdowns

The Ravens currently have nine players catching 60% of their targets or higher (Mark Andrews, Willie Snead, Nick Boyle, Hayden Hurst, Mark Ingram, Miles Boykin, Gus Edwards, Pat Ricard and Chris Moore).

If the Ravens sustain their current pace offensively, they will be the first team in NFL History to average 200+ yards passing and 200+ yards rushing over a full season. How’s that for revolutionary?

Now, let’s take a look at the defense.

The Ravens run defense has been stellar, ranking second in the league in yards allowed. Their was obviously quite a bit of personnel shuffling with Jihad Ward, L.J. Fort, Josh Bynes and Marcus Peters being added, Jimmy Smith and Patrick Onwuasor returning and Kenny Young being shipped off to L.A.

It’s difficult to get a feel for how the Ravens will rank or produce statistically because the defensive personnel wasn’t at full force until playing the Patriots. Since the acquisition of Josh Bynes, the Ravens have faced two poor offenses (Steelers and Bengals) and two high-level offenses (Seahawks and Patriots).

By taking the averages from those four games, then comparing them to the rest of the NFL, the Ravens defense ranks as follows:

  • 4th in yards allowed per game (302)
  • 9th in pass yards allowed per game (229.5)
  • 1st in run yards allowed per game (72.5)
  • 6th in turnovers forced (1.75 per game, 14 over 8 games)

Pro Football Reference publishes advanced statistics on Wednesday’s. I will be updating to show where the Ravens rank with QB hits, pressures, tackling % etc. during the past four game stretch.

Long story short, this is a top 10 defense again. Wink Martindale has the pieces in place (finally) to be the most aggressive defense in the NFL again. The Ravens secondary is the best that they’ve had in this decade. Earl Thomas isn’t the literal tallest of men, but he’s brought a Godzilla sized presence to the deep third of the Ravens defense.

Finally, let’s take a look at central themes and the way this team has progressed as the season has transpired.

The Ravens coaching staff puts their players in a position to succeed.

For too long, coaches and GM’s have tried to mold players into something that they aren’t. Marcus Peters is a press, area corner. The Rams tried to make him shadow No. 1 receivers into the slot and put him on an island. The Ravens aren’t doing that.

Lamar Jackson is a unique talent. He’s not a “traditional pocket passer” (neither are Russell Wilson, Patrick Mahomes, Dak Prescott or DeShaun Watson, who are the only passers ahead of Jackson in QBR and EPA) so the Ravens built an offense around his skill set, as opposed to forcing Jackson to ever be something that he isn’t.

Bradley Bozeman doesn’t have the most stout anchor among NFL offensive lineman, so Greg Roman has Bozeman pull frequently, allowing him to get in space and seal holes.

Chuck Clark doesn’t have elite back-end range, but he’s damn good near the line of scrimmage and in man coverage against backs and tight ends.

One of my favorites quotes, one that my mother ingrained in my brain as a child, is as follows, “The definition of stupidity is doing the same thing over and over again, and expecting a different result.”

The Ravens learn from their mistakes. They don’t expect players to “turn the corner” through divine intervention in an aspect of the game they’ve perpetually struggled with. If you can’t get the job done, Eric DeCosta will move on. Kenny Young is an amazing athlete, but clearly needs further development. The Ravens were too thin at inside linebacker to wait for Young to grasp play recognition. Tim Williams refused to set the edge and maintain his assignment. He’s in Green Bay now. Brandon Williams isn’t a world-class pass rusher, so his snap count has decreased, which allows him to be more efficient and explosive when he’s on the field.

Justice Hill is still working on his pass-pro. He’s not asked to pick up blitzing linebackers frequently, often being sent in motion or split out wide. Hill has been asked to pass-pro in only 9 of 97 snaps.

For years, Joe Flacco was put in a West-Coast offense. Not since Gary Kubiak utilized play-action and deep passing were the Ravens playing to Flacco’s strength as a quarterback. Put blame where you will but the Ravens have finally understood how to use their personnel at the right time and place to be in a position to succeed.

There are few teams that can slow the Ravens rushing attack.

Bobby Wagner and Jadeveon Clowney couldn’t. The Patriots “historically great defense” couldn’t. Greg Roman’s rushing attack is one of the greatest in NFL history. His 49ers rushing attack was one of the better ones, which led San Francisco to be Super Bowl contenders each year he was under Jim Harbaugh.

The Ravens offensive line is playing well, certainly exceeding expectations. Taking nothing away from them, but the multiplicity of power, zone, option, play action and RPO usage makes their life much easier. Having Nick Boyle and Patrick Ricard on the field is essentially seven offensive lineman, two of which are nimble enough to help move the chains as pass catchers when defenses forget about them. That’s more towards Ricard, as Boyle has been a consistent, reliable target when his number has been called.

The Ravens were becoming a bit too cute with their 11 personnel at times, where their true identity lies in their tight ends and backs, with Hollywood and Snead primarily working the secondary.

Since Lamar Jackson took over in Week 10 of 2018, the Ravens have rushed for over 200 yards more than they haven’t (nine games over 200 yards rushing, six games under). Their rushing EPA is consistently among the league’s highest, their rushing DVOA is on top. They are the most efficient rushing attack in the league, while pumping out the highest volume. They’re like Amazon delivering the most packages in the world, doing faster than anyone else. Greg Roman is the Jeff Bezos of the ground and pound.

The teams that are disciplined and consistent enough, with the personnel to hinder the Ravens rushing attack:

Luckily, the Ravens will potentially face only three of those teams if they were to make it to the Super Bowl. The Ravens will also get their shot against the Rams, whose run defense matches up in DVOA and statistically to be quite stout. Aaron Donald, obviously, is a large reason for that. The Rams present the Ravens their toughest matchup for the rest of 2019, in my opinion.

As the pages of the calendar turn into December and January, running the ball efficiently, playing turnover free football, stopping the pass and generating takeaways are the formula for success. Somehow, Lamar Jackson has only turned the ball over in two of the Ravens eight games, which is incredible considering how young he is.

Running the ball + protecting the ball + stopping the pass + generating turnovers = Super Bowls.

It’s not exact, it’s not perfect, but those are common denominators of Super Bowl caliber teams.

The Ravens have shown they’re capable of being one, although they’re still quite young. The additions of Earl Thomas, Marcus Peters and Mark Ingram were crucial, as only (excluding the Wolf Pack) Brandon Carr, Marshal Yanda and Jimmy Smith have considerable playoff experience.

Peters (7), Thomas (12) and Ingram (6) account for a more playoff experience, particularly as a key contributor, than a large chunk of the Ravens roster combined, excluding Smith, Yanda and Carr.

Vasilis Lericos believes that one veteran (I’m adding with playoff experience) should be in every positional room. The Ravens have compiled that, intentionally or not.

Looking forward—

The Ravens are deep, diverse and well coached. The analytics and deep-data communities are high on the Ravens. Football Outsiders, Pro Football Focus, Next Gen Stats etc. all have the Ravens among the top teams in the league. The scary part is that they just regained Jimmy Smith and four other key defensive contributors have barely had time to unpack.

As the 49ers, Rams, Bills, Texans, Steelers and company loom, the Ravens have shown that they’re capable of dominating top competition. The second half of the season will be even more exciting than the first, from the fan’s perspective. The star power, spotlight and media coverage will be at an all-time high. Let’s see how the Ravens respond.