It’s hard to believe that the first four weeks of the NFL season are past us, but this is in fact the case. For the Ravens, a promising start has ceded way to “regression to the mean”, as the team has dropped back-to-back games after starting 2-0.
While it’s still early in the season, we have a pretty decent sample size now to determine what kind of team the Ravens are and where they can improve.
1) Lamar Jackson is a much-improved player
There’s no other appropriate place to begin than at the quarterback position, where the development of Lamar Jackson was the biggest storyline of the offseason. Players, coaches, and members of the media hyped up Jackson’s improvements throughout OTA’s and training camp, although we weren’t sure exactly what to expect in the regular season. So far, the early returns justify most of the offseason hype. While far from perfect, the difference between Jackson today and in last year’s playoff loss to the Chargers is night and day. His passing yardage has dropped in every game, but his numbers overall are as follows:
- 87/134 (63.9%)
- 1,110 passing yards, 8.3 YPA, 277.5 YPG
- 10 TD, 2 INT, 109.4 rating
- 36 rushing attempts, 238 yards, 1 TD
If you had said this would be Jackson’s numbers at the beginning of the season, most people, including myself, would have called you crazy. Jackson has cooled off after a historic opening performance against the Dolphins and while he still struggles with inaccurate throws at times, the bar has been raised. Jackson is held to a different standard than many NFL quarterbacks but through four games, he’s passed almost every test.
2) Mark Ingram was a perfect free agent signing
The Ravens rushing attack was dominant over the second half of last season and there was little worry that would change with Mark Ingram entering the fold. Ingram, 29, was signed to a three-year, $15 million contract by Baltimore after spending his entire career in New Orleans. Based on what we’ve seen thus far, he appears primed to perform at a higher level than his salary would indicate. Talks of a committee approach in the backfield quickly fizzled come Week 1, as Ingram as dominated the snaps.
Sans a subpar performance against Arizona (47 yards, 3.6 YPC), Ingram has been nearly unstoppable. The veteran RB combined for 210 rushing yards and five touchdowns against the Dolphins and Chiefs in Weeks 1 and 2, respectively. Outside of an unfortunate fumble against Cleveland, Ingram was once again effective, turning 12 carries into 71 yards on the ground. If he continues this pace, Ingram will exceed 1,000 yards rushing and double digit touchdowns. His downhill style and tackle-breaking ability has been extremely valuable.
3) Left guard and edge rusher questions are ... somewhat answered?
The two positions with the biggest uncertainty this offseason were left guard and outside linebacker, where there were more questions than answers heading into Week 1. After four weeks, some of these questions have been answered, while others still loom.
At left guard, Bradley Bozeman was given the starting nod to begin the season, which came as a bit of a surprise. Bozeman struggled at times during the preseason and didn’t receive too much run with 1’s during training camp, but the organization evidently felt more confident in him than other starting options: James Hurst, Patrick Mekari, Ben Powers. There’s been moments where Bozeman has been clearly outmatched and gets manhandled by a superior defender, but for the most part, he’s held his own. The biggest plus is that the LG spot hasn’t been the offensive line’s downfall, which was a concern.
As for edge rusher, Pernell McPhee has clearly established himself as the clear-cut starter opposite Matthew Judon. Confidence in Tyus Bowser and Tim Williams stepping up in larger roles, however, has yet to be vindicated. Bowser had a sack in Week 4 and Williams has gotten pressure at times, but neither player has been consistent enough in rushing the passer or setting the edge. Third-round pick Jaylon Ferguson was inactive for the first two weeks and clearly needs more time to develop before he’s ready for extended snaps.
4) This defense will be worse than last year’s
It goes without saying that the Ravens defense is not going to match the production of last year’s No. 1 ranked unit. Almost everyone knew this going into the season, but the hope was that the emergence of young players and offseason acquisitions would help mitigate the losses of Eric Weddle, C.J. Mosley, Terrell Suggs, and Za’Darius Smith. So far, this hasn’t exactly been the case, although it’s hard to attribute these free agent departures as the reason for Baltimore’s defensive struggles.
The secondary, absent Jimmy Smith and Tavon Young, have given up multiple big plays against the Cardinals, Chiefs, and Browns. Marlon Humphrey has done his part, but the play of Earl Thomas, Tony Jefferson, Brandon Carr, and Anthony Averett has been up-and-down. Baltimore’s defense is designed to be man-to-man on the outside with Thomas roaming in the secondary, but DC “Wink” Martindale has played more zone coverage than usual and the returns have been not so good. The play of the linebackers has been inconsistent and Baltimore has gotten virtually no pass-rushing help from Chris Wormley, Brandon Williams, and Patrick Ricard on the interior. SImply put: lots of problems with unknown solutions.
5) The Ravens aren’t who we thought they were
For years, Baltimore’s culture has been soaked in tough, hard-nosed defense and pounding the rock on offense. This is how the Ravens have won games in the past, and they found success with a similar formula last season. However, this team doesn’t appear built to win this style of football at all. In fact, Baltimore’s games have been quite the opposite.
The Ravens offense has put up point totals of 59, 23, 28, and 25 through four weeks and rank near the top of the league in terms of yardage, as well. Their defense, however, faltered against high-powered offenses in Weeks 3 and 4, and Baltimore has allowed 300+ yard passers in three consecutive games, as well as 162-yard rusher in Nick Chubb. We aren’t used to seeing opposing offenses have this much success against the Ravens, and we also aren’t accustomed to seeing Baltimore’s offense possess this much explosiveness.