The Matchup: Baltimore Ravens @ Washington Football Team
The Setting: FedEx Field, Landover (Raljon?) Maryland
The Forecast: Mostly sunny skies. High 67F. Winds light and variable. 10% precipitation, winds at four MPH (via The Weather Channel).
The Stakes: The Ravens look to bounce back after a tough loss of Monday Night, while Washington hopes to get their season back on the rails after a 1-2 start through three weeks.
The Spread: The Ravens are currently a –14 point road favorite.
So here we are, about a month into the season so far. Doesn’t quite feel like it, does it? Or maybe after what’s felt like an especially long couple of days following a tough loss to Kansas City on Monday night, it does. Who knows, really?
Regardless, the Ravens have to move forward, as does their opponent who is currently 1-2 after a tough start to the season. That would of course be the newly minted Washington Football Team, who are seeking a progress season under some new management. Namely, Jason Wright as President and Ron Rivera as head coach and de facto GM are the new faces of the organization in leadership capacities, with their success riding on one of their young players who still has a long way to go.
That would be quarterback Dwayne Haskins, who after being a first-round pick in 2019 still has a lot of work to do to make good on that promise. He’s had some seriously up and down performances throughout his career, which has been true throughout 2020 so far. A big win over the Eagles has since been overshadowed by tough games against the Cardinals and Browns in which his confidence looked to waver a bit.
So where does that leave him (and the rest of his team) entering a Week 4 matchup against a pissed off Baltimore Ravens team? Let’s take a look:
Haskins entered the league with plenty of hype around his physical abilities, with the main concerns centering around him being his inexperience after only starting one season at Ohio State, and whether or not he could elevate a subpar supporting cast around him if that would be situation he walked into. When he was drafted by Washington who were relatively desperate for offensive talent at the time, the hope would be that he’d at least get a year to sit and learn before being thrown into the fire. As almost always is the case, that didn’t happen, and he took over for a struggling Case Keenum down the second half stretch of his rookie season.
Through the first three games of 2020, the reviews out of Washington on the second year QB who needed to make a big jump aren’t stellar, which are backed up by certain numbers, advanced and otherwise. A 56.4% completion rate is tough, but somewhat understandable when you contextualize how much offensive coordinator Scott Turner is having him push the ball down the field. Per PlayerProfiler’s page on Haskins, his deep ball attempts (20+ yard throws) stand at 12 total (good for 12th in the league and 4 per game) while his completion percentage on those throws is at 16.7%, good for 29th in the league. It makes sense that it’d be tough for a younger player to push the ball deep at an efficient rate, which is even more glaring looking at his air yards per attempt clocking in at 8.3 (843 total) compared to his completed air yards sitting at 300 total, good for 27th in the league.
It seems that Turner is trying to unlock his potential as a big bodied, strong armed pocket passer which makes plenty of sense in a vacuum, but could be tough to make happen this year due to the surrounding talent not quite being all the way there yet. Per PlayerProfiler, they rank as the 28th most efficient supporting cast in the league with a -13.34 grade, and it’s become clear that Terry McLaurin is their only legitimate option through the air that this team has. They were trying to run their entire offense through him against Cleveland to some success...
Love this pick play, love McLaurin in space pic.twitter.com/2pvNnqrdnI— Jake Louque (@Jakelouque) October 1, 2020
...And some failure:
Not sure what the plan was here. I know Terry is Dwayne’s guy, but it feels like his mind was made up before the snap. pic.twitter.com/goBnYvhmcT— Jake Louque (@Jakelouque) October 1, 2020
As rough as Dwayne has been at times, his supporting cast isn’t doing him nearly any favors, as Mclaurin is his only starting caliber receiving option, and his highest graded offensive lineman by PFF’s metrics is Morgan Moses with a 76.5 overall. That’s solid, but the next best grade along their line with a comparable amount of snaps is center Chase Roullier with a 63.9. That’s led to a tough scene for this offense as they haven’t been able to get much push in the run game, and led to Haskins making some hasty, head scratching decisions:
That one should’ve been an interception, which would’ve made his tally from this game four, as opposed to the three he actually had. The first two were particularly head scratching:
Don’t love this. What was the plan? pic.twitter.com/1FMaxCjSxy— Jake Louque (@Jakelouque) October 1, 2020
While I could maybe contextualize that one against Turner’s tendencies to have Haskins push the ball deep, the second one was deflating to watch, even from a neutral perspective:
I’m a Haskins believer but he’s been really bad in this game. This one was an absolute sitter. pic.twitter.com/pUfMY91KXl— Jake Louque (@Jakelouque) October 1, 2020
If there is any solace to take here it’s that sticking to the deep ball may be starting to pay off just a bit for this offense as Dwayne had a pair of nice touchdown passes past the ten yard mark against Cleveland. This one showcased perfect ball placement:
And this one was great manipulation of the defense with his eyes:
Annnnd credit where it’s due. This is tremendous head fakeage. pic.twitter.com/vLDyKfjC1N— Jake Louque (@Jakelouque) October 1, 2020
While it’s certainly too early to make a larger statement on Haskins’ career, he has his work cut out for him to get things back on track, and show that he is Washington’s long awaited franchise QB. Unfortunately for him, that may be tough to make happen this week as he faces off against an angry Baltimore defense that’s a top 10 unit by DVOA at –4.8% who are eager to prove their rough game against the Chiefs was an outlier. By comparison, Washington’s offense is 29th in the league with a –35.3 rating – we already knew this sets up as a mismatch, and that only underscores the reality of how tough a test this is going to be for Haskins and this young attack.
The headline on this side of the ball for the team is that star pass rusher and top draft pick Chase Young is expected to be out for this game with a groin injury that he suffered last week. The phenom out of Ohio State was off to a very hot start, logging two sacks in his first three games and grading in at a 76.2 overall via PFF. While losing him is a big blow for Washington in this one, they still have a very stacked defensive front.
The loss of Matt Ioanniddis may hurt this unit a bit, but even with him and Young out of the picture, there are plenty of other options to stuff the run and get after the passer for this unit. Jonathan Allen and Montez Sweat particularly stand out in this regard (rightfully so as two former first round picks) with Allen grading out at a very solid 76.2 PFF grade, and Sweat making some big time plays against Cleveland both against the pass...
Montez Sweat, just another absolute dude on this defensive front that I forgot about. Chase Young being out is certainly big, but they have plenty of talent outside of him as well. pic.twitter.com/i0dq5lZVyB— Jake Louque (@Jakelouque) October 1, 2020
...And the run:
What’s especially scary about those two plays is how much they showcase Sweat’s range. The first one is a straight up power rush against the rookie Jedrick Wills, while the second is a great example of diagnosing a trick play, which is of course difficult for a young player to do.
Outside of those guys, the other player who’s been pretty good on this front seven is veteran linebacker Kevin Pierre-Louis; he grades out at a 76.7 grade by PFF, specializing in coverage where he currently has an outstanding 85.1. He’s not necessarily a huge name, but his athleticism combined with the guys up front we’ve already mentioned (as well as Daron Payne, et. Al.) has made him incredibly prolific through the first three games.
While all of this has been helpful towards thwarting passing attacks, the run defense has been somewhat of an issue through the first three games for this defense. Compared to their stellar #2 ranking against the pass by DVOA, Washington’s defense comes in at 18th in the league against the run via that same metric, something that was on display against the Browns and their strong stable of backs last Sunday:
Christ Nick Chubb is so good lol pic.twitter.com/u1QGVDeybx— Jake Louque (@Jakelouque) October 1, 2020
And that’s only one example. There are plenty of other ones that showcase Chubb and Kareem Hunt getting free on stretch runs to the outside that show the lack of speed and strength necessary to consistently shut down rushing attacks. The Ravens currently have the 13th ranked rushing offense by DVOA, and there’s an argument to be made that they’re not playing to their potential quite yet; going up against a defense like this with the right game plan could be just the recipe they need to jump up into the top 10.
In that sense, Ravens fans clamoring for the team to get back to it’s roots as a running team should be excited about the prospect of that happening this week. This could however be a week where they choose to get the passing game back on track which was extremely out of sync against Kansas City in Week 3. No defensive backs that have taken over 100 snaps for Washington grade out over 70 per PFF (Fabian Moreau has taken 72 snaps and earned a 75.5 grade for what it’s worth).
Having said all of that, the Ravens really shouldn’t take them lightly. They grade out as 2nd in the entire league in DVOA (-33%) despite their rough individual grades in the secondary, which is probably a testament to their talent up front, and a stronger coaching staff than we’re used to seeing in Landover. You can do a lot worse than Jack Del Rio at defensive coordinator, and Ron Rivera has consistently shown an ability to get strong play out of his DBs going back to his days in Carolina; perhaps the “Legion of Whom” he once had with the Panthers is being reborn in Washington.
The Ravens passing offense is currently 20th in the league in DVOA with an 11.8% which may indicate a mismatch on paper, but is probably stilted heavily by their poor performance against the Chiefs. It stands to reason with a sharper mentality and a better game plan that they could bounce back this week big time. That’ll mean less one-on-one deep shot play calls that force players to get open, and more of what Greg Roman is known for doing which is scheming guys open via motion and play action, and letting the athletes do the work to a certain extent.
While I won’t pretend to know even a fraction of what Roman knows about football, even the least learned eye could tell that something was off with his play calling on Monday Night. Against a 1-2 team in an important matchup, this is his opportunity to get things back on track.
I said last week that I try to keep my own emotions, and team clichés out of these picks. It’s at the very least hard to do so with the latter here, as the Ravens simply have much more on the line for this game, and are going to enter it feeling like they have a lot to prove. This time, I think they deliver.
Haskins may well prove to be the guy that Washington needs him to be at some point, but coming off of a rough performance right into a pissed off, opportunistic defense, this is a tough spot for him. He turns it over it over three times, and the Ravens pour it on offensively for five touchdowns in the bounce back game that everyone is expecting here.
Jake’s official prediction: Ravens 35, WFT 14