At this time last season, the Ravens were averaging 30.6 points per game compared to 29.8 points this season. But the team’s average gain is down a half-yard per play, its average time-of-possession has dropped by about five minutes per game and the offense’s EPA per play has been cut in half, per RBSDM.com.
Since Week 3, Baltimore ranks 27th in EPA per passing play, and only Adam Gase’s Jets have a worse Success Rate over that time.
If that weren’t bad enough on its own, the run game has also fallen off from last year. That development is not nearly as surprising, though. The 2019 team was one of the most efficient rushing attacks in NFL history and this 2020 team was never going to be able to replicate that. It also appears that Baltimore focused on strengthening the wrong part of the roster with offseason moves.
In hindsight, passing on guards Damien Lewis and Jonah Jackson — both of whom are off to encouraging starts — to take a running back looks like a miscalculation. We know running back talent is far down the list of factors that drive success in the run game, so improving the interior line should have been higher on the list of priorities than adding a dynamic player to the backfield.
Lamar Jackson has gone from the NFL’s most productive quarterback in Empty formations in 2019 (53.0 total EPA) to the league’s least productive quarterback in Empty 2020 (-11.5 total EPA), per Sports Info Soltuons.
This year, it’s been a combination of factors leading to the bad results out of Empty: Lamar is pressing a bit too much, the Ravens lack a receiver capable of consistently winning in the short and intermediate areas of the field and Greg Roman hasn’t been able to adjust to the way defenses are playing Baltimore’s pass game.
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Jackson and the Ravens haven’t clicked like they did last season, but perhaps that’s an unfair barometer because the league might never see an offense quite like that one.
This year’s offense has been productive, even at a historic rate. The Ravens have scored in each of their first 24 quarters this season, which ties the 2000 Rams for the longest streak to start an NFL season, according to Elias Sports Bureau data. Baltimore also had scored the most points in the league (179) before Monday’s games.
The biggest difference between this year’s offense and last year’s is efficiency. In 2019, it seemed effortless with how frequently Baltimore moved the ball up and down the field. Through six games in 2020, Baltimore can be off the field with a three-and-out in a blink of an eye.
The Ravens rank No. 26 in total yards (342.2), No. 16 in third-down conversion (42.1%) and No. 18 in red zone efficiency (63.2%).
The improvement for Jackson is taking advantage of how teams are playing Baltimore this season. Defenses are bringing down safeties to stack the box to defend the run, and the Ravens have to do a better job of going over the top of them.
“We got to make people pay for that,” Harbaugh said.
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That’s daily life in the NFL, especially in the playoffs, but the Ravens haven’t experienced it much recently for the simple reason that they’ve often been so far ahead. They’ve outscored their opponents by an astounding 324 points while going 19-3 in their last 22 regular-season games.
It’s a nice problem to have – being so dominant that you aren’t accustomed to being behind or in close games.
But there is evidence suggesting the Ravens could use some experience in those situations.
They didn’t punch back sufficiently hard when they fell behind early in last season’s playoff loss to the Tennessee Titans. This season’s loss to the Kansas City Chiefs had a similar vibe. A playoff loss to the Los Angeles Chargers in 2018 was another example of a disappointing response to early adversity.
Presumably, the more they experienced it, the more comfortable they’d feel with it.
NFL Trade Deadline 2020: A.J. Green, Julio Jones among stars in 10 deals that should be made - Cody Benjamin
Ravens get: WR Marvin Jones
Lions get: 2021 sixth-round draft pick, 2022 seventh-round pick
The Lions can’t really expect much more for Jones at this point in his career, but the Ravens can certainly afford to surrender a few late-rounders if it means giving Lamar Jackson someone other than Marquise Brown as an option out wide. When you’re run-based and have Lamar Jackson, Willie Snead and Devin Duvernay and Miles Boykin will pass. But Baltimore is aiming for a title. Does Jones bring that closer? Not by much, if at all. But the gamble is worth it if he can be even a fraction of his old self amid new scenery.
2021 NFL MOCK DRAFT 2.1 - Brentley Weissman
Baltimore wishes Bateman or Marshall fell to their pick, as they could use another receiver to give quarterback Lamar Jackson some more weapons on the perimeter. Instead, the Ravens go the best player available route in Oklahoma center Creed Humphrey. Humphrey, who is the head and shoulders best center in this class, would be a nice replacement for Matt Skura, who is playing on an expiring contract.