From 2019 to 2020, the Baltimore Ravens turned the page on the offensive side of the football. They saw Marshal Yanda retire (replaced him with a rookie tackle convert), traded Hayden Hurst (didn’t replace him) and allowed Seth Roberts to walk.
They expected Miles Boykin to make a jump, and fill Roberts’ role as a boundary receiver with strong blocking skills. Roberts, however, converted 18 first downs in the passing game. He often found soft spots and worked back to Lamar when plays broke down, often sitting at the sticks patiently, with veteran savvy.
Baltimore bet on youth. They drafted J.K. Dobbins, Tyre Phillips, Devin Duvernay, James Proche and Ben Bredeson (who we might not see in 2020, but could be a long-term center replacement for Skura, who is a free agent in 2021). According to Over the Cap, the Ravens will spend $56 million on offense in 2020. Only the Denver Broncos ($50 million) will spend less. This is a young, cheap offense. The Ravens offense only features six players who aren’t on rookie contracts (Mark Ingram, Willie Snead IV, Nick Boyle, Matt Skura, Gus Edwards, Patrick Ricard), two of which were UDFA players who the Ravens kept as restricted free agents.
The fact that the Ravens have been able to get out to a 5-1 part is largely due to the playmaking of Lamar Jackson, who has also protected the football extremely well (three turnovers in six games). They have the most expensive defense in football, conversely, who they’ve structed to create turnovers and give Jackson short fields, where he’s been arguably the best red zone player in the NFL over the past three years (43 passing touchdowns with no interceptions, 9 rushing touchdowns). The Ravens turnover margin (+6) is tied for the best in the NFL, which is probably the biggest reason behind their 5-1 start.
The structure of the team asks a lot of Lamar Jackson, seemingly has taken over much more pre-snap responsibility. That has led to some issues, as John Harbaugh indicated in his press conference on Thursday, as well as passing game coordinator David Culley.
#Ravens receivers coach/pass game coordinator David Culley said Miles Boykin has failed to hear the proper play call on a couple of the miscommunications w/ Lamar Jackson.— Aaron Kasinitz (@AaronKazreports) October 20, 2020
Says he's hopeful Boykin can eliminate the mistakes. pic.twitter.com/7He1IdPI2M
The Ravens have also decreased their dependency on Jackson’s legs, which is a wise move considering they stand at 5-1 and their quarterback has reportedly nursed knee soreness and a late training camp groin issue. That has opened up big plays when Jackson does take off, as 14 of his 50 carries have gained 10 yards or more. Excluding Jackson’s six kneel downs, 31% of his 46 non-kneel carries have gained 10 yards or more. The playmaking is still there, although the neutral field passing has struggled in the past few weeks.
However, with Jackson taking care of the football, making plays in the red zone, and the greatest kicker of all time on his side, the offense is certainly exceeding the production relative to being the second cheapest offenses in the NFL.
While becoming more effective in empty backfield formations or tweaking the option game would be welcome sights, what the Ravens need most is experience. Among offensive contributors, only Ronnie Stanley, Willie Snead and Mark Ingram, Matt Skura and Nick Boyle had four or more NFL seasons to their name heading into 2020.
Taking all of this information into consideration, the fact that the Ravens are averaging 29.8 points per game (7th in the NFL) is impressive. The teams that are scoring more are also spending considerably more on their offenses:
- Seattle Seahawks: $102,775,443
- Tennessee Titans: $107,375,077
- Green Bay Packers: $103,420,710
- Pittsburgh Steelers: $81,691,712
- New Orleans Saints: $98,148,467
- Las Vegas Raiders: $127,646,384
Pittsburgh is the only team similar to Baltimore in offensive spending, as Roethlisberger encapsulates $23 million of their offensive spending, putting them somewhat close to Baltimore other than quarterback spending.
All in all, the Ravens might be too young and cheap to make a Super Bowl run this year. They don’t have the cap space to acquire a big ticket wide receiver or offensive lineman, and acquiring ones that are on rookie contracts would be too expensive in terms of draft capital for the likes of a franchise that has drafted a player in the first round all but three times in franchise history.
John Harbaugh’s Ravens have only lost five games in November and December combined over the past three years, as they often finish strong ahead. Acquiring a veteran receiver or tight end, and finally sticking Ben Powers into the right guard slot would be additions that could fuel another hot finish to the regular season. If the Ravens don’t sit on their hands ahead of the trade deadline, they will have two months to get any offensive help up to speed before the playoffs start in January.
The 49ers acquired Emmanuel Sanders to help make a Super Bowl push in 2019, and the Ravens would be wise to follow suit. Otherwise, it seems impractical to expect a Super Bowl out of such an inexperienced and cheap offense.