Lamar Jackson: Dez Bryant signing to Ravens’ practice squad ‘tremendous’ - Jamison Hensley
“It’s tremendous,” Jackson said before Wednesday’s practice. “We just got to see what he’s capable of. We’ll go from there.”
If Bryant is elevated to the active roster, he’ll become the most experienced target in the NFL’s 31st-ranked passing game. Bryant is 31, and no Ravens wide receiver on the 53-man roster is older than 27. Bryant’s 73 career touchdowns are 44 more than Baltimore’s current wide receiver group has totaled in their careers (29).
Ravens defensive back Jimmy Smith called Bryant an “X factor” and compared him to former Baltimore wide receiver Anquan Boldin in the way he can catch contested passes.
“He has that dog attitude that you want on your offense. He’s only going to help us,” Smith said.
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Jackson was also thought to be particularly susceptible to inaccurate throws over the middle of the field because of mechanics one analyst described as a “narrow base [that] forces his elbow to drop.” Yet the middle of the field has turned out to be a strength of the Ravens’ passing attack, with tight end Mark Andrews and wide receiver Marquise Brown both averaging over six yards per route run since 2018 on deep inside patterns. When you look at the distribution of his throws, Jackson’s proficiency over the middle is obvious.
Between the hashes, Jackson’s off-target heat map shows almost no pink from 0 to 25 yards downfield, indicating that his throws to that area are on time and on target. Like the other QBs, he’s been inaccurate to the right sideline at intermediate depths, but his accurate throws — represented by the teal areas of the heat map — bulge out into the middle of the field deeper than those of his peers.
An example of what the scout may be referring to, and an obvious explanation for Jackson’s sudden ability to accurately throw over the middle, is Baltimore’s use of the play-action. Play-action passes are especially effective when targeted 10 to 30 yards downfield, and in the three years that Jackson has been in Baltimore, the Ravens have run play-action passes on at least 28 percent of dropbacks each season, ranking fifth in the league in 2018, first in 2019 and seventh this year.
A big-money contract extension has shone a little more limelight on Marlon Humphrey, one of the best and most versatile cornerbacks in the game. If Humphrey was just tasked with being a shutdown perimeter corner in man coverage, we might think of him the way we do Stephon Gilmore, but Baltimore asks so much more of him and has repeatedly tasked him with covering the slot, which he has done to great effect. This season, 256 of his 412 snaps (62%) have come inside, and he had yet to surrender a touchdown despite the more difficult coverage assignments of receivers who have a two-way go from that slot alignment.
Jimmy Smith has become one of the old guys on campus for the Baltimore Ravens. In the league since the 2011 season, Smith is showing he’s still capable of plus play within one of the best defenses in the game. Smith’s role has been a little fluid this season, with some snaps at safety and corner, but he has surrendered only 68 yards in coverage and has yet to be beaten for a pass longer than 17 yards across six games of action. His grades are on course to be the best figures we have seen from him since 2017.
Five Steelers have 185 or more receiving yards; two Ravens top that mark
This Steelers offense doesn’t rely too heavily on a one or two playmakers, they way it did when Le’Veon Bell and Antonio Brown were in Pittsburgh. This year, Roethlisberger is spreading the ball around.
Chase Claypool (333 receiving yards and four touchdowns) and JuJu Smith-Schuster (279 yards, three touchdowns) lead a productive quartet of receivers, while tight end Eric Ebron has hauled in 22 passes for 215 yards. In the backfield, running backs James Conner and Benny Snell offer the Steelers a one-two punch.
During the win over the Titans, Roethlisberger used a heavy dose of quick, short throws to sprinkle completions across the offense and move the ball. The Ravens’ defense won’t be able to lock in on one receiver Sunday and ignore other offensive skill-position players.
Baltimore’s offense has benefited from diversity in the running game and is still searching to add depth and complexity to its passing attack. Tight end Mark Andrews and wide receiver Marquise Brown are the only players on the roster with more than 150 receiving yards through six games.
Baltimore would benefit from wide receivers Miles Boykin, Willie Snead or Devin Duvernay emerging as more consistent targets for Jackson. Dez Bryant might chip in at some point, but it seems unrealistic to expect him to make an impact after joining Baltimore’s practice squad this week.
This is the game of the week. The Steelers are playing consecutive road games, while the Ravens are coming off a bye. Big edge to the Ravens. But the Steelers always seem to play tough against Baltimore, even on the road, and I think they will here in this one. The Steelers will take a tough road game by limiting Baltimore’s run game and stay undefeated.
Pick: Steelers 27, Ravens 24