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Spenny’s Film Room: Ravens’ offense needs to convert key third downs to reach new heights

Baltimore converted key third downs, took sacks on others.

Baltimore Ravens v Houston Texans Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images

While the box score in Week 2 shows that the Ravens were 5/14 on third down, they converted several key plays in early opportunities despite stalling a few times. The first occurred with Baltimore backed up into their own territory on their second possession of the game. OC Greg Roman dialed up a “levels” concept with Mark Andrews and Willie Snead IV on 3rd-&-9. After a miscommunication leading to an unblocked J.J. Watt sack, the Ravens were able to move the chains, which led to the first score of the game.

After the Ravens took the lead, they never gave it back. The Ravens didn’t trail at any point in Houston. Let’s take a look at how the Ravens manufactured a scoring drive after being backed up and facing third-and-long.

The Ravens utilized an empty backfield, forcing the Texans to cover the boundary. This forced one linebacker to be the force defender between Snead and Andrews. With Snead in the linebackers vision, he committed to the veteran receiver, not realizing Andrews was running the same route five yards behind him. Lamar Jackson stayed patient, as the offensive line picked up a Texans five-man rush well, giving Jackson enough time to see which way the force defender committed. Jackson threw a well-placed strike, and Andrews picked up 17 yards after the catch, moving the chains from the Baltimore 13 to the Baltimore 42.

After an opening three-and-out, it was imperative that the Ravens’ offense caught some rhythm. Flipping the field and converting points ensured that the Ravens’ defense wouldn’t have to work with a short field after preventing the Texans from reaching mid field over their first two drives.

After the Texans failed to convert a 4th-&-1 conversion, the Ravens took a 10-0 lead on a Jackson touchdown pass to Patrick Ricard on a goal line boot. The Texans responded with a scoring drive of their own, after utilizing a play action to get Brandin Cooks in space on a 38-yard reception — which turned into a Darren Fells touchdown reception two plays later.

The Ravens responded with another Justin Tucker field goal. After finding Devin Duvneray on a deep cross to start the drive, the Ravens again faced 3rd-&-9. Houston gave the Ravens a similar look as they did when Mark Andrews moved the chains on third-and-long previously, so the Ravens attacked the center of the field yet again. This is where the Ravens fully realized that the Texans were preventing anything deep or outside, playing deep quarters or thirds and generally off coverage with their corners.

Greg Roman dialed up another deep dig, this time with Marquise Brown. Brown lined up as the outside receiver on the left side of the formation, with Snead and Miles Boykin in the slot. Snead and Boykin ran coverage off, opening up the middle of the field for Jackson to find Brown over a linebackers head again.

This drive concluded with another Justin Tucker field goal, his second of the game. The Texans ensuing drive resulted in a L.J. Fort scoop-and-score, which blew the game wide open. From that point, the Texans weren’t able to maintain pace with the Ravens.

Jackson wasn’t asked to carry the Ravens in Houston. He converted several key third downs and facilitated the offense efficiently. Jackson didn’t manage the pocket as well as he typically does. Pro Football Focus credited No. 8 with four self inflicted pressures, two of which resulted in sacks. While taking sacks aren’t ideal, when they don’t result in turnovers, it allows the Ravens to live to die on another down. Protecting the ball is imperative, as the Ravens’ defense has generated five turnovers (most in the NFL) and allowed only 4.9 yards per play through two games.

The Ravens certainly struggled at times on third down. Their offensive third downs went this way:

1st Quarter —

  • 3-7-BLT 17 (11:42) (Shotgun) L.Jackson scrambles up the middle to BLT 22 for 5 yards (A.Moore). Punt followed.
  • 3-10-BLT 13 (6:57) (Shotgun) L.Jackson pass short middle to M.Andrews to BLT 42 for 29 yards (L.Johnson).
  • 3-9-HST 18 (2:01) (Shotgun) L.Jackson pass short middle to M.Ingram to HST 14 for 4 yards (Z.Cunningham). Field goal followed.

2nd Quarter —

  • 3-9-HST 49 (7:11) (Shotgun) L.Jackson pass deep left to M.Brown to HST 24 for 25 yards (E.Murray).
  • 3-7-HST 21 (5:40) (Shotgun) L.Jackson pass incomplete deep right to M.Brown. Field goal followed.
  • 3-9-HST 44 (1:16) (Shotgun) L.Jackson sacked at BLT 48 for -8 yards (Z.Cunningham). Timeout #3 by HST at 01:12. Punt followed.

3rd Quarter —

  • 3-1-BLT 35 (12:17) (Shotgun) G.Edwards left guard to BLT 49 for 14 yards (Ju.Reid).
  • 3-6-HST 37 (8:44) (Shotgun) L.Jackson pass short right to J.Dobbins to HST 24 for 13 yards (E.Murray).
  • 3-6-HST 20 (7:14) (Shotgun) L.Jackson sacked at HST 29 for -9 yards (C.Omenihu). Field goal followed.

4th Quarter —

  • 3-6-HST 35 (12:39) (Shotgun) L.Jackson pass short right to M.Brown to HST 30 for 5 yards (B.McKinney). Mark Ingram rushing touchdown followed.
  • 3-7-BLT 30 (6:49) (Shotgun) L.Jackson right tackle to BLT 36 for 6 yards (Ju.Reid). Baltimore challenged the short of the line to gain ruling, and the play was Upheld. The ruling on the field stands. (Timeout #1.) Lamar Jackson successful QB sneak followed.
  • 3-2-BLT 46 (5:31) (Shotgun) G.Edwards left tackle pushed ob at HST 39 for 15 yards (Ju.Reid).
  • 3-4-HST 4 (4:31) (Shotgun) G.Edwards right guard to HST 2 for 2 yards (J.Martin).

Jackson finally knelt the ball on the Ravens final possession to end the game, so the Ravens converted 5/13 attempts, with one third down kneel — which shouldn’t be considered.

On drop backs, the Ravens went 3/10 on third down. This rate appears low, but completions short of the sticks saw Texans defenders make tackles in space (4Q 12:39, 1Q 12:01). Jackson also took two sacks, and missed Hollywood Brown on a difficult corner throw in the end zone (2Q 5:40).

The Ravens converted two-thirds of their true rushing attempts on third down, with Gus Edwards rattling off carries of 15 and 14 yards, respectively. Edwards efficient downhill style is a pneumatic weapon on third down, where he is stuffed at the LOS less than any back in football since the Ravens brought him up from the practice squad in 2018. Five of Edwards 10 rushing attempts were against eight man boxes. Edwards defied the odds, rattling off 2.31 yards above expectation per carry, per Next Gen Stats.

After an L.J. Fort defensive touchdown on a Marlon Humphrey ‘fruit punch’, the Texans were forced to play form behind. With a two-score lead, the Ravens got back to their bread and butter, running downhill and using Lamar Jackson’s legs to threaten the perimeter. After only one carry from a running back in the first quarter (only five total in the second half), Ravens’ backs carried the ball 15 times to the tune of 166 yards. Including Jackson, Baltimore’s rushing attacked rattled off six carries that went for 10+ yards in the second half.

The Texans weren’t able to match the Ravens heavy personnel after the Ravens developed a lead, and Jackson threw underneath in an attempt to prolong drives and eat clock.

Houston utilized a similar coverage strategy against the Chiefs in Week 1. They wanted to limit any deep passing windows, instead allowing the Ravens and Chiefs to run into light boxes and throw over the middle of the field. This strategy felt counteractive, as the Texans don’t have strong coverage linebackers, which were relied upon too heavily in each of the first two games. Jackson took what was given to him, churning out 18 completions on 24 attempts. Taking the low hanging fruit is evidence of a mentally sharp passer, which Jackson has shown he absolutely is.

Jackson has also been lethally accurate. Next Gen Stats has Jackson with the second highest completion percentage over expectation through two weeks (12.2% over expectation), which trails only Russell Wilson (13.9% over expectation). Jackson’s expected completion percentage through two games is 65.4%, which ties for 17th in the NFL currently. His actual completion percentage is 77.6% — second in the league. Jackson’s ball placement and mental acumen have been on full display so far.

These numbers aren’t the result of dinking and dunking the football. Jackson’s intended air yards per attempt sit at 9.4 IAY per attempt, which currently ranks ninth among all quarterbacks. None of the quarterbacks ahead of Jackson come close to his completion percentage over expectation (Aaron Rodgers is closest with 6.2% completions over expectation, while averaging 0.2 intended air yards more than Jackson.)

English translation: Jackson has pushed the ball downfield and done so with exceptional accuracy.

In Week 1, the Browns dared Jackson to throw to the middle-outside and outside areas. He torched them. In Week 2, the Texans completely limited outside throws with soft coverage and deep safety usage. Jackson took what defenses gave him. Through two games, Jackson is third among QB’s in Sports Info Solutions’ total points metric.

Baltimore’s next opponent, the Chiefs, were surprised by rookie Justin Herbert starting Sunday. Herbert sprayed the ball underneath against Kansas City, averaging 8.8 intended air yards per attempt. Herbert threw accurately, completing 5.8% over expectation. Herbert got the ball out quickly, averaging only 2.57s from snap-to-throw (sixth quickest in Week 2).

With only five completions traveling greater than 10 yards, Herbert benefitted from screens and check downs, as well as shallow drag routes. Los Angeles attacked Kansas City’s linebackers in coverage.

NGS Herbert week two spray chart (KC)
Next Gen Stats

Cross-referencing Watson’s spray:

DeShaun Waton spray chart week one (KC)
NGS

Watson also completed five passes that traveled at least 10 yards in the air in Houston’s loss to Kansas City in Week 1. This shows that the Chiefs deploys a similar strategy in coverage, opting to give cushion and steer passers towards the middle and short middle area’s of the field. With the Ravens offense displaying their ability to attack all over the field, they will need to be decisive against a disciplined Kansas City defense. If Jackson is able to complete three or more passes over 10 air yards early against Kansas City’s defense, the Ravens offense will produce big time points on Monday night.

Applying all of this information to the Ravens upcoming matchup:

After watching Jackson successfully convert two third-and-long situations with intermediate dig throws against Houston, the Chiefs may try to take those away on third down. If they do, Jackson will need to make them pay by accurately airing the ball deep down the sideline. If he’s able to connect on a few shots under those circumstances, the Chiefs defense will unravel.

Kansas City has allowed opponents to convert 10/23 third downs attempts (43.5%) which ranks 16th in the league. They’ve also allowed 5/6 drives into their red zone to be converted into touchdowns. The Ravens have converted 6/9 of their own attempts into their opponent’s red zone into touchdowns (66.7%) which currently ranks ninth in the league.

This game will be won by taking care of the football, converting third downs, and turning red zone opportunities into touchdowns. We’re in for a fun one, folks.