Week 1 NFL Panic Meter: How Worried Should the Packers Be? - Nora Princiotti
The Baltimore Ravens’ Bad Injury Luck
The Ravens played one of the most bananas games in recent memory against the Raiders on Monday night. It’s worth evaluating the significance of any game that requires a ranking of its weirdest moments, but Baltimore’s biggest challenge in the aftermath of the loss has to do with its upcoming schedule.
The Ravens now face Kansas City in Week 2. Quarterback Lamar Jackson is a career 0-3 against Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs. The Ravens face a difficult end to the season, with matchups against the Browns and Steelers twice, plus the Packers, Bengals, and Rams in the final seven weeks. There’s pressure to get out to a good start in a competitive division with that slate looming, but the Ravens now face solid odds of starting 0-2.
What doesn’t seem worth panicking about is Jackson’s play. He completed only 63 percent of his passes, but had an average depth of target of 9.1 yards, which ranked 18th in the league in Week 1, according to PFF. That’s not spectacular, but it hints at a decent downfield passing offense, and that was Baltimore’s main priority this offseason. Jackson was his usual excellent self on the ground, rushing for 86 yards on 12 carries, which helped the Ravens maintain their typical position as the best running game in the NFL in Week 1 despite numerous injuries at running back.
The Raiders also pressured Jackson on 55 percent of his dropbacks, according to the NFL’s Next Gen Stats. That’s hardly the ideal environment to get a solid assessment of a quarterback early in the season and, even so, Jackson had some promising moments.
Final verdict: Medium-high panic.
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Offensively, the line didn’t give Jackson nearly enough time to relax and do his thing. He was constantly on the run and took as many hard hits as I can remember in a game.
Defensively, the Ravens couldn’t consistently create pressure without blitzing, a calculus that exposed the secondary to matchup problems.
The Ravens need to problem solve on both fronts.
The O-line run-blocked well enough for the Ravens to rush for nearly 200 yards, even though the interior didn’t always get the desired push. Pass protection on the edges was the main problem, as tackles Ronnie Stanley and Alejandro Villanueva struggled.
Rust was entirely understandable for Stanley in his first game back from a major ankle injury. The expectation is he’ll round into shape, which would help.
Villanueva, repeatedly beaten by the Raiders’ Maxx Crosby, needs to perform better, period.
As for the defense, it’s not new for the Ravens to use blitzes and packages to help create pressure. But Las Vegas handled it all for the most part, passing for a ton of yardage. The answer, it seems, is for the Ravens to start winning some one-on-one battles up front, as the Raiders did. That would ease the pressure on the secondary.
Fixes won’t come easily against the Chiefs, who also have an active defensive front and won easily a year ago when the Ravens tried to blitz them into submission.
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“When two good football teams play against each other, there’s always going to be a lot of hype and a lot of buildup to the game,” added Mahomes on Wednesday. “Seeing Lamar and all the success he’s had with that team, you know they’re two of the top teams in the AFC. And so, we’re going to have to battle — every year it seems like — or in the playoffs, or whenever it is. So obviously, there’s a lot of momentum coming throughout the week when you play teams like this.”
“Gap integrity is one of the biggest things I saw on film,” said rookie linebacker Nick Bolton as he spoke about that effort. “[It’s an] electric offense that can do a whole bunch of different things with his hands on the ball. It’s going to be executing the gameplan, doing our job, doing our one-11, making sure we’re not trying to do too much — that type of stuff.”
“They’re well-coached and they’ve got good players, so it’s always a knock-down, drag-out fight there,” added Reid of the Ravens. “They’re tough. That’s the way they practice, that’s the way they go about their business, so, we’ve got to make sure we prepare ourselves right for it. Every play is an honest down when you play them.”
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Mahomes has tortured the Ravens defense in the past three meetings. He has the ability to make plays on the run and that has been especially problematic for Baltimore. The Ravens will be tempted to blitz, but that plays into one of Mahome’s strengths. Mahomes is efficient at using his mobility to extend plays, and he is able to read a blitz and adjust on the fly. Baltimore might better off playing zone for parts of the game. The Ravens are currently ranked last in the NFL for overall defense heading into Week 2 after allowing 491 yards to Las Vegas.
Raiders tight end Darren Waller finished 10 receptions for 105 yards with a touchdown. The Ravens will have an even tougher matchup with the Chiefs’ tight end Travis Kelce, who caught six passes for 76 yards with two touchdowns last week against the Browns. Baltimore is hopeful that Jimmy Smith is healthy enough to play to support a secondary, which gave up big plays last week to Las Vegas. Baltimore cornerback Marlon Humphrey has a tough assignment covering Tyreek Hill, who had 197 yards receiving with a touchdown last week.
The Chiefs could not get a whole lot going with their running attack against the Browns and finished with 73 yards on 23 carries. Clyde Edwards-Helaire led the way with 43 yards. The Ravens have traditionally been stout against the run and allowed 82 yards to Las Vegas. However, the key is stopping Mahomes, who finished with 337 yards passing and three touchdowns while running for a score last week against Cleveland.
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The Ravens are playing on a short week after losing Monday night to the Raiders on the road, which makes this a tougher challenge. The Chiefs beat the Browns last week, but it wasn’t easy. This won’t be either. But the Ravens love to blitz and Patrick Mahomes will carve that decision to do so to shreds. Lamar Jackson will keep it close, but in the end the Chiefs will pull away.
Pick: Chiefs 33, Ravens 28