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Can the Ravens figure out the deep ball to keep their offense afloat?

With Lamar Jackson set to miss time, Huntley will need to connect on a few shots to back defenses off.

Denver Broncos v Baltimore Ravens Photo by Greg Fiume/Getty Images

With the news that Lamar Jackson has sustained a sprained PCL, the Baltimore Ravens will look to third year quarterback Tyler Huntley to attempt to tread water for at least one game, possibly more. The Ravens passing offense has been able to get enough done in the short and intermediate game to keep them in games. According to Sports Info Solutions, the Ravens pass game up to 20 air yards ranks 11th in Points Earned, 8th in Points Earned per play and 10th in EPA.

Over 20 yards? A different story. Baltimore has completed only 11 passes of at least 20 air yards, the sixth fewest in the NFL. It’s not for lack of trying, either. They’ve attempted 43 such attempts, ranking 14th most, but only 17 of them have been deemed ‘catchable’, the fourth fewest. In fact, Jackson’s 9.2 aDOT is tied with Josh Allen for 9th in the NFL among qualifying passers according to PFF. Jackson has attempted a throw of 20+ air yards on 14.4% of his pass attempts, which ranks 8th highest. However, Jackson has taken a step back in his ability to connect downfield in 2022. PFF tracks what they call “big time throws”, which is categorized as follows:

A pass with excellent ball location and timing, generally thrown further down the field and/or into a tighter window.

On throws over 20 air yards, Jackson’s big time throw rate is 15.1%, which is only ahead of Kyler Murray, Cooper Rush, Zach Wilson, Daniel Jones and Marcus Mariota. Whether that’s fault of Jackson, his receivers, coaches, etc. is up for debate. In the end, Baltimore has been putrid attacking downfield. Their EPA on such throws is a repulsive -19.19, the second lowest in the league. While it’s easy to get into a chicken vs. egg vs. offensive coordinator discussion, Baltimore has simply been totally inept at connecting on deep balls.

In 2021, Lamar Jackson came out firing downfield like a man possessed. Over the first five games of the season, Jackson had 13 big time throws, including a career high six against Detroit. However, four of them were dropped in that game, a microcosm of Baltimore’s poor production. Over Jackson’s final seven performances of 2021 before injury, he managed only six more as Baltimore’s offensive line crumbled around him. From there, it only got worse. Huntley, who possesses redeeming qualities in his capacity to throw in rhythm and spread the ball underneath, has been the NFL’s worst deep ball passer throughout his limited action. In fact, he simply doesn’t attempt to pass the ball overtop.

In 231 drop backs in 2021, Huntley attempted 188 passes. Of those 188 passes, 10.3% traveled 20+ air yards, which ranked 27/37 qualifying passers according to PFF. On such throws, Huntley ranked 36th in big time throws, 37th in big time throw rate rate and had more turnover worthy throws (three) than big time throws (two). The longest completion Huntley has generated when attempting to throw 20+ air yards is 36 yards, which came on a completion to Rashod Bateman against the Cleveland Browns in Week 14 of 2021.

The game plan for Baltimore with Huntley at quarterback appears to be spreading the field wide then allowing him to throw into zones underneath as soon as he reaches the top of one or three step drop backs. Often, Huntley predetermines his first read and rifles the ball there as soon as he hits the top of his drop, which creates a slow-paced pass game that allows defenses to trigger downhill and make plays on the football. Baltimore dialed up a few potential shots for Huntley in the second half of their 10-9 win against the Broncos Sunday, but he failed to connect.

The good news is that the deep ball, in general, is down league wide. Among the 32 teams, only 11 teams have completed 10 or more passes that have traveled 25+ air yards, with five of those being exactly 10 such completions, according to Sports Info Solutions. There are only six teams averaging one or more completions of 25+ air yards per game, the Bills, Dolphins, Commanders, Broncos, Eagles and Chiefs.

While the Ravens sorely miss Rashod Bateman, they could stand to target Devin Duvernay downfield more often. Duvernay, although limited in targets downfield, has never failed to bring in a catchable deep targer. The former Texas standout has shown skill in terms of speed release, stacking defensive backs. Devin has impressive late tracking and shields the ball from defenders well.

The longer Huntley goes without showing the ability to threaten defenses downfield, the tighter windows will become underneath and the more turnovers will pile up. If the Ravens can’t get the deep ball going against the Steelers, who will dare them to do so, then they will have to hope their defense can keep them in the game yet again. Pittsburgh has allowed the second most touchdowns (6) and eighth most completions (10) on passes of 25+ air yards.

The Ravens defense has kept opponents out of the end zone in two of their past three games,. If Baltimore can’t hurt Pittsburgh overtop they will likely need to do so again.