After parting ways with former Offensive Coordinator Greg Roman following the 2022 postseason and replacing him with Todd Monken, excitement and expectations for the Baltimore Ravens on the offensive side of the ball were heightened.
They went up even higher after the organization inked franchise quarterback Lamar Jackson to a then-record-setting extension on the first night of the 2023 NFL Draft, ensuring they’d have the most electric dual-threat in league history under center for the foreseeable future.
Through the first six weeks of the regular season, the Ravens have looked impressive on offense for stretches during their 4-2 start but played pivotal roles in both of their narrow and disappointing defeats. Even though they are leading the AFC North with a 2-1 record against divisional opponents—all of which were played on the road—they are being much more heavily scrutinized and criticized by fans, analysts, and the national media for their early season struggles than the other top contenders around the league experiencing similar early season grown pains.
The Ravens have outscored their opponents a combined 133-91 with a differential of +42 which is a wider margin than the reigning NFC champion Eagles. Philadelphia has outscored their opponents 155-124 with a differential of +31 and just suffered their first loss of the season to a Zach Wilson-led New York Jets team in Week 6.
Baltimore has yet to score 30 or more points in a game, yet they are averaging nearly as many points per game as the defending Super Bowl Champion Kansas City Chiefs (24.5 to 22.2) whose average is bloated thanks to a 41-10 blowout of the Chicago Bears in Week 3.
Since that outlier game, the perennial AFC power has been averaging just 23 points a game and struggled to outscore the Jets in Week 4. They couldn’t even score 20 points in Week 6 going up against a Denver Broncos defense on a historically bad pace and are currently allowing a league-worst average of 33.3 points per game.
Both the Eagles and the Chiefs are 5-1, however, neither offense resembles the juggernaut of a unit that helped lead their respective teams to the Super Bowl this past February. Yet their struggles and occasional failures are not being lamented or judged as harshly as the Ravens who have a new play caller, a host of new weapons, and have been hit hard by the injury bug.
When Patrick Mahomes pass catchers outside of Travis Kelce let him down with bad drops or fail to consistently gain separation, the media doesn’t place the blame on the half-a-billion-dollar man. But when Jackson’s targets have their worst game of the season and collectively cost them a win and a chance to go 3-0 on the road against divisional opponents, as they did in the Ravens’ Week 5 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers, some in the national media such as ESPN’s Stephen A. Smith had the audacity to question if the team is “getting their money’s worth?”
: Stephen A Smith says the #Ravens aren’t getting their money’s worth on Lamar Jackson— JPAFootball (@jasrifootball) October 9, 2023
“Even though you got those drops, at the end of the day, if you don’t turn the ball over, you win anyway. This man has been turning the ball over and that is not what they… pic.twitter.com/7GsThXAsen
The Eagles had to replace both of their coordinators this offseason after Jonathan Gannon and Shane Steichen earned head coaching jobs. They opted to promote from within to fill their vacancies and while the Eagles defense is looking just as good if not better, their offense is nowhere near the consistently high-scoring machine they were offensively last year beyond still being able to run the ‘Tush Push/Brotherly Shove’ with impunity from the goal line.
But when the Ravens have a couple of hiccups in the first half of the season with a completely new coach designing and dialing up plays, the sky appears to be falling in the eyes of their fan base every time they fail to outscore their opponents by 10 or more points.
Ravens had five red zone drives today:— Pedro H. Rhormes (@rhormes_) October 15, 2023
Not a good job by Todd Monken. Ravens had the 3rd best red zone offense in the league with a 72.3% touchdown rate. Not sure why he's basically just running with Gus Edwards and not even calling a pass. Zay had a TD there ♂️
Ravens might be the worst red zone team in the league— Jay (@lozatakes) October 15, 2023
The Ravens will never make excuses for their shortcomings and will own up to their missed opportunities. However, there are some legitimate reasons why they are not clicking on all cylinders at times, haven’t put together two complete halves, and let setbacks snowball resulting in interior opponents hanging around to make games closer and even pull off upsets.
The entire first-team unit with the exception of fourth-year pro John Simpson, who was competing for the starting left guard spot, and first-round rookie wide receiver Zay Flowers, sat out the entire preseason. However, they did look good in joint practices with the Washington Commanders according to reports ahead of their exhibition game.
This meant that the start of the regular season would be the new-look offense’s first time hitting the field together in live game action against an opposing team. While some rust and growing pains were to be expected, what couldn’t have been foreseen was the rash of injuries that the unit would suffer in Week 1.
By the end of their 25-9 season-opening win over the Houston Texans, they lost starting running back J.K. Dobbins to a season-ending torn Achilles and their two top offensive linemen didn’t finish the game due to injury. All-Pro left tackle Ronnie Stanley missed three games with a knee sprain and second-year center Tyler Linderbaum missed two games with an ankle sprain.
Despite all of those factors, the Ravens were the top red zone offense in the league through the first four weeks with a conversion rate of 80 percent and even after going 2-of-8 inside the opposing team’s 20-yard line the past two games, their rate of 58.3 still ranks ninth in the league and is higher than both the Chiefs and Eagles, who rank 17th and 23rd respectively.
On Wednesday, Jackson attributed some of their recent red zone struggles on offense to miscommunication between him and his targets in some situations and believes they need to play faster in the second halves of games where they get out to leads to counter halftime adjustments made by opposing defenses.
Lamar on how the team can improve in the red zone: pic.twitter.com/BmU06WwI27— Baltimore Ravens (@Ravens) October 18, 2023
“[After] watching film, I’ll say we have a little miscommunication here and there that I believe we’re going to fix, and hopefully this week, we start strong, [so] we can put points on the board in the red zone,” Jackson said.
Three-time Pro Bowl wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. believes that the reason the Ravens haven’t been able to consistently put together two dominant halves on offense yet this season is that they don’t keep the pressure on after getting out to a big lead.
“I think it’s just don’t let off the gas,” Beckham Jr. said Wednesday. “I’ve been around long enough to know that games are really four quarters, and they are actually four quarters. I feel like [if] you let off the gas … This is the National Football League; every team is capable of winning any Sunday. So [we’re] just finding ways to close those games off.
“This is a team in here that’s 4-2; it feels like [we] should be 6-0. And maybe those two losses were the best things that happened for us to allow us not to take any moment for granted – or opportunity – and just being able to capitalize when we do have that time.”
Some of their conservatism in play selection in the second half of games where they’ve gotten out to big leads can be attributed to injuries that happen in-game and Monken has to adjust or restrict his play-calling based on available personnel.
A team should never peak too early in the season and want to be playing their best football toward the end of the season and heading into the playoffs. The fact the Ravens have shown the tremendous promise they have on offense to date should inspire confidence that they will be peaking come November, December, and into January. Their defense is already playing at a dominant championship level and is allowing the fourth fewest points per game (15.2) and second-fewest yards per play (4.0).
The team as a whole will get their toughest test this Sunday when they host the 5-1 Detroit Lions who are arguably the most complete and complementary team in the league right now. They rank among the top-10 in several categories on both sides of the ball, including the fifth-fewest yards allowed per play (4.7) and the third-most pressures (69) on defense as well as the fourth most yards per play (5.8) and points per game (28) on offense.