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Ravens News 10/5: Leveling Up

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NFL: Baltimore Ravens at Cleveland Browns David Richard-USA TODAY Sports

Lamar Jackson and the Baltimore Ravens Are Leveling Up

Ben Solak, The Ringer

While the Ravens offense hasn’t been much better than it was previously, the reallocation of resources has changed how the Ravens move the ball down the field. By overall offensive success rate, this season is about on par with any of the last three; but passing success rate is way up, while designed-run success rate is way down. Running the ball is no longer king in Baltimore’s offense—passing is.

Should we be worried about the running game suffering from this shift in organizational thrust? I don’t think so. Their explosive run rate remains strong relative to seasons past (14 percent, just above average), and they hurt their success rate with a lead-nursing second half against the Browns’ scary front. Also: They have Lamar Jackson. Their running game may not be what it was in seasons past, but I’d be shocked if it ended up being bad.

So the first four weeks of the season haven’t actually been about what’s new—they’ve been about what’s old. Even as the formations have changed and the personnel groupings have changed, the fact that the Ravens passing game has stayed afloat—and maybe even marginally improved—is a testament to the same thing we’ve always celebrated with the Ravens passing game: The superstar heroics of Lamar Jackson, working with shaky receivers, in a scheme that isn’t yet running on all cylinders.

The Ravens’ new offense hasn’t been as explosive as expected. It hasn’t slowed Lamar Jackson.

Brian Wacker, The Baltimore Sun

Lamar Jackson is doing things that he has never done.

His 16 yards per attempt are nearly 3 1/2 yards more than the highest rate of any year of his career as the full-time starter. He’s leading a Ravens offense that is tops in the NFL in red zone efficiency at 80% with 12 touchdowns scored in 15 trips.

But for all of Jackson’s passing fancy, the additions of wide receivers Odell Beckham Jr., Zay Flowers, Nelson Agholor, a new offensive coordinator in Todd Monken and $170 million spent on the offense — most in the NFL — the Ravens haven’t quite turned into the explosive, high-octane offense that some might have expected.

Jackson’s 794 yards passing through the first four games are the fourth-fewest in the NFL...

His average intended air yards (6.9) per pass is one of the lowest in the league; he’s attempted just nine passes of 20 yards or more and his 198.5 yards passing per game ranks 22nd overall.

“It’s probably a function of the offense and where we want to go with it and what the defense is giving us, so both of those two things,” coach John Harbaugh said when asked about the Ravens’ lack of long passes and big plays. “We want to throw the ball downfield. We’ve had some success doing it. It’s really a big part of what we want to do.

“But we also want to get the ball out quick, which we didn’t have as many of those [against the Browns] — quick passes, RPOs [run-pass options]. Those are things that keep a defense honest when they want to pack in on your run game, too.”

NFL quarterback questions: Reporters on concerns, hot starts

Jamison Hensley, ESPN

What’s different for Lamar Jackson this season in Todd Monken’s offense?

Since the offseason workouts in the spring, new coordinator Monken and Jackson have been talking about getting a rid of the ball quicker. Jackson’s average time before throwing was 3.0 seconds last season, which ranked 31st in the NFL. This year, he’s averaging 2.66 seconds before each pass, the ninth-fastest pace in the league.

As a result, Jackson has been much more efficient, completing 74.3% of his passes — which is second only to Bills quarterback Josh Allen and up from his 65.0% rate through four games last season.

Ravens film study: What’s the NFL’s best red-zone offense doing better in 2023? Everything.

Jonas Shaffer, The Baltimore Banner

“We were getting into the red zone,” Jackson said Sunday of the team’s struggles under former coordinator Greg Roman, “and not scoring.”

That has not been a problem this season. A year after finishing 30th in the NFL in red-zone touchdown rate (45.8%), the Ravens head into Sunday’s game against the Pittsburgh Steelers atop the league leaderboard. With four more touchdowns in their 28-3 win Sunday over the Cleveland Browns, the Ravens have reached the end zone on 12 of their 15 red-zone trips this season (80%). Only their first red-zone possession of the year, capped by Jackson’s only interception this season, has ended without a score.

Jackson was the Ravens’ most efficient red-zone ball carrier last season. On designed runs, quarterback sneaks and read-option keepers, he had 14 carries for 54 yards (3.9 per attempt) and two touchdowns, according to Sports Info Solutions.

If the only drawback was his usage, Monken has remedied that: Jackson already has seven designed carries, or about one every two red-zone drives, a sharp uptick from last year, when he averaged one such carry every three drives. And the added workload hasn’t hurt his effectiveness, either. Jackson has 36 rushing yards (5.1 per carry) and four touchdowns and is averaging a staggering 0.65 EPA per play, according to SIS, more than triple his rate last year.

Which 2023 NFL Draft picks have excelled so far? Our early All-Rookie Team

Dane Brugler, The Athletic

Wide receiver: Puka Nacua, Rams; Tank Dell, Texans; Zay Flowers, Ravens

A pair of “undersized” receivers, Flowers and Dell, deserve to be recognized, too. Flowers is second among rookies in receptions (24) and has been electric with the ball in his hands. He’s also yet to register a drop. Meanwhile, Dell’s 267 receiving yards rank second among first-year players, and his two touchdown grabs are tied for first among rookies.

Baltimore Ravens Not Taking Pittsburgh Steelers Lightly - ‘It’s A Week-To-Week League!’

Adam Schultz, Sports Illustrated

“[We are] only four weeks in, only four chapters have been written and we have to write chapter five, that’s all we have to think about right now,” Harbaugh said. “We just have to focus on chapter five, which is a division game, in Pittsburgh, playing the Pittsburgh Steelers and we understand what they’re about, what they stand for, what kind of football team they are and we know what it takes to go play that team, we respect them. We’re going to have to be at our best.”

While the Ravens, based on form should win this game, Lamar Jackson has struggled against Mike Tomlin’s team.

He has a 2-3 record and has lost the last two games while throwing for 461 yards, three touchdowns, and three interceptions while being sacked 11 times.

So this next chapter in the Ravens season is anything but straightforward and with a chance to create serious separation between themselves and the rest of the division, Sunday’s clash has a lot riding on it.

Week 5 NFL picks: Commanders beat Bears, Steelers sink Ravens as home dogs, 49ers hold off Cowboys

Pete Prisco, CBS Sports

Baltimore Ravens at Pittsburgh Steelers (+3.5)

Sunday, 1 p.m. ET (CBS, Paramount+)

It’s consecutive road games for the Ravens, but they played well at Cleveland. They faced a backup quarterback, and might do so here. Lamar Jackson and the offense seem to be getting it going in Todd Monken’s system. But something says the Steelers regroup in this one, no matter who plays quarterback for them.

Pick: Steelers 20, Ravens 17