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Ravens bye week diagnostic ahead of final stretch

Determining what is running smoothly, isn’t quite clicking yet, and needs to be addressed.

Cleveland Browns v Baltimore Ravens Photo by Scott Taetsch/Getty Images

The Baltimore Ravens finally reached their bye and got to relax on Sunday during Week 13 as the rest of the division leaders in the AFC tried to catch up to them. At 9-3, the Ravens entered their bye week atop the AFC North and near the top of the conference.

This was the perfect time for the coaching staff to self-scout and make adjustments and for the players to rest up and get refocused. It’s also a great time to reflect and break down what the Ravens are doing well, not as well, and either poorly or inconsistent.

Here is their 2023 bye week diagnostic detailing aspects of the team that are working and what needs work down the final stretch. The Ravens are set to embark on what will hopefully be their deepest playoff run in over a decade.

Running smoothly

Running game: The Ravens are the most balanced they’ve been offensively since franchise quarterback Lamar Jackson became the team’s full-time starter. However, they still possess and a dominant rushing attack. They lead the league in rushing attempts (390), rushing yards (1,903), touchdowns (22), and yards per game (158.6). They also rank second in yards per carry. They’ve rushed for over 100 yards in every game, eclipsed 150 rushing yards in a single game five times, and have a season-high of 298.

Pass defense: The harmonious relationship between the Ravens’ coverage and pass rush has been the catalyst for arguably the NFL’s best defense. Second-year Defensive Coordinator Mike Macdonald’s unit leads the league in sacks with 47 and is second in pass breakups with 69. They’ve shut down some of the best offenses thus far this year including the Detroit Lions, Seattle Seahawks, Los Angeles Chargers, and Cincinnati Bengals twice.

The Ravens are tied for the fewest passing touchdowns given up with just 10. They’re yielding the lowest yards gained per pass attempt (5.5), adjusted yards gained per pass attempt (4.8), yards gained per completion (9.0), net yards gained per pass attempts (4.2), adjusted net yards gained per pass attempts (3.6), and opposing passer rating (72.5). They are also ranked first in passing touchdowns percentage (2.2), second in passing yards per game allowed (142), and tied for third in sack percentage (9.5).

Not quite clicking on all cylinders

Deep passing game: The hiring of first-year Offensive Coordinator Todd Monken to replace Greg Roman has resulted in the most explosive passing attack the Ravens have had with Jackson under center. While they’re great at generating chunk plays down the seams and over the middle of the field, the vertical passing game has been far less consistent. The Ravens only have three passing plays of 50+ yards and none of them went for a touchdown, with the longest being an 80-yard catch-and-run from a wide-open Gus Edwards.

The opportunities have been there but Jackson and his intended targets just haven’t been able to capitalize as often as they could. The misses have been overthrows where Jackson put it too far out in front or wasn’t able to step into the throw as a result of pressure. As exciting as their offense has been, once this aspect of their aerial attack starts getting executed with consistency, the sky be the limit.

Running back rotation: In the weeks leading up to their bye, the Ravens began incorporating a new weapon into their offense in rookie running back Keaton Mitchell. The undrafted gem missed the the first five games of the season recovering from a shoulder injury and sat out Week 8 with a hamstring. He burst onto the scene with an electrifying breakout performance in Week 9, totaling 138 rushing yards and a touchdown on just nine carries in a win over the Seahawks.

Mitchell showed incredible juice in that game and as well as the following week with a pair of 30+ yard plays. However, it wasn’t until the Ravens’ Week 12 matchup against the Chargers that he finally led his position group in snaps, touches, carries, and yards. He has recorded a play of 20+ yards in each of his last four games yet only received double figures in touches in two of them.

Edwards leads the team with a career-high 10 rushing touchdowns and should still continue as the top option when it comes to short-yardage and goal-line situations. However, Mitchell deserves to continue seeing an increase in his snaps, touches, and overall involvement in the offense. That’s true even if it means using Jackson’s legs or veteran Justice Hill less moving forward, given how explosive Mitchell has shown he can be.

Run defense: The first commandment for all defenders that dawn the purple and back throughout the franchise’s rich history of fielding dominant defensive units has been ‘Thou shalt stop the run.’ Making opposing offenses one-dimensional by taking away their ability to get their ground game going has been the calling card of every great Ravens defense. While Macdonald’s 2023 unit is tops in the league in several statistical categories and metrics, an area where they rank near the middle of the pack is slowing down opposing rushing attacks.

The Ravens have given up the 14th fewest rushing yards and allowed the 11th most yards per carry through the first 12 weeks. However, over their last five games ahead of the bye, they gave up over 120 yards on the ground three times. That includes a season-high 178 in their Week 10 home loss to the Cleveland Browns.

Some of these uncharacteristic performances can be attributed to poor tackling or perhaps their front seven needing a long-awaited break from trench warfare. They bounced back by giving up just 86 rushing yards to the Chargers but Los Angeles has one of the worst run games in the league. They will need to make sure their run defense is on point down the stretch because there are some strong rushing attacks on their remaining schedule.

Needs to be addressed

Pass protection: The Ravens’ offensive line has been road graders in the run game and a driving force behind the top rushing attack in the league. However, they’ve been far less proficient when it comes to pass blocking. Through the first 12 weeks of the season, they are tied for the 10th-most sacks given up in the league with 29.

Injuries have certainly taken a toll on the starting unit and led to many of their lapses in protection. That has consequently resulted in the stalling of the offense during games for stretches or almost entire halves.

All-Pro left tackle Ronnie Stanley has missed four games with knee and ankle injuries, right tackle Morgan Moses has missed three games with a shoulder injury, and center Tyler Linderbaum missed a couple of games with an ankle sprain. This unit will likely benefit the most from the bye week because it gives them time to rest up and heal without having to get ready for another game.

Special teams: The lack of consistency and reoccurring mistakes from the Ravens in this phase of the game is by far the most surprising shortcoming on the team. Head Coach John Harbaugh’s background is as a former special teams coordinator with the Philadelphia Eagles. They’ve been the gold standard with near flawless execution on special teams for most of his tenure at the helm but this season has been a departure from the norm. However, second-year punter Jordan Stout is quietly having a breakout season and is worthy of All-Pro and Pro Bowl consideration.

The unit has struggled in consistently executing blocking assignments, lane integrity on returns, and other operational duties. That has resulted in rushed kicking attempts, blocked punts and field goals, a punt return touchdown, and several other long returns. They’ve allowed the fourth-most punt return yards (304) and are allowing the second-most yards per punt return (13.8). Even though he’s still reliable and clutch as ever, six-time Pro Bowl kicker Justin Tucker has temporarily lost the mantle of most accurate kicker of all time due to having five misses this season — one of which was blocked.