Lamar Jackson’s dissection of the Cleveland Browns in a 38-6 win was masterful in nearly every way, as he completed 20 of 25 passes for 275 yards and three touchdowns and led the Ravens in rushing with 45 yards on seven carries.
Jackson’s performance — which earned him the AFC’s Offensive Player of the Week Award for the sixth time in his career — also previewed the increased role that wide receivers could have in the Ravens’ offense in 2020.
Tight end Mark Andrews remains Jackson’s most popular and consistent weapon. He led the Ravens in targets (98) and receptions (64) a year ago. He was tied for the team lead in both categories against the Browns, with six targets and five catches for 58 yards and two touchdowns.
But against the Browns, wide receivers accounted for 62 percent of the Ravens’ completions and 60 percent of the targets, compared to 39.7 percent and 43 percent, respectively, a year ago.
“We want to spread the ball around to people because we have a lot of weapons,” Harbaugh said after the game. “But any game plan can kind of unfold any kind of way during the week.”
Granted, it’s foolhardy to draw conclusions from one game, but there are plenty of reasons to believe that Ravens wide receivers stand to be a larger part of their offense this season.
First of all, Jackson has stressed that his downfield throwing was a major point of his offseason emphasis, and speedster wideout Marquise Brown is fully healthy after dealing with a foot injury all of last season. That combination was evident on a gorgeous 47-yard pass that Jackson dropped right into Brown’s arms against Cleveland. Brown finished with five catches for 101 yards.
In addition, the Ravens traded away Hayden Hurst, and essentially replaced him at tight end with Patrick Ricard, who isn’t nearly the receiving threat Hurst was. Ricard, a fullback/defensive lineman hybrid in his first three NFL seasons, has totaled 12 catches in his career.
And if teams look to stack the box to stop the Ravens’ record-setting running game, or to focus on Andrews, more of the field opens up for receivers.
On the Ravens 99-yard touchdown drive against the Browns, Jackson went 5-for-5 in the air, to four different targets: Ricard, Brown (twice), Miles Boykin and Willie Snead. On Jackson’s touchdown drive in the final minute of the first half — a clinic in execution and time management — Jackson connected with Snead and Brown (twice) before throwing a touchdown pass to Andrews with six seconds left in the half.
The Ravens opted against any high-profile receiver signings in free agency, and critics will note that no wide receiver on the roster has had so much as a 700-yard season in a Ravens uniform. But they feel comfortable placing their trust in a young group anchored by Snead, 27.
Jackson and others have raved that Brown looks primed for a breakout year, and Boykin has looked more assertive in his second year. They are joined by veteran special teamer Chris Moore and Devin Duvernay and James Proche, a pair of rookies who have drawn rave reviews for their sure hands and toughness after the catch.
Asked about Duvernay, the third-round pick from Texas who had one catch for 12 yards in the opener, Jackson described him as “explosive,” but then said with a chuckle that he didn’t want to say much more. “I’d like to keep him under the radar right now.”
Brown, who figures to be the top beneficiary of any increased vertical passing attack, noted after the win against the Browns that Jackson looks “a lot more comfortable, and he’s a lot more pinpoint” with his throws than last year.
“It’s now our job to be at the spot,” Brown said, “because that’s where he’s putting it. He’s doing a good job of throwing it away from defenders and throwing it to where you can catch and run.”
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