The Baltimore Ravens have hit their earlier-than-expected bye week at a comfortable 5-1 after a far-less-than-comfortable 30-28 win against the Philadelphia Eagles Oct. 18.
Between in-game interactions on social media, response to our “Project Gameday” postgame show and messages I’ve received from readers and listeners, I’ve sensed a few recurring themes. In our business, we call them takes. So this week I’m breaking down “Six Takes After Six Games” or something internet-clever like that.
Take One: “There’s just something off about Lamar Jackson and the offense.”
We’ve all had a thought like this during the last month. We just don’t know exactly how to define it. A week ago, running back Mark Ingram suggested the team was still seeking its “identity.” That should be absurd considering this was the greatest rushing offense in football just a season ago and the same group was largely back, but the team simply wasn’t trying to establish a dominant rushing identity.
In its sixth game, that changed a bit. In the first 28 minutes of the first half (as The Athletic’s Mike Sando calls it, the “Cook Index”), the Ravens threw the ball on just nine of 23 first- and second-down plays. That’s just a 39.1 percent “Cook Index,” which is actually slightly less than the record-breaking 2019 campaign.
Yet the results were … mixed. Jackson looked more like the electric runner we saw a season ago, rushing nine times for 108 yards. But Ravens running backs managed just 74 yards on 28 carries, a putrid 2.6 yards per rush — well down from the 5.5 yards per carry they had averaged coming into the game.
And as a passer, Jackson continued to be … fine. He was an unspectacular 16-for-27 against Philadelphia, leaning on sidearm throws in situations where they were unnecessary. The ball was spread around a bit more, as primary targets Marquise “Hollywood” Brown and Mark Andrews received just a combined 10 of 25 targets (40 percent) after getting 19 of 36 a week ago (52.7 percent). The offensive line was oft-penalized, helping to allow the Eagles to get back into the game.
It’s just … kinda off. It’s tough to define. The offense isn’t a “bad” unit. It’s just not clicking the way you’d want it to. This is a fair and reasonable take.
Take Two: “They need to give more snaps to/get the ball to __ more.”
The four names that most commonly fill this blank are running backs J.K. Dobbins and Gus Edwards and rookie wide receivers Devin Duvernay and James Proche. With the exception of one truly known commodity (Edwards), this take appears to be as much a reflection of the hopes Ravens fans have for the first-year players as it is frustration toward the performance of receivers Miles Boykin and Willie Snead and to a lesser extent running back Mark Ingram.
While I don’t think this is a particularly unfair take, it is similarly tough to define. The lack of a full offseason and preseason certainly appears to be playing a role in how impactful Ravens offensive rookies have been given the chance to be, but fans can’t help but notice that rookie receiver Chase Claypool is in the midst of a breakout stretch in Pittsburgh while he had no more offseason and preseason to work with.
The Ravens have appeared to be designing plays to get the ball into Duvernay’s hands specifically of late (he had three catches against the Eagles). It is well within reason to imagine they want to see more of all of their rookies but won’t simply force the issue for the sake of humoring your drunk cousin.
Take Three: “They’re going to need to make a certain trade if they want to be a Super Bowl team.”
Yeah, I think this one is pretty reasonable, too. I don’t say that because they necessarily CAN’T win the Super Bowl as constructed. It’s totally possible that if certain things go the right way, this group can make a deep run.
But the difference a particular player might possibly make can’t be understated. A good team got measurably better a season ago when they acquired cornerback Marcus Peters. Peters helped truly make the Ravens a Super Bowl contender even if they fell just a bit short. While a trade for someone like Julio Jones is probably a pipe dream, perhaps even another veteran receiver could go a long way toward providing just enough of a threat to help make the offense better as a whole.
Such deals are easier spoken than executed in the NFL, but no one around the Ravens seems to think the team won’t at least attempt to get better between now and the NFL’s Election Day deadline. Pass catcher and pass rusher seem to be the most likely options the Ravens would pursue, but given some injury issues for Tyre Phillips, perhaps they’d look at a veteran offensive lineman, too.
Take Four: “They’re gonna have to be much better after the bye or this could go south fast.”
This is a reasonable take but has probably been a bit exaggerated. Yes, the five games after the bye include both matchups with the Pittsburgh Steelers (including a Thanksgiving night showdown in The Steel City) as well as a revenge game against the mighty Titans. But the other two road games are against the Colts and Patriots who, while certainly far better than anything the NFC East could offer (but then again, what isn’t?) are far from world beaters.
It would have to take a serious downturn for the five-game stretch after the bye to be likely to “sink” the Ravens. But this stretch certainly does appear as though it could be of major significance when it comes to the AFC North title and seeding for the postseason. Simply put, with the exception of the Chiefs, the teams the Ravens are going to face appear to be much better than those they’ve faced already.
But much like the dreaded Seahawks-Patriots stretch proved to actually define the team’s greatness last year, the Ravens may be equally capable during the next month and a half of proving that their 5-1 record isn’t only about the quality of the opponents they’ve faced.
Take Five: “They just might not be as good as they were last year.”
This is a rather interesting take. The Ravens experienced historic success in 2019, and as a fan base, we may well have set a bar for 2020 that was impossible to reach.
But the standard is the standard. Success is measured for this franchise now by whether it makes a Super Bowl run or not. There’s no putting the toothpaste back in the tube at this point. If the 2020 Ravens fall short of that, they don’t get to say, “Well, the expectations were just unrealistic.”
Perhaps the 2019 Ravens with Marshal Yanda in tow and no Ben Roethlisberger in the division had the best opportunity to win a Super Bowl that they’ll have in this window. But they have to do everything possible to try to recreate that opportunity in the coming weeks. Ultimately this take might prove to be correct but at the moment it is particularly worthless.
Take Six: “The only thing that really matters is that they’re 5-1.”
This is a reasonable take but not fully accurate. Context does matter, too. The upcoming schedule, the issues facing the offense, all of those things matter. But they’re far more pleasant to deal with at 5-1 than 3-3, and we are wise to keep that in mind.
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