The Baltimore Ravens have to fear for the playoffs after three defeats in the last four games, the offense of the team is far from the level of the previous season. But what exactly are the problems of the Ravens? And how much to blame is Lamar Jackson? Before the top game against the Pittsburgh Steelers, we take a closer look at the offense in the analysis.
The Ravens are in a low, the first since Lamar Jackson took over as starting quarterback in winter 2018. “We just can’t play consistently for 60 minutes,” said defensive lineman Derek Wolfe, confused after the loss to the Tennessee Titans. And Jackson himself declared, “They looked like the team that wanted to win more.” A worrying statement.
Baltimore has lost three of its last four games, against the Titans Jackson suffered his second loss in a row – the first time in his career as an NFL starter. Against the New England Patriots, the team also stayed below 20 points, also for the first time with Jackson as starting quarterback.
A win against the Pittsburgh Steelers would be all the more important for the team, but after a positive corona test Lamar Jackson will probably miss the game. It’s the next setback in a Ravens season that has been disappointing in many ways so far.
The worm is particularly offensive in the Ravens. Little reminds of the team this season, which played a historically good offensive season last year and led the league by far in points per drive and points per game. This season, Baltimore is on a par with teams like the Detroit Lions and the Miami Dolphins in these statistics; in the current efficiency metrics, the Ravens offense is no longer at the top of the league, but in the lower average.
But what are the reasons for the extreme drop this season? And how much guilt is Jackson himself? We examine these questions in four sections.
Problem Number One: Lamar Jackson
Jackson is far from playing at the level of the previous season, in which the 23-year-old was elected MVP without a single dissenting vote, this becomes evident both when looking at the statistics and when studying the tape.
Jackson seems noticeably more uncomfortable in his own offense. The quarterback often seems insecure both inside and outside the pocket and repeatedly makes mistakes that he rarely or never made in the past season. Jackson’s problems cannot be broken down into a single aspect; they are more diverse.
At the start of the game against the Pittsburgh Steelers, for example, Jackson made a bad misread, so he misread the defensive coverage and made the wrong decision based on it.
In a third-and-six, the Steelers play a cover-3 defense, but rotate out of their pre-snap formation. Bud Dupree, as Edge Rusher posts on the line of scrimmage, falls into coverage, while linebacker Vince Williams from the other side complements the four-men rush.
With Dupree as the cover player, the high-low concept of the Ravens on the left is taken out of the game, he stands exactly between the receivers Mark Andrews and Willie Snead. So Jackson works – correctly – to the right of the field, where James Proche runs a short hook route directly behind the flashing Williams.
What Jackson is missing in this case is Zone Defender Robert Spillane, who rotates Dupree and Williams from left to right and can read Jackson’s eyes the whole time. The result is a devastating and uncharacteristic mistake by Jackson, who is usually an excellent passer against zone concepts: a pick-six, it was the first in Jackson’s NFL career.
Lamar Jackson lets big plays lie through the air
In addition to too many false reads against concepts, which Jackson dissected relatively easily last year, the second constant criticism of Jackson’s game must be his behavior in the pocket. He is still able to drop free rushers without any problems; Jackson did not suddenly lose this extraordinary ability over the summer. And yet negative trends can also be seen in this area, which occurred much less frequently in the past year.
Contrary to some public opinion, Jackson is by no means a quarterback who starts scrambling after his first read, but a player who always looks for the pass first during pass plays. This season, however, Jackson trusts his own protection much less often and for a shorter period of time – and thus sometimes leaves big plays in the passing game.
An example of this is a play in First-and-Ten against the Patriots: Marquise Brown initially fakes a block, but then runs a deep post route against cover 3 of the Patriots. The Speedster gets between the Outside Cornerback and the Free Safety, the chance for a deep pass would be there, but at the same time Right Tackle DJ Fluker allows pressure against Jackson.
He starts – probably a tick too early – to scramble through the middle and brings nine yards, but also leaves a possible touchdown through the air. A play in which he might have made another decision last season.
Lamar Jackson: Accuracy remains an issue
In addition, Jackson’s deficits in his accuracy of fit are too often observed. In the past year, this weakness in his game was often masked by the fact that the Ravens’ scheme caused many wide open throws, due to problems in playcalling (see section two) these are now more common.
Jackson’s second interception against the Steelers serves as an example. In this case, the Ravens are playing on a sail concept with play-action fake. Miles Boykin runs a go route on the left to pull the deep defender out of play, Mark Andrews and Patric Ricard run a corner and a flat route.
It’s not a terrific playcall, no receiver is wide open and yet Jackson actually has enough space to meet Andrews during the run. However, his pass is too low – also due to poor footwork – Alex Hightower, who actually follows Ricard into the flat, succeeds in fishing the pass from the air. An unnecessary turnover that could have been prevented with a more precise pass.
Lamar Jackson: Defenses rely more on man coverage
The pass protection and the receivers of the Ravens have not yet operated at the level of the previous season (see section 3 and section 4). Jackson thereby loses confidence and leaves opportunities. While almost everything seemed to work fine last season, his own team has been failing him again and again this year. It cannot be overlooked that Jackson had a negative impact on this and that he played significantly worse himself as a result.
A particular problem, however, is how defenses are now defending the incumbent MVP in critical situations. The Chiefs, Bengals and Patriots – all defenses Jackson struggled against this season – played predominantly man coverage at Third Down, which Jackson has more problems with.
Against Man Coverage, the 23-year-old only got 5.0 yards per pass attempt this season, the least in the league, and his completion percentage of 65 percent against Man Coverage is one of the weakest in the NFL. Last year Defenses mostly played Zone Coverage against Jackson, as scrambles against Man Coverage are much more dangerous.
Teams like the Chiefs or the Patriots avoided this problem by using two so-called hole defenders as quarterback spies. So instead of a deep safety they played with free underneath defenders. A tactic that has worked so far: In 79 dropbacks against Man Coverage (not counting the Titans game), Jackson only started scrambles four times.
And yet Jackson seems to be more of a symptom than a cause of the Ravens’ offensive problems. Not without reason wrote Fox-Analyst Ryan Clark on Twitter on Sunday: “The Ravens have the fastest quarterback and otherwise … I don’t know. Everything else seems to happen in slow motion […] This offense doesn’t work well. “Baltimore’s problems go well beyond their own quarterback.