Elite vs. Effective: A dive into the Baltimore Ravens’ offenseby Ryan Potts October 18, 2019 0 comments
The Ravens have scored the second-most points in the NFL. The Ravens have also had the most offensive yards of any team. While these are traditionally dominant places to be in the NFL hierarchy, many people are skeptical as to whether the Ravens have a good offense, a great offense, or simply a mediocre offense. If one leans too heavily into the stats, people will conclude that the Ravens have the best offense in the NFL. However, if you look into the opponents that the Ravens have played, you can have a very different perspective on how good the Ravens offense is.
A particular hot button topic is Week 1 against the Dolphins. The Ravens put up 59 points and over 640 yards against the hapless Dolphins. Six weeks later, many point out that the Dolphins have the worst defense in the league as they are allowing 36 points per game. In the history of the NFL, the Dolphins would have the worst scoring defense in league history. However, the Ravens have high watermark point and yard tallies against the Dolphins. The Dolphins have only allowed two teams to score significantly more than 30 points. The Ravens hung 59 in Week 1, and the Patriots had 43 in Week 2. However, the stark contrast between the Ravens and Patriots offensive performances stems from the fact that the Patriots had the advantage of not one but two interceptions returned for touchdowns. The Ravens offense scored all 59 points against the Dolphins.
In terms of judging the offense, the Ravens have scored the most points on offense as the Patriots have been the beneficiary of five defensive and special teams touchdowns on the season. While those touchdowns count in terms of the point total at the end of the season, the Patriots do have the benefit of five points per game extra just because of their stellar defensive and special teams units.
The question remains, do the Ravens have an elite offense?
In the traditional sense of being able to score at will, the Ravens do not have an elite offense. They have a fantastic rushing attack, but they do not have a traditionally strong running back such as the likes of Barry Sanders, Walter Payton, LaDanian Tomlinson, or any other Hall of Fame-level running back.
For pass catchers, the Ravens also lack an elite wide receiver or tight end. Mark Andrews is close to being an elite tight end, but he is not a game-breaker like Travis Kelce, George Kittle, or Zach Ertz. At quarterback, the Ravens still have Lamar Jackson. While Jackson is incredibly dynamic on the ground, his passing game is fairly inconsistent. Jackson cannot be considered a top 10 or 12 quarterback in the NFL at this moment in time. While he could develop into an elite passer, he is currently not at the level of the likes of Russell Wilson, Deshaun Watson, Patrick Mahomes, or Aaron Rodgers. While Jackson certainly has potential, he cannot be considered a catalyst for an elite offense quite yet.
Despite the Ravens not having an “elite“ offense, the Ravens do have the most effective offense in the NFL. While teams such as the Chiefs and Texans will light up the scoreboard a handful of times a season, the Ravens will be consistently around 25 points per game. If you take out the 59 points scored against the Dolphins, the Ravens have not cracked 30 points in a game. By the same token, the Ravens have also not failed to score 20 points in the game, with their low mark coming at 23. While a peak of 30 points isn’t anything special, an offense that is guaranteed to score 20 points per game is something special in the modern NFL. If the Ravens’ defense gets into gear, at any rate, 20 to 23 points per game will be enough to propel the Ravens to the playoffs again.
However, 20 to 23 points per game sound like a paltry total compared to the generally elite offenses. The Ravens combat their lack of massive amount of point totals with an intense focus on chewing the clock and gaining as many yards as possible. The Ravens are far from the most efficient offense at turning long drives into touchdowns, but they do have the benefit of having the most accurate kicker in the history of the sport. Despite a plethora of stalled drives, Justin Tucker is usually able to connect on a field goal to provide scoring for the Ravens. As a whole, the Ravens are utilizing their personnel perfectly. They know that Lamar Jackson has limits as a passer, for the time being, so they utilize the run in a heavy fashion and let Jackson gain a rhythm both on the ground and through short passes to Mark Andrews and Marquise Brown when he is in the lineup. The Ravens may not have the best offense in the NFL, but they are elite at what they do: time of possession. When the Ravens can control the time of possession, they can be nearly unbeatable.
While the Ravens will likely not blow out a team to such a degree as they did the Dolphins in Week 1, the Ravens should be in a variety of close games through their final 10 weeks. While they have one of the toughest schedules coming up, the Ravens should be in all of the games due to their focus on keeping the ball away from their opponent and keeping the ball in the hands of Lamar Jackson, Mark Ingram, and Gus Edwards. The offense is by no means flashy, but it gets the job done more times than not.
Do the Ravens have an elite offense? Not really.
Are the Ravens elite at what they do? 100%.
The Ravens lead the NFL in plays per drive, points per drive, rushing yards, and yards per carry. Those four stats tell the story of how the Ravens are very good at what they do. They can siphon the clock down and reduce the number of total possessions in a game all while chewing up yardage and getting into range for field goals and short touchdown runs by the likes of Ingram and Jackson. The Ravens cannot outscore teams such as the Chiefs or Texans, but they can certainly slow the game down to such a degree that it would be competitive. Considering that the Ravens’ defense has been generally porous on the season, the ability for the offense to take the ball out of the hands of the other team’s offense is imperative for the Ravens to win.
Moving forward, the Ravens have two critical pieces of information that they must control to win games. First, the Ravens must control the time of possession. Despite the heroics of Hollywood Brown and Lamar Jackson in Week 1, the Ravens cannot often stretch the field vertically from a passing attack. While Brown has incredible speed and Jackson has flashed his laser of an arm at times, Jackson is too inconsistent on deep patterns for many secondaries to be scared of a Lamar Jackson deep ball.
The second critical factor is controlling the turnover battle. While controlling the turnover battle is generally an important thing for any team, it is a high priority for the Ravens. When the offense turns the ball over, they can often give up the ball in compromising positions. With the defense not at full strength, oppositions can score quickly and force the Ravens into a trailing position. As good as the Ravens’ offense has been, it has not been as successful when trailing. When trailing, Lamar Jackson has thrown a pair of interceptions and has been generally less efficient than when he is in the lead. While neither interception against the Browns can be particularly blamed on Jackson when the Ravens trail, they must take an inordinate number of risks to get back in the game. For the Ravens to win, they must take as few risks as possible and stick to the system and grind out yards on the ground and through short passes.
The Ravens’ offense is like a train. It will never be as fast as a jet (Chiefs and Texans), but it can be more efficient in terms of utilizing fuel and its ability to connect resources. It can be incredibly valuable for the Ravens to continue to grind the ball on the ground and pick and choose spots for Lamar Jackson to take shots down the field. In the grand scheme of things, Jackson should continue to improve as a passer which will only unlock an incredibly high potential for the Ravens offense especially as Hollywood Brown learns the NFL game and Miles Boykin remembers that he’s a wide receiver, not a bricklayer.
For now, the Ravens have the most effective offense in the NFL with the upside to be an elite offense in the next few seasons. I will not call them the best offense in the league, but they are the best offense at fulfilling their game plan on a week-to-week basis.