The Baltimore Ravens escaped their Week 5 matchup with the Pittsburgh Steelers with a victory despite a less than convincing performance from Lamar Jackson and the Ravens wide receivers. Jackson had raised the Ravens offense to number one in the NFL in yards per game coming out of Week 4 and has been an early candidate for NFL MVP after a number of strong outings. The Ravens offense hit on all cylinders the first three weeks of the season but has now come down to earth with September in the back of their minds.
Jackson’s performance against the Steelers was a rare one. The second-year quarterback has been great on the young season developing obvious connections with rookie Marquise Brown and tight end Mark Andrews. However, outside of these receivers, Jackson hasn’t exactly spread the ball around. This was even more apparent last Sunday as both Brown and Andrews briefly left the game, leading to a small identity crisis in the Baltimore offense. Baltimore’s offense is clearly run-centric but the passing game is what has taken it to that next level this season. The difference between the Jackson-led offense in 2018 and this year is night and day.
The Ravens have a history of getting the least out of their receivers and that trend is somewhat continuing in 2019. Going forward, offensive coordinator Greg Roman and the rest of the Ravens offense needs to find a way to spread the ball around and avoid complete reliance on just a couple of targets.
Baltimore Ravens Wide Receivers Need to Be Properly Utilized
Baltimore Was Forced to Adjust in Pittsburgh
If you look closely at the way the Steelers had attacked the 2019 NFL off-season, there looked to be one underlying theme they decided to address: stopping the Ravens ground game. In their first meeting of the year, they were successful as well.
Steelers 10th-overall draft pick Devin Bush was all over the field notching eight tackles, a pass deflection, and an interception. T.J. Watt also had his fair share of impact plays with a sack and three tackles for loss.
Pittsburgh’s front-seven was ready for the Ravens offense and made them pay with 10 tackles for loss and six quarterback hits. The Steelers stuffed the Ravens on the ground all day. They limited Mark Ingram to just 2.3 yards per attempt on 19 carries and the Ravens teams as a whole to just 3.5. The game plan was for Jackson to beat them with his arm and the Ravens quarterback struggled with a fierce Steelers pass rush. He threw three interceptions (though two weren’t particularly bad throws) and took five sacks.
Of the opponents the Ravens have already seen, the Steelers possessed the defense best suited to stop their offense. Now, Roman and head coach John Harbaugh need to find ways to get creative when their regular routine isn’t working on the day. During the off-season, Harbaugh preached an offense that was unlike anything the NFL had seen before, but that offense has been stifled over the past two weeks.
There Are More Mouths to Feed
After the Ravens renovated their receiving corps yet again during the 2019 off-season, a lot was expected from this current group of pass-catchers. Willie Snead and Chris Moore were the only Ravens wide receivers that played in 2018 to return to the team in 2019. Both have had their chances to contribute but like all the receivers (not named Hollywood Brown), they have been underwhelming.
Amongst all Ravens wide receivers roster not named Brown, they only have 24 catches as a group in five games. Brown has 21 on his own. A figure that only averages out to 4.2 a game catches a game. Therefore, the others are averaging 4.8 grabs per game between the other four receivers — just over a single catch each. The tight end group outside of Andrews has 21 between the two of them.
Miles Boykin was drafted in the third round and touted as someone who could be a huge asset to Jackson with his great athletic ability but has only been given 104 offensive snaps (33.8 percent) so far in 2019. He hasn’t dropped passes either. He just needs to show he can consistently get open more. Boykin had a great preseason and could benefit greatly from being given more looks outside of the red zone. He was just a one-year starter at Notre Dame but has continued to improve whenever he has been given opportunities throughout his football career. So far in 2019, Boykin has five receptions on eight targets and two touchdowns.
Boykin is just one example of a player that could be given an expanded role. Seth Roberts is another player who has been seldom utilized. If the Ravens want to keep their passing attack at a high level, targeting their wide receivers could benefit their overall results.
The Ravens Wide Receivers Need to Play Better
As much as Jackson and the Ravens could give their wide receivers more opportunities to improve, the receivers also need to be better. Jackson’s accuracy has occasionally come under scrutiny but he has continued to locate the ball where his receivers can make a play. There have just been some key drops along the way.
Moore has only had one target on the season and it was one of the most pivotal out of bounds catches on the season. In the Ravens game against the Cleveland Browns, Jackson found Moore wide open, with nobody within maybe 10 yards of him, on the left sideline and the receiver stepped out of bounds as he received the ball. The pass could’ve been placed slightly better, but that’s no excuse for a fourth-year receiver to have his mind set on turning upfield and not securing the pass in bounds.
Snead, a very popular target of Jackson’s last season, has already dropped two balls in 2019. Roberts, another veteran, has one drop on ten targets. He has seven receptions but has done very little considering he has been on the field for 56.5 percent of snaps.
Quarterbacks and receivers have a symbiotic relationship and the Ravens wideouts have to do a better job opening up for their quarterback. The trust between the two should grow as the season progresses but for now, it needs to improve.
Against Their Upcoming Competition
With the Ravens’ upcoming schedule, it’s impossible to say they are in ‘must-win’ mode this early in the season. Rather it is probably more fair to say they’re in ‘should win’ mode.
Baltimore has their bye in Week 8 and faces off with the winless Cincinnati Bengals in Week 6 at home. They then fly across the country to play one of the league’s best teams in one of the league’s loudest environments. Taking on the Seattle Seahawks during Week 7 won’t be easy but they share something in common with the Bengals: they both have defenses that can be exploited by Baltimore. In fact, it’s definitely fair to say that the Bengals secondary is a lot better than the Seahawks. Cincinnati’s secondary is probably the strongest unit on their defense but that defense has given up the second-most yards per game (411.8) in the NFL. Seattle has given up the seventh-most passing yards per game (270.6) as opposed to the Bengals 16th (244.2).
Games against these teams should give Jackson and Roman opportunities to put the ball in their wide receivers’ hands and get a feel for what works and what doesn’t.