The Ravens discovered their offensive identity as a running team in recent weeks, but they won’t go far in the postseason unless they elevate the passing game.
They’ve been one of the top running teams in the NFL in each of the past four seasons, but it hasn’t translated to postseason success. They failed to make the playoffs last year and have one postseason victory in the previous three.
In a perfect world and under ideal conditions, the Ravens appear to be the appropriate foils for the AFC’s best teams, the Kansas City Chiefs and Buffalo Bills, who are both allowing an average of 4.5 yards per carry.
But those teams have something the Ravens don’t: A high-octane offense. Kansas City’s Patrick Mahomes has an abundance of speed at running back and wide receiver and the Bills are led by quarterback Josh Allen and two talented receivers in Stefon Diggs and Gabe Davis.
“Where would you rank Baltimore’s receiving corps, 25th if not 30th?” asked former Ravens center Wally Williams, now a scout and assistant coach with the Capital City Cyclones of the American Indoor Football Alliance in Tallahassee, Florida. “The Ravens are a definite playoff team and they will be playing in January, but not in February.
“If not, then prove me wrong. Look who they’ve lost to in the playoffs. Except for the Titans, everybody else had a launching pad and a receiver who could get open and take the team to the next level. How did Cincinnati get to the Super Bowl last year? Hell, they found a launching pad and had a receiver named Ja’Marr Chase.”
Williams’ concerns are valid. It’s great the Ravens have an identity. They needed to find a foundation, something to build or fall back on, but now they have to develop a No. 27 ranked passing game to a point where it complements the NFL’s second-best rushing attack.
In the past three games against the Cleveland Browns, Tampa Bay Buccaneers (second half) and New Orleans Saints, the Ravens have limited quarterback Lamar Jackson’s pass attempts and therefore reduced his turnovers.
That will work in the regular season. The Ravens have enough talent and depth to win 10 or 11 games, but not in the postseason.
We’ve seen this before. The philosophy is sound in theory, but not when the Ravens fall behind early or need a strong passing game in the final two minutes. They don’t need to turn into the “Greatest Show On Turf” Part II, but a milder variation would be nice.
“It’s not anything against their players, they play as hard as they can and maximize every inch of their skill set,” Williams said, “but there comes a time when you have to evolve with the passing game.
“I thought the Ravens had learned their lesson when they had some burners like Torrey Smith and Jacoby Jones, guys who were iffy in their route running but could take the top off a defense. Then they had Joe Flacco who could out-throw any coverage, and he heated up at the right time in the playoffs. Even with a dynamic quarterback like Lamar, if you can’t throw over the top, the field will be condensed and become smaller.”
The Ravens have eight games to figure it out. Jackson has been inaccurate with his long ball because he doesn’t loft it enough to allow receivers to run under it.
Creativity has been a problem since Smith and Jones were on the outside and wide receiver Anquan Boldin and tight end Dennis Pitta worked the intermediate routes. The Ravens don’t have that combination of speed and proven individual talent on the roster. There are no studs like the Minnesota Vikings’ Justin Jefferson.
Devin Duvernay has speed but isn’t proven. DeSean Jackson has speed, but has to prove himself again at age 35. Ditto for Demarcus Robinson, who is 28.
The best receiver is tight end Mark Andrews, who can’t be held responsible for stretching defenses. That’s what fast receivers do.
“They’ve given Lamar Jackson the same level of receivers that they’ve given Aaron Rodgers in Green Bay,” Williams said. “I played here when the organization started, worked within the media and I’ve followed just about every game in the team’s history. It still shocks me when I say the most dynamic group of receivers in team history were Derrick Alexander, Michael Jackson and Jermaine Lewis. Damn, after all this time.”