If there was any day for the Ravens offense to take a step forward and regain its record-setting form from the 2019 season, Sunday seemed like the day.
The Ravens were facing a Cincinnati Bengals team that entered Week 5 allowing the sixth-most rushing yards per game (158.5) in the league and registering the second-lowest pressure rate.
And yet, the Ravens left Sunday’s 27-3 win over the Bengals still searching for an offensive identity and rhythm that resembled last season’s record-setting unit.
Quarterback Lamar Jackson threw 37 passes — tied for second-most in his career — despite the Ravens playing with a double-digit lead for the final 45 minutes after going up 10-0 with under a minute left in the first quarter.
Almost two weeks after coach John Harbaugh reaffirmed the Ravens as a “running team,” he and offensive coordinator Greg Roman neglected to base the offense around its trio of backs, who combined for 19 carries, led by Mark Ingram II’s 11.
No detailed explanation for the run-pass discrepancy was provided by Harbaugh, nor Jackson, nor tight end Mark Andrews, the sole offensive players provided to answer postgame questions.
“I feel like that’s just how the game progressed, really,” Jackson said on a video conference call. “It wasn’t game-planned to be like that. I’ll say game plan, it was 50-50 [run-pass]. But we got out there, and it was just a different defense, I would say.”
The Ravens rushed for 161 yards on 24 carries — extending their streak of games with over 100 rushing yards to 28 — but those numbers were mainly buoyed by first-half carries of 42 yards and 34 yards by wide receiver Devin Duvernay and running back J.K. Dobbins, respectively. Neither carried the ball again.
Jackson only ran the ball twice for 3 yards, both career-lows for him as a starter. Jackson, who missed Wednesday’s practice with a sore knee and was questionable to play, said his knee felt “all right” and didn’t affect his low running totals. But far too often Sunday, he looked reluctant to scramble after protection broke down or held the ball too long and forced passes that should have been intercepted. (One was intercepted, an uncharacteristically bad pass that was caught by Cincinnati rookie linebacker Logan Wilson.)
If the knee didn’t affect Jackson, he certainly looked like a player who missed two days of practice. His completion rate of 51.13% was his fourth-worst as a starter.
“We need to get back to how we were last year, we go out there and we perform at a high level like we do," Jackson said. “I’ll say we’re fine though. We’ll get to practice, and we’re going to regroup and watch film, and we’re going to get right.”
A bigger problem is Jackson’s lack of continuity with receivers outside of wideout Marquise “Hollywood” Brown and Andrews, who each caught first-half touchdown passes against the Bengals.
Jackson was 0-for-5 targeting receivers Miles Boykin and Willie Snead IV, including a miscommunication between Jackson and Boykin on a third-down fade route that forced the Ravens to settle for a field goal in the third quarter.
Jackson’s rapport with Boykin was notable in training camp, with the two frequently connecting on intermediate and deep routes. But through five games, Boykin has just 10 catches on 18 targets.
After a similarly uneven performance against the Washington Football Team, Jackson said he needs to continue improving his downfield passing. Again on Sunday, Jackson cited “the little things”: third-down efficiency (7-for-15 on Sunday) and sustaining drives.
Keeping pace with a record-breaking rushing offense was a tall ask in 2020, but the Ravens have yet to expand their offense in the way many anticipated in a second full season under Jackson.
“Every win is a blessing, and whenever you can get one, you have to take that and run with it,” Andrews said. “But there are times when our offense isn’t clicking, and we need to get better.”