As Ravens inside linebacker Josh Bynes considered all that quarterback Tyler Huntley had accomplished in three quarters of emergency duty Sunday — 71.1% accuracy, 270 passing yards and a 99.7 passer rating, all career highs — he thought back to his own humble beginnings.
“I was a backup at one point in time,” Bynes said after a 24-22 road loss to the Cleveland Browns, one marred by starter Lamar Jackson’s early departure after a sprained ankle. “We all were backups at one point in time, searching for an opportunity. This is just an opportunity. It’s just one to show what he can do and can’t do in this league. He’s looking forward to the challenge. We all want to accept the challenge. ‘Snoop’ stepped up today.”
The Ravens (8-5) hope to have Jackson back for Sunday’s showdown against the NFC-leading Green Bay Packers (10-3). Coach John Harbaugh said Monday that Jackson, who was carted off the field after inside linebacker Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah hit him on a scramble early in the second quarter, avoided a high-ankle sprain. “If he can go,” Harbaugh said, “he’ll go.”
But if Jackson can’t, the Ravens will turn once more to Huntley, their promising second-year backup. Coaches, teammates and even opponents have praised his command of the offense and athletic ability. The former Utah star and undrafted rookie has not put much on tape ― just one start, six appearances and 189 offensive snaps over his young career — but certain trends have already started to develop. Here’s what stands out from Huntley’s play this season.
1. He’s got a quick trigger.
This is maybe the most glaring difference between the Ravens’ starting quarterback and backup quarterback. According to the NFL’s Next Gen Stats, only five qualifying quarterbacks this season have a longer average time to throw than Jackson (2.96 seconds) — and only three quarterbacks have a faster average time to throw than Huntley in his slowest qualifying game (2.59 seconds).
Partly because of the Ravens’ play-action-heavy approach, partly because of his scrambling ability, Jackson has five games this season in which his average time to throw was at least three seconds, a relative eternity in the NFL. Huntley, meanwhile, took 2.59 seconds and 2.47 seconds per drop-back against the Bears in Week 11 and Browns on Sunday, respectively. (The Ravens’ quarterback shortage in Chicago, where Jackson was out with an illness, and their big early hole in Cleveland no doubt affected their game plan.)
Considering his quick pace, Huntley’s typical passing range is also more confined. According to Sports Info Solutions, 29 of his 36 attempts against Chicago traveled 10 air yards or fewer — the distance a ball travels downfield on a passing play — and 23 went for 5 air yards or fewer. On Sunday, 29 of Huntley’s 38 attempts went for 10 air yards or fewer.
Compare that with Jackson, who can be reluctant at times to throw check-downs and quick hitters. In three quarters Sunday, Huntley finished with more passes of 5 air yards or fewer (22) than Jackson has had in all but two games this season: his comeback win over the Indianapolis Colts (24) and his loss to the blitz-happy Miami Dolphins (23).
2. He’s a dual threat.
This is maybe the most obvious similarity between the Ravens’ starting quarterback and backup quarterback. Jackson is averaging 6 yards per carry, over about 11 rushing attempts per game. Huntley is averaging 5.9 yards per carry, with 13 rushing attempts over his past seven quarters.
Jackson will almost always be the most elusive ball-carrier in any game — according to Pro Football Focus, he’s forced 29 missed tackles on carries this season — but Huntley has some shake and bake, too. On a second-and-20 scramble midway through the third quarter Sunday, he eluded five Browns defenders and, according to Next Gen Stats, traveled 53.5 yards before sliding safely for a 13-yard gain.
“The way he looked, he might have been faster than Lamar,” Browns defensive end Myles Garrett said Sunday. “The guy was playing pretty well. He looked like he was not starting his second game of the season. It was good with efficiency and running out when he needed to, and he was ready to take off at any moment.”
All of Huntley’s rushing production Sunday came on improvised runs — he scrambled five times for 49 yards and took a 4-yard loss on a zone-read play — but he’s proven useful on designed runs, too.
Against Chicago, he nearly slithered through a wave of Bears defenders on a third-and-5 keeper late in the second quarter, only to be stopped 2 yards short by inside linebacker Alec Ogletree. A couple of minutes later, on fourth-and-1, Huntley patiently set up his blocks on another quarterback run, gaining 8 yards to help set up another field goal by kicker Justin Tucker.
3. Mark Andrews is his safety blanket.
After Andrews had eight catches for 73 yards on 10 targets in the Ravens’ comeback win over the Bears, the star tight end called the game a “coming-out party” for Huntley.
Against Cleveland, Huntley kept their personal party going. After Jackson started 2-for-2 for 4 yards when targeting Andrews, Huntley finished 9-for-9 for 111 yards and one touchdown. Six of those completions to Andrews went for first downs, including two fourth-down conversions.
For the season, Huntley has a 102.6 passer rating when targeting Andrews. Take away his one interception in Chicago — an unlucky deflection off the hands of a sliding Andrews and into the lap of an unwitting, diving Tashaun Gipson — and the rating jumps to 124.6. According to Pro Football Reference, Jackson’s rating this season when targeting Andrews is just 80.9, dragged down by six interceptions. Over the previous two seasons, it was 112.1.
“You see it — you see how well he played,” Andrews said Sunday of Huntley. “He was slicing and dicing, man. Obviously, we wish we would’ve won this game. But for ‘Snoop’ [Huntley] and this offense and this team, we fought. We fought to the very end. There’s a lot of teams that would’ve given up in that situation. There’s a lot of positive.”
4. He can help Rashod Bateman make plays downfield.
As Jackson’s production fell off in recent weeks, so did Bateman’s. After an encouraging second half in an upset loss to the Miami Dolphins, the first-round pick had three catches for 29 yards against the Bears, four catches for 31 yards against the Browns in Week 12 and no catches against the Pittsburgh Steelers. And through the first half of Sunday’s game, he was targeted just once — by Huntley, not Jackson.
But when Huntley started looking for Bateman deep, good things started happening. That had been the case in Chicago, too, where Bateman drew two pass-interference penalties in the second half on downfield passes for a combined 38 yards, and their connection only deepened Sunday.
On a first-and-10 play midway through the fourth quarter, with no deep safety shaded toward Bateman and Cleveland sending a five-man pressure package, Huntley threw a jump ball down the left sideline, trusting that Bateman would beat out cornerback Greedy Williams. He did, and nearly scored on the 36-yard catch-and-run.
Later in the quarter, on a crucial fourth-and-6, the Browns sent six pass rushers after Huntley, again leaving Bateman one-on-one with Williams on a vertical route down the left sideline, with no safety help. Bateman got a half-step on Williams, and Huntley’s deep shot was inch-perfect. One play after their 30-yard connection, Huntley found Andrews for an 8-yard touchdown that cut the Browns’ lead to 24-22.
It was a reminder not only of Bateman’s star potential but also of how the Ravens can punish aggressive defenses, something they’ve struggled to do in recent weeks.
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“It’s never easy, especially watching [No.] 8 [Jackson] go down, but we knew ‘Snoop’ was ready,” Bateman said after finishing with seven catches for 103 yards, both career highs. “He proved it in the preseason. He proved it in Chicago when he came out on top with the ‘W.’ We have all the confidence in ‘Snoop,’ just like we do in 8. He knows we have his back, just like he has our back.”
Said Huntley: “I know all of my receivers are going to make a play for me if I give them the chance. I just have to give them the chance.”
Sunday, 4:25 p.m.
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Line: Packers by 4 ½