When quarterback Lamar Jackson took control of the Ravens’ offense as a rookie in 2018, the team’s coaching staff had to build something new, something different from what they’d entrusted Joe Flacco with for over a decade in Baltimore.
Amid that schematic teardown, the Ravens built a new offense for their new franchise quarterback — and a new template for their next backup quarterback. When Tyler Huntley took over for an injured Jackson last year, and again in Sunday’s narrow win over the Denver Broncos, little in coordinator Greg Roman’s playbook had to change.
“Most people probably want to have a backup quarterback that’s in the same style of a player as their starter,” coach John Harbaugh said Monday. “So if that [injury] happens, you don’t have to change the game plan too much or the playbook too much. So we’ve done the same thing, I think, as most teams. We just have a little different offense than a lot of teams.”
Still, Jackson and Huntley execute the Ravens’ offense differently. As Huntley prepares to start Sunday’s game against the Pittsburgh Steelers while Jackson recovers from a minor knee injury, here’s a look at how the change in quarterback could affect the offense.
WR Devin Duvernay
Duvernay was open on the play that knocked Jackson out. Presnap motion took him into the left flat on a play-action fake, and with wide receiver DeSean Jackson’s vertical route clearing out space underneath, Duvernay’s deep comeback route was mostly uncovered. But Jackson never saw him — or, if he did, not until Broncos outside linebacker Jonathon Cooper had him wrapped up for a sack.
On the Ravens’ next play, Huntley’s first of the game, Duvernay wasn’t open until he was thrown open. On third-and-13, Huntley wound up just as Duvernay, running another comeback route along the right sideline, got into his break. The ball arrived before Broncos cornerback Damarri Mathis, guarding the first-down sticks, could drive on the throw.
The completion netted only 11 yards, and the Ravens punted. But Duvernay would end the game with two completions on two targets of 10-plus air yards from Huntley. During his six-game slump, starting in Week 6, he had just two catches on five targets of 10-plus air yards from Jackson, according to Sports Info Solutions.
The Ravens need Duvernay’s early-season dynamism back. Last season, Marquise “Hollywood” Brown and then-rookie Rashod Bateman shouldered the load at wide receiver. Now it’s Duvernay who rarely leaves the field.
TE Mark Andrews
Andrews has been the Ravens’ best receiver this season, ranking second among NFL tight ends in receiving yardage (654) and touchdowns (five). He was the Ravens’ best receiver Sunday, finishing with four catches for a team-high 53 yards. And he figures to remain the Ravens’ best receiver, even with Huntley at quarterback.
They already have quite the rapport. Before an ankle injury ended his 2021 season, Jackson completed 63.7% of his passes to Andrews, averaging 8.2 yards per attempt. He finished with a passer rating of 75.4 when targeting Andrews, a mark dragged down by seven interceptions.
With Huntley at the controls, though, Andrews was even more dangerous. Huntley completed 77.4% of his passes and averaged 9.3 yards per attempt when aiming for him last season. He threw three interceptions, but still finished with a 100.7 passer rating. More than half of Huntley’s throws to Andrews ended with a first down.
Overall, when Huntley targeted Andrews last season, the Ravens averaged 0.488 expected points added per play, according to play index site nflfastR. (EPA is a measure of efficiency that accounts for situational factors such as down, distance and field position.) The Kansas City Chiefs lead the NFL this season in EPA per play on drop-backs, according to analytics site RBSDM.com, at 0.303.
On Sunday, the Huntley-Andrews connection was a little fuzzy at times. One miscommunication led to an interception on a rollout, and on their other misfire, Huntley tried to squeeze a tight-window throw to Andrews a split-second before he was ready. But they still connected for three completions of double-digit yardage, and on the game’s decisive drive, Huntley’s jump ball to Andrews down the right sideline helped draw a pass-interference penalty on third down.
With Jackson sidelined, the Ravens have lost maybe the NFL’s top ball carrier. Among players with at least 100 carries this season, Jackson (6.8 yards per carry) trails only Chicago Bears quarterback Justin Fields (7.1) in rushing average. And, by one model, Jackson trails only New Orleans Saints gadget player Taysom Hill in average rush yards over expectation on designed carries this season.
Huntley is no slowpoke — he left star Broncos safety Juston Simmons lunging at air on a 14-yard scramble late in the third quarter — but he does not exert the gravitational pull on run defenses that Jackson does. And so a recently scuffling ground game, and a not-quite-full-strength running back room, now has even less margin for error.
Since their Week 10 bye, Ravens running backs Gus Edwards, Kenyan Drake and Justice Hill have combined for 176 yards on 50 carries (3.5 per carry). On designed runs (excluding scrambles), Jackson and Huntley have averaged 4.0 and 2.2 yards per carry in that span, respectively.
The Ravens’ best hopes for success might rest on their read-option game. During Huntley’s four straight starts to end last season, Devonta Freeman and Latavius Murray combined for 157 yards on 21 option handoffs (7.5 yards per carry), according to SIS, while Huntley himself added six keepers for 45 yards (7.5 yards per carry).
Even if Jackson’s absence hamstrings the rushing production of the Ravens’ running backs, it could give them more opportunities in the team’s passing game. Huntley is typically less reluctant to throw check-downs and look for receivers in the flat than Jackson. Last year, Freeman and Murray combined for 19 catches on 21 targets from Huntley, who played in seven games. With Jackson passing, they combined for 24 catches on 33 targets in his 12 games.
Ravens at Steelers
Sunday, 1 p.m.
TV: Ch. 13
Radio: 97.9 FM, 101.5 FM, 1090 AM
Line: Steelers by 2 1/2