xml:space="preserve">
xml:space="preserve">
Advertisement
Advertisement

Role reversal: Ravens TE Mark Andrews hasn’t seen the ball much, but acclaim for his blocking is on the rise

Mark Andrews grinned at the question from La Nueva radio reporter Ximena Lugo-Latorre.

“Tight end or bulldozer?” she asked, referring to the play from last Sunday’s win over the Indianapolis Colts during which Andrews blocked safety George Odum almost through the back of the end zone.

Advertisement

Former NFL guard Geoff Schwartz chuckled appreciatively as he highlighted the pancake on his Twitter feed. “This play’s on the nine-yard line; he takes him and dumps him five yards, five yards in the end zone!” Schwartz raved.

Usually, when the football world applauds a block by a Ravens tight end, the subject is Andrews' buddy, Nick Boyle. So he seemed to enjoy the acclaim for his grunt work.

Advertisement

“Being a complete tight end is being able to do things like that,” he said.

But there was another component to the role reversal, as Andrews caught just three passes for 22 yards in the win over the Colts. He has caught just eight, on 15 targets, for 75 yards and no touchdowns over the team’s past three games. For perspective, he didn’t go through any three-game stretch with so little receiving production during his breakout 2019 season. He’s on pace to undershoot last year’s season totals by 12 catches and 258 yards.

This was not a trend anyone expected when Andrews arrived at training camp stronger, quicker and driven to win every practice field battle. “I want to be the best tight end,” he said in August, and his ambition did not seem outlandish.

Quarterback Lamar Jackson said he’d rank his favorite red-zone target “top two” after Andrews caught two touchdown passes in the team’s Week 1 blowout of the Cleveland Browns.

So what’s happened in recent games?

“I think there’s a little bit of everything involved there,” offensive coordinator Greg Roman said. “It’s a little bit of what we’re seeing defensively. It’s a little bit of who the open guy is on a play. They’re favoring him, certainly, in certain situations. Two come to mind right now where they were just doubling him. … And obviously, the ball can’t go there. It’s got to go somewhere else.”

Jackson also pointed to the regular double teams that have forced his attention away from No. 89. “Defenses like to double him,” he said after the Colts game. “He’s a great tight end, but sometimes it’s just meant for him to block and let our running backs do their thing.”

Offensive coaches generally loath to endorse building a game plan around any one receiver, so don’t expect to hear talk from the Ravens about emphasizing Andrews' targets.

“I think the biggest mistake anybody can make is to make a concerted effort, outside of the natural flow of offense, to get somebody the ball,” said NBC’s Cris Collinsworth, who will provide analysis on the Ravens' Sunday night matchup with the New England Patriots. “Nick Boyle has been kind of the blocker in this offense for a while now, so against a lot of zone defenses, he’s going to be as good as Mark Andrews. If you don’t have to beat somebody one-on-one, you don’t have to be Travis Kelce to get open.

"Where Mark’s going to come into play, because he’s such a good route runner, is when teams start trying to play man [coverage] to take away Lamar. Those will be the games when he’ll have the big days. They know what they have in Andrews. But if you can get Boyle going just a bit, as not just a blocker but a threat they have to pay attention to, it’s great for your offense.”

Boyle was the team’s most productive receiver against the Colts; Willie Snead IV was the week before against the Pittsburgh Steelers. Collinsworth said this shift in emphasis could actually help Andrews down the stretch.

“Generally, there’s ebbs and flows to every season,” the former Pro Bowl wide receiver said. “The more other people catch passes, the more single coverage Andrews is going to get. And when he gets single coverage, he’s going to win.”

Advertisement

Roman offered a similar view, suggesting the Ravens offense works best when it’s not obvious where Jackson is looking.

“I think Mark’s going to figure in big as the season moves forward,” he said. “Having said that, as important as Mark is to us, everybody’s important. You never know where the ball could go on any particular pass play. If you release five guys into the route and they cover four of them or double two of them, that ball’s going to go somewhere else. We’ve got to be prepared for that; that’s just NFL football.”

Andrews accepts this reality and said he’s not feeling antsy about the lack of catches. “No, there’s no stress for me,” he said Wednesday. “For me, the most important thing for me is winning. And I know defenses, obviously, are keyed in, and that’s fine, but I’m just trying to help this team win any way I can. There’s no stress for me. I know what it’s all about. I know my abilities.”

It’s important to look back at the context of Andrews' “best tight end” remark from the summer. He wasn’t saying he expected to catch 100 passes so much as he was raising the bar for himself as an all-around player.

“I think blocking’s got to be a huge thing for me, where I’ve got to improve,” he said as part of the same answer. “I’m going to make big strides in that area this year and have a lot more opportunities to do that this year.”

He has not disappointed. The eye-popping block against the Colts spotlighted progress teammates and coaches have noticed all season.

“You’re known as a tight end for you pass catching, but you’re respected for your blocking, and Mark takes it very seriously,” coach John Harbaugh said. “He always told us, when we were talking to him in the draft, he said he was a blocker and he could do it and they just didn’t do it as much at Oklahoma with the tight ends. We believed him, but that block he had for Lamar on the touchdown run was something that — it was a good as you’re ever going to see.”

Pro Football Focus has actually graded Andrews as a better run blocker than Boyle, who’s so adept at smashing opposing defenders that the Ravens use him as a de facto sixth offensive lineman. It’s quite the evolution for a tight end who drew stinging criticism leading up to the 2018 draft. “Doesn’t show up on film as a blocker and appears uninterested in the run game,” read one representative dig on Bleacher Report.

Tell that to George Odum after his dance with the 6-foot-5, 256-pound Andrews. As for the pass-catching side of his job, the Ravens tight end still feels no defense can silence him for long.

“I feel like I’m always open,” he said. “That’s a mindset that I have. Even when you’re covered, you’re not covered; that’s a tight end mindset, and so I just have to keep on going.”

RAVENS@PATRIOTS

Sunday, 8:20 p.m.

Advertisement

TV: Chs. 11, 4

Advertisement

Radio: 1090 AM, 97.9 FM

Line: Ravens by 7

Recommended on Baltimore Sun

Advertisement
Advertisement