The Ravens, like last year, sit at 6-2 at the midway point of the regular season but much has changed. The team is no longer the darling of the NFL. The offense has struggled to regain its record-setting form. A sweep of the second-half schedule might not even ensure a third straight AFC North title, as the Pittsburgh Steelers sit atop the conference, the NFL’s sole unbeaten team.
The Ravens suffered disappointing home losses to the Kansas City Chiefs and Steelers, but a bounce-back second-half effort in Sunday’s 24-10 win over the Indianapolis Colts showed their resiliency and reaffirmed that they belong in the discussion for the AFC’s top team.
Here is the best and worst from the first half of the 2020 season:
Similar to 2019, quarterback Lamar Jackson has been the driving force behind the Ravens offense, the unit functioning off his unique skills as a passer and runner.
He’s experienced a statistical regression compared to his MVP season, but that’s not to say Jackson is having a bad year. Jackson is completing almost 63% of his pass attempts — down from last year’s 66% — and he is on pace for lower passing yards and touchdowns. His accuracy on downfield passing hasn’t been precise enough but Jackson has compensated for an offensive line adjusting to injuries and its own drop-off in production. Jackson has been sacked 21 times through eight games; he was sacked 23 times in 2019.
Jackson remains the team’s most dangerous threat as a runner on an offense that once again leads the league in rushing. While his yards per carry are down, from 6.9 in 2019 to 5.9 in 2020, Jackson leads the team with 469 yards and has established himself as a more prominent threat on runs in between the tackles.
Through seven games and before a positive COVID-19 test sidelined him for Sunday’s win against the Colts, cornerback Marlon Humphrey had begun to create buzz as a Defensive Player of the Year candidate.
A defensive back winning the award is a rarity — the Patriots' Stephon Gilmore last year was the first in a decade to receive the honor — but Humphrey’s combination of coverage and playmaking has made him worthy of consideration.
Humphrey opened the season at outside corner but shifted inside to nickelback after Tavon Young suffered a season-ending knee injury in Week 2. Just like in his 2019 All-Pro season, Humphrey hasn’t let playing out of position affect him. Humphrey is tied with Cleveland Browns star Myles Garrett for most forced fumbles (4) and has added 40 tackles, 2½ sacks and an interception, the only defender to post such numbers.
On a defense built on versatility, Humphrey remains one of its most indispensable players.
Offensive Rookie of the Year
Running back J.K. Dobbins was stuck in a logjam in the running back room to begin the season but Mark Ingram’s ankle injury opened the door for Dobbins to fully showcase his skill set over the past two games.
The No. 55 overall pick in the 2020 draft, Dobbins eclipsed 100 rushing yards for the first time in the loss to the Steelers. He’s been featured in the passing game and on a weekly basis looks like the team’s most explosive running back, displaying a combination of speed, vision and balance that made him one of college football’s top backs at Ohio State.
Ingram’s impending return may lead to a reduced role for Dobbins, and the Ravens favor a committee approach. But offensive coordinator Greg Roman and his staff would be remiss to not find a way to incorporate Dobbins, even if Ingram retains his lead back status.
Defensive Rookie of the Year
Patrick Queen stepped into a position of lore in the Ravens organizations, tasked with carrying the mantle of great middle linebackers such as Ray Lewis and C.J. Mosley. The No. 28 overall pick in the draft, Queen has been a Day 1 starter and up to the task of carrying that legacy.
Queen has been a constant around the ball, leading the team in total tackles (52) and adding two sacks, two forced fumbles, two fumble recoveries and a touchdown. He received AFC Defensive Player of the Week honors for his performance in a Week 5 win over the Cincinnati Bengals.
For all his accomplishments, Queen’s rookie season hasn’t been without faults. Queen, by his own admission, is still working to stay disciplined in coverage and his aggressive nature has made him susceptible to misdirection.
Queen, however, has brought a level of speed and playmaking that the Ravens desperately needed.
Most Surprising Development
In the summer, players and coaches adamantly vouched for DeShon Elliott, the inexperienced third-year safety who was sprung into a starting role after the release of veteran Earl Thomas III.
While the faith in Elliott was genuine, there wasn’t much on-field product to support that belief. Elliott, who before this season had played just 40 snaps because of season-ending injuries, was being asked to replace a player in Thomas who for all his troubles was still a Pro-Bowl player in 2019.
With Elliott pairing with Chuck Clark in the defensive backfield, there hasn’t been any drop-off. The 2017 sixth-round pick has made the most of his opportunity, proving to be a savvy blitzer, punishing hitter and a capable player in coverage. Elliott has 36 tackles and is tied for second on the team with 2½ sacks.
Most Disappointing Development
The Ravens neglected to address concerns at wide receiver in free agency or early in the draft, partly due to the belief that Miles Boykin could have a breakout year in his second season.
And Boykin looked ready for it in training camp; he was probably the most impressive receiver during the summer, aside from draftmate Marquise “Hollywood” Brown.
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But some of the same issues that plagued Boykin as a rookie have carried over into his sophomore year. He and Jackson experienced egregious miscommunication issues in three straight weeks and coaches John Harbaugh and David Culley publicly said it was on Boykin to correct it.
Through eight games, Boykin has already surpassed his receptions total from 2019 but hasn’t provided the combination of size and speed that the Ravens so desperately need.
Boykin’s decreasing snaps since Week 5, coupled with rookie Devin Duvernay’s increasing role and the signing of Dez Bryant, speak for themselves.
Most Problematic Injury
Left tackle Ronnie Stanley’s season-ending ankle injury was one of the worst-possible injury developments, save for Jackson or Humphrey being sidelined for an extended period of time.
Franchise quarterbacks are the league’s most valuable commodities and franchise left tackles are not far behind.
The Ravens fared well without Stanley against the Steelers, rushing for a season-high 265 yards, but struggled to retain that efficiency against the Colts, running for a season-low 110 yards.
Orlando Brown Jr., an All-American left tackle in college, is more than capable of protecting Jackson’s blindside. But his position change has forced D.J. Fluker to start at right tackle for the first time since 2014. The Ravens are one more injury away from a crisis at tackle, a position they already entered the season with minimal depth.