"Since I was young," said Humphrey. "I told my dad I wanted to play in the NFL, and he never really let me slip."
Until the night the Ravens' 2019 season was stopped cold, their offense was darn near unstoppable. It led the NFL in passing touchdowns and set a league record for rushing yards. It could strike quickly or grind out soul-sucking drives. It had a superstar at quarterback and a revolutionary movement behind him.
Coordinator Greg Roman’s unit was trouble for everyone — including, it turned out, himself. Because whether the Ravens' year ended with a Lombardi Trophy or a divisional-round loss, 2020 would always be measured against 2019. And that offense’s standards were impossibly high.
Now, almost 10 months after calling his last play for an attack that led the NFL in both passing and rushing efficiency, according to Football Outsiders, Roman and the Ravens (2-1) are looking for renewal. In a blowout loss Monday to the Kansas City Chiefs, they finished with fewer yards than they’ve had in any game since 2017. An offense earmarked for greatness has, through three games, been only good.
And Sunday’s road test against the Washington Football Team (1-2) could be its most challenging yet.
"Really and truly, our job on our end of things is to answer the question, ‘Why?’ " Roman said Thursday. “When we look at things, we really look at why something did or didn’t happen, and we try to move forward based on that.”
Even with NFL Most Valuable Player Lamar Jackson returning to lead a young and evolving core, regression this season seemed inevitable. All-Pro guard Marshal Yanda, whom coach John Harbaugh has called a “force multiplier” along the offensive line, retired in March. Jackson’s historic touchdown rate was unsustainable. Opponents had another offseason to build their defense, another year of film to study.
But few considered a performance like Monday’s within the realm of possibility. For as much as the Ravens struggled in their season-ending playoff defeat, they’d at least moved the ball against the Tennessee Titans. In the first half of their 34-20 loss to the Super Bowl champion Chiefs, Sam Koch (three punts) was almost as busy as the chain gang (five Ravens first downs).
The night’s final stat line was grim: one offensive touchdown, 228 total yards, 3.5 yards per pass attempt for Jackson, 97 total passing yards (a career low as a starter) and only 21 carries for a productive rushing attack. And this was against a Kansas City defense that had struggled over the season’s first two weeks.
While the Ravens enter Week 4 tied for fourth in the NFL in scoring — 30.3 points per game, only a field goal behind last season’s rate — their offensive efficiency has flagged. Despite averaging more yards per carry than they did last season, the Ravens have a less successful ground game (No. 5 overall), according to Football Outsiders. Their passing attack, despite no interceptions and two strong performances against the Cleveland Browns and Houston Texans, is No. 20.
Three games is not a huge sample size, and the Ravens' rankings will stabilize with every drive they finish. But in a division now led by the stingy Pittsburgh Steelers, they cannot afford any more steps back.
“We know, as an offense, we have to score touchdowns; we had red-zone field goals [Monday],” running back Mark Ingram II said Wednesday. “We know we want to control the ball, keep their offense and their explosive players off the field, allow our defense to rest [and] allow our defense to get a few stops. There are just things we’ll work on. We’ll continue to improve and continue to get better, but [the Chiefs] were the better team that day. We will continue to strive to improve and continue to strive to get better. We will learn from this film.”
If they haven’t, they might realize it pretty quickly. On paper, Washington’s defense has been better than Cleveland’s, better than Kansas City’s: No. 6 in yards allowed per game allowed (334.3), No. 4 in defensive efficiency, No. 2 in sacks (13).
In reality, though, the Ravens will likely face a different-looking defense from the one that punished the Philadelphia Eagles in its season-opening win. Defensive tackle Matt Ioannidis, a rotational lineman who had a combined 16 sacks in 2018 and 2019 and 1½ through three games this season, is out for the season with a torn biceps. Defensive end Chase Young (2½ sacks), the No. 2 overall pick in the draft, is reportedly expected to miss Sunday’s game at FedEx Field with a groin injury.
Washington’s defense has held up surprisingly well elsewhere, including up the middle and in the secondary. But the Ravens' challenge will be greatest up front, where they struggled at times against Chiefs defensive tackle Chris Jones and defensive end Frank Clark.
“They have five first-rounders on the defensive line,” Roman said of Washington. “They have aggressive linebackers who are playing really, really well. So once you turn on the Washington defense and watch their first three games, we understand where our focus needs to be.”
Even with 10 starters returning, the Ravens offense had to evolve in the offseason, just as it will have to change every week this year. It wasn’t until November that the 2019 team found its stride, scoring at least 37 points in four straight blowout wins.
This week offered some clues of what the attack’s next iteration might look like: More snaps for rookie wide receivers Devin Duvernay and James Proche II. More carries for running back Gus Edwards. Fewer passes when trailing. Whatever it takes to flush the Ravens' last game out of their system.
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