Read my Week 3 analysis on the Chiefs game here.
On paper, beating a team by two touchdowns and putting up 31 points on the road should be celebrated. Instead, many Ravens fans came away from that game feeling disappointed in the team’s overall performance. While no win in the NFL should be taken for granted, this game seemed to perpetuate some early-season concerns Ravens fans have had with this team.
Lamar Jackson’s passing, the effectiveness of the run game, and the pass rush are just some of the issues the Ravens have had so far this season.
The Ravens are 3-1, but Ravens fans have come to expect a lot out of this team after the bar was set high last season.
Many people are wondering if this team is as good as the 2019 version, but I am here to talk worriers off the ledge.
Here are three reasons to not panic after Sunday’s performance:
The offensive line is not at full strength
One common concern Ravens fans currently have is that the running game seems to be much less explosive than last season. On Sunday, taking away Jackson’s incredible 50-yard touchdown run, the running game totaled only 94 yards of 31 carries, an average of just over three yards per carry.
The Ravens rushing numbers so far have not kept pace with 2019. According to Pro Football Reference, they averaged 206 yards per game (YPG) on the ground in 2019, which was best in the league. So far this season, they have averaged under 161 yards per game. This is still good for fourth in the league. However, division rival Cleveland Browns lead the league at 204 YPG, and they do so without the benefit of a mobile quarterback.
Keep in mind, however, that the Ravens offensive line has not been at full strength at any point yet this season. On Sunday, they missed their All-Pro left tackle Ronnie Stanley and shifted Orlando Brown Jr. over to the left side. Veteran D.J. Fluker filled in at right tackle.
Additionally, center Matt Skura is still getting back into form from a major knee injury almost 11 months ago.
They are also starting a rookie at right guard, replacing legend Marshal Yanda. He will take time to grow into the position, one that he was unfamiliar with in college.
With the offensive line still working out the kinks, it also helps explain a little why Lamar Jackson has been an inconsistent passer so far this season. He has been pressured more often this year and has been forced to make quick decisions under duress. While this doesn’t explain all of the bad passes he’s thrown so far, it does help explain his early inconsistencies and inability to get into a rhythm.
Give the offensive line a chance to heal up and gel together, especially without the benefit of the preseason, and the offensive line should help improve both the Ravens’ running and passing games.
The pass rush might be finally finding its stride
A lot of talk from the Ravens faithful has been how the Ravens pass rush has not been getting to opposing quarterbacks too often over the first few weeks.
Entering Week 4, the Ravens defense had only registered a total of six sacks. On Sunday, the defense sacked quarterback Dwayne Haskins three times.
While this still isn’t the sack numbers Ravens fans might be hoping for, it’s worth noting who got the sacks. The Ravens top two pass rushers, Matthew Judon and Jaylon Ferguson accounted for all three sacks on Sunday. They entered the game with zero combined sacks.
If the Ravens defense is to take it to the next level of dominance, these two players must find themselves consistently in the opposing teams’ backfield.
The emergence of Hollywood Brown
Marquise Brown came into the season with a ton of hype surrounding him. He was the 2019 first-round selection who was playing on one foot most of last season.
This year, he is fully healthy and has a special connection with Jackson. Because of this, Ravens fans have expected him to take his play up a level.
So far this season, he is showing that he can be a true number one receiver for the Ravens. He had four catches for 86 yards on Sunday and has 16 catches for 242 yards so far this year.
It is clear from watching the games that Jackson is looking for Brown early and often in each game. There have also been a few big plays left on the table that would have resulted in touchdowns if Jackson had connected with Brown on those passes.
Look for Brown to continue to put up numbers and to break into the touchdown category sooner than later. With him and Mark Andrews in the offense, the passing game should be explosive going forward.
Looking ahead to next week
The Ravens will play their second division game of the season when they host the Cincinnati Bengals.
The Bengals are coming off their first win of the season, winning 33-25 over the Jacksonville Jaguars. They are a respectable 1-2-1 so far this season and are trending in the right direction.
Here are some keys to the game to watch out for:
Can the Ravens Stop the Joe’s?
Last week Burrow threw for 300 yards, with one touchdown and one interception. He looks like he is worth every bit of the number one overall selection from this year’s draft.
The Ravens have historically had great success against rookie quarterbacks, and they will look to continue that trend on Sunday. They have to make Burrow uncomfortable in the pocket, which means the pass-rushing will need to really step up in this game.
Joe Mixon had a slow start to the season. On Sunday however, he blew up for 159 yards and two touchdowns. Mixon is a real threat and someone who has had success against the Ravens in the past.
Burrow will look for Mixon as a security blanket, both as a runner and in the passing game. If the Ravens can slow down Mixon, then they have a real good chance to win on Sunday.
Can the defense continue their impressive turnover streak?
They have now forced a turnover in 18 straight games dating back to early last season.
There was a time not too long ago where the Ravens defense struggled to create turnovers. Adding Peters midway through last season has helped boost their turnover numbers significantly.
The Bengals have only committed four turnovers so far this season, which is impressive for such a young team. Whoever wins the turnover battle will likely come away with the victory.
Can the Ravens commit to running the ball?
The Ravens have surprisingly not committed to running early in games as much as last season. They have only attempted 25.25 attempts per game so far in this season after averaging 37.25 attempts per game in 2019.
The numbers are also skewed a bit towards late in the game, where the Ravens have been protecting big leads.
The Ravens offense is at their best when they commit to running the ball. Even if it isn’t successful initially, they wear down opposing defenses throughout the course of the game.
This game is their chance to find their love for running the ball again, as the Bengals run defense has given up over 158 yards per game on the ground. This ranks 28th in the league.
By running the ball, the Ravens should be able to extend drives and keep the Bengals offense on the sideline. This will be a huge key to winning the game.
Final Score Prediction
This is certainly not the same pathetic Bengals team from 2019, where the Ravens won in their two meetings by a combined score of 72-30.
While the Ravens have had success against rookie quarterbacks in the past, Burrow looks to be a different animal, as he has been impressive so far.
The key though will be stopping Joe Mixon, which I believe the Ravens will do effectively.
With that being said, division games in the AFC North are tough and usually close, and I expect this game to be a competitive one throughout.
The experience of the Ravens squad, though, should win out.