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Giants at Ravens: When Baltimore has the ball

How will the Giants deal with Lamar Jackson?

Jacksonville Jaguars v Baltimore Ravens Photo by Todd Olszewski/Getty Images

In his second full year starting, Lamar Jackson has had a solid season for the 9-5 Ravens, but it’s still a regression year from his 2019 MVP season. The Ravens desperately need to win their home matchup against the Giants to help keep pace with the Miami Dolphins, Cleveland Browns, and the Indianapolis Colts in the race for one of three wildcard seeds. Baltimore is coming off a three-game winning streak, after dropping three in a row against the Patriots, Titans, and Steelers.

Since that division loss to Pittsburgh, the Ravens have hit a stride; they beat the Cowboys 34-17, the Browns 47-42, and the Jaguars 40-14. Yes, unfortunately, this is another offense coming off of two straight 40-point performances. Since just about dumping the Cleveland Browns’ divisional hopes on Monday Night Football (although Week 17 may be interesting now), the rest of the AFC may be looking at Baltimore with some trepidation. In the last three weeks, they’re first in the NFL by a three-point margin in points per game. On the season, they rank sixth by averaging 28 points per game.

The team has been efficient in terms of scoring points, but their offense hasn’t been completely stable all season. They rank 21st in yards per game; in 2019, they were second. Despite that one metric, they’re third in the NFL in points per play (behind Green Bay and Baltimore). The Ravens yards per point margin doesn’t surprise me considering the other statistics about their scoring efficiency and the yardage disparity - they rank first in yards per point...Giants rank second to last.

The biggest reason why there are issues with the Ravens, offense from a yardage standpoint, is due to their passing attack. Baltimore ranks 2nd to last in passing yards per game (PYPG) with 173; that’s only ahead of the New York Jets. The Giants are sitting at 29 with an average of 186 PYPG. To be fair, Baltimore ranks last in passing attempts on the season, but it’s still a 40-yard drop off from the 2019 season.

There has been a lack of explosive plays through the air that was not an issue in 2019. However, the former first-round pick Hollywood Brown has had three touchdowns in the last four games, which is more than the previous 10 games. There have been questions about quarterback Lamar Jackson’s ability to use precision on throws outside the numbers. Not having full confidence in a quarterback’s ability to play from behind, and make all the NFL throws, is unsettling, but the Ravens’ identity is to run the football - and they do that very well.

Baltimore is first, by a wide margin, in rushing yards per game. In the last three weeks, it’s an even wider margin; they’re just under 60 more yards than the Bears in that time. Their yards per rush attempt is first, and their rush attempts per game are first just above the Titans and Patriots. It’s safe to say that Baltimore loves to control the clock and use their star, dual-threat, quarterback in this phase of their offense.

The offensive identity of the Ravens is to put defensive linemen into conflict with the zone read rushing attack that forces backside pursuit defenders to stay in place due to the threat of Lamar Jackson’s rushing ability. Baltimore utilizes this concept from a variety of formations and personnel packages. They use everything from 30 personnel (3 running backs) to 22 personnel (2 running backs and 2 tight ends), as well as the common 11 personnel package (1 running back and 1 tight end). They use their personnel a bit differently than the Giants, and most teams in the NFL. There will be a lot of motion/shifts within the offensive tackle box and after the snap there’s a ton of misdirection to manipulate the run keys of the defense.

The Giants are going to see a lot of pistol formations and variations off the pistol. The Ravens line up in tight alignments, but aren’t scared to spread the field out in five wide formations; when they do that, they usually motion the No. 2 wide receiver in front of Jackson to sell the “touch pass” and act as a zone read or RPO. Defending empty formations with a quarterback like Jackson is a nightmare because all the receivers need to be accounted for and there’s nothing but space for someone with Jackson’s athletic ability to operate. They like to work screens to the opposite side and give Jackson a few options to put stress on defenses. It’s not an easy concept to defend because however the defense reacts, Jackson will do the opposite and the defense has to find a way to mitigate the damage.

Baltimore is going to use split backfields and tight bunch sets to work that power option/zone read type of game as well. The Giants fill defenders and force players are going to have their hands full. As far as rushing the football other than zone read, the Ravens run outside zone and some power/gap concepts. They use backside pulling guards to help lead, or trap, on outside run plays, as well as the middle run option into the A-Gap with a running back and the possibility of Jackson keeping the football and going around the edge.

Offensive coordinator Greg Roman and head coach John Harbaugh have done an excellent job getting the most out of Lamar Jackson and devising an offense that fits his skill set so well. Defenses are always very concerned about the rushing attack and what Jackson is doing, which opens up play-action shots to Brown and tight end Mark Andrews over the middle of the field. I expect similar route concepts that Kevin Stefanski used against this Giants zone defense.

Blitzing a quarterback like Jackson is also a roll of the dice. If that blitz doesn’t get home and Jackson steps up and away from the pressure, then there are fewer defenders to account for him using his legs to pick up yards. It will be interesting to see how Patrick Graham decides to allocate his defensive resources to stop this incredible rushing attack from the Baltimore Ravens.

Quarterback

Since Lamar Jackson came off the COVID-19 list, he’s playing with a different sort of confidence, and it’s working. He’s connecting a bit more with Marquise “Hollywood” Brown and the offense has been clicking. Jackson struggled all season to throw accurately on deep passes; through the first six weeks, Jackson had 23 deep passing attempts (plus 20 yards) and connected on 6 (26 percent) of them for 1 touchdown. In 2019, he was 51 for 18 (35 percent) with 9 touchdowns. Ironically enough, he’s taking more deep shots per game in 2020; he’s averaging 3.83 deep shots per game this season, as opposed to 3.4 from last year. 2019 was a very efficient season from Jackson, and efficiency doesn’t always last. He may not be having the MVP season of 2019, but he still has a 21-8 touchdown to interception ratio, and he’s thrown for 2,461 yards.

The most dangerous part of Lamar Jackson is by far his rushing upside. Jackson has an elite ability with the football in his hand and he’s faster than the majority of wide receivers in the NFL. Jackson has 846 yards on the ground in 2020, along with 7 touchdowns. The Giants must constantly spy Jackson and be disciplined with their run responsibilities because the Ravens zone read game is incredibly dangerous. Jackson didn’t have to run often against the Jaguars because the game was virtually over early, but he had 94 yards on the ground against Dallas, and 124 rushing yards at Cleveland. He also has four rushing touchdowns in the last three games. Guarding Lamar Jackson, along with these tough running backs will be a difficult task for Patrick Graham and the Giants’ defense.

Running backs

I have often said that the Ravens were doing a disservice to their second-round pick J.K. Dobbins. That was until last week when Mark Ingram, an aged veteran over the hill, was a healthy scratch and it was just Dobbins and former undrafted Rutgers back Gus Edwards. Dobbins is the best back of the bunch and combines power, contact balance, exceptional acceleration, and solid vision into a dual-threat back that isn’t used quite enough as a receiver. He has a touchdown in four straight games, but he has put the football on the ground twice in the last two weeks.

Gus Edwards is a strong 238 pound back who can move piles, break tackles, and make defenders pay with his brute strength. Although he’s stronger back, he’s still very athletic and explosive. He hasn’t gotten as many carries as Dobbins, but he’s been very efficient with his workload. Against Dallas three weeks ago, he had 7 carries and turned that into 101 yards; the next week he had 7 carries and scored twice with that workload. When he’s in the game, a defense should not be sighing with relief.

Mark Ingram was a healthy scratch last week and he has lost a step from last season. Head coach John Harbaugh still likes to use a third back in the rotation and that’s Justice Hill, who will play on third down occasionally and has upside as a receiver with good athleticism. Fullback Patrick Ricard plays a significant amount of snaps for the team, due to the power element and dual running back personnel packages that the Ravens tend to run a lot.

Wide receivers

Marquise “Hollywood” Brown lines up on both sides of the formation and sometimes in the slot. He’s a small 5’9, 165 pounds, but he possesses incredible burst and vertical speed. He’s been struggling all season, and hasn’t done himself favors; he’s been dropping the football in recent games. His speed is game-changing and the Giants have to watch how offensive coordinator Greg Roman tries to split the zone safeties off play action with his vertical speed. Brown has 49 receptions on 83 targets for 703 yards and 5 touchdowns.

No, it’s not 2014, but Dez Bryant is the third boundary receiver for the Ravens behind the great blocking receiver Myles Boykin. He was activated from the COVID-19 list on what appeared to be a false positive that sent Bryant into a Twitter rant last week, and he ended up catching his first touchdown for the Ravens. As for Boykin, who plays significantly more snaps due to his hulking 6-foot-4, 221-pound, frame, and blocking ability, he also had a touchdown last week. However, he’s never had more than 5 targets in a game. The majority of this passing attack goes through two players, with a close third: Marquise Brown, tight end Mark Andrews, and slot receiver Willie Snead.

Snead, like most Ravens, was activated off the COVID-19 list but hasn’t hit his stride after coming back to the team. He has missed week 12 against the Cowboys and hasn’t done much since returning. He’s the predominant slot receiver for the Ravens and he’s had huge games this season for Lamar Jackson. His game against Pittsburgh, New England, and Cleveland in Week 1 were very good outcomes for Snead. The Ravens love to utilize his skillset in front of Lamar Jackson at the snap, with pre-snap motion, to keep the defense guessing on who exactly has the football.

Two more players to be aware of are rookies Devin Duvernay and James Proche. They only receive a handful of snaps a game, but Roman likes to use Duvernay on jet sweeps and the touch pass in front of Jackson; the idea is to use his speed to gain the edge while teams overlook him and pay attention to Jackson and Dobbins. Proche is a sure-handed slot receiver who only has one catch this season.

Tight ends

The Ravens offense is a tight end heavy group and it’s highlighted by Mark Andrews. He has 48 receptions on 71 targets for 598 yards and 7 touchdowns. Andrews is a very dangerous receiving option over the middle of the field and he’s a top 5 tight end in the NFL. He’s much more of a receiver than he is a blocker. The best blocking tight end on the team is now on the I.R. and that is Nick Boyle. New York must be aware of the play-action shot between the safeties and linebackers. That will be a common method for the Ravens to attack this defense with Andrews.

The team also uses former Giants practice squad player Eric Tomlinson for his blocking upside since Boyle got hurt and Luke Willson was waived. The Ravens offense wants to be physical and Tomlinson fits that skill set. Baltimore also uses full back Patrick Ricard with tight end responsibilities.

Offensive line

Star left tackle Ronnie Stanley went down with a season-ending injury earlier in the season and the offensive line significantly struggled. They also seemed to struggle early due to the retirement of Marshal Yanda. However, over the last several weeks, the line has stabilized and they’re playing at a much better level. Former right tackle Orlando Brown Jr. moved to the left side and looks very good. He’s 6-8, 345 pounds...that’s a big guy right there. The Giants’ edge rushers are depleted and they’ll have to rely purely on speed and quickness if they’re going to be effective against Brown. Former Giant D.J. Fluker is doing a solid job as a right tackle for the Ravens. He is 6-5, 342 pounds, which could also pose a problem for these young edge rushers.

The guards are Ben Powers and Bradley Bozeman. Powers took over on the right side in Week 10 and has done an admirable job for Baltimore. Bozeman, a third-year sixth-round pick, has struggled a bit in pass protection. He’s given up 17 pressures and 2 sacks on the season, and he seems to struggle a bit with framing his blocks. Leonard Williams, Dalvin Tomlinson, or Dexter Lawrence should win one on one matchups against Bozeman.

2019 undrafted free agent Patrick Mekari has recently played phenomenally for the Ravens and has helped stabilize the line. He started the season off a bit rough and struggled against the Steelers in pass protection, but he’s been very good as a run blocker. Tyre Phillips is the swing offensive lineman. At the beginning of the year, he was starting over Powers but is now the swing player due to early struggles.

Final thoughts

Baltimore needs this win and so do the Giants. The Ravens are a much better team than New York, they’re home, and they have dynamic weapons on offense, as well as a very good defense that will slow down a hobbled Daniel Jones or Colt McCoy. The Ravens have been playing good offensive football the last couple of weeks, so Patrick Graham’s defense will have to have a Seattle Seahawks type of performance to keep the Giants in the race during this playoff push.