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Sunday Night Football Preview

Sunday Night Football: Deep Dive

by Warren Sharp
Updated On: November 12, 2020, 2:03 pm ET

The Baltimore Ravens’ offense looks like a shell of their former offense, but that is because of a number of factors.

First, and most interesting to hypothesize about, is Lamar coming out this week in the media and admitting that defenses know what is coming this year, and going as far as to admit that the defense is calling out their plays ahead of the snap.

Clearly that’s a major problem.  

With the rules changes that are so offensive friendly, the ONLY time the offense shouldn’t have an advantage on a given play is if they are too predictable.

You cannot allow yourself as an offense to be predictable.

If the Ravens are being too predictable based on personnel grouping, formation, down or distance, it’s something that needs changed, and changed ASAP.

Another issue is their step back in allowing Lamar to pass on first down.  After allowing him to pass more in 2019 than 2018, I assumed a natural progression would occur in 2020.

His performance on these first down passes has improved.  But the team isn’t taking advantage of it enough.

In the first half of games, Lamar is averaging 9.2 YPA, 60% success and +0.30 EPA/att on first down passes

No team is averaging more EPA/att on first down passes in the first half than Lamar.

But he only has 47 attempts.

Baltimore is the most run-heavy team on first downs in the NFL.

These runs average just 3.9 YPC, 45% success and -0.03 EPA/att

Just 33% of Lamar’s attempts come on first downs

That ranks 31st of 32 teams in the NFL

Last week against the Colts, Baltimore ran 17 times on 1st down and averaged 2.5 YPC.  They passed 10 times and averaged 8.1 YPA and 70% success.

They are passing LESS on first down than they did in 2019 even though Lamar is MUCH better on these passes:

In 2019, they averaged just 6.9 YPA, 52% success and +0.06 EPA on these first down passes

He’s doing much better this year.

And their first down runs are doing much worse:

First down run success this year:

2020:  3.6 YPC, 47% success
2019:  6.0 YPC, 60% success

But I do still have confidence in the Ravens and their offense.  Look at their recent schedule.

They’ve played 2 straight games against top-3 defenses:  Colts and Steelers.

They’ve played 5 of their last 6 games against top-13 defenses.

The rest of the season, they will face the NFL’s easiest schedule of defenses.

They play just one game against a top-17 defense.

They play 3 games against bottom-5 defenses.

And the first is this week, against the Patriots.

The Patriots Defense ranks 31st in the NFL.  They rank 30th against the pass and 31st against the run.

That run ranking is even worse because they have played the 9th easiest schedule of opposing run offenses.

In 6 of 8 games this season, the Patriots have played run offense that rank 19th or worse.

Only twice did they play run offenses in the top-10, and they lost badly to the 49ers in Week 7 and lost to the Seahawks in Week 2.

There is no doubt the Ravens, who still have the NFL’s #1 ranked run offense, even though it’s not as strong as it was in 2019, should see success here.

After playing top-10 run defenses for three straight weeks, facing the NFL’s second worst will be a welcomed sight.

In the only meeting against Lamar Jackson, the Patriots lost 37-20, as the Ravens marched out to a commanding 17-0 lead.

On the other side of the ball, one note relates to Cam Newton:  Newton has dramatic man vs zone splits:

Vs man:    4.8 YPA, 39% success, -0.55 EPA/att
Vs zone:    8.3 YPA, 52% success, +0.02 EPA/att

These splits are even worse over the last few weeks.

Since week 6 against the Broncos, Cam has averaged just 3.5 YPA, 27% success and -1.15 EPA/att against man coverage.  

However, 70% of his attempts have come against zone, and only 30% came against man coverage.

That isn’t surprising, because most of these teams (49ers, Bills and Jets) play less man than average.  And while the Broncos typically play more man than average (45% man vs NFL average of 37%) against the Patriots they played only 28% man coverage.

When they did play man, they held Cam to 2.7 YPA, 14% success and -2.59 EPA/att, but when they played zone, they allowed 9.1 YPA, 56% success and +0.13 EPA/att.

Why they chose to play so much zone is beyond understanding, but now the Patriots are facing the Ravens.

The Ravens play above average rates of man coverage, and should hold Newton down.

Lastly, the Ravens bring tons of pressure and blitzes.  And on the season, Newton ranks 33 of 38 qualifying QBs when pressured.

Warren Sharp

Warren Sharp is a football and betting analyst for NBC Sports. As a leading voice in football analytics, Warren writes a yearly book previewing the upcoming season from all angles at his Sharp Football Analysis website. You can follow Warren Sharp on Twitter @SharpFootball.