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The Ravens’ big play problem, and how they’re looking to create more explosive plays

The Ravens’ big play problem, and how they’re looking to create more explosive plays

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — The Ravens’ offense has a newfound problem. 

Since week one of the season against the hapless Dolphins, the Ravens haven’t been able to generate big plays at the same rate. Starting in week two, they’ve got just 20 offensive plays of 20 yards or more.

And with Marquise Brown currently out of the lineup, that’s becoming a bigger issue.

“Marquise can definitely affect the game that way, but we’ve got guys that can do it as well,” offensive coordinator Greg Roman said. “A lot of it starts with how the defense chooses to play, but we’re always looking for more for sure. It’s definitely a focus of ours, I would say. There’s a lot of different ways to do it.”

Baltimore started the season with a bang in Miami and hung 59 points on a terrible Dolphins team. Since then, though, the explosive plays have dried up. 

The Ravens have just four rushing plays of 20-yards or more since week two — three came last week against the Bengals. 

Lamar Jackson threw five passes that ended with gains of 20 yards or more in the second week of the season against the Cardinals, but that number has decreased by one each week to just one passing play over 20 yards last week against the Bengals. 

In the only three passing plays of 20 yards or more against the Browns, all came in the last drive of the game when the game’s outcome was already decided. 

“You're not going to throw behind them if they're back,” coach John Harbaugh said on Sept. 30, a day after the Browns game. “So, you just have to make plays. If a team is going to play that kind of defense — you want to call it 'bend-but-don't-break,' whatever you want to call it —and they're basically challenging you to go down the field and have a long drive and score a touchdown.”

Since the first three weeks of the season, however, teams have been afraid of the Ravens speed and forced Jackson to beat them deep. For the most part, it’s worked.

Jackson threw 21 passes more than 20 yards in the air in the first three weeks of the season. He went 8-of-21 in those weeks with two touchdowns (both against Miami) but is 0-for-7 with two interceptions since the Chiefs game. 

Overall, Jackson is 8-of-28 (28.5 completion percentage) with two touchdowns and two interceptions when throwing for more than 20 yards in the air. 

With defenses putting a cover on the Ravens offense, they’ve been forced to settle for shorter, high-percentage plays. At least to an extent, it’s been efficient. 

The Ravens offensive DVOA, a measure of how efficient an offense is, is 13.3 percent which ranks fourth in the NFL behind Seattle, Dallas and Kansas City, according to footballoutsiders.com.

While the Ravens offense hasn’t suffered because of the lack of big plays, there’s a chance that day could come if teams shut down their quick game.

Additionally, a few extra explosive plays per week are what could turn this offense from very good to great.

“There’s some plays I think we could’ve hit on the last couple weeks, we can do a little better with and that’s something we need to work at,” Roman said. “But I think every week is a little bit different, so we’ll see how this one goes.”

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Former Ravens Offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg denies wanting to move Lamar Jackson to wide receiver

Former Ravens Offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg denies wanting to move Lamar Jackson to wide receiver

According to a report from former NFL general manager Michael Lombardi, former Ravens offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg wanted to move Lamar Jackson to wide receiver. 

Mornhinweg, and the Ravens, claim that’s not true. 

Tuesday morning, Mornhinweg and the Ravens released a statement that claims the conversation Lombardi reported never happened. 

“That didn’t happen,” Mornhinweg responded, according to the release. “Never said that. My thoughts before the draft, and even more when we started working with Lamar, was that this young man was going to be a special quarterback. Very early we saw that along with all of his throwing and escape abilities, he reads the field as well as any young quarterback I ever worked with.”

Mornhinweg, who was the Ravens’ offensive coordinator for three years and with the organization for four, left the organization after last season ended.

The original report from Lombardi, which was on the GM Shuffle podcasts that he hosts, stated that Mornhinweg wanted to move Jackson to wide receiver. 

“Here’s what happened,” Lombardi began. “The first time he (Lamar Jackson) comes in, Marty Mornhinweg — remember, we’re building the team around him — Marty says to the coaches, this is fact, ‘When are we gonna move him to receiver?’”

Lombardi was a scout for the 49ers and Browns before working for the Eagles, Raiders, Browns (for a second time) and the Patriots. He was the general manager and VP of the Browns in 2013-14. He currently works for The Athletic.

“Organizationally, we were on the same page with Lamar, and I thought Ozzie (Newsome) and Eric (DeCosta) did a great job to take him where we did,” coach John Harbaugh added in the release. “Marty was excited from the beginning to coach Lamar and was instrumental in helping him progress through his rookie season.”

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Ravens don't have to worry about Rob Gronkowski returning for the NFL Playoffs

Ravens don't have to worry about Rob Gronkowski returning for the NFL Playoffs

Sitting atop the AFC North and East divisions at 8-2 and 9-1 respectively, the Ravens and Patriots could face each other again in January for either the divisional round or AFC championship.

One thing is for sure -- even if Baltimore has to face the Patriots in Foxborough, the Ravens will not have to worry about crafting a game plan for retired tight end Rob Gronkowski.

The five-time Pro Bowl receiver is guaranteed to be in Miami for Super Bowl LIV, but not to play football -- instead, throwing a party off the field that he calls Gronk Beach.

Gronk told ESPN that a return to playing for the NFL is "always an option in the back of my head. It's not like I'm not staying in shape and not doing anything."

"I wouldn't say 'never coming back,'" Gronk told ESPN after announcing his Gronk Beach festival, that includes performances by Diplo, Kaskade, Rick Ross and Flo Rida. "I'm feeling good, but you know, one year off could possibly be the case. Or maybe two years off, man."

Baltimore already bloodied New England 37-20, handing the Pats their first and only loss of the season thus far when they visited M&T Bank Stadium in Week 9, but both teams should almost certainly anticipate a postseason meeting. Arguably the greatest tight end in league history, Gronk knows his team could use his talents again.

"With the offense, they're finding ways to make it work like they've always done, putting guys in the right situation to make plays," Gronkowski told ESPN about watching the Patriots games closely this season. "But man, they're missing some guy who is 6-6, 260 [pounds]," referencing himself.

Baltimore, you're in the clear this year. But that's all Gronk can guarantee.

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