Bengals safety Jessie Bates knew what the Ravens were going to do offensively last Sunday. But he, nor any of his teammates, could stop it in time.
The Ravens scored two first half touchdowns on passes from Lamar Jackson to tight end Mark Andrews and then wide receiver Marquise Brown. Both receiving threats led the Ravens in targets — Brown had 10 and Andrews nine — while the Ravens had three players tied behind them for targets with three.
Baltimore won 27-3, but the game raised some questions about the Ravens’ offense. More specifically, how versatile the Ravens need to be moving forward.
“We know where Lamar wants to go,” Bates said after the game. “Either ‘15’ (Brown) or ‘89’ (Andrews). It showed up today as well. That’s all he was really throwing to, was ‘15’ or ‘89.’ We didn’t make the plays where it was at that point in time.”
The Ravens have been long-searching for that elusive third weapon in the passing game, especially after the offseason departure of tight end Hayden Hurst.
With the pick they received from the Falcons in the 2020 NFL Draft, the Ravens selected running back JK Dobbins. But through five games, Dobbins’ role has been limited. He’s attempted just 16 carries and made nine catches (on 10 targets) which makes him the team's fourth-most involved runner and fifth-most involved receiver.
But the top-heavy offense doesn’t impact just the deep running back depth chart.
Against Cincinnati, wideouts Miles Boykin and Willie Snead combined for zero catches. The week before, they each had two catches. Without a true offseason program or preseason, rookie wide receiver Devin Duvernay has been slow to come along — though he’s flashed talent and speed — with just eight total touches this season.
“The team is winning,” Jackson said. “But I feel my guys still need the ball in their hands, so we’re going to do a better job of getting those guys the ball in their hands. There’s no bitterness or anything like that going on in the locker room whatsoever. Our guys are still our guys, and we’re still a brotherhood going on here. But yes, as the season goes on, and as the weeks go on, the guys should be getting the ball a lot more.”
Boykin was a player the Ravens expected big things out of in his second season as a Raven, an expectation that Boykin himself was happy to accept. Through five games, he’s caught just 10 passes.
Most everyone agrees the Ravens’ offense hasn’t hit its full stride yet, including offensive coordinator Greg Roman. The hope is that increased efficiency, and volume, will lead to more opportunities down the line.
“The rising tide of execution and efficiency will raise all ships and create more opportunities for him,” Roman said of Boykin. “I think Miles is doing a good job in a lot of phases. I think he’s been really unheralded as a blocker doing a lot of the dirty work that nobody really notices. Also yes, there’s definitely room for him to be more involved and we’re certainly encouraged by how he’s practicing every day. As a receiver, you can’t control what’s thrown to you but you can control getting open.”
The Ravens’ top-heavy passing offense, which is a stark contrast to their run game that boasts four capable rushers, isn’t necessarily different from the norm.
Jackson has thrown 135 passes through five games, while Andrews and Brown have combined for 48.1 percent of the total targets.
Across the league, the top three passers in the league in terms of yardage have a similar target share for their favorite targets.
Dak Prescott, before his unfortunate injury, threw 222 times. Amari Cooper and rookie Ceedee Lamb have combined for 42.7 percent of the team’s total targets.
The same is true in Buffalo and Seattle where Stefon Diggs and Cole Beasley have combined for 42.8 percent of the targets for Josh Allen, and DK Metcalf and Tyler Lockett have combined for 45 percent of the targets for early MVP favorite Russell Wilson.
In short, Jackson and the Ravens' tendencies aren’t vastly different from the rest of the league. And as long as the offense is working, there’s no reason to stop.
“I don’t think you can say, ‘We want to get this guy (going),” coach John Harbaugh said. “We want to get this guy or that guy (going).’ You start chasing that, then, I don’t know, you kind of lose track of who you are and what you’re trying to accomplish. So, I’m really confident that those guys are going to get their catches going forward and continue to improve.”
For now, the Ravens are content to rely on mostly Brown and Andrews in the passing game. After all, they’re two of the more talented receiving threats in the AFC North.
But as the weeks roll by, the Ravens’ schedule gets tougher and the playoffs near, the first receiving threats that opposing defenses shadow will be Brown and Andrews.
Then, the Ravens will need to find another way to move the football down the field.
“I think it will matter in the long run,” Harbaugh said. “I think people will defend the guys you’re throwing to; we certainly do that on defense. But we’re not trying to throw to two guys all the time. We’re not really trying to throw to seven guys either, but we’ve had games where we have spread it out quite a bit this year, where he’s hitting multiple targeted guys. So, I think it will play out differently from week to week, but I also think it’s something we need to continue to look at.”