For the second week in a row, the Detroit Lions are on the road to face yet another division leader; this time, it’s the Baltimore Ravens, the first-place team in the AFC North. Baltimore is getting it done with defense this season, but with the return of Lamar Jackson playing like the MVP he once was, the Ravens are as dangerous a team as you’ll find in the NFL right now.
As always, we would never pass up the opportunity to get some intel from the opponent’s perspective. Ahead of this Week 7 matchup between Detroit and Baltimore, we called on Kyle P. Barber from BaltimoreBeatdown.com to give us some insight into how this Ravens team has made its way to the top of what seemed like a very crowded division to begin the year—and what kind of threat they pose after returning stateside for this matchup with the Lions.
Lamar Jackson is having an MVP-type season, but isn’t putting up MVP-type numbers that voters usually prioritize, yeah?
While he has just five passing touchdowns to four interceptions, he’s also top-5 in adjusted completion percentage and big-time throw rate for those who discredit his passing ability, and he’s still a threat with his legs—second in the NFL in runs of 10+ yards (14) and ninth in yards per attempt (5.4). The Ravens ranked 10th in offensive DVOA and 14th in pass DVOA, heading into Week 6, so where is there room for growth in the passing offense under first-year offensive coordinator Todd Monken?
There is certainly room for growth. Namely, in performing later in games.
As it stands, the Ravens are among the best in the first quarter in success rate (No. 2) and yards per play (No. 12). However, they falter in the second half of games, especially in the fourth quarter. They’re the second-lowest ranked team in success rate (28.4%) in the final tick and average 3.8 yards per play in said span (No. 30). They’ve started fast and have opened the scoring in all five games this season, four of them with touchdowns. But as the game continues, mistakes occur. A fumble, interception, or a failed run finds them behind the sticks. A drop or a miscommunication on a route. These things begin to snowball and it’s bizarre. They’ve appeared to get less comfortable as the game wears on. Score in the first two quarters, then hang on and hope the defense can rally for the final two quarters.
Another area of struggle involves the red zone. To begin the year, they were posting an 80% touchdown rate, tops in the NFL. But they’ve plummeted from such production. Last week was their worst as they trotted out kicker Justin Tucker for six field goals, with four field goals kicked inside of 30 yards.
That all said, they aren’t alone. According to The Athletic’s Nate Tice, NFL offenses are struggling to finish drives at the lowest rate since 2011 (53.3%). Maybe they’re a part of the bolstering said numbers, but they aren’t alone in doing so.
How devastating was the loss of J.K. Dobbins to the Ravens ground game? Who has stepped up in Dobbins’ absence, and how often has Baltimore used Lamar on designed runs—do you get a sense that his usage in that respect was influenced by Dobbins’ injury, or is that tough to judge considering there’s a new OC in town?
The loss of Dobbins hurt Baltimore’s ground game, no question. But, they still have a solid unit in the backfield. The problem was both running backs Gus Edwards and Justice Hill were dealing with injuries that curtailed them early in the season which led to the Ravens signing veteran free agents to their practice squad and promoting them, including running backs Melvin Gordon III and Kenyan Drake.
But, both Hill and Edwards have returned. They’ve done well, with Hill taking over the speedier routes that may have gone to Dobbins while Edwards remains the hammering heavy back. They are also looking to have undrafted rookie running back Keaton Mitchell get involved, possibly this week, who would be an asset. His speed was noticeable all of training camp and during the preseason. However, a minor injury put him on injured reserve. He was designated to return prior to Week 5 and played, though all snaps were featured on special teams. Head Coach John Harbaugh said he hopes to see Mitchell take the next step here soon.
Regarding Jackson, there’s a discernible difference in Jackson’s involvement as a runner. First off, it feels a bit fewer in designed runs as former Offensive Coordinator Greg Roman liked to use Jackson all over the field. Instead, Monken has used more of the weapons across the board. Where Monken has included Jackson is in the red zone. He has tallied four rushing touchdowns, all in the red zone, on account of getting designed runs. It’s been clever as the field shortens to then force the defense to stay disciplined and guard Jackson. It also helps when they target elsewhere, as it’s one fewer player to be in a traditional zone or coverage package.
Time is a flat circle because Baltimore’s defense is, once again, very good. Second overall in defense DVOA, in fact, after finishing 8th in 2022. What’s responsible for the bump up to being an elite unit so far this season, who are the standout players on this side of the ball, and what kind of roles do they play week to week for Baltimore?
The most significant improvements are simply across the board.
First, linebacker Roquan Smith has now been in Baltimore for a full offseason and continues to improve as arguably the best inside backer in the NFL. Beside him is a hungry, improved Patrick Queen who is showing improvement in coverage, speed, agility and not taking extended seconds to process the speed of the game.
Big strides out of safety Kyle Hamilton are another. He can truly go from deep safety to playing a violent nickel role between snaps and not skipping a beat.
Burying the lead a bit here but the pass rush is another area to give credit toward. The Ravens landed outside linebacker Jadeveon Clowney, who some were uncertain if he’d move the needle. Well, he has generated consistent pressures and was rewarded with two sacks last week after missing a few over the first few weeks due to over-pursuit. He, paired with another free agent outside linebacker, Kyle Van Noy, are excelling on the edges. But they aren’t alone, with 11 defenders notching a sack through five weeks. In total, they’re at 24 sacks, No. 1 in the NFL, with their two biggest contributors being defensive lineman Justin Madubuike (4.5) and Queen (3.5). Defensive Coordinator Mike Macdonald has excelled in his role and the offseason hire of outside linebacker Chuck Smith, pass rush savant, has appeared to have paid off.
On either offense or defense, what’s one matchup that has your eye in the lead-up to Lions-Ravens?
The battle to watch will be right tackle Morgan Moses and edge rusher Aidan Hutchinson.
All season, Hutchinson’s primarily aligned as a LOLB/LEO, putting him up against right tackles. With this in mind, I believe his matchup against Morgan Moses will be vital to either teams’ success.
Moses this season has allowed five hurries and one sack, for a total of six pressures. Hutchinson has generated six or more pressures in five of six games, amounting to four sacks, five quarterback hits and 27 hurries in the first six weeks. If the Ravens want to find success, they must limit Hutchinson’s production. I expect them to do so via doubling Hutchinson with Moses and a tight end, fullback or extra offensive lineman. Moses is good, one of the best right tackles in the NFL, but it won’t be a solo effort. Bringing in extra workhorses to chip and disable the Lions’ star rusher will do wonders.
If not, he will have a hay day and disrupt and destroy the Ravens’ offensive game plan.
What’s one nugget of Ravens’ intel that a gambling Lions fan would find useful for their bet slip this weekend?
Don’t bet the over (currently set at 43 [-110] on DraftKings). This Ravens defense will not be kind to those with the “life is short, bet the over” mantra. The over’s hit once this season. Though the Lions offense is admirable, this Ravens’ unit is real deal. It’s not the homerism, either, as their numbers are the real deal. Expect a knock-down, drag-out fight; one that both of these team’s relish. After all, the Ravens and these Lions are P180 grit sandpaper.