Welcome to Ravens Reality Check, where we lower the stovetop temperature to bring the national takes about the Ravens to a slow simmer.
The glare of the football media is definitely on the Ravens this Monday after the 37-3 demolition of the Seattle Seahawks, formerly one of the steady risers in the NFC:
1. Lamar Jackson is the MVP (so far)!
The Ravens are more than halfway through their schedule with a 7-2 record, and the drumbeat for Lamar Jackson’s second MVP campaign is now deafening.
ESPN and The Athletic were among the outlets picking Jackson for midseason MVP. While that award is about as valuable as an NFT, it shows the trajectory of the 26-year-old. Wrote Bill Barnwell: “Jackson has minimized mistakes, improved as a passer, kept a lot of what people liked about him as a runner and made enough big plays to win each week.”
The numbers through nine games (1,954 passing yards, 9 passing TDs, 440 rushing yards, 5 rushing TDs) don’t pop off the page, but there’s no denying that Jackson is central to everything the Ravens do offensively, and his dual-threat ability is a huge key to keeping defenses off-balance.
Seahawks safety Jamal Adams said yesterday of trying to keep Jackson contained: “He causes defenses to be disciplined at all times, because he’s that special with the ball.”
There are some great numbers for Jackson, who leads all starting quarterbacks with a 71.5% completion rate, which has crushed some of the criticism of his throwing ability even going into this season. He has only three interceptions, as good as any starter except for Houston’s C.J. Stroud, who has just one(!).
The one slippery factor for Jackson is that he’ll continue to face good defenses, including three of the top 10 passing defenses (by yard per attempt) in the NFL — they all happen to be in the brutal AFC North (No. 4 Bengals, No. 6 Browns, No. 8 Steelers). But he’s also faced all of them already, and the only game where he struggled was in Pittsburgh, which featured an epic number of drops.
It’s not so hot of a take that Jackson should be the MVP frontrunner. Many of the questions for the remainder of the season will probably focus on whether Jackson can translate his growth into a playoff run — but let’s get to that when we get to it.
2. The Ravens are off to a historically great start!
My jaw has definitely slackened a few times in the past three weeks as the Ravens took it to Detroit and Seattle, but the margin of those victories has put them in surprisingly elite analytical territory.
Aaron Schatz, the inventor of the DVOA metric that measures a team’s success against league average, tweeted Monday morning that the Ravens’ start puts them at No. 3 all-time through nine games, behind only New England in 2007 and Washington in 1991 — two teams, in case you’re wondering, that were 9-0. The Ravens are above teams like the ’96 Packers, the ’85 Bears, the Cowboys dynasty of the mid-’90s, etc., etc.
Even Schatz has some questions about how his metric has measured the Ravens thus far, but what it tells us is that the Ravens’ three biggest wins — against Cleveland, Detroit and Seattle — have been one-sided affairs that have seen both the offense and defense excel. DVOA helps measure the thoroughness of victories: Washington’s 1991 squad, for example, had 45-0 and 34-0 victories on its schedule before winning a Super Bowl. The Ravens are building the same kind of resume.
Not every DVOA titan is a champion, of course. But it strongly correlates with what an increasing number of analysts are seeing with their eyes: The Ravens are dominating good teams, and they’re doing it more consistently than any other team.
3. Keaton Mitchell is the answer at running back!
Before CBS switched games for other regions of the country because the Ravens’ blowout was so lopsided, it seems people got an eyeful of undrafted rookie Keaton Mitchell, who has been waiting in the wings to get healthy. The Ravens knew about him, and not just because his dad Anthony Mitchell played in Baltimore. The diminutive ECU speedster can get down the field in a hurry.
Giana Han wrote about Mitchell on Sunday, but two key metrics from Next Gen Stats on two big runs help highlight the unique traits he brings to the table. First, in his 40-yard touchdown run, he reached a top speed of nearly 21 mph, faster than Jaylen Waddle, Tyreek Hill and other NFL speedsters who ripped off big plays in Week 9. Second, Mitchell’s 60-yard run was expected to gain just 5 yards — the 55-yard differential makes it one of the top 10 runs of this season, per Next Gen Stats.
It was this kind of elusiveness and speed that feels different in the Ravens running back room. Gus Edwards has been a battering ram, especially at the goal line; Justice Hill is elusive but functions more like a jack-of-all-trades than the tiny rocket that is Mitchell. The highlights made Undisputed’s Skip Bayless laugh and wonder how the Ravens find useful running backs wherever they look for them.
I don’t know if this is the start of something special for Mitchell, or whether he got the benefit of novelty (Seattle couldn’t have had much tape of him) and running over a defense that was already beaten. But Mitchell does represent a unique skill set for the Ravens to try to unleash.
You can’t teach fast. Whether it’s in the running game or on special teams, Mitchell should get a few more looks in the coming weeks.