Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson’s performance Sunday defied neat and tidy categorization. He was accurate, completing over 70% of his passes for the third straight game. He was potent on the ground, leading the offense with 101 rushing yards (7.2 per carry) and two touchdowns. He kept the Ravens relatively on schedule, finishing 12th in offensive success rate in Week 3, according to TruMedia, a measure of snap-to-snap efficiency.
Jackson was also wasteful. In the 22-19 overtime loss to the Indianapolis Colts, he lost a fumble at the Ravens’ 19. Two possessions that started near midfield ended with no points. Seven of the Ravens’ 15 drives didn’t record a first down. Jackson finished the game averaging minus-0.24 expected points added per drop-back, the sixth-worst mark of his career in games with at least 10 pass attempts.
“We’ll get better,” coach John Harbaugh said Monday. “We’ll improve. We’ll clean stuff up. We’ll figure out our identity as we go, just like every team in the National Football League does.”
Jackson was neither brilliant nor bumbling. There was plenty of blame to share around the offense. Here’s a look at two of the Ravens’ problem areas in Sunday’s loss.
Drawing a blank
Over the season’s first two weeks, offensive coordinator Todd Monken limited Jackson’s involvement in the Ravens’ run game. Excluding kneel-downs, sneaks and scrambles, Jackson rushed just six times for 20 yards, according to Sports Info Solutions.
Against a stout Colts front, that changed. The offense’s first play from scrimmage was a read-option keeper that Jackson took for an easy 11 yards. The Ravens’ third carry was an apparent quarterback draw, with running back Gus Edwards and left guard John Simpson leaking out downfield to clear a path for a 5-yard gain a second-and-2 call. Their first touchdown came on another option look, and their second score on another draw.
At key points Sunday, though, Monken’s calls for Jackson seemed to run into trouble. On third-and-4 early in the second quarter, Jackson took his first “sack” on an apparent draw after Colts defensive end Samson Ebukam beat left tackle Patrick Mekari with a speed rush. Before Jackson could even start upfield, where center Sam Mustipher had a one-on-one with Colts linebacker Zaire Franklin, he’d been strip-sacked. Jackson recovered the ball, and the Ravens punted.
Later in the game, with the Ravens leading 17-16 and less than three minutes remaining in the fourth quarter, they faced another manageable third down. Monken called another apparent draw. This time, Indianapolis’ five-man blitz package kept the Ravens’ linemen in pass protection as running back Melvin Gordon II left the pocket to block linebacker E.J. Speed. Jackson was “sacked” again, and the Ravens punted again.
“We had a number of designed QB draws that also had their other RPO [run-pass option]-type plays,” Harbaugh said Monday, indicating that Jackson had the option to pass in certain looks. “Different plays, they play out different ways. Those certain plays — the two sacks — played out certain ways each play. We look at that stuff in great detail. It’s not something I can really lay out in a press conference. … There are plays that we can definitely execute better, that’s for sure.”
Sacks and turnovers dragged Jackson’s efficiency against Indianapolis’ four-man pass rush into mediocre territory. When he could actually get the ball out Sunday, though, he was far better when he wasn’t blitzed (15-for-19 for 145 yards, according to the NFL’s Next Gen Stats) than when he was (7-for-12 for 57 yards).
There was no obvious culprit for the Ravens’ passing woes against the blitz. The offensive line was solid; Jackson was pressured four times on 14 drop-backs against five or more rushers, according to NGS, far less secure than he’d been in Week 2 against the Cincinnati Bengals, but not nearly as bothered as he’d been in Week 1 against the Houston Texans.
On most of their breakdowns, Jackson and his receivers didn’t seem to be on the same page — sometimes before the pressure arrived, sometimes after it. Midway through the second quarter, Jackson faced a six-man zone blitz that left five Colts defenders defending four Ravens targets. If Jackson had recognized that cornerback Kenny Moore was blitzing from the slot, he might’ve thrown “hot” to wide receiver Nelson Agholor, whom Moore had lined up over before the snap.
But Jackson didn’t see Agholor uncovered in the flat. And when Jackson scrambled to his right, none of his receivers broke off their route quickly to present a target. Jackson had to throw the ball away to avoid a sack.
In the final minute of the fourth quarter, needing just one more first down to get into field goal range for a potential game-winner from kicker Justin Tucker, Jackson took a costly sack. But the Colts’ six-man pressure had gotten to Jackson quickly. His best option downfield against the first wave of pressure might’ve been a back-shoulder throw to Agholor down the left sideline; no other receivers gave him much to work with on his drop-back.
After eluding Indianapolis’ first shot at a sack, Jackson made the worst of the bad situation by failing to throw the ball away before he was taken down for a 10-yard loss at the Ravens’ 39. The offense eventually had to settle for bringing Tucker on for a 61-yard field goal attempt, which fell short.
The missed connections lingered into overtime. Jackson had wide receiver Zay Flowers wide open on a short throw that would’ve beaten a six-man rush, but he threw behind the rookie. On the next drive, against another six-man rush, Jackson threw behind running back Kenyan Drake as he headed out of the backfield. There was no one to stop Drake; the Ravens had more receivers downfield (five) than the Colts had defenders in coverage (four).
“Yes, they made some plays, but we made some plays, too,” said Harbaugh, who added that Jackson “did well” against the blitz. “I thought he got the ball out on time numerous times well. Other times, he was forced to hold the ball a little bit, and they got to him a couple times that way, but also he got out of it a couple times that way, and he dropped it down a couple times. … Continue to chase perfection and continue to try to build on what we’re doing and get better. That’s really what it is. It’s a process. It’s week to week, and you have to keep building on the next week because you just keep moving forward.”
Odds and ends
- The Colts’ rushing success (35 carries for 139 yards) was notable but perhaps overstated. On carries from midfield and in, Zack Moss averaged just 1.5 yards per carry, while fellow running back Trey Sermon averaged 3.5 yards. The most surprising development from Sunday’s game was that Indianapolis averaged more yards per carry against seven-man boxes (3.9) and crowded boxes (4) than they did against light, six-man boxes (3.2), according to NGS.
- The Ravens were fortunate to not get burned by the Colts’ screen game early in the fourth quarter. Inside linebacker Patrick Queen, who stopped wide receiver Michael Pittman after one 8-yard gain, was one of three Ravens defenders who’d rallied to the ball in space against five Indianapolis blockers. A couple of plays later, Sermon dropped a screen pass on third-and-6, spoiling another play where the Colts had superior numbers in space against a Ravens blitz.