Late in the first quarter Sunday, Gus Edwards was flying blind. The Ravens had taken over at their own 10-yard line, as close as they’d been all day to the partisan noise bouncing around Cincinnati’s Paycor Stadium, and quarterback Lamar Jackson was changing the play call.

One problem: His running back never actually heard the audible.

“I took a good guess,” Edwards said Wednesday with a laugh. At the snap, he took a handoff from Jackson and plunged through a hole up the middle for a 5-yard gain. “It worked out.”

It was that kind of afternoon. Whether by design or by accident, Edwards and the offense largely had their way in Sunday’s 27-24 win over the Bengals. The Ravens punted just twice, and only a missed 59-yard field goal from kicker Justin Tucker kept them from scoring on six of their first seven drives.

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Entering Sunday’s game against the Indianapolis Colts, coordinator Todd Monken’s offense is perhaps ahead of schedule. Despite an uneven season opener and another round of significant injuries, the Ravens are tied for ninth in the NFL in yards per play (5.3), tied for seventh in red-zone touchdown percentage (66.7%), fourth in drop-back success rate (55%) and 11th in rush success rate (42.1%), which measures play-to-play efficiency.

After just two games, it’s too early to draw conclusions about where the offense might be headed. But it’s never too early to point out potential pitfalls. Here’s how the unit can stay on track.

Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson had one of his best games against the Bengals on Sunday. (Ulysses Muñoz/The Baltimore Banner)

Quarterback: Stay out of trouble

Jackson was one of the NFL’s best players in Week 2. He passed for 237 yards and two touchdowns, completed 72.7% of his attempts and rushed for 54 yards. Against a talented, disciplined Cincinnati defense, he finished ninth among qualifying Week 2 quarterbacks in expected points added per play and ranked fourth in overall success rate.

Jackson’s worst moment, though, never made his stat line. On the first play of the second quarter, Jackson was strip-sacked by Bengals defensive end Trey Hendrickson on a scramble attempt, and inside linebacker Logan Wilson recovered the fumble at the Ravens’ 18. Only a penalty on defensive lineman Zach Carter kept the Ravens from a costly turnover. (It worked out for Cincinnati in the end, as Charlie Jones scored less than two minutes after Jackson’s fumble on an 81-yard punt return.)

Jackson’s improvisational style is a source of magic for the offense, but it can border on recklessness. He fumbled on a scramble in Week 1 against the Texans, but the Ravens recovered. He also forced a pass to wide receiver Zay Flowers in field goal range that Houston intercepted. Overall, Jackson enters Week 3 with the NFL’s sixth-highest rate of turnover-worthy pass plays (5.1%), according to Pro Football Focus.

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Running backs: Stay healthy

Easier said than done, right? J.K. Dobbins suffered his second season-ending injury in three years in Week 1 when he tore his Achilles tendon. Keaton Mitchell is out until at least Week 5 with a preseason shoulder injury. Now Justice Hill is dealing with a toe injury that could keep him out of Sunday’s game. Edwards maintained throughout the preseason, and again after practice Wednesday, that he’s playing at full strength, but the Ravens will need to be careful not to wear him down.

The drop-off from the Ravens’ top ball carriers to their practice squad options might not be insignificant. Melvin Gordon III averaged 0.8 rushing yards under expectation per carry last season with the Broncos, according to the NFL’s Next Gen Stats, and his rushing success rate (37.8%) was lower than Denver’s middling level (41%). Gordon also struggled with ball security, finishing with five fumbles.

New signing Kenyan Drake, meanwhile, averaged 0.1 rushing yards over expectation per carry in Baltimore last season, well below Dobbins (1.1), Hill (0.8) and Edwards (0.7). He was one of the league’s least elusive running backs last year, forcing just eight missed tackles on 109 carries, according to PFF.

Receivers: Make explosive plays easier

Through two games, the Ravens’ passing game doesn’t have a big-play problem. After finishing 23rd last year in explosive-pass percentage, with 12.9% of their attempts gaining at least 16 yards, the Ravens rank tied for fourth (18.2%), according to TruMedia, behind the Miami Dolphins, San Francisco 49ers and Las Vegas Raiders.

Still, there’s room for growth. According to NGS, the Ravens are 28th in the league in average yards after the catch (4.0), a drop-off from last year, when they finished 28th with 4.8 yards after the catch per reception. With the offense’s embrace of screens and quick hitters under Monken, the Ravens are counting on more open-field production.

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Jackson’s receivers can help out downfield, too. He’s a solid 3-for-6 for 101 yards on passes of at least 20 air yards this season, but few have been open-window throws; even Flowers’ 52-yard catch Sunday was caught nearly in double coverage. Jackson’s targets on deep shots are averaging just 1.2 yards of separation from their nearest defender at the catch point, according to NGS, well below the league average (2.0 yards).

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Offensive line: Keep the pressure off Jackson

The Ravens’ pass protection in Cincinnati was a master class, and all the more remarkable considering the offensive line was without injured left tackle Ronnie Stanley and center Tyler Linderbaum. Jackson took no sacks, was hit on just one drop-back and faced a career-low 9.1% pressure rate, according to NGS.

Every quarterback fares better with a clean pocket, and the difference for Jackson has been stark over his career. When pressured, he has a passer rating of 77.9, a success rate of 35.5% and an EPA per drop-back of minus-0.24, according to NGS — worse efficiency levels than the New York Jets’ Zach Wilson this year. When not pressured, Jackson has a passer rating of 104.8, a success rate of 54.3% and an EPA per drop-back of 0.29 — close to his efficiency levels during his NFL Most Valuable Player season in 2019.

Jonas Shaffer is a Ravens beat writer for The Baltimore Banner. He previously covered the Ravens for The Baltimore Sun. Shaffer graduated from the University of Maryland and grew up in Silver Spring.

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