top of page
  • Writer's pictureCody Ingle

Ravens Passing Game Showing Rest of League These Aren’t The Same Old Ravens

Through five games in the 2021 season, the Baltimore Ravens winning recipe has a new ingredient.
Lamar Jackson throws the ball in a week 5 game against the Colts during the 2021 NFL season.
Lamar Jackson. Photo Credit:

A couple weeks ago I discussed 3 things we learned about the Ravens in 2021. Now? We've learned Baltimore can shred defenses with the passing game. Lamar Jackson has done a lot of winning in his career and as a starting quarterback he is 34-8 in the regular season and 35-11 including the playoffs.

Baltimore's Ground and Pound History

With Jackson at quarterback, the Ravens have typically relied on the success of their historic rushing attack and a top-5 caliber defense to smother opponents while playing with a lead.

Since 2019, the Ravens and Lamar Jackson have depended on Mark Ingram, Gus Edwards, and J.K. Dobbins to consistently move the ball and provide sustained rushing success for the offense. Flash forward to 2021, and now Jackson is handing the ball to Ty’son Williams, Latavius Murray, Devonta Freeman, and Le’Veon Bell – who are running behind an offensive line without All-Pro left tackle Ronnie Stanley and Orlando Brown Jr., who was traded in the offseason coming off two consecutive pro-bowls.

However, so far in 2021 John Harbaugh and company have needed to find other ways to win, and Lamar Jackson has been up for the challenge. Because of injuries to running backs J.K. Dobbins and Gus Edwards and offensive tackles Ronnie Stanley and Tyre Phillips, the Ravens rushing attack really hasn’t gotten going in 2021. The results have been predictable. Defenses are stacking the box in hopes of slowing down the rushing offense. Ravens running backs as a whole have looked alright, but have also missed lanes at times and have left yards on the field. This has led to a pass rate over expectation that went from bottom 3 in years past to the middle of the pack in 2021.

Pass rate above/below expected through week 5 chart.
Pass Rate Chart, Credit: Mike Leone of Establish the Run

A Change in the Ravens' Offensive Attack

Because I was curious, I went back and looked at how many yards per game Ravens running backs averaged in 2019 and 2020. In 2019, led by Mark Ingram and Gus Edwards, they averaged 122 yards per game. In 2020, led by J.K. Dobbins and Gus Edwards, Ravens running backs averaged 117 yards per game. In 2021, Ravens running backs are currently averaging 79 yards per game through 5 games – about 40 yards less than the previous two seasons. I actually started writing this article last week after the Broncos game but didn’t finish it right away. On Monday night vs the Colts, these numbers became even more extreme.

The Ravens gained 523 yards of total offense. Lamar Jackson accounted for 504 yards by himself. Latavius Murray, Ty’Son Williams, and Devonta Freeman combined for 24 yards on 11 carries. Yes, it is important to mention the Ravens were trailing the entire game, so they were forced to throw for much of the second half. But watching the game it was obvious. The Ravens weren’t beating the Colts without Lamar Jackson’s arm leading the way.

It’s not that Jackson couldn’t beat teams with his arm in the past. He could – and he did at times. But prior to 2021, we have not seen Lamar Jackson consistently have this much success passing without a top rushing attack making his life easier. In Baltimore’s last three games, all wins, their running backs have totaled 50 yards rushing against the Lions, 74 against the Broncos, and just 24 vs the Colts. Yet it hasn’t mattered because Jackson has been able to beat teams with his arm. In most of Jackson’s 11 career losses, the Ravens haven’t gotten their running backs going. In the playoff loss to the Chargers, their backs had 36 yards rushing. In their playoff losses to the Titans and Bills they had 42 and 76. In regular season losses to the Chiefs and Patriots in 2020 they had 69 and 60.

While we are only five games into the season, Lamar Jackson is averaging 303 passing yards per game. His previous career high is 208 yards per game in the 2019 season. In 2021, shutting down the Ravens running backs and their rushing attack hasn’t been the winning formula for defenses as the Colts, Broncos, and Lions recently found out.

Without the improvements the Ravens have made in their passing offense in 2021, it is extremely hard to see them winning some of the games they have played where their running backs haven’t produced.

In years past, if a defense shut down the Ravens rushing attack, and specifically the Ravens running backs, they were in a great position to win the game. In 2021, that is certainly no longer the case. Simply put, the Ravens are a much more dangerous team because of their dynamic passing attack and it's going to be a consistent topic of conversation for us as we continue to cover the latest trends pertaining to the Baltimore Ravens.

bottom of page