Tue, 27 Oct 2020

Ryan Mink

The Ravens offense is trying to find itself and its identity, as running back Mark Ingram II said Wednesday. It's certainly a high bar, but Baltimore's offense has not been as explosive the past three games as it was last season.

Lamar Jackson had one of his toughest days last week versus the Bengals, completing just 51 percent of his passes for 180 yards. The reigning NFL MVP threw an interception for the second straight game and, perhaps most puzzling of all, ran just two times - a career-low - for three yards.

So what gives?

Jackson essentially answered that question, in multiple forms, Wednesday. And it started with his health after he missed two practices last week - one because of a sore knee and another because of a stomach bug.

"I'm good. I'm way better than I was last week," Jackson said with a big smile.

Missing two days of practice is significant. Learning the offensive game plan in the classroom is one thing, but executing it on the field is another. For a player still as young as Jackson, those reps matter.

Plus, defenses are mixing up what they do on gamedays from what they've done previously this season, so that's making it even more difficult for Jackson and the unit to operate at last year's level.

But Jackson is confident that, as the young offense gets more games under its belt, it will take off.

"It's going to come to us. We're going to be better," Jackson said.

The passing game has particularly been a struggle. The Ravens sit 31st in the NFL in passing yards per game at 178.8, just barely above the New York Jets.

Jackson was quite sharp the first two weeks, leading to numerous pundits talking about how his passing accuracy improved this offseason. But he's missed a number of passes the past three weeks, including several opportunities for deep plays.

"The passing game, we're still working on it," Jackson said. "We've got young guys that came in and stuff like that. We're just finding ourselves right now. I feel we're going to be good."

The Ravens would benefit from a third primary target emerging in the passing game. Bengals safety Jessie Bates III said after Sunday's 27-3 Ravens win that the Bengals knew going into the game that Jackson wanted to throw to either Mark Andrews or Marquise "Hollywood" Brown, and that mostly played out. Andrews and Brown still scored a touchdown each, but Baltimore's passing attack would be sharper if it had more prongs.

Brown has a team-high 36 targets and Andrews has 29. Willie Snead IV has the third-most targets on the team with 13. While the Ravens are still winning games, Harbaugh said having more ways to threaten opponents in the passing game "will matter in the long run."

"People will defend the guys you're throwing to," Harbaugh said. "We're not trying to throw to two guys all the time. We're not trying to throw to seven guys either. But we have had games where we've spread it out quite a bit this year, where he's hit multiple targeted guys. I think it'll play out week to week, but it will be something we need to continue to look at."

The Ravens will also continue to look for ways to get their lightning-fast quarterback on the move.

The last time Jackson faced the Cincinnati Bengals in 2019, he set the NFL world ablaze with his spin-move 47-yard touchdown run. When he broke Michael Vick's record for most rushing yards by a quarterback in a season, Jackson often found room to gallop.

This year, Jackson has often found a host of tacklers waiting for him. Jackson is averaging 48 rushing yards and eight carries per game. Last year, he averaged 12 carries and 80 yards per game. Jackson doesn't mind running less.

"We have guys that run the ball very good for us and we're winning, so it really doesn't matter. We're 4-1," Jackson said. "It's a plus for us right now. As the season goes on, we're going to see if we need to and Coach will adjust. But right now we're perfectly fine without me running so much."

Harbaugh said there wasn't a plan entering the season to have Jackson run less, but that "things are always going to change and evolve" based on a variety of factors, such as how they're being defended.

"We're just trying to move the ball and score points by any means necessary," Harbaugh said. "There really are no rules in terms of what direction we go. We just want to find ways to get it done and we're searching for those things on offense right now and we always will."

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