There are no awards for ‘shoulda, woulda, coulda’ in sport. ‘What-ifs’ can remain in fans’ and players’ memories forever, but the end results remain the same.
All of that said, Lamar Jackson and the Baltimore Ravens will feel like they should be 5-0 at this point in the NFL season, not 3-2.
In Week Three, after sacking Indianapolis Colts backup quarterback Gardner Minshew in the end zone to achieve a safety and take a 19-16 lead at home with two minutes to go… the Ravens should have held on to win. But they gave up a game-tying field goal and lost in overtime.
In Week Five, after Jackson led the Ravens to a 7-0 lead in Pittsburgh and put together a 15-play drive to go up 10-0, it should have been 14-0 but Mark Andrews and Rashod Bateman couldn’t hold on in the end zone.
With a first-and-goal, up 10-8 with five minutes to go, they should have put points on the board. But a goal-line interception and a long George Pickens touchdown later, they dropped to 3-2.
In a league infatuated with Mike McDaniel’s mysterious Xs and Os, Patrick Mahomes’ dominance and Christian McCaffrey’s unstoppable Niners, the Baltimore Ravens should have put themselves in the contender mix.
They just need to start taking care of business.
The big picture
We shouldn’t ignore the fact the Ravens have a winning record in such a crowded conference, and already have two AFC North division wins under their belt.
They started their season by dismissing the Houston Texans and knocking off the Cincinnati Bengals. After that deflating overtime defeat to Indianapolis in Week Three, they bounced back to crush the Cleveland Browns before last week’s loss.
Ravens Results 2023
|1||vs Houston||W 25-9|
|2||@ Cincinnati||W 27-24|
|3||vs Indianapolis||L 22-19 (OT)|
|4||@ Cleveland||W 28-3|
|5||@ Pittsburgh||L 10-17|
Overall, the numbers paint a picture of a well-balanced team. On offense, they are 13th in total yards, albeit 18th in points. Their running game is very strong (fourth with 146 yards per game), but the passing game could be much better (189 yards per game – seventh-worst).
Baltimore’s defense is flying. They have allowed just 266 yards and 15 points per game, both second-lowest in the league. They have the second-most sacks, with 18 through five games.
Ravens Schedule 2023
|12||@ Los Angeles Chargers|
|14||vs Los Angeles Rams|
|16||@ San Francisco|
However, it is mishaps and poor execution from the attack that have plagued head coach John Harbaugh’s team so far, and if they don’t get it fixed soo, they will fall too far behind the Dolphins, Bills and Chiefs, who have the ability to score quickly and put up 30-plus points in any given game.
Take last weekend as a prime example.
Social media offers plenty of standalone clips, but watch this short video of Jackson putting the ball on the money for his receivers, only for them to fail to secure catches on multiple occasions.
Ravens pass-catchers were credited with seven drops against Pittsburgh last Sunday, three of them appearing to be clear touchdowns had they held on.
If the Ravens ran up the score sooner, or were able to move the chains more efficiently, then we likely wouldn’t be talking about Jackson’s worst throw of the day – his end-zone pick in the direction of Odell Beckham Jr that allowed Pittsburgh back into the game.
The box score does not tell the story of how well he is performing, both as a passer and a runner.
Although he has just the 20th-most passing yards so far (1,030), he is making good decisions and for the most part, putting the ball exactly where it needs to be. He is fifth in completion percentage (69.9) and that is despite the team being plagued with drops, as shown above.
In addition to his passing, he’s still adding excellent value as a runner, with 265 yards on the ground (5.6 per attempt), four touchdowns, and 18 first downs (11th-most across all players).
It is that dual-threat dynamism that saw Jackson named NFL MVP in 2019, making him the only player outside of Patrick Mahomes and Aaron Rodgers to win the award in the last five seasons.
That year, Jackson threw for 3,127 yards and 36 touchdowns with a 113.3 passer rating, and added 1,206 yards and seven touchdowns on the ground.
This time around, the volume simply isn’t there yet – despite him making special plays game in, game out.
There are two more examples from Baltimore’s win over Cleveland in Week Four:
In the first play, Jackson displays his patience, speed and shiftiness, but all while behind the line of scrimmage, allowing him to keep his eyes downfield and pick out Zay Flowers. On the second, the sixth-year QB could not have put the ball in a better spot for tight end Mark Andrews.
Despite a delay and the real possibility of a departure from Baltimore over the summer, Jackson finally got his long-term, $260m contract, and so far, he’s proving to be more than worth it. He just needs some help.
Back in early September, Sky Sports NFL’s Cameron Hogwood identified Baltimore’s first-year offensive coordinator Todd Monken as one of the most important people in the league heading into the season.
Growing pains were to be expected as the Ravens transitioned from a run-first, power unit to one that looks to spread the field and connect on explosive plays downfield.
However, head coach Harbaugh needs that transition to happen quickly. Over an outstanding 16 years in charge, there’s no denying his success. Eleven winning seasons, 150 regular season victories, a Super Bowl in the 2012 season.
The last five years have been filled with heartbreaking endings.
Ravens records since Lamar Jackson was starting QB
|2018||10-6||L WC round 17-23 (Chargers)|
|2019||14-2||L Div round 12-28 (Titans)|
|2020||11-5||L Div round 3-17 (Bills)|
|2022||10-7||L WC round 17-24 (Bengals)|
Jackson has not yet had his playoff coming-out party yet, and the quarterback-head coach pairing know they have to put that right.
Flowers is a rookie, Beckham is returning from an injury and in his first year with the team, veteran Nelson Agholor is new to the roster too. Third-year wideout Rashod Bateman missed a large part of last season with a foot injury. Right now, one or all of them need to step up and stand out.
When Baltimore face Tennessee at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium on Sunday in the last of this year’s London games, they won’t have any thoughts of January games, or even a February game. They won’t be thinking about how they should have five wins or what could happen down the line.
But in order for them to reach that ultimate goal and be on the field in Nevada on February 11, the Ravens simply need to take care of business, each and every week.