The Baltimore Ravens keep winning football games their way. They play an unconventional brand of football, a style that just beat the New England Patriots.
Sunday Night Football just gave us the most significant game so far of the 2019 NFL season. In a primetime affair featuring two of the best teams in the AFC, the Baltimore Ravens just handed the defending Super Bowl champion New England Patriots their first loss of the season, 37-20. Baltimore improves to 6-2 on the year, winning football games in a totally unconventional manner.
In a league that has been all about slinging the pigskin around the gridiron for a while, there haven’t been a ton of advances in passing concepts. At this time, it’s all about pre-snap motion and all kinds of fancy window dressing to attempt to make your 11 personnel package come across as unique. Well, if you want to know what unique looks like, look no further than Baltimore.
With their star Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Lamar Jackson, the Ravens are attacking the ground game with conviction, unleashing concepts we haven’t seen since 1950s. Using a quarterback as a runner is a dangerous proposition, but the Ravens are able to do this because Jackson sheds tacklers much in the vein that Wayne Gretzky shed forecheckers in ice hockey.
In other words, the opposing defense rarely gets a clean hit on “Action Jackson”. The guy knew that he was going to have to use his legs to get the most out of this Ravens offense. To avoid taking a beating, the second-year pro bulked up in the offseason to carry the burden of being a semi-featured back. His work in the weight room is paying out in dividends for him and his team.
Of course, Jackson shares a Baltimore backfield with another former Heisman Trophy winner in running back Mark Ingram Jr. Though Ingram had a costly fumble early in the ball game, he rebounded magnificently with a 100-yard rushing performance in front of a hyped-up Ravens Flock at M&T Bank Stadium that just saw the Evil Empire suffer its first defeat of the season.
And it’s not just the running game that makes Baltimore such a tough team to beat this season. Jackson has improved as a passer and most importantly, does not turn the football over. He is spreading the ball all over the gridiron to his backs, receivers and tight ends to move the sticks and keep the opposing defense honest, regardless of if it knows the run is inevitably coming.
What makes this offense so special in Baltimore is that this isn’t the phase of football where the Ravens normally dominate. Baltimore has been a defense first football team since the early 2000s when they won their first Super Bowl under then-head coach Brian Billick. Nearly 20 years later, defensive coordinator Don “Wink” Martindale has that side of the ball good as it’s ever been.
And then, there’s head coach John Harbaugh. Though nowhere even remotely as polarizing as his younger brother Jim Harbaugh of the Michigan Wolverines, this former special teams coordinator of the Philadelphia Eagles has quietly become one of the most consistent head coaches in the NFL. Sure, his placekicker Justin Tucker missed a PAT, but Harbaugh is as steady as they come.
Overall, the Ravens winning the AFC North last year was no fluke. It didn’t matter that the Pittsburgh Steelers had a chaotic year from hell in 2018. This Ravens team is legit and should run away with the division this fall to its second consecutive crown. After handing the Patriots their first blemish of the year, who’s to say the Ravens can’t finish them if they meet again in January?