Any Given Saturday: Ravens over Chargers

Any Given Saturday: Ravens over Chargers
Any Given Saturday: Ravens over Chargers
Photo: USA Today Sports Images

by Rivers McCown

The Ravens made a drastic change in offensive philosophy when they moved on from Joe Flacco and let Lamar Jackson start. They lead the NFL in rushing attempts, and just hit their low rushing yardage of the Jackson era against the Chargers with 159 yards. In the first nine weeks of the season, they only reached 100 rushing yards four times, and never had more than 123.

269 of their 500 rushing attempts have come in Jackson's six starts. That's an average of 44 rushing attempts per game. The interesting thing is that it hasn't been empirically effective: The Ravens rushing DVOA from Week 11 on is ... -0.1%. But this is mostly because of turnovers. The Ravens have 10 fumbles since Week 11, and Jackson himself has fumbled 10 times this year, but has only lost three of them. This is an area where DVOA is looking at the turnover rate, knowing what it knows about how often balls are recovered, and gives Jackson that smug, skeptical thinking face emoji.

Baltimore DVOA, Weeks 1-10 vs. Weeks 11-16
Weeks 1-10 3.3% 12 -8.8% 4 -0.3% 14 11.9% 7
Weeks 11-16 -5.5% 23 -25.9% 2 8.1% 4 28.5% 2

Baltimore's pass offense has also declined modestly since Jackson took over as the starter. From Weeks 1-10 they were at 19.7% DVOA, and since Jackson has taken over, they're at -2.3% DVOA. Now, I think you can argue that 19.7% DVOA was a bit of overreaction to a few big plays with John Brown that teams quickly figured out they shouldn't allow to Joe Flacco. But it's true that Flacco had more consistent deep-ball chemistry with Brown, who has largely fallen into a supporting role with Baltimore's offense since Jackson took over.

There's a natural tendency to see how Jackson is playing and declare that the Ravens are doing this with smoke and mirrors, and that Jackson will likely be the cause of their undoing at some point, be it in Week 17 or the playoffs. I think that there's perhaps more upside to what the Ravens have done with this plan if Jackson hits a few big plays. Derrik Klassen did a Film Room on Jackson earlier this year that I think makes for good expanded reading on the topic.

In this particular game, Jackson showed both his big-play capacity and his ability to put the ball up for grabs:

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This throw to Mark Andrews was a perfect drop in the bucket against zone, and a big touchdown answer after the Ravens had just lost the lead in a game they'd dominated in time of possession from start to finish.

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And on the other side, this throw to John Brown was made from a stuck platform even with a defender closing in on him. There was space to lay this ball up more to the right and let his receiver go get it if Jackson had been able to reset and throw a better ball. Instead, he tried to absorb the hit and deliver and was lucky not to get picked.

Jackson at this point in his development is still capable of making rookie throws -- he hasn't seen all the NFL has had to offer him yet, and he's still trying to figure out exactly how his flowchart should work. Same goes for his rushing attempts, honestly. But he's shown the upside to be dangerous in a small sample size and that should leave any potential Ravens opponents worried.

This team reminds me a lot of the 2012 49ers. Beloved-but-solid-at-best quarterback gets replaced by more of a rushing threat midseason by a Harbaugh. Greg Roman is here to put it altogether. Michael Crabtree is around. The Ravens play more of a spread offense than those 49ers did, but the basic principles are there. The defense is good. They're going to make your passing offense out-execute them while they make the game as short as they can.

So far, it's working out pretty well for them.

Where the Game Swung

As usual, here are EdjSports' Game-Winning Chance numbers showing what the major swings in this game were. These numbers are from the Chargers' perspective.

Qtr Time Down Spot Play GWC before GWC after GWC swing
2 4:58 3rd-12 LAC 39 (4:58) (Shotgun) 30-K.Dixon right tackle to LAC 20 for 19 yards (26-C.Hayward). 44.5% 31.6% -12.9%
3 14:55 1st-10 BAL 20 (14:55) (Shotgun) 30-K.Dixon right end to BAL 24 for 4 yards (93-D.Philon). FUMBLES (93-D.Philon), touched at BAL 20, RECOVERED by LAC-54-M.Ingram at BAL 21. 54-M.Ingram to BAL 18 for 3 yards (8-L.Jackson). FUMBLES (8-L.Jackson), and recovers at BAL 17. 54-M.Ingram to BAL 17 for no gain (83-W.Snead IV). 46.9% 66.0% +19.1%
3 12:28 1st-10 BAL 32 (12:28) (Shotgun) 8-L.Jackson pass deep left to 89-M.Andrews for 68 yards, TOUCHDOWN. 72.0% 53.4% -18.6%
4 5:29 3rd-5 BAL 29 (5:29) (Shotgun) 17-P.Rivers sacked at BAL 40 for -11 yards (90-Z.Smith). 31.0% 14.0% -17.0%
4 2:54 1st-20 BAL 49 (2:54) (Shotgun) 17-P.Rivers pass short left to 85-A.Gates to BAL 38 for 11 yards (48-P.Onwuasor). FUMBLES (48-P.Onwuasor), RECOVERED by BAL-25-T.Young at BAL 38. 25-T.Young for 62 yards, TOUCHDOWN. 30.1% 0.2% -29.9%

One thing I've learned you can count on with GWC is that there'll be at least one or two entries that come in on third-down plays in opponent territory. Here we had two that really swung things. The Ravens were able convert third-and-12 with a run that eventually led to a field goal, while the Chargers lost on third-and-5 with a sack that pushed them out of easy field-goal territory and into the Anthony Lynn punt zone.

By the DVOA

BAL -6.5% -51.1% 0.8% 45.4%
LAC -11.8% -10.6% 5.1% 3.9%
BAL -12.6% -31.8% 0.8% 20.0%
LAC -29.8% -10.6% 5.1% -14.0%

Baltimore's defense gets many, many props for this performance in DVOA, one of only eight single-game performances all year with defensive DVOA under -50%. Opponent adjustments for playing the Chargers lift the offense slightly as well. Meanwhile, L.A.'s defensive DVOA barely budges.

Los Angeles Struggled to Throw Deep

Los Angeles had 12 drives in this game, and only five of them lasted longer than four plays. The culprit? Officiating and long down-and-distance situations. The Chargers faced third-and-19 (after two penalties), third-and-15 (after a penalty), third-and-10, third-and-27 (after a penalty and a sack), third-and-23 (after a penalty and a sack), third-and-10, and third-and-10. They also converted a third-and-2 and faced the third-and-5 outlined in Where the Game Swung.

Despite being behind the sticks on virtually every series, the Chargers struggled to throw deep. They only attempted six deep passes, going 1-for-5 for 17 yards, two picks, and a 15-yard DPI drawn by Keenan Allen.

Some of this was because of the pass rush -- Rivers was dumped four times for sacks and scrambled for a yard on a first-and-10 in the third quarter. But credit also has to go to the Ravens secondary and, in particular, their cornerbacks.

Brandon Carr on Mike Williams is not a physical matchup you expect to have a problem with. Carr is 6-foot-even. Williams is 6-foot-3 and the Chargers have used his length as a way to take care of teams with aggressive one-on-one matchups. On the very first play of the game, Rivers was picked by Carr in close coverage on Williams:

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Marlon Humphrey has blossomed into one of the best corners in the NFL this season. He was sort of looked at as a project coming out of Alabama because he had all the physical tools but his play was a little uneven. Here, Rivers targets him against Keenan Allen in Cover-3, and Humphrey breaks up the pass without any issues:

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Humphrey has had the best season of any cornerback in the NFL per Sports Info Solutions. Through Week 15, he had allowed a league-low 4.0 yards per pass, and had a league-best 69 percent success rate (nice!). This game only added to that legend, with this breakup and the pick on Los Angeles' final offensive play of the game. Carr, with his 58 percent success rate (15th among qualified corners), isn't chopped liver either.

The Chargers are built to succeed as a passing game because their receivers should be able to help Rivers out when he needs it. Allen is a star, Williams was a first-round pick, and Tyrell Williams and Travis Benjamin are much better than most lower-rung receivers.

It just didn't happen against this secondary.


7 comments, Last at 28 Dec 2018, 3:29am

#1 by jonnyblazin // Dec 25, 2018 - 11:42am

It seems like most of Jackson's fumbles come on botched hand-offs on read-option plays with Gus Edwards. I'd anticipate those fumbles will be corrected with practice, it's likely not a long term problem.

Points: 0

#2 by PTORaven // Dec 25, 2018 - 9:01pm

I know y'all ran the numbers on fumbles and found that recovering them is essentially random, but is that really the case for botched-handoff fumbles? without looking at the numbers (obviously) just going off personal recollection and armchair logic, i would've thought those would be recovered closer to 75% of the time by the offense. two offensive players near the ball, and the play is young so most of the time the DL has an OL between them and the ball. it'd be different for botched hand-offs where a defender has broke through to disrupt the handoff, but for purely QB/RB botches i'm surprised they're still considered random. or does DVOA not take into account the circumstances of a fumble?

Points: 0

#4 by Aaron Schatz // Dec 26, 2018 - 1:38pm

DVOA does take into account the circumstances of a fumble. Botched handoffs get much less of a penalty than fumbles downfield.

Points: 0

#5 by turbohappy // Dec 26, 2018 - 5:58pm

They are random, but not 50/50. Them being random means it's impossible for a team to be good at recovering fumbles, but the location on the field changes the odds of offense vs defense recovering.

Points: 0

#3 by nlitwinetz // Dec 26, 2018 - 8:38am

I think you are giving too much credit to the Ravens DBs and too little blame to Rivers. On the first play of the game Williams BURNS Carr. Williams has a solid 3 yards of separation on a go route...but Rivers under throws the route badly so what should be a 83 yard TD turns into an INT.

There were several other similar plays in the game where Williams or Allen would beat their man and Rivers just couldn't place the ball. Some of this was due to pressure, but I'd say the game swung on missed throws by Rivers more than anything else.

Points: 0

#6 by colliw2 // Dec 27, 2018 - 1:40pm

At the risk of P-hacking, what is the Ravens offensive and rushing DVOA pre and post-Jackson when you control for fumbles? Does it explain the discrepancy between the increase YPC and the decrease in DVOA pre and post-Jackson?

And for a historical comparison to an analogous situation, what is the difference in offensive and rushing DVOA(and success rate) pre and post-Kaepernick for the 2012 49ers and do we see an uptick in frank gore's rushing DVOA (and success rate) that can be attributed to Kaepernick's "gravity" in the run game?

The difference in offensive and rushing DVOA of the buffalo bills during and after Greg Roman's time as OC (2015-2016) might also be a useful comparison point, albeit not as similar of a situation.

Points: 0

#7 by GaryPlumb // Dec 28, 2018 - 3:29am

Guys, thanks for the great statistic again.

Points: 0

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