Ravens Upset Shows Trevor Lawrence is Here to Stay
NFL Week 12 - Trevor Lawrence has been anointed the next great quarterback prospect for nearly half a decade. When he graduated high school, recruiting outlet Rivals questioned whether Lawrence was the best quarterback prospect in the company's history. By his junior year at Clemson, NFL fan bases had mounted "Tank for Trevor" campaigns. Headed into the draft, Lawrence was dubbed the biggest no-brainer No. 1 overall pick since Andrew Luck. One former NFL general manager dubbed him the best prospect since Peyton Manning.
It has taken a while, but on Sunday, the NFL got the Trevor Lawrence it was promised. Thanks for delaying the inevitable, Urban Meyer.
The Jacksonville Jaguars' 28-27 win over the Baltimore Ravens wasn't Lawrence's best day by completion percentage. He didn't finish with a career-high in passing yards. And it wasn't the first time he has thrown for three touchdowns. From an efficiency perspective, this was only Jacksonville's fourth-best outing by offensive passing DVOA in 2022. However, folding it all together creates something previously not seen in the history of the franchise: a late-game fourth-quarter comeback for the ages.
No, seriously, Jacksonville has never had a win like this since entering the NFL as an expansion team in 1995.
Per Elias, this was the Jaguars' first win in franchise history when trailing by 7+ points in the final minute of regulation. They were 0-183 in franchise history entering the day.
— Michael DiRocco (@ESPNdirocco) November 27, 2022
Lawrence showed everyone why he was such a coveted quarterback prospect during that fourth quarter. Baltimore played a lot of two-high defense against the Jaguars during likely passing situations, inviting Jacksonville to either a) run into one of the best run defenses in the league, or b) test their luck making some of the more difficult throws in football. Time and time again, Lawrence stepped up to the challenge and answered that call.
Other moments were more anecdotal but still impressive and very important to see out of a young, developing passer. The response to adversity is crucial for a quarterback. Lawrence ended up on his back the first play of the game and was denied on a quarterback sneak at midfield. The next drive, the Jaguars went three-and-out. Off a fourth-down fumble by the Ravens, Lawrence was able to respond with a four-play, 50-yard touchdown drive to get Jacksonville on the board. In the second half, Lawrence was strip-sacked by Tyus Bowser, giving Baltimore a short field that eventually led to a touchdown. The first play of the very next drive, Lawrence ends up on his back again, sacked by Marlon Humphrey. Following that sack, the Jaguars marched 80 yards in 13 plays with Lawrence going 7-for-9 for 77 yards and a touchdown pass.
Lawrence wasn't the only member of the Jaguars offense who showed up Sunday. The fourth-quarter comeback would not have been possible without the new-look 2022 Jaguars receiving corps. Jacksonville was panned in the offseason for the contracts they handed to wide receivers, specifically the four-year, $72-million contract given to Christian Kirk. Don't let bad process get in the way of good results, though. Jacksonville's 2022 signees—Kirk and Zay Jones—have been transformative adds for Jacksonville. Buying a receiving corps is not the ideal method of team building, but the veteran adds helped the Jaguars jump from 30th to 11th in offensive passing DVOA year-over-year.
Jones even posted the game of his career on Sunday, with 145 receiving yards and 11 receptions both new personal benchmarks. He also served as the set-up man for both fourth-quarter touchdowns, catching passes of 27 and 29 yards respectively to put the Jaguars in the red zone. The second such catch both demonstrated Lawrence's ability as a passer and Jones' ability as a route-runner, showing off a double move to create separation against Brandon Stephens and hauling in the pass to set up goal-to-go.
Jacksonville's secondary also stepped up in a major way on Sunday. Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson finished with a season-low completion percentage and a season high in rushing attempts because of how well the Jaguars were able to keep up in man coverage. While Jackson is a great runner, Jacksonville's ability to limit Jackson through the air hindered Baltimore's ability to move the ball downfield and eventually led to the Ravens leaving points on the board.
This is a culture-defining win for Jacksonville. Seeing this level of development out of Lawrence on its own is one thing, but standing tall in the face of adversity, answering the call, and leading a comeback victory not seen by the Jaguars in 183 previous iterations is borderline culture re-defining. For the first time in their history, the Jaguars could have a legitimate superstar quarterback who lives up to the half-decade of hype that preceded him.
In addition, the upset win pretty much keeps the Jaguars' season alive. Jacksonville is one of the rare teams whose playoff hopes lie with the division title because they play in a weak division whose top team has yet to pull away. Jacksonville has a 5.4% chance of making the playoffs after Sunday, 4.4% through a division title, 1.0% through a wild-card berth. With Tennessee's loss to the Cincinnati Bengals, the Jaguars now sit three games behind with two games against the Titans left to play. For most previous Jaguars teams, a division title would be out of the question. But after this performance by Lawrence, I'm at least open to it.
By the DVOA
The Ravens finished with an 89% PGWE. There is an oddly troubling trend brewing for Baltimore. This is the third of four losses this season where Baltimore has finished with a positive total DVOA, and the second where Baltimore has outperformed the game's winner by total DVOA.
Each of the Ravens' losses this season have also produced some unsightly win probability graphics.
Here are the win probability charts of the four games the Ravens have lost this year pic.twitter.com/dnWx9mofMq
— Benjamin Solak (@BenjaminSolak) November 28, 2022
Clipping a Bird's Wings
The Ravens are a confounding football team. The win graphics from each of their four losses suggest that this team likely could be a two-loss, one-loss, even undefeated football club right now had things broken differently. At the same time, none of their wins (save maybe their Week 1 victory over the Joe Flacco-led Jets) have been particularly dominant. Just last week, the Ravens barely eked out a 13-3 win over the Carolina Panthers, who ranked 30th in total DVOA headed into that game. This game should not have come down to its final drive, plain and simple. Baltimore left points on the board. In fact, they let points slip out of their fingertips. On three different occasions, Baltimore receivers dropped touchdowns.
Ravens dropped three touchdowns vs. the Jaguars sheesh pic.twitter.com/gChJWe2rPd
— Ian Hartitz (@Ihartitz) November 28, 2022
The result: big swings in win probability for the Ravens.
1Q 2:16 third-and-4
- 76.7% if pass dropped
- 84.6% if pass caught
3Q 11:34 first-and-10
- 67.3% if pass dropped
- 75.2% if pass caught
4Q 13:17 first-and-goal
- 83.9% if pass dropped
- 86.7% if pass caught
The first two plays led to Baltimore settling for field goals. The example from the fourth quarter saw Gus Johnson punch the touchdown in the very next play. While the end result was the same, it shaved about 12 seconds off the clock. That proved to be a meaningful difference for the Ravens, who finished the game with a timeout in their pocket and a few yards shy of a 67-yard game-winning field goal.
The dropped touchdowns speak to a larger issue with the Baltimore offense. They rank seventh in pass offense DVOA, but their personnel does not seem to live up to the ranking aside from Jackson and Mark Andrews. Andrews is obviously exceptional, so it makes sense that he's the lead pass-catching option. Beyond that, though, Baltimore lacks receivers. No Baltimore wideouts or running backs have seen enough targets to qualify for our receiving tables. Devin Duvernay is the only Ravens wide receiver with a positive receiving DVOA, while the running backs have performed relatively well (albeit with a small sample size).
While Andrews commands the most targets in Baltimore's offense, the Ravens' leading wide receiver in targets is Demarcus Robinson. Robinson is fine as a depth piece, but not as a top wideout. He has only qualified for our DVOA rankings twice since joining the league in 2016. Even when he did, he was the fourth pass-catching option on a high-volume Kansas City Chiefs passing attack, slotted behind Travis Kelce, Tyreek Hill, and a combination of Sammy Watkins and Mecole Hardman in the target priority list. Duvernay fits a similar description, albeit more a second or third wide receiver than pure role player. The only in-season help the team has given Lamar is DeSean Jackson, who has three catches in two appearances.
A wide receiver trio of Robinson, Duvernay, and 35-year-old DeSean Jackson is not enough firepower for any modern NFL offense, let alone a contender such as Baltimore. That at least partly explains why Baltimore is unable to keep its foot on the gas late in games against top-level opponents. The Jaguars have the 30th-ranked pass defense by DVOA, but there were crucial downs where they had Ravens receivers locked up in man coverage. Part of that shakes out to play calling. Over in New York, Brian Daboll is scheming guys such as Richie James and Isaiah Hodgins into space.
Again, it hasn't helped that Rashod Bateman has been out or that the running back room is up and down with injuries. But even at full strength, the Ravens receiving room is a weak group that relies heavily on tight ends such as Andrews, Isaiah Likely, and Josh Oliver to supplement the passing attack. What Baltimore has achieved through the air, given their roster, is a testament to how Jackson elevates those around him. Oliver, a 2019 third-round pick who has yet to gain traction in the league, had a career day Sunday, posting 76 receiving yards and a touchdown on four catches. That yardage and scoring total would not only serve as the best game of his career, but his best totals for a season before this week.
This is not like early Jackson-era offenses from 2019 and 2020, where the Ravens had league-low, sub-50% pass frequencies. They're passing more, and Jackson looks as good as ever doing it. Take this pass to Andrews late in the third quarter. Arden Key is credited with defending the pass, but this ball is placed in such a way that only Andrews can get to it. The pass 27 yards downfield is placed almost perfectly on Andrews' outside arm. If he hauls that in, the Ravens end up at the 46-yard line. Instead, the drive fizzles out around midfield and ends in a punt.
Between what Jackson is able to do with his legs and how he has evolved as a passer, he borders on Mahomes-ian territory in his ability to singularly threaten a defense anywhere on the field. Jackson, like Mahomes, has the ability to elevate the talent around him, can evade pressure, and is a threat outside of the pocket. Unlike Mahomes, though, Jackson is not surrounded by a deep roster of receiving talent, and instead of having a prolific offensive mind to work with, Jackson is running second-and-long screens to fullback Patrick Ricard.
patrick ricard screen on 2nd and 14 pic.twitter.com/u66HuGBo8Q
— Steven Ruiz (@theStevenRuiz) November 28, 2022
The investments Baltimore has made into its defense and offensive line are important and have already proven themselves on the field. In this game alone, the Ravens finished with a -19.1% defensive DVOA, with Jacksonville's biggest gains coming on prove-it throws into tightly covered windows. However, the Ravens are also very good at finding young, cost-effective defensive talent in the draft.
On the flip side, they have yet to really hit on drafting top-end receiving talent in an era of collegiate wideouts where it feels hard to miss. Baltimore has taken two first-round receivers since drafting Lamar Jackson. One is Bateman, who will have played just 18 games in his first two seasons. The other is Marquise Brown, who was good for stretches but not good enough for Baltimore to resist flipping him for a 2022 first-round pick (which they used to draft a center).
In 2023, the Ravens will have over $47 million in cap space and Jackson will be an unrestricted free agent. If Baltimore should hope to keep him, they need to make a commitment to investing in pass-catchers going forward. On top of all else already stated, if your quarterback is one of the few in the league who can make this throw…
… then you had better be willing to invest in some better receiving talent, or else he may find some elsewhere.