How Lamar Jackson and the Ravens' offense became their own worst enemy

OWINGS MILLS, Md. -- The Baltimore Ravens reached their bye week on scoring streaks that draw comparisons to the likes of the Rams' "Greatest Show on Turf." But, the prevailing narrative is what's been off with Lamar Jackson and the Ravens' offense.

Whether it's historic expectations, penalties, miscommunication or off-target deep throws, Baltimore and the reigning NFL MVP have become their own worst enemy.

Jackson and the Ravens haven't clicked like they did last season, but perhaps that's an unfair barometer because the league might never see an offense quite like that one. Baltimore set the all-time NFL record for rushing yards in a season, and Jackson totaled a league-leading number of touchdown passes and the most rushing yards ever by a quarterback.

This year's offense has been productive, even at a historic rate. The Ravens have scored in each of their first 24 quarters this season, which ties the 2000 Rams for the longest streak to start an NFL season, according to Elias Sports Bureau data. Baltimore also had scored the most points in the league (179) before Monday's games.

Are Jackson and the Ravens being held to unrealistic standards?

"I think it’s natural. I think it’s understandable," Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. "We use the same standard. It’s where we want to be and we want to improve on where we’ve been in the past. Sure, we’re not where we want to be. But I don’t think we weren’t necessarily where we wanted to be last year at this time either. We know we have a lot of work to do."

Harbaugh made the point that the problem isn't effort. He gave his players an A-plus for how hard they work in practice and play in games.

The biggest difference between this year's offense and last year's is efficiency. In 2019, it seemed effortless with how frequently Baltimore moved the ball up and down the field. Through six games in 2020, Baltimore can be off the field with a three-and-out in a blink of an eye.

The Ravens rank No. 26 in total yards (342.2), No. 16 in third-down conversion (42.1%) and No. 18 in red zone efficiency (63.2%).

Jackson said he believes the offense is close to where Baltimore wants it.

"It’s really small things that slows our offense down," Jackson said. "We just have to clean up little things and we’ll be there. We’ll be all right."

What slowed down the Baltimore offense in Sunday's 30-28 win in Philadelphia were self-inflicted mistakes. The Ravens committed nine penalties on offense, the franchise's most since at least 2001 (which is as far as specific penalties can be tracked).

This was the penalty breakdown: three false starts, three holding, an illegal man downfield, an illegal formation and an illegal block. It got so bad Sunday that Baltimore faced a first-and-35 in the second quarter after being flagged on three straight plays.

"We just got killed with penalties," Jackson said. "We really just stopped ourselves. I feel like we were driving the ball down the field pretty decent. I feel like the sky is the limit for us."

One area where the Ravens have stopped themselves as well is through the air. There has been a trend recently -- at least twice in the past two games -- where Jackson has thrown to wide receiver Miles Boykin and he's either not looking or he's going a different direction. It's Boykin's responsibility to get this right.

"We talked about that in the meeting today," Harbaugh said. "It's a communication issue between those two guys. That's got to be fixed, and it will be."

The improvement for Jackson is taking advantage of how teams are playing Baltimore this season. Defenses are bringing down safeties to stack the box to defend the run, and the Ravens have to do a better job of going over the top of them.

Jackson has completed 36.8% of his throws (14-of-38) that traveled 15 yards or longer, which ranks 28th in the NFL. Only Joe Burrow, Carson Wentz, Jimmy Garoppolo and Dwayne Haskins are worse.

"We got to make people pay for that," Harbaugh said.

Baltimore's growing pains haven't hurt the team so far. The Ravens (5-1) are off to their best start since their 2012 Super Bowl season. Jackson is 24-4 (.857) since taking over as the starter midway through the 2018 season, the best mark in the league over that span. And Baltimore is within one game of tying Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos (2012-14) for the NFL record of most consecutive games of scoring at least 20 points (the mark is 30 straight).

“We want to play so much better. We want to be so much more consistent," Ravens right tackle Orlando Brown Jr. said. "The mentality here with Lamar and [offensive coordinator Greg Roman] and everything that Lamar brings to the game, as far as mentality, is scoring every drive. That’s where we want to get to. We want to be perfect. We want to be the best offense to touch the field in the world, consistently -- play in, play out, series in, series out. We’re just not there yet. We understand that we’ve got a lot of work to do."