Baltimore Ravens 2021 Team Study

Part 10 of my 32-part series breaking down every team’s performance in 2021. Check out part 9 here: Cincinnati Bengals. Part 11 available now: Cleveland Browns.

Offense

Eff. Rating Adj. Rating Rank
5.08 +0.01 13th


Offensive Eff. Rating (blue and gold) v. opponent average allowed (grey).

Pass EPA Rush EPA Adj. Pass Rate
19th 11th 18th


If you look simply at results, the narrative around the 2021 Ravens is simple: They were 8-4 with Lamar, then he got injured and they lost 5 straight to finish 8-9 and missed the playoffs. But this simplified, results-based narrative is misleading. They were extremely fortunate to win against the Chiefs when Edwards-Helaire fumbled while setting up a game-winning field goal attempt. They got away with an obvious delay of game against the Lions and still needed a 66-yard field goal to win against the worst team in the league. The Colts suffered an epic collapse to allow the Ravens to win in overtime, and the Ravens even overcame an overtime interception in a win against the Vikings. They deserve credit for all of their wins, but they were certainly fortunate to be 8-4.

On the flip side, five of their six losses to end the season were decided by a total of 8 points, including an overtime game. This is why I approach my Team Study from the perspective of Effectiveness Ratings, which measure holistic performance on each side of the ball. This is much more useful and predictive than results-based analysis and comes closer to telling the true story of the Ravens' 2021 season.

The Ravens had it tough from the opening kickoff and things just didn’t get better. On offense, they lost their two top running backs (Dobbins and Edwards) and had to implement their run-focused approach with a rotation of backs that failed to move the needle behind a mediocre offensive line. Lamar Jackson actually took a step forward as a passer early in the year but this was more than offset by the failures in the run game. After averaging 5.5 yards per carry in both 2019 and 2020, that number dipped to 4.8 yards per carry in 2021. This fundamentally changed their offense.

With Lamar Jackson, Baltimore’s offense has been all about getting chunks of yardage on the ground to set up short third downs for easy conversions with a strong running game. This forces defenses closer to the line of scrimmage, committing more defenders to stopping the run, giving the receivers and Mark Andrews single coverage to exploit for big plays in the passing game. When given time in the pocket and open receivers, Lamar has played well as a runner and passer. But in obvious passing situations, like long third downs, he loses a lot of his edge as a runner and becomes merely an average pocket quarterback, outside of some electrifying runs that have bailed his team out of bad spots over the years.

The seemingly minor regression from 5.5 yards per carry to 4.8 had a profound impact on the Ravens. They faced more long third downs, meaning obvious passing situations. Lamar has not been consistent in situations where the run game is taken out of the picture. So these long third downs killed their approach. A year after posting an impressive 48.8% conversion rate on third down, the Ravens converted only 36.4% of the third downs they faced. Their DVOA on third- and fourth-down and long (7 yards or more) was dead last in the NFL. This was the biggest hurdle for this offense. And it obviously didn’t get better when Lamar got hurt at the end of the year. Huntley filled in nicely, but this team just wasn't built for long conversions under either quarterback.

Unsurprisingly, the Ravens' Adjusted Effectiveness (relative to opponent) tracked the quality of each passing defense it faced. Chart A shows the Ravens offensive Adj. Eff. Rating in each game, ranking each opponent by its passing success rate allowed on the season. The Ravens almost uniformly played above average against bad pass defenses and below average against good pass defenses.

Chart A

Chart A: Adjusted Eff. Rating by opponent dropback success rate allowed on the season.
*Success Rate data from Football isn't played on spreadsheets.

The Ravens led the NFL in the percentage of passing yards obtained through the air (as opposed to after the catch) and finished with the 2nd-highest average depth of target. These numbers typically indicate an aggressive downfield passing game. The Ravens do not feature running backs in the passing game, which takes away a lot of short throws that impact these stats. This was just their offensive style. They want to throw deep when it’s there after lulling a defense into playing close to the line of scrimmage. Lamar also is great at buying time with his mobility to find receivers downfield off-script. If a defense allowed a high percentage of successful pass plays, that spelled bad news against this offense because it meant they were converting on explosive pass plays.

The Ravens have had a strong defense and running game for years, putting them in favorable situations on offense where the defense must account for the run. In 2020 they had more wins of 14+ points than any other NFL team, because when they had the lead they typically extended it. This is why they struggled relatively in 2021. They need those leads and failed to build them. They didn't fall apart without Lamar. Actually, their offense with Huntley (-0.02 Adj. Eff. Rating) was only a little worse than with Lamar (+0.16). But the compounding injuries on both sides of the ball led to a lost season, in which they simply could not match their typical quality of play.

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