BALTIMORE — Months before the Baltimore Ravens encountered one of the largest coronavirus outbreaks in sports or watched their once-dominant offense sputter or allowed their playoff hopes to dip into peril, they began the 2020 season with a razor-sharp performance. Quarterback Lamar Jackson was especially effective in a 32-point Week 1 rout of the Cleveland Browns.
As the Ravens (7-5) prepare for a rematch with the Browns (9-3) on Monday, both teams sit in somewhat unexpected positions; Cleveland’s closing in on its first playoff berth in 18 years and Baltimore sits another loss or two away from likely elimination.
But when Jackson and his coaches study film of that 38-6 win in September, they see what their passing game looks like at its best. They get a glimpse of what they can strive to recapture.
Jackson completed 20 of 25 passes for 275 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions in that game. He posted a passer rating of 152.1, which marked the sixth time over the course of eight regular-season outings that he finished with a rating above 120.
Since then? Well, Jackson hasn’t come close to a 120 passer rating. He’s also failed to hit three touchdowns or surpass 250 yards through the air in any game since Week 1.
Jackson said he remembered the offense was especially dialed in coming out of training camp before it put together a stellar showing against Cleveland.
“The first game, it was like, ‘Man, we’ve got to go out here and just focus on our assignments. Everyone do their job,’” Jackson said. “And that’s what we did. We drove the ball down the field; we scored points.”
At the time, the success seemed typical. The Ravens ended the 2019 regular season with the No. 1 scoring offense in the NFL, and they ranked second in the league in total yards. Though the offense revolved around a record-breaking running game, Jackson led the NFL with 36 touchdown passes and the team was efficient when it did air the ball out.
This season, struggles have arrived. Defenses have performed better against Baltimore’s unique attack, and the Ravens’ receiving corps has not made significant strides. The offensive line has experienced a dropoff in talent and stability, too. The team ranks 13th in points and 22nd in yards.
Jackson had a 113.3 passer rating during his MVP campaign in 2019. His rating is down to 93.9 this year.
That blowout of the Browns in Week 1 offers evidence that the Ravens passing game didn’t change just because the calendar flipped and it shows that this version of the offense is capable of balance and explosiveness.
“Looking back at that game, I thought Lamar played really well, but guys made plays, too,” offensive coordinator Greg Roman said. “The passing game was definitely the way to go in that game for (different) reasons.”
Jackson, for his part, said he’s not studying his Week 1 performance against the Browns to try to build confidence. He doesn’t need to review his perfectly placed deep ball to Marquise Brown or watch touchdown throws to tight end Mark Andrews.
His film study is more about the opponent.
“I don’t really look at the good things we did; I just want to know how they’re going to play us,” Jackson said. “That game is over with. We can’t do anything about that game anymore. Just like a loss – you can’t do anything about it anymore. So, I don’t really dwell on that game. I just try to see what we can try to catch the defense on, just to take advantage and score points – that’s all.”
If the Ravens do that, if they move downfield and carve through the Browns’ defense the way they did in Week 1, they re-emerge as potential title contenders.
If they don’t, the positive feelings from the season opener could drift further and further away.
Aaron Kasinitz covers the Baltimore Ravens for PennLive and can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @AaronKazreports. Follow PennLive’s Ravens coverage on Facebook and YouTube.