by Ryan Mink & Garrett Downing
Mink: The offensive line is the biggest source of concern I'm hearing after the Ravens' 2-0 start with lopsided wins over two very good teams. I said this last week and I'll say it again. There shouldn't be much complaining going on. The Ravens look good - really good.
But, yes, Lamar Jackson has been getting pressured more than we grew accustomed to last season. There are several reasons for that. The Browns and Texans can get after you up front. Myles Garrett and J.J. Watt are two of the best in the business and they have a strong supporting cast around them.
Plus, the Ravens have a rookie starting at right guard replacing a future potential Hall of Famer. While Tyre Phillips has been solid, that's a drop-off. Phillips will get better as the season progresses. It's also going to take some time at center before Matt Skura is back to level he was playing at before his knee injury last season. He's doing well, but even he admits he's still building back up.
Jackson threw more passes in the first two weeks last season (57) than this season (49) and took half as many sacks last year. So, no, the number of drop-backs has not been a factor. Head Coach John Harbaugh said Jackson has held the ball and taken sacks to avoid turnovers at times. Overall, the offensive line can play better, but I do think the concern I'm hearing is too much.
Downing: This is a big question for the defense right now. My expectation is that Humphrey will slide back inside to a slot role when the Ravens have three cornerbacks on the field. He proved last year that he could do that, and he's probably the best option to fill that job. The Ravens would still have a rock-solid cornerback group with Humphrey in the slot, and then Marcus Peters and Jimmy Smith as the outside corners. Humphrey, Peters and Smith are clearly the team's top three cornerbacks, so the Ravens will want them on the field when they use three corners.
Another option is Anthony Averett, who stepped in for Young after last week's injury. The Texans tested him, but he held his own. Harbaugh said on Monday that Averett "is not a concern for us," and that the 2018 fourth-round pick has been biding his time waiting for an opportunity to play. Now he'll get that chance. With all the different looks Defensive Coordinator Wink Martindale uses, there will certainly be times where Averett is on the field with Humphrey, Peters and Smith, and the former Alabama product will get chance to prove himself.
Mink: Generally speaking, I don't think tight ends have been that much of a problem this year. The Texans scored one touchdown, to a tight end, but their tight ends combined for 78 yards receiving. The Browns' tight end duo of Austin Hooper and David Njoku five catches for 65 yards and a touchdown. Somebody has to catch the ball, and the Ravens have been locking down wide receivers so far. Thus, quarterbacks have been dumping passes to their tight ends more.
Tight ends are hard for every team to cover because they can create so many mismatches. The Ravens have a great counter for that in Jimmy Smith, who has the size and speed to match up with them. However, Young's injury changed Smith's role against the Texans and could do so moving forward as well. Travis Kelce is one of the best in the business and he's going to make some plays, but if the Ravens can use their versatility in the secondary to mix and match defenders, that could pay dividends.
Downing: Stopping Mahomes is a task that no team has mastered. He's the highest-paid player in NFL history for a reason. This won't be as simple as blitzing more or working in some properly timed blitzes. The Ravens will need to get pressure with and without blitzing, and I look to defensive end Calais Campbell as a critical piece of this game. If he can force his way into the backfield to disrupt Mahomes' timing, that could lead to opportunities for the secondary to capitalize on mistakes. Even if the front does get pressure, Mahomes is so good on the move that the Ravens will have to be rock solid on every level of the defense.
The other way to limit Mahomes is the old-fashioned method: keep him off the field. The Ravens offense can dominate the time of possession - they showed that in the second half last week in Houston - and they'll want to keep Mahomes and that offense watching from the sidelines as much as possible. Look for the Ravens to be aggressive on fourth downs and try to put together some long, sustained drives on Monday.