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Do the Ravens Trust Tyler Huntley to Throw the Ball?

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By: Jim Zipcode

Ravens Pass-Catchers Through 16 Games

Ugh.  Do I have to write about this game? I really don’t want to even think too much about this game. What more unpleasant regular-experience is there for Ravens fans than losing to the goddamn Steelers on a late 4th-quarter score?

I was yelling at my TV when the Ravens took over with under a minute to play, no timeouts, needing to gain ~30 or 35 yds to give their Hall-of-Fame kicker a chance to tie the game – and they did not have three Wide Receivers on the field! What? I did not understand it. The Ravens went with two Tight Ends, Mark Andrews and Isaiah Likely, along with JK Dobbins. At Wide Receiver, on the first play they used Demarcus Robinson & DeSean Jackson; no Sammy Watkins. That was the incomplete to Likely. On the second snap they used Jackson & Sammy Watkins; no Robinson. That snap was the holding call on Linderbaum; play nullified for penalty. On the third snap they used Watkins & Robinson: no DeSean Jackson. From here on they had no opportunity to sub: the clock was running on the two completed passes to Andrews, then Tyler Huntley spiked it with 22 seconds to play.

I did not understand why they would go with two Tight Ends rather than three Wide Receivers. To me it seems self-evident that three WRs is the default best way to move the ball in the hurry-up. No disrespect to Likely, who is a fine player and who has some nice mis-match abilities as a move Tight End; but he is not a Wide Receiver. He’ s not very fast; ran a 4.8 at the Coastal Carolina Pro Day. He does some things well, but he does not open up the field the way a Wide Receiver would. Likely is most valuable as a receiving threat when teams are also respecting the running game.

With Watkins, Jackson, and Robinson, that’s enough professionalism at the Wide Receiver position to make defenses cover, which opens up either the middle for Andrews or the flat for a swing pass to Justice Hill, and potentially a couple quick first downs. The Ravens didn’t do that. They took the field with a Running Back, two Tight Ends and two Wide Receivers. And they went nowhere.  Holding penalty, interception, ballgame over.

Why?

I have only theories. The first is, with TJ Watt having come alive, it is possible the Ravens did not trust their pass protection.  Keeping in an extra Tight End lets them block better. It’s a huge trade-off, because it means fewer receivers running routes.  But Huntley does not have great pocket presence, so maybe it makes sense to add a guy.

My other theory is that they do not trust Huntley to throw. During the broadcast Sunday, Cris Colinsworth – who is paid to hype you up about the game you’re watching, and who works his butt off to say only nice things about players – said that Huntley is a one-read-and-run Quarterback. He labored at some length to say it. That’s a really damning indictment. It might be something you say about a rookie: “at this point, he’s a one-read-and-go quarterback.” But it’s not something you’re supposed to say about a 3rd-year veteran.

Here are Tyler Huntley’s passing statistics the last two seasons:

I want to draw your attention to the huge disparity between Huntley’s completion percentage versus his yards-per-attempt.  That completion percentage of 65 to 66% looks pretty solid, right?  It’s higher than Lamar Jackson’s career number; it’s on par with the number from Lamar’s MVP season, 66.1%. The league average this year is 64.5%. So that’s fine. But look at that yards-per-attempt figure! It’s below six; it’s below 5.8. It’s barely higher than JK Dobbins’ yards-per-carry this season.

Let’s see if I can make it clear how those two numbers don’t fit together. If I look at all passers this season, there are 25 quarterbacks with a completion percentage between 65 and 69. Only three of those 25 have a yards-per-attempt below six:

The average for these 25 passers is 7.16 yards-per-attempt, which is very close to the league average. Huntley is a full yard-&-a-quarter below that. Huntley is producing this year about as well as Colt McCoy.

You may ask, is that Huntley’s fault? After all, Lamar is also having a down year by yards-per-attempt; the worst of his career.  No part of the Ravens passing game has covered itself in glory since the very hot start of the first three weeks. From Week 5 on, Lamar’s yards-per-attempt is 6.5, which is below league average. The Ravens are down their top two Wide Receivers.

Fair. But 5.9 is a lot lower than 6.5. It’s the difference between a functional passing attack and a non-functional one. Think of it this way: if you gain four yards on a run (which counts as a success on 1st down) and then throw an incomplete pass, you’re facing 3rd-&-6. Lamar’s yards-per-attempt of 6.5 converts that third down. Huntley’s 5.88 does not. It doesn’t sound like a big difference, but it adds up.

With respect, if they don’t trust Huntley to throw, then he should not be the backup Quarterback. I get that he has nice competitive moxie, and he gets them in & out of the huddle and into the right play. That stuff’s important. But he does not run very well, and he has poor pocket presence. And now they don’t seem to trust him to throw.

Huntley just turned into a pumpkin in the 4th quarter. Through three quarters he was having himself a nice day:

That transformation helped spoil a very winnable game.

Here are your receiving stats for the game:

Lost amid the whining and complaining, Andrews had an outstanding game. Just a really great game.


Rushers

It is weird for a column about receivers to deal much with rushing. But at this point it would be weird to stop, so late in the season. So here are your rushing stats:

I decided to call the “Combo” stat we’ve been talking about, “YTS” for “Yards Times Success”. It’s the product of yards-per-carry average and Success Rate.

Dobbins had a good day rushing the football. Anything over 2 YTS is “above average”, and that yards-per-carry figure is very good against a tough defense like the Steelers. But it’s hard to not be tepid about it, since each of the last three games have featured a Ravens rusher with a YTS over 6: amazing days running the football.

Last week I jokingly said that it would be fun if Watkins kept his 40-yd average. I shouldn’t have said anything: the easiest way to keep that average is for the Ravens not to throw him any more passes. That was NOT what I meant!


The Demar Hamlin situation is a difficult one.  As of Thursday Hamlin appears to be doing better:

That is excellent news.

It is selfish and parochial to worry about the impact on your own team, in a context like this. But, in the interests of reportage: had that Monday night game between the Bills and Bengals been played (or concluded), and had the Bills won, then the Ravens would be one game back with one to play.  Next week’s game would have been for the division title. A win would have put them in a tie with the Bengals, and would have concluded a sweep so the Ravens would have the tiebreaker. Instead, it seems the game will not be played. That leaves the Ravens 1½ games back with one to play. No chance to tie for the division.  The Ravens will have had to play all the AFC East teams including the 12-3 Bills, but the Bengals will have been able to duck the Bills.

It’s been a weird few seasons for the Ravens. They clearly have the nucleus of a contending team, one of the top ~3 in the AFC. In 2020 their season was scrambled by injuries on the offensive line. In 2021 they were the top seed in the conference, until Lamar got hurt; then they missed the playoffs. This year an injury to a player on another team will disrupt the Ravens last potential chance at the division. It’s especially poignant because in games that Lamar and Andrews and Rashod Bateman and Devin Duvernay played (so not even Ronnie Stanley & Dobbins), the Ravens scored 28.4 ppg and 2.78 pts per drive. Those numbers would be 3rd & 2nd in the league respectively.

Now they can’t cobble together a passing game.

Depressing.

Next Up: On to Cincinnati for the season finale.

The post Do the Ravens Trust Tyler Huntley to Throw the Ball? appeared first on Russell Street Report.

Originally posted on Russell Street Report