How John Brown Opened Up Baltimore’s Deep Passing Game
One of the biggest issues with the Ravens offense in 2017 was their lack of a consistent field stretcher. Joe Flacco had the worst DVOA and DYAR of any quarterback with more than 50 deep passing attempts. (Stats courtesy Football Outsiders and Sports Info Solutions, “Deep Passes” are categorized as any ball that travels more than 15 yards past the line of scrimmage in the air.) The breakdown to individual targets with 10 or more deep targets looked like this:
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Mike Wallace: 13-of-32, 410 yards, two touchdowns, two interceptions, two DPIs for 51 yards
Jeremy Maclin: 5-of-14, 109 yards, one touchdown, two interceptions
Chris Moore: 3-of-12, 73 yards, one touchdown, one interception
Breshad Perriman: 0-10, one interception
All receivers: 25-88, 677 yards, six touchdowns, nine interceptions
Wallace did alright, but he wasn’t catching many bombs.
2018 has been a bit of a resurgent year for Flacco, who I have been quite hard on. He’s still been wildly inconsistent from game-to-game and sometimes even quarter-to-quarter, but he’s found some upside I didn’t see him having. A lot of that, in my mind, is about the connection he has with Brown.
Flacco’s 2018 DYAR on deep balls is not all that high — he’s behind 19 starting quarterbacks — but that’s a huge leap from dead last. Flacco has thrown 88-of-24 for 318 yards targeting Brown on deep balls through Week 5, with two touchdowns, one defensive pass interference penalty, and one pick.
We can pick out how important Brown is to the offense by the job he’s done under tight coverage. NFL Next Gen Stats runs a statistic called “Cushion” — how many yards of separation a receiver has on each target, on average. Brown has one of the lowest rates in the entire NFL with an average of just 2. There are only three types of players that are getting that little separation: star caliber players with speed, rookies, and washed up players. If you look at the receivers that have 2 yards of separation or less on their targets, but still have seen 200 receiving yards, the list looks like this: A.J. Green, Mike Evans, Allen Robinson, Marvin Jones, John Brown.
In offering what he has, Brown has made defenses have to respect Flacco’s deep ball again. Brown has the longest average air yards per target in the NFL. That’s changed how aggressive teams can be with their underneath coverage, and brought in the stinger that has been Willie Snead, who leads all Baltimore wideouts in DVOA.
It’s also worth pointing out that in Baltimore’s loss last week, where Flacco looked lost, Brown was effectively neutralized by nice play from Denzel Ward. On six deep targets, he only caught one ball.
Brown has had stretches where he’s been as hot as he was in Weeks 1-4 before only to taper off, mostly because of injuries. He’s not exactly regarded as the most reliable receiver as far as his ability to stay on the field. What I’m getting at is: He’s a phenomenal talent — is he going to keep it up all season?
The NFL is nothing if not a game of adjustments and trends. If Brown’s deep speed was only something defenses needed to react to, rather than something that can keep up all season, it’s going to be interesting to see where the Ravens fall. It is worth noting that many of Flacco’s deep targets to Brown were essentially uncatchable last week.
This connection has the talent to be the most devastating deep threat combo the Ravens had since Flacco and Torrey Smith were young. But the consistency? That’s something we’re still waiting to see the results on.
Rivers McCown is a writer and editor who has written for ESPN.com, Bleacher Report, USA Today, and Deadspin, among other places. He’s edited for Football Outsiders, Rookie Scouting Portfolio, and Pre-Snap Reads Quarterback Catalogue.