The Baltimore Ravens‘ offense over the last few years can be summed up in a single word: sputtering. Joe Flacco’s arsenal of dangerous targets over the last few seasons consists of Anquan Boldin, Torrey Smith, Steve Smith Sr. and Mike Wallace. That list pales in comparison to any other NFL quarterback’s top threats, and the Ravens finally decided to address the problem this offseason — and they did so in a big way.
Former Arizona Cardinals wide receiver John Brown’s signing was initially met with hesitant excitement. He had been an oft-injured receiver known for blazing speed, but he wasn’t truly able to live up to his potential in Arizona with his nagging injuries. He finished with just a 58.0 grade last season. Brown’s addition was considered more of a complement to the signings of proven receivers Willie Snead IV and Michael Crabtree. But he’s emerged as one of Flacco’s favorite targets and as a legitimate deep threat — something Flacco hasn’t really had in Baltimore.
A 72.8 grade through Week 7 for the speedster isn’t flashy by any means, but it does lead all Ravens receivers. Much of Brown’s value comes downfield. Of his 49 targets, 42.9 percent are on throws of 20 or more yards downfield. Flacco hasn’t targeted a receiver on deep passes that often since Torrey Smith — and even then, Smith was more known for drawing pass interference calls than he was for catching the ball. Brown is the NFL leader in deep targets through seven weeks, and it’s no surprise Flacco is using him as often as possible considering his lack of a deep threat in previous years.
The new dynamic that Brown adds to the Ravens' offense takes some pressure off a defense that has been often tasked with stopping another team’s offense at the end of games. Against the New Orleans Saints on Sunday, it was the offense who needed to get the job done. Flacco found Brown in the end zone with mere seconds left to play to draw within one point. And although the subsequent extra point missed, the sequence is indicative of a newly branded offense — one that can be largely attributed to Brown’s speed and ability to get open.
Brown’s 115.9 passer rating when targeted far exceeds that of Snead and Crabtree, who both have a wide receiver rating under 90.0. That’s not to say each isn’t valuable to the Ravens’ revamped offense; it’s more to show just how effective Brown has been when targeted. Against the Saints, Brown showed just how valuable he is to Flacco.
His touchdown catch at the end of the game was obviously his biggest one, but Brown was impressive for all four quarters. He caught all seven of his targets for 134 yards — which generated a perfect passer rating when targeted of 158.3, something only two other receivers did this week. Even more impressive was that six of those seven receptions went for first downs. He, Snead and Crabtree have combined for 64 first down catches. At this time last year, the Ravens receiving corps combined for just 28.
It’s likely that Flacco has never been so thrilled with a group of receivers as he is now, and even though the Ravens sit at a passable 4-3 record, the offense looks light years ahead of where it was last season. The Ravens only committed one year to Brown when he signed, but he’s already shown he deserves many more in Baltimore with how impactful he’s been as a target for Flacco.