Tuesday, December 5, 2023

NFL Week 7 takeaways: Ravens offense hitting its stride, Bijan Robinson no-show concerning

The one knock on the Baltimore Ravens‘ impressive start to the season was quality of opponent. We can scratch through that complaint after Sunday’s 38-6 blowout win of the previously 5-1 Detroit Lions. Lamar Jackson has been quietly excellent all season long, flying well under the quarter pole MVP discussion, but in Week 7, and a game that Baltimore dominated from start to finish, Jackson erupted, throwing for 357 yards and three touchdowns while adding another score on the ground. 

Detroit’s going to be licking its wounds for a while after this ugly affair, but the Ravens are the much bigger story. The Lions were playing back-to-back road games, had been getting all the headlines, had basically become the new “America’s Team” (bye to the Jaguars who replaced the Browns after a ~very~ brief stint atop these imaginary rankings) heading into Baltimore. And then they got steamrolled by the Ravens.

Baltimore scored early and often, with Lamar sauntering into the end zone inside of five minutes after an opening drive of seven plays and 75 yards. Following a three-and-out by Detroit, the Ravens fashioned another touchdown drive, this one 11 plays and 68 yards, eating up almost six minutes of clock and establishing exactly how this matchup was going to play out. 

The Lions wouldn’t muster anything of substance on offense until the game was well out of hand — their longest drive of the day was the only touchdown of the day, coming in the fourth quarter while trailing 35-0. 

We’re still far too early in the season to make definitive statements about any team, especially when the theatrical trope of Any Given Sunday still applies to almost every single matchup. The NFL may not possess the chaos of college football — 1-5 Virginia took down a top-10, undefeated North Carolina team 24 hours earlier after all — but the worst team in professional football is very capable of snaking the best team. It’s rare to see two really good teams square off and a blowout become the end result but we got it on Sunday in Baltimore. 

The full variety of weapons were on display Sunday as well. Gus Edwards was the leading rusher and receiver (!), but his receiving yardage came in the form of a single, 80-yard reception. Zay Flowers (six targets), Mark Andrews (six targets) and Odell Beckham Jr. (seven targets) rounded things out really nicely on a day where Lamar was distributing the ball smartly and accurately, completing just under 78% of his pass attempts. 

Don’t be surprised if the Ravens are about to explode offensively. The next two weeks feature matchups against the Cardinals (one of the five worst defenses in football by any metric) and the Seahawks (the league’s best run defense an a pure pass funnel). Lamar has been playing really well and not quite getting the credit. His MVP number dipped from the 15-1 range before this game down to around 8-1. If you can find anything north of double-digits it’s a fantastic value right now.

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The injury report bug

I get on this soap box several times a year but the NFL — and every single professional sports league that has heavily embraced gambling — needs to be more aggressive than ever about how it manages injury reports from the teams on gameday. The NFL is typically pretty good about this, requiring teams to release a daily injury report during the week and a list of inactives 90 minutes before the game. 

But sometimes you end up with a team that doesn’t perfectly adhere to those regulations. Sunday was a perfect example with the Falcons not listing star rookie running back Bijan Robinson on the injury report prior to the game. Then the Falcons took the field and Bijan wasn’t starting and didn’t see a touch for the entire first half of the game. 

At some point, Atlanta coach Arthur Smith told the Fox broadcast that Bijan was dealing with an illness or some kind of bug and — paraphrasing here — we “probably wouldn’t see much of him.” 

The problem here is that Bijan wasn’t on the injury report all week! Which means Robinson was started by literally every single person who owned him in Fantasy, he was rostered in daily Fantasy, there were probably millions of dollars wagered on his prop bets and there were undoubtedly people who bet on the game assuming Bijan would play. The NFL dove into gambling like a damn swan, turning on the firehose that is gambling revenue and inundating consumers with commercials for myriad legal sportsbooks. 

Because of that, it’s imperative for the league to be vigilant when it comes to enforcing policies that would clearly matter for purposes of gambling and/or Fantasy. The NFL needed to be aggressive about this before legalized gambling and now it’s absolutely necessary. 

Maybe Bijan was really sick. Maybe he was being punished by Smith. Whatever the case may be, the Falcons likely didn’t figure it out after the game kicked off. Even if Bijan woke up today feeling sick and the Falcons didn’t do anything wrong (which may be the case!) the league needs to put into place certain contingencies to account for these issues with so much public money legally at stake. 

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