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Rookie WR Zay Flowers joins Ja’Marr Chase with historic start — and continues to get open – Boston Herald

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Before Sunday’s game against the Lions, Ravens rookie wide receiver Zay Flowers and second-year Detroit defensive quality control coach Wayne Blair shared a hug and took a picture together on the field at M&T Bank Stadium. Blair was an assistant coach for the first three years of Flowers’ high school career at NSU University School in Davie, Florida, and this was the first opportunity the two had to catch up since they made their way to the NFL.

Once the game started, Blair saw plenty more of Flowers, who had four catches for 75 yards in Baltimore’s 38-6 blowout win.

Flowers’ performance was also historic. He became just the second receiver since 1970 to tally at least 50 yards from scrimmage in each of his first seven games in the league. The other? Cincinnati Bengals star and 2021 NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year Ja’Marr Chase.

How has Flowers gotten off to such a fast start?

There are layers to the answer — from obvious talent and speed, to his grasp of the offense, to how the Ravens are deploying him, to a desire for greatness. All of it has led to Flowers leading the team in catches (39) and receiving yards (442) to go with one touchdown.

“For seven games in, it’s probably as good as it can be,” coach John Harbaugh said of Flowers’ understanding of coordinator Todd Monken’s scheme. “He’s really diligent. He’s very smart, and yet, he’s not anywhere near where he’s going to be in terms of understanding the offense.”

There are also plenty of other numbers that stand out about Flowers.

For one, he has accounted for 27.8% of the Ravens’ air yards, according to Next Gen Stats, which is 7% more than that of tight end Mark Andrews, the team’s leading receiver each of the past two seasons. For another, he’s shown a dynamic ability once the ball is in hands. Flowers’ yards after catch above expectation — that is, a player’s ability to generate more yards than what might be expected based on how open the receiver is, how fast they’re traveling and how many defenders there are, among other factors — is 0.5. To put that in perspective, that currently rates higher than Kansas City Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce, New York Jets receiver Garrett Wilson, Lions receiver Amon-Ra St. Brown and Arizona Cardinal and former Raven Marquise “Hollywood” Brown, among others.

Like Flowers, whom the Ravens drafted 22nd overall in April, Brown was a first-round pick. The Ravens selected Brown 25th overall in 2019, and two years later he delivered the first 1,000-yard season by a Baltimore wide receiver since Mike Wallace in 2016.

But Brown’s Ravens career was a short one — the receiver’s discontent with the offense led to him wanting out and the Ravens traded him to the Cardinals during the first round of the 2022 draft.

Come Sunday in Arizona, Flowers and Brown will be on the same field when the Ravens (5-2) play the Cardinals (1-6). Both figure to be prominent parts of their respective offenses, with Brown having put up similar numbers (32 catches, 383 yards, three touchdowns) to Flowers this season.

Already, though, Flowers is well on his way to surpassing Brown’s rookie totals of 46 catches for 584 yards. One of the many reasons why: his average cushion of 7.7 yards is tied for the most in the NFL, along with Patriots receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster and Cardinals wideout Michael Wilson.

Teams often haven’t pressed Flowers at the line of scrimmage and it has proven costly. That included Sunday.

Though Lions coach Dan Campbell told Fox in production meetings that Detroit had to press Ravens’ receivers, they rarely did so. Perhaps it was because they thought they would be able to pressure quarterback Lamar Jackson with defensive end Aidan Hutchinson and others along their four-man front. Other times, Flowers being in motion made doing so impossible. Whatever the reason, it wasn’t long before Flowers took advantage.

On the third play of the game and facing a first-and-10 from their own 38-yard line, Jackson lined up in the shotgun with Gus Edwards the lone running back, Odell Beckham Jr. wide right and Andrews and Flowers stacked to the left of fullback Patrick Ricard.

At the snap, Jackson faked a handoff to Edwards, who ran to the right flat, Andrews ran a short crossing route over the middle and Flowers ran a dig route down the middle. With security blanket Andrews occupying the attention of linebackers Alex Anzalone and Derrick Barnes and safety Kerby Joseph driving down on the tight end, that allowed Flowers to find an unoccupied chunk of turf 20 yards down the field. Jackson hit him and Flowers did the rest for a 46-yard gain.

Given the formation, play design and Lions cornerback Will Harris lining up 8 yards off Flowers and backpedaling from there, it was an easy completion.

Flowers’ next catch was another dagger to the Lions’ defense.

Already up 14-0 as the end of the first quarter neared and with the Ravens facing a third-and-11 from their own 27, Jackson again lined up in the shotgun, this time with running back Justice Hill next to him, Rashod Bateman wide right, Andrews in the right slot, tight end Isaiah Likely tight left and Flowers wide left.

As Hutchinson tried to get past right tackle Morgan Moses, Hill chipped, keeping him away just long enough for Jackson to find Flowers again. With Harris giving up 8 yards of cushion pre-snap, Flowers drove vertical on the cornerback, giving him a shoulder fake to the inside before cutting toward the sideline. When Jackson let go of the ball, Harris’ back was to the quarterback and Flowers hauled in the pass, tapping both feet just in bounds for a gain of 22.

Three plays later, Jackson went to Flowers again on second-and-1 from the Lions’ 13, and again there was no getting to the 5-foot-9 182-pound receiver.

Again from the shotgun and with Nelson Agholor tight left and Beckham and Flowers stacked wide right, Agholor motioned across the formation before the snap, setting up a bubble screen. With Beckham and Agholor blocking safety Tracy Walker III, Anzalone was free to crash the play from 4 yards away, but that’s a matchup Baltimore will take every time. Flowers faked inside, then cut back outside behind his two receivers, then back to the inside. He picked up just 3 yards but it was enough for a first down. Andrews scored on the next play.

Flowers’ final catch came with just over three minutes left in the first half and the Ravens up 28-0 and resulted in just a 4-yard gain, but was another example of Harris playing off him with a 4-yard cushion at the snap.

And even when he wasn’t catching passes, Flowers was a notable distraction.

Midway through the third quarter and with Baltimore facing a second-and-7 from the Lions’ 8, Flowers ran a short crossing route over the middle, drawing the attention of two defenders, including linebacker Jack Campbell. That left Andrews one-on-one with Walker, who released him to the inside. But with so much attention on Flowers, it was an easy pass to the open tight end in the back of the end zone.

“The schemes were great,” Harbaugh said of the Ravens’ 503 yards of offense, which included 357 through the air. “I felt like they did a great job, and Todd deserves credit.

“Those plays are great plays, but they were executed well. It starts with the quarterback. Lamar in and out of the huddle executing the way that he did. … The offensive line deserves a ton of credit. That was a really good pass rush team, a power-rushing team who wants to knock you back into the quarterback and cage rush the quarterback, and Lamar had plenty of time back there.”

And Flowers continued to have plenty of space to catch.

Week 8

Ravens at Cardinals

Sunday, 4:25 p.m.

TV: CBS

Radio: 97.9 FM, 101.5 FM, 1090 AM

Line: Ravens by 8 1/2

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