Ravens coach calls this former UD star the secret to Lamar Jackson's success
Baltimore Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson will no doubt be the object of the Eagles' defensive attention this Sunday when the two teams play at Lincoln Financial Field.
Jackson, the reigning MVP, is lethal because of his ability to run and pass.
But as Ravens coach John Harbaugh put it, someone has to block for Jackson for him to amass his prodigious rushing totals. And someone has to catch his passes to prevent teams from stacking the line of scrimmage to stop his runs.
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That's why Harbaugh said this about former University of Delaware tight end Nick Boyle, who's in his sixth season with the Ravens.
"In many ways, we’re built around Nick," Harbaugh said. "That’s probably weird to say, but there’s some truth to it. I think the people that study us and try to defend us would probably agree with that."
It's not that Boyle is one of the elite pass-catching tight ends like the Eagles' Zach Ertz, or the 49ers' George Kittle or the Chiefs' Travis Kelce.
Boyle has 6 catches for 30 yards and a touchdown this season, and his highs for a season came in 2019 when he had 31 catches for 321 yards. Boyle didn't catch his first career NFL touchdown pass until last season.
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"Oh yeah," Boyle said with a laugh when asked if he received a lot of ribbing for that. "For me to score touchdowns, I don’t have the best luck with that. I get stopped at the 1 all the time. So, that’s the thing about me – I can get so close, but not actually score."
Setting the tone
Yet in many ways, the success of the Ravens' schemes to free up Jackson hinges on Boyle, whether it's blocking on the edge or down the field, releasing to catch passes, or diverting attention away from the Ravens' other tight end, Mark Andrews, who is known for catching passes.
"I think it starts with the run game, and I think I do a pretty good job at blocking and being able to do a lot of different things," Boyle said about Harbaugh's comment. "I think you have to be a tone setter in that area.
"So obviously, our team wants to run the ball, especially with Lamar and all the different things we can do. So to be able to block on the edge and blocking in the run game, that has a huge impact on our team. I think I do that pretty well. And all of our tight ends and offensive linemen do that extremely well.
"That’s the team we want to be. We want to be a physical team and we want to get after people."
The Eagles wanted to do that, too, with their set of tight ends in Ertz and Dallas Goedert.
But Goedert is on injured reserve with a broken ankle, while Ertz is struggling through a season in which he has just 20 receptions for 145 yards and 1 TD. Ertz has just 5 catches for 15 yards in the last two games.
Ertz's frustration has been evident, but he insists it's not over his contract, something he put aside when the season started, or because of his stats. Rather, he said it's because the Eagles are off to a disappointing 1-3-1 start.
"If we were 5-0 right now and I had the same stats, there would be nothing to talk about," Ertz said. "But I think I can help the team win. I think I can make plays for this team on third down and in the red zone like I have in the past, and hopefully try to find a way to win a football game."
'He does everything'
That's why Ertz said he gets more enjoyment out of the Eagles' Super Bowl season in 2017 than he does from setting the NFL record for receptions for a tight end, when he had 116 receptions in 2018.
Boyle understands how much winning matters, too.
The Ravens went 14-2 last season before losing in the divisional round of the playoffs in an upset. They're 4-1 this season, with expectations of making a deep playoff run.
"Looking back at last year, we had a tremendous season, 14-2, but in the playoffs, it was a one-and-done scenario," Boyle said. "Now looking at this year, I think that just adds fuel to the fire. We have the same exact team, but just a little more experienced team, a better team, a more reinvented team, starting with Lamar running the offense."
Boyle, of course, won't challenge Ertz's reception totals, nor those of his teammate in Andrews, who has 18 catches for 222 yards and 5 TDs this season.
Boyle sees his value in enabling Andrews to get those totals, just like he does in helping Jackson and the Ravens' running game, which ranks third in the NFL at 160.8 yards per game.
Sure, Jackson is a big part of that. He set an NFL record for rushing yards by a quarterback with 1,206 last season. He has 238 rushing yards this season, again leading NFL quarterbacks, although not at the pace of last season.
"He does everything," Boyle said. "You never know how the play is going to end up with Lamar. He’s super-talented and he’s just growing with his intelligence for the game."
Mark Ingram is one of three Ravens running backs with at least 126 yards rushing. He has 205, while Gus Edwards has 192 and rookie J.K. Dobbins has 126. As a team, the Ravens average 5.6 yards per carry, best in the NFL.
Keeping up with UD's NFL players
Again, Boyle's blocking has made much of that possible.
"He’s a well-rounded tight end," Harbaugh said. "He’s a great blocker. He does it in-line. He also does it on the move. He’s also very effective in the passing game, play-action and drop-back passing game. He’s also very underrated as a pass-catcher.
"He’s a guy we saw coming out of Delaware, a big, strong guy. We thought he was very underrated coming out of the draft."
Boyle, who was taken in the fifth round in 2015, is one of several UD players in the NFL.
He was watching last weekend when fellow Blue Hens Troy Reeder, a linebacker for the Rams, had 10 tackles and 3 sacks against Washington; and Nasir Adderley, a safety for the Chargers, intercepted a pass and returned it to the 1 yard line in their game against the Saints on Monday night.
There's also defensive tackles Bilal Nichols with the Chicago Bears and Zach Kerr with the Carolina Panthers, and Boyle's former Ravens teammate, quarterback Joe Flacco, who is starting his second straight game for the New York Jets this Sunday.
"I saw that, and it was awesome," Boyle said about Adderley and Reeder. "It’s cool to see Delaware guys in NFL making plays."
Boyle is making them, too. Just ask Harbaugh.
Contact Martin Frank at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow on Twitter @Mfranknfl.