OWINGS MILLS, Md. — It’s been a long time since the Jacksonville Jaguars had much of anything that the Ravens coveted.
But with nothing but question marks at the wide receiver position after the season-ending injury to Steve Smith in Week 8, the Ravens will find it difficult not to look across the field on Sunday and wish they were the ones who had the most talented receiving duo in the NFL that no one knows about. Second-year wide receivers Allen Robinson and Allen Hurns are quietly blossoming into standout performers in one of the least-heralded markets in the NFL.
“The ‘Allens’ — you don’t hear about them on ESPN SportsCenter every day,” cornerback Lardarius Webb said. “But whenever you pull out the numbers, their names start coming up and you’re wondering like, ‘Who are these guys?’ You pop on film and you’re like, ‘These are the guys. They can play ball.’ They just hide them because they’re in Jacksonville, so a lot of people don’t really pay attention to them.”
The Ravens’ 29th-ranked pass defense cannot lose sight of Robinson — a 2014 second-round pick from Penn State — or Hurns — a surpising undrafted free agent from Miami a year ago — who enter Week 10 ranked eighth and 18th in NFL receiving yards, respectively. The pair have combined to make 76 catches for 1,342 yards and 12 touchdowns in Jacksonville’s eight games in 2015.
Jacksonville has been without its other 2014 second-round receiver, Marquise Lee, for most of the season, but that hasn’t mattered with Robinson and Hurns emerging as dangerous weapons for young quarterback Blake Bortles, also in his second NFL season. Despite a 2-6 start, Jacksonville finally has hope for the future with such talent at the offensive skills positions.
“I think it’s super special,” Bortles said in a conference call with Baltimore media. “To be able to come in with those guys as rookies and to able to go through and grow and watch those guys grow [is special]. We got our first offseason together and did some work there and then continued to carry that over into the season.”
The debate continues in Jacksonville over which receiver is better as Robinson is considered the “home-run hitter” — 17 catches of 20 or more yards — while Hurns is steadier in catching a higher percentage of passes thrown his way with 36 receptions on just 59 targets.
Opposing defenses have generally matched their No. 1 cornerbacks against the 6-foot-3, 215-pound Robinson, but Hurns has now caught a touchdown in six consecutive games. Against a talented New York Jets secondary featuring Darrelle Revis, Antonio Cromartie, and Buster Skrine last Sunday, Robinson and Hurns each posted over 120 receiving yards in a narrow defeat.
“I think the biggest thing that I really noticed about them is their catch radius,” defensive coordinator Dean Pees said. “They do a great job — when the ball is in the air — of finding the ball, locating the ball, and then catching it. That’s a good feeling for a quarterback when you can throw one up even when he’s covered and think the guy has a good chance of coming down with it.”
Coming off their bye and trying to win consecutive games for the first time all season, the Ravens know they face a below-average football team on Sunday, but Jacksonville has the ability to exploit Baltimore’s biggest weakness with the league’s 11th-ranked passing game. The Jaguars are an opponent that can’t be taken lightly or the Ravens could find themselves in a position similar to Week 5 when Cleveland won at M&T Bank Stadium for the first time since 2007.
The Jaguars haven’t won in Baltimore since 1999 when Mark Brunell was their quarterback and the teams were part of the old AFC Central division. With the Ravens also holding a 2-6 record, they’re in no position to be taking any opponent lightly, and Robinson and Hurns will be ready to take full advantage if they do.
“A lot of people don’t really pay attention to them, but they’re making big plays,” Webb said. “They together are a great duo in the NFL. Our corners — me and Jimmy [Smith] — have to be on point with these guys and knowing where they are on the field. We have to make some disruptive plays to get this victory.”