The Green Bay Packers have reportedly secured the signing of linebacker Jaylon Smith.

Smith was released by the Dallas Cowboys on Wednesday having featured in every NFL game since he was drafted by the team in 2016.

The former Pro Bowler had been the subject of trade discussions, which came to nothing, but it did not take long to find a new home on the open market, according to NFL Network.

With the Cowboys paying his $7.2million salary for 2021, NFC rivals Green Bay have clinched a cheap deal, reports said.

Smith was a second-round pick in 2016 after torn knee ligaments suffered in his final collegiate appearance for Notre Dame damaged his draft stock.

Packers head coach Matt LaFleur was the quarterbacks coach at Notre Dame during Smith's time there.

Smith is set to come in alongside De'Vondre Campbell, having lined up at inside linebacker for 89 of his 105 snaps this season. Krys Barnes has been lining up to Campbell when fit.

Justin Fields has been promoted to the starting job full-time with the Chicago Bears, Matt Nagy confirmed on Wednesday.

Number 11 overall pick Fields had to wait for his chance initially behind veteran quarterback Andy Dalton, who signed a one-year contract in Chicago in March.

Dalton started the first two games of the season, completing 73.5 per cent of his passes for 262 yards, a touchdown and an interception.

But a knee injury then kept the 33-year-old out as Fields came in for his first NFL starts, having had a role from the bench across the first two weeks, scoring a rushing touchdown on his debut against the Los Angeles Rams.

That is the only score Fields has contributed so far, despite consecutive starts against the Cleveland Browns and the Detroit Lions. He has thrown two picks and completed a measly 48.1 per cent of his attempts.

Yet Fields has also hinted at his potential, with his 10.24 air yards per attempt ranking second among QBs with 50 or more throws.

Nagy has seen enough to install the rookie under center, having previously insisted Dalton would return when fit.

"I told you the last couple of weeks we've had some good conversations internally," the Bears head coach said. "It's helped us in the last couple of weeks.

"Continuing that process this week it's led to making the decision to move with Justin as the starter.

"We've been patient with this, we've grown with him, we're proud of Justin. He's been a great team-mate from the very beginning."

The Carolina Panthers have moved quickly to sign four-time Pro Bowl cornerback Stephon Gilmore in a trade with the New England Patriots, according to widespread reports.

It was said on Wednesday that the Patriots were releasing Gilmore, although that move was not to be made official until 16:00 EST.

And the Panthers swiftly stepped in to secure a bargain trade, sending a 2023 sixth-round pick to New England in return for a star in the secondary, who failed to come to terms on a restructured contract in Foxborough.

Gilmore, who was born in Rock Hill, South Carolina, spent four seasons with the Pats before being kept on the sidelines so far this year with a quad injury.

He was eligible to come off the Physically Unable to Perform list in Week 6 and is expected to recover in the coming weeks.

Gilmore brings proven quality to the 3-1 Panthers, having been the NFL Defensive Player of the Year in 2019 when he co-led the league in interceptions with six, including two pick sixes.

However, the highlight of his Pats career, having left the Buffalo Bills where he was the 10th overall pick in 2012, was the interception of Jared Goff that clinched New England's 13-3 victory over the Los Angeles Rams in Super Bowl LIII at the end of the 2018 campaign.

Carolina have had only three total takeaways so far this year, although first-round pick Jaycee Horn is on injured reserve after suffering a broken foot.

Horn, whose place Gilmore will take, has a single interception through three games in his rookie season, having had two in seven games at South Carolina last year.

We're at the point of the season where clear opinions can be formed of NFL teams, whether they be real life or fantasy.

Much can change in the coming weeks but, with four weeks in the books, a divide between the contenders and pretenders is starting to emerge in the NFL, and that will also be the case in fantasy leagues around the globe.

But whether you're looking to maintain a strong start or recover from an underwhelming one, the need to make the right lineup decisions remains. This is no time to get complacent or to get too downhearted and take picking your starters more lightly.

With that in mind, Stats Perform has picked four offensive players and a defense who should be starting in Week 5.

 

Quarterback: Lamar Jackson, Baltimore Ravens vs. Indianapolis Colts

Having thrown for over 300 yards and a touchdown against a stout Denver Broncos defense last week, Jackson now gets to come home to face a Colts defense allowing 7.35 yards per pass play.

With the turnover-prone Carson Wentz quarterbacking the Colts' offense, Jackson should find plenty of opportunities to pad his stats. Always a must-start, this is a week to be especially excited about owning Jackson in fantasy.

Running Back: Dalvin Cook, Minnesota Vikings vs. Detroit Lions

Held to 34 yards on nine carries on his return from injury last week against the Cleveland Browns, Cook gets a much more inviting matchup in Week 5.

Only two teams, the Houston Texans and the Kansas City Chiefs, have allowed more rushing touchdowns than the winless Lions. Don't hesitate if Cook is on your roster, slot him into a starting role and back him to return to the endzone.

Wide Receiver: Deebo Samuel, San Francisco 49ers @ Arizona Cardinals

There may be some reluctance to start Samuel given the uncertain situation surrounding the 49ers at quarterback and their Week 5 opponent, the unbeaten Cardinals. However, it is not merited.

Samuel leads the NFL in receiving yards with 490, putting him on pace for over 2,000. Maintaining that is unlikely but, averaging 10.5 targets per game, Samuel stands as the clear number one target in the Niners' offense regardless of who is under center.

Each of Trey Lance's touchdowns last week in relief of Jimmy Garoppolo were thrown to Samuel. His target share and the challenge the Niners will likely face in having to keep up with an extremely potent Cardinals offense means any concerns over the quarterback and the matchup should be ignored.

Tight End: Hunter Henry, New England Patriots @ Houston Texans

Henry and Jonnu Smith have yet to deliver on the lucrative contracts they signed with New England in the offseason, but a trip to face the lowly Texans should be just the tonic they need.

Former Los Angeles Charger Henry found the endzone for the first time as a Patriot against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers last week.

Now he gets the chance to face a Texans defense allowing the second-most fantasy points in the league to opposing tight ends. It's time for the Patriots' investment in him to start paying dividends.

Defense: Pittsburgh Steelers vs. Denver Broncos

Not much is going right for the 1-3 Steelers, but their defense, while not at its 2020 levels, is still a tough one to crack and is tied fourth with 29 opponent plays for negative yardage.

With Teddy Bridgewater in the concussion protocol, the likelihood is Drew Lock will get the start at quarterback for Denver. Lock was tied for the league lead with 15 interceptions last season and threw his first of this year in relief of Bridgewater last week versus the Ravens. 

Long story short, start the Steelers' defense.

The New England Patriots have released four-time Pro Bowl cornerback Stephon Gilmore in a stunning move.

ESPN's Adam Schefter on Wednesday reported the release, which was later confirmed by the two-time first-team All-Pro.

In a statement posted on his Twitter account, Gilmore wrote: "It is with mixed emotions that I announce my goodbye to this great fanbase.

"We enjoyed so much success together and you have been an incredible inspiration for my individual achievements.

"Thank you for supporting this Rock Hill kid and allowing him to achieve his NFL dreams.

"To Mr. Kraft, the coaches, and the organisation thank you for providing me with this platform and allowing me to be a part of this greatness.

"Most of all I want to thank my team-mates who lined up next to me every Sunday with one goal in mind.

"Those moments on and off the field will never be forgotten."

Gilmore was eligible to come off the Physically Unable to Perform list in Week 6, having been kept on the sidelines with a quad injury.

He is expected to recover in the coming weeks but a failure to come to terms on a restructured contract means Gilmore will not be taking the field for New England in 2021.

Having reportedly made unsuccessful attempts to find a trade partner, the Patriots elected to release a player due $7million in base salary in 2021, giving them salary cap flexibility and Gilmore the chance to compete for a second Super Bowl title elsewhere.

Gilmore is expected to receive significant interest on the open market, with both of last year's Super Bowl participants, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Kansas City Chiefs, in need of help in the secondary.

Selected 10th overall the 2012 draft by the Buffalo Bills, Gilmore was signed by the Patriots in 2017 and helped them to two Super Bowl appearances. His interception of Jared Goff clinched New England's victory over the Los Angeles Rams in Super Bowl LIII at the end of the 2018 campaign.

He led the NFL in interceptions in 2019 with six but played only 11 games in a 2020 season that ended for him with a torn quad in Week 15.

The Dallas Cowboys have released linebacker Jaylon Smith.

Smith, a second-round pick in 2016 after torn knee ligaments suffered in his final collegiate appearance for Notre Dame damaged his draft stock, has never missed a game in his pro career and had signed a five-year, $64million contract extension in 2019.

Former Pro Bowler Smith was the subject of trade discussions that ultimately came to nothing, with Dallas confirming his release on their official website.

He was fully guaranteed his $7.2m salary for 2021, meaning the timing of the move raises eyebrows, but cutting him now does mean the Cowboys will not be liable for his 2022 money, which was guaranteed for injury.

Smith had not started any of Dallas' first four games in the 2021 season but had played some part each week of their 3-1 start.

The future of the team's linebacker corps was subject of much speculation after they drafted Micah Parsons in the first round this year when Smith and Leighton Vander Esch were already on the roster and Keanu Neal had been signed in free agency.

Parsons has made an impressive start, while fourth-round selection Jabril Cox is also vying for snaps at the position, both factors that reportedly played a part in the decision.

Without Smith, the Cowboys are at home as they face NFC East rivals the New York Giants on Sunday.

Pittsburgh Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin said under-fire quarterback Ben Roethlisberger is "absolutely" the best option to lead the team's struggling offense.

Roethlisberger struggled again in Week 4 of the NFL season as the Steelers (1-3) suffered a third consecutive defeat, a 27-17 loss to the Green Bay Packers on Sunday.

The 39-year-old two-time Super Bowl champion was just 26-of-40 passing for 232 yards a touchdown, interception and two sacks with a 78.3 quarterback rating.

Roethlisberger's 78.9 passer rating is fifth-worst this season, only ahead of Miami Dolphins QB Jacoby Brissett (77.8), Jacksonville Jaguars rookie Trevor Lawrence (66.4), first-year New York Jets quarterback Zach Wilson (62.8) and Davis Mills (50.4) of the Houston Texans.

"Absolutely," Tomlin told reporters on Tuesday when asked whether Roethlisberger remains the right quarterback for the offense.

"What he does and what he's done makes me really comfortable in saying that."

Tomlin added: "It's him some, it's us collectively some. We've just got to keep working. Sometimes it can be attributed to the altering of plans late in the week because of player availability or guys not being available. ...

"We've had some big-play opportunities, we [haven't] cashed in on them. We need to cash in on them.

"They're a big component of moving the ball and scoring, particularly when you're not working as efficiently as you like on possession downs, which we aren't. ... We're also going to work to connect on a higher percentages of these chunk opportunities because that aids us in terms of ringing up the scoreboard, as well."

Through four games, seven-time Pro Bowler Roethlisberger has 109 completions 1,033 yards, four touchdowns and four interceptions with 10 sacks.

Roethlisberger's completion percentage (64.1) is tied for 21st in the league, while his touchdown percentage (2.4) is the third worst in the NFL.

Asked if he was concerned about the level of Roethlisberger's safety behind the line, Tomlin said: "Not out of the ordinary. I'm sure if you reviewed the tape and looked at these visits [news conferences] from the first 11 weeks of last year and probably said similar things. He was upright and we were undefeated.

"There's probably a component of just being in your late 30s and playing this game and playing that position and particularly when you're not playing winning football and you get somewhat one dimensional, there's collateral damage that gets associated with that for him and for us."

"Ben used to be able to run really good when he was young," Tomlin said of this week's clash with the Denver Broncos. "Those days are behind him.

"Other than that, I don't see much that's not a discussion in terms of technical alterations or quality of play that can be improved."

Shad Khan says under-fire head coach Urban Meyer must regain the Jacksonville Jaguars' "trust and respect" after his "inexcusable" conduct in a bar.

Meyer issued an apology on Monday after a video of him sitting on a bar stool while a woman, who was not his wife, dance close to his lap went viral.

The 57-year-old was on a night out in Ohio on Friday, a day after the 0-4 Jaguars' 24-21 defeat to the Cincinnati Bengals.

Meyer apologised to his team and staff for being a "distraction" with his "stupid" behaviour.

Jaguars owner Khan says Meyer must build bridges but expects the under-pressure head coach to "deliver."

Khan said in a statement released by the franchise on Tuesday: "I have addressed this matter with Urban. Specifics of our conversation will be held in confidence.

"What I will say is his conduct last weekend was inexcusable. I appreciate Urban's remorse, which I believe is sincere.

"Now, he must regain our trust and respect. That will require a personal commitment from Urban to everyone who supports, represents or plays for our team. I am confident he will deliver."

Meyer told reporters on Monday: "I just apologised to the team and staff for being a distraction. Stupid,

"I explained everything that happened, and owned it. Just stupid. Should not have had myself in that kind of position."

Meyer said he should have left the establishment earlier after he had been spotted and asked for selfies.

"They wanted me to come over and take pictures, and I did," Meyer said.

"They're trying to pull me out on the dance floor, screwing around, I should have left."

Shad Khan says under-fire head coach Urban Meyer must regain the Jacksonville Jaguars' "trust and respect" after his "inexcusable" conduct in a bar.

Meyer issued an apology on Monday after a video of him sitting on a bar stool while a woman, who was not his wife, dance close to his lap went viral.

The 57-year-old was on a night out in Ohio on Friday, a day after the 0-4 Jaguars' 24-21 defeat to the Cincinnati Bengals.

Meyer apologised to his team and staff for being a "distraction" with his "stupid" behaviour.

Jaguars owner Khan says Meyer must build bridges but expects the under-pressure head coach to "deliver."

Khan said in a statement released by the franchise on Tuesday: "I have addressed this matter with Urban. Specifics of our conversation will be held in confidence.

"What I will say is his conduct last weekend was inexcusable. I appreciate Urban's remorse, which I believe is sincere.

"Now, he must regain our trust and respect. That will require a personal commitment from Urban to everyone who supports, represents or plays for our team. I am confident he will deliver."

Meyer told reporters on Monday: "I just apologised to the team and staff for being a distraction. Stupid,

"I explained everything that happened, and owned it. Just stupid. Should not have had myself in that kind of position."

Meyer said he should have left the establishment earlier after he had been spotted and asked for selfies.

"They wanted me to come over and take pictures, and I did," Meyer said.

"They're trying to pull me out on the dance floor, screwing around, I should have left."

The Arizona Cardinals are the last undefeated team left standing in the NFL after the Las Vegas Raiders were beaten on Monday.

There were five unbeaten franchises heading into Week 4 of the regular season, though one '0' was bound to go when the Cardinals travelled to the Los Angeles Rams, who had beaten reigning champions Tampa Bay in their previous outing.

However, Aaron Donald and the rest of the Rams defense could not slow down Arizona, who emphatically triumphed 37-20 on the road to take charge of the NFC West.

As for the others, the Denver Broncos went down at home to the Baltimore Ravens, while the Carolina Panthers lost in Dallas to the Cowboys.

With the Raiders unable to rally in the second half to overcome the Los Angeles Chargers, the Cardinals stand alone at 4-0 – and that is not their only impressive achievement.

They are the outright leaders in terms of winning percentage (1.000), but also total offense (440.5 yards) and scoring offense (35.0 points per game) as well. No team has topped all three categories through four weeks of a campaign since the Cleveland Browns in 1953.

However, head coach Kliff Kingsbury was clearly not getting too carried away by his team's start, as he made clear in the post-match media conference. Asked what he planned to do to celebrate beating the Rams, he replied: "Not so much. I'll watch Ted Lasso tonight and go to bed."

The play of Kyler Murray has been a key factor in the unbeaten run, the quarterback throwing for 1,273 yards, nine touchdowns and four interceptions. He has also ran for three scores, while his 76.1 completion percentage is the best in the NFL.

Murray's performances have not only led to Arizona winning four straight, but also pushed him to the front of the MVP race, albeit it is still only the early stages of the season.

The Cardinals are bidding to make the playoffs for the first time since 2015. They started the previous year with a 5-2 record, only to fall away after their bye week, losing six of their final nine games.

They face another stern test in Week 5, as they host divisional rivals the San Francisco 49ers (2-2).

Derek Carr believes Monday's 28-14 defeat to the Los Angeles Chargers can act as a wake-up call for his previously unbeaten Las Vegas Raiders.

The Raiders found themselves 21-0 down at half-time before quarterback Carr landed two third-quarter touchdowns to narrow to gap to one score.

But the Chargers steadied with an Austin Ekeler rushing touchdown before Carr had a last-ditch attempt intercepted by Derwin James, confirming the result.

The defeat means the Raiders drop below the Chargers in the AFC West division, with both sides holding 3-1 records.

Las Vegas had beaten the Miami Dolphins, the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Baltimore Ravens across the first three weeks in a strong start to the new season.

"It's better now [to lose] than later," Carr told reporters after the defeat. "If anything, it hopefully wakes us up a little bit.

"You never want to lose but it's hard to win in this league. We'll see them again."

Carr, who tops the NFL charts for pass yards at 1,399 this season ahead of Tom Brady on 1356, had a subdued first half as Chargers quarterback Justin Herbert completed three touchdown passes.

The Raiders quarterback finished the game completing 21 of 34 attempts for 196 yards and two touchdowns, along with the one interception, and accepted the blame for the defeat.

"I want to see us win every time," Carr added. "Any loss is disappointing. This one hurts a bit extra.

"They can blame me. They can put it all on me. If they want to chant MVP when I come running out, they can get mad at me for this one."

The Chargers win was their fifth straight victory against an AFC West opponent and bolsters their case as genuine contenders in the division.

Los Angeles are top ahead of the Raiders (3-1), the Denver Broncos (3-1) and the Kansas City Chiefs (2-2).

"We're coming together," Chargers head coach Brandon Stanley told the post-game news conference. "That's the way we expect to play around here.

"It's not easy, because the teams we're playing are really, really good. You've seen what Dallas is doing, you've seen what Kansas City is doing, these teams are real opponents. That's a real opponent that we just played.

"I feel like our guys are coming together. We're finding that sweet spot within the game plan of how much is in the plan and getting these guys in their comfort zone. I felt like our guys were in the comfort zone tonight and we executed that way."

The Chargers face the Cleveland Browns on Sunday in Week 5 while the Raiders meet the Chicago Bears.

The Los Angeles Chargers withstood a spirited second-half challenge from the previously unbeaten Las Vegas Raiders to win 28-14 on Monday.

The Chargers raced to a 21-0 half-time lead, before quarterback Derek Carr led the Raiders back into the game with back-to-back third-quarter touchdowns.

But unrelenting running back Austin Ekeler, who finished the game with 145 yards from 18 touches, crossed in the final quarter for his second touchdown, before Derwin James' interception from a Carr throw sealed the win.

The result means the Chargers, who beat the Kansas City Chiefs 30-24 last week, improve their record to 3-1 for the first time since 2014, while the Raiders are 3-1 in the AFC West.

After a lengthy delay due to lightning, Chargers quarterback Justin Herbert had an excellent first half, throwing for touchdowns to Donald Parham, Jared Cook and Ekeler, who had three receives and 15 carries.

Herbert finished with 25 from 38 attempts for 222 yards, including make 20 from 25 for 175 yards in the first half.

Comeback specialist Carr drove the Raiders response in the third quarter, throwing for a Hunter Renfrow touchdown after avoiding a fumble on a Kyler Fackrell sack in the previous play.

The Raiders suddenly had a pulse after a big defensive set as Darius Philon sacked Herbert, before Carr patiently found Darren Waller out wide to make it a one-score game.

Raiders kicker Daniel Carlson missed a 52-yard field goal after Carr found Henry Ruggs with a 51-yard pass, before the Chargers found their response, as Herbert hit up Cook, allowing Ekeler to utilise his pace and drive for a successful 11-yard run re-establishing the 14-point lead.

San Francisco 49ers quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo remains a chance to play in Sunday's game against the Arizona Cardinals despite a calf injury according to head coach Kyle Shanahan.

Garoppolo suffered a bruised calf in the 49ers' 28-21 loss to the Seattle Seahawks on Sunday and was unable to play the second half.

Shanahan will wait on further tests on Garoppolo's calf but was comforted on Monday knowing that the injury would not sideline his preferred quarterback long term.

"It does mean he has a chance," Shanahan said. "It wasn't as bad as what we thought it might have been. He's in a lot of pain, still sore.

"Hopefully by the time he comes in Wednesday, if it's getting better, then he'll have a good chance. If it hasn't improved at all by Wednesday, it will probably be a little bit longer."

If Garoppolo is unable to play, Shanahan will know he can turn to 2021 NFL Draft pick three Trey Lance, who made two touchdowns in Sunday's loss.

Lance played the second half against Seattle in Garoppolo's absence, completing nine from 18 attempts for 157 yards, running seven times for 41 yards.

Shanahan will also be sweating on the fitness of left tackle Trent Williams who has a right shoulder concern.

"I think Trent, we got a little bit better news than Jimmy, but Jimmy, we've got to see how he reacts here in the next two days," Shanahan said.

"But both of them were definitely better news today than the feeling we had last night."

The 49ers have a Week 6 bye, before their next game against the Indianapolis Colts on Sunday October 24 which may come into Shanahan's consideration.

Baltimore Ravens wide receiver Marquise Brown made one of the most visually spectacular plays of Week 4 in the NFL. Watching a second-quarter moonball from Lamar Jackson threaten to fly out of his reach, Brown dived to reel in a stunning catch in the back of the endzone for a 49-yard touchdown and a 14-7 lead over the Denver Broncos that they would not relinquish.

It was a play that typified what the 3-1 Ravens have been in 2021, as it was a catch that came from a wide receiver who committed a pair of killer drops on potential big plays in their narrow Week 3 win over the Detroit Lions.

Stone hands one week, expert ball tracker the next. Brown exemplified the Ravens this season. Brilliant in overturning an 11-point deficit to stun the Kansas City Chiefs in Week 2, then unconvincing and undoubtedly fortunate in needing a record-breaking field goal to beat the winless Lions, they are consistently inconsistent, with their week-to-week performance seemingly impossible to predict.

The historic aspect of their 23-7 defeat of the Broncos provided a further illustration of this. With a five-yard carry from Lamar Jackson on the final play of the game, the Ravens tied the record the most consecutive 100-yard team rushing performances with 43. They did so while averaging only 3.4 yards per carry. An inconsistent performance from a usually consistent rushing attack, and an achievement entirely in keeping with their identity under John Harbaugh.

Yet, with an opening overtime loss to the Las Vegas Raiders firmly in the rearview mirror, the Ravens are again doing what has typically come natural to them during Harbaugh's tenure, winning.

They are doing so while failing to put together a complete performance through four weeks of the season. The victory in Denver was perhaps the closest they have come to such a display, and the fact the Ravens now stand atop the AFC North without truly clicking as a team should strike fear into a conference they unquestionably have the talent to win.

Lamar not limited by inaccuracy

In terms of accuracy, Jackson is the picture of inconsistency.

Through the first four games of the season, Jackson is producing an accurate, well-thrown ball on 74.1 per cent of attempts, according to Stats Perform data.

However, what he continues to do with reliability is deliver the explosive plays on which NFL games often hinge.

Jackson leads the league in air yards per attempt with 12.21 and is third in the NFL in completions of 20 yards or more, his 19 trailing only Tom Brady (23) and Derek Carr (21) prior to the Raiders' Monday Night Football clash with the Los Angeles Chargers.

He is also third with 12 passing plays of 25 yards or more, putting him on pace to surpass the 25 he produced last season.

More impressively, he is having success attacking downfield while generally avoiding turnover-worthy throws.

Jackson has been intercepted three times this season, yet he is only credited with two interceptable passes on 116 attempts, his pickable pass ratio of 1.72 per cent the eighth best among quarterbacks with a minimum of 20 attempts, pointing to a quarterback who has taken care of the ball for the most part but has been ruthlessly punished for his poor throws.

Averaging 6.64 yards per carry, Jackson's abilities as a runner have played a critical role in the Ravens' ground game continuing to excel despite a swathe of injuries at running back. His eight runs of 10 yards or more are the joint fifth-most in the league.

But, in the modern NFL, the passing game is king, and it is Jackson's apparently improving rapport with a group of pass-catchers showing promising signs of progress that is fuelling a surge in the Ravens' production through the air.

Marquise making the leap

The Ravens finished the 2020 season top 10 in yards per pass play with 6.25. In 2021, they are seventh with 7.57. The Chiefs, the Raiders and the Cincinnati Bengals are the only AFC teams above them on the list.

Standing out as a primary reason for this improvement are the strides made by Baltimore's receiving weapons, with Brown chief among them.

Producing a burn, which is where a receiver wins his matchup with a defender on a play where he is targeted, on 71.4 per cent of his targets, Brown is blossoming from pure speedster into a number one receiver with the upside to flip the field in an instant.

His burn yards per target average of 18.33 ranks second among receivers with at least 10 targets while Brown's burn yards per route average of 6.1 is seventh. Put into the context of Brown having the seventh-highest average depth of target (16.4 yards) of such wideouts, those numbers are even more admirable.

Brown is getting crucial separation while running longer routes where it is typically more difficult to escape from defenders, and his big-play percentage of 48.2 — third among receivers with 10 targets — reflects his explosiveness that has been critical to the Ravens' improved passing game efficiency.

Meanwhile, tight end Mark Andrews remains an excellent complement to Brown. He leads tight ends with at least 10 targets with a burn percentage of 84 and is second among that group in burn yards per target (14.02) and third in burn yards per route (4.2).

The efforts of Brown and Andrews have arguably turned the pass-catchers into the most consistent element of the team, with that duo supported by the increasing contributions of Devin Duvernay and James Proche.

Rookie first-round pick Rashod Bateman is back practicing after being activated from injured reserve following a groin injury, and Baltimore will look for Bateman to replicate the impact that saw him finish fourth among Power 5 receivers with at least 25 targets in his last full college season in 2019 with a big play percentage of 50.4.

That will be a challenge at the highest level but on the surface the Ravens are set to add more potency to help the offense potentially provide further support to a defense of which the numbers paint a fittingly mixed picture.

Defensive development

The Ravens' defense ranks 16th in opponent yards per pass play allowed (6.62) and 14th in opponent rushing average (4.13). In other words, up and down, middle of the pack, inconsistent. You get the theme by this point.

But after allowing the Lions to average only 4.8 yards per play in Week 3, the Ravens restricted the Broncos to 4.3 in Week 4.

Indeed, this is a defense with an intriguing blend of youth and experience that appears to be rounding into form.

The Ravens only managed 15 pressures of Broncos quarterbacks, 10 fewer than they recorded against the Raiders, but you would be forgiven for thinking they produced double that number.

Save for a drive that ended in a three-yard touchdown for Broncos tight end Noah Fant in the second quarter, Baltimore's defense dictated terms, registering five sacks.

The Ravens have tallied 23 opponent negative plays for minus 111 yards. That is the tied for the sixth-most opponent negative yardage produced by a defense this season.

Up front, the development of defensive tackle Justin Madubuike and edges Tyus Bowser and Odafe Oweh has been key, with the that trio undoubtedly benefiting from the veteran influences of Calais Campbell and Justin Houston.

In the defensive backfield, All-Pro Marlon Humphrey is leading the way for a secondary managing to survive the loss of cornerback Marcus Peters to a season-ending injury.

The progress of recent weeks can partially be attributed to going from facing the Raiders and Chiefs, each in the top 10 in yards per play, to meeting with two offenses in the bottom half of the league in that category in the Broncos and Lions.

And, with the win over the Broncos the first the Ravens have claimed by double digits this season, talking up Baltimore as challengers to Kansas City and the Buffalo Bills in the AFC may seem premature at this point.

However, the blend of explosive offense and an imperfect defense that lives on creating negative plays is one that has delivered a Super Bowl title as recently as the 2019 season when the Chiefs lifted the Lombardi Trophy.

The presence of that formula is apparent for a Ravens team that has gone from staring at an 0-2 start to reeling off three straight wins without fully clicking across the board. Though far from perfect, it is a turnaround that should leave the rest of the AFC hoping Baltimore's consistency never comes.

The Baltimore Ravens tied the NFL record for most consecutive 100-yard rushing games after head coach John Harbaugh made a conscious decision to keep a "meaningful" streak alive.

With a 23-7 win over the Denver Broncos already in hand, the Ravens could have taken a knee in the final seconds but, three yards shy of tying the Pittsburgh Steelers' record of 43 successive games with at least 100 rushing yards, Baltimore elected to call a designed run for quarterback Lamar Jackson, who duly picked up five to keep their run intact.

Though moving to 3-1 on the season was of chief importance, Harbaugh felt the achievement of equaling the rushing record had a significance that influenced his decision.

"One hundred per cent my call," Harbaugh said. "That's one of those things that's meaningful.

"It's one of those things that, as a head coach, you've got to be mindful of your team and your players and your coaches and what it means to them.

"It's a very, very tough record to accomplish and it's a long-term record. I'm not going to say it's more important than winning the game, for sure. It's certainly not.

"But as a head coach, I think you do that for your players and you do that for your coaches and that's something they'll have for the rest of their lives."

Jackson, who threw for 316 yards and a touchdown, had a relatively quiet day on the ground, finishing with just 28 yards rushing.

Despite his coach's words, statistics and records clearly mean little to the 2019 MVP.

"I'm happy we got the [win]," Jackson said. "I'm not going to lie. I didn't even care about the record."

The Ravens can break the record next Monday when they host the 1-3 Indianapolis Colts in Week 5.

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