Just when fans began to buy in and believe in the 2018 Ravens, supporting them in ways that we’ve seen for so many seasons, the campaign came to a screeching halt, falling to the Chargers 23-17 in a Wild Card Playoff Game.
The Ravens offense could do next to nothing for the games first 51 minutes, producing just 50 net yards through 10 possessions. The Chargers defense was extremely well prepared and completely out-schemed the Ravens.
Coming into the game we heard repeatedly that the Chargers familiarity with the Ravens brand of offense would bode well for them. I opined during the week that such talk discounted the Ravens coaching staff’s ability to adjust as well. They didn’t – not one bit and that’s an indictment upon Marty Mornhinweg’s inability to self-scout for tendencies or it’s just flat-out arrogance that suggests, “Stop us if you can.” And the Chargers did.
When asked whether playing the Ravens 2 weeks prior helped the Chargers, head coach Anthony Lynn said, “The more times you see that offense, the better you’re going to be against it. I used to run that offense, and I remember we started off really fast, but, once people got enough tape on us, they could catch up. And I think that’s what happened today, we saw it enough.”
Making matters worse, the Chargers, according to beat writer Sam Fortier who covers the team for The Athletic, said that defensive coordinator Gus Bradley and his staff picked up on some Ravens offensive tendencies. The tendencies were installed as keys for the Chargers nearly exclusive Quarters defensive alignment.
One key was provided by Ronnie Stanley’s feet. When the Ravens LT was set with his feet even, it was a run and when he set his left foot further back, it was a pass “almost 100 percent” of the time. Making matters worse and providing even more clues to the type of run, the Chargers discovered that when the Ravens ran out of the pistol formation with a tight end in the backfield on the same side as the tight end at the line of scrimmage, it almost always meant one of two running plays: “counter” or “cut belly.”
Following the game Chargers players said it was as if the Ravens changed nothing from the first game.
Plain and simple that’s a coaching problem. It’s difficult to anticipate another team’s countermoves before a game but you at least have to know that changes will be made. And then the Ravens inability to adapt exposed the Ravens limited playbook options for the talents of Lamar Jackson and it exposed a weak play caller.
Don’t get me wrong, Jackson was extremely bad until he rallied in the fourth quarter. But at least put the guy in position to make some plays. With someone like Jackson, you have to use his speed to get to the perimeter on boots and waggles, particularly when the offensive line is getting b-slapped like red-headed stepchildren.
Obviously, the results were pathetic. Frustration abounded, particularly with such a stout performance by a defense that was forced to overcome short offensive possessions by the Ravens and bad field position thanks to the offense and poor special teams play. Prior to the Ravens fourth quarter surge the Chargers had 4 possessions start inside Ravens territory at the 15, 42, 26 and 45-yard lines, respectively. The Ravens defense only surrendered 9 points combined during those four drives.
The fans in attendance who were just champing at the bit to be a factor in the game, grew increasingly frustrated with the offensive ineptitude and the target of their wrath appeared to be Lamar Jackson. But it’s tough to make chicken salad with chicken sh*t and that’s essentially what Mornhinweg gave Jackson to work with. Perhaps the crowd was disappointed in Lamar’s play. Maybe they really hated the game plan. Maybe they were upset with John Harbaugh’s decision not to go for it on fourth-and-2 from the Chargers 32, trailing 12-3 just after Buck Allen partially blocked Donnie Jones’ punt. Maybe they wanted Joe Flacco to enter the game and work his postseason magic to get the Ravens back on track.
But Harbaugh made the right choice sticking with Jackson.
Given the aforementioned keys that the Chargers defense relied upon, the Ravens offensive line was destroyed, particularly at left guard and center. Jackson, with his superior speed and quickness, was sacked 7 times for 55 yards. Imagine Flacco behind that line and the Chargers knowing that Joe was in the game to throw, plus the Chargers ability to get after the quarterback rushing just 4 and a strong quarters defensive alignment (7 DB’s) on the back end. It may not have been a good last impression for Flacco.
Instead it was a teaching moment for Jackson. I get that we live in and here-and-now world where instant gratification is expected. But the loss is a building block for Jackson and really, who among you actually believes that Flacco could have come in to save the day. Lamar got the Ravens to where they were – not single-handedly but clearly, he was instrumental. With a locker room of players fully supporting Lamar, had Joe come in and failed, it could have triggered a negative vibe through the locker room that may have reverberated through the offseason.
In the end, could Joe really have done any better than Lamar with his team down 23-3?
And let’s not forget that the Ravens intend to part ways with Joe, via trade or an outright release, saving the team $10.5 M in cap space. If Flacco was injured in the game, it would limit the Ravens bargaining power. His outright release is unaffected since he has no more guaranteed money so an injury would not prevent the team from cutting Joe. However, a significant injury that would keep Flacco sidelined for all of 2019 could have trigger an Injury Protection Benefit that would have triggered a $1.15 M cap hit.
Special Teams the entire season have not been up to Ravens standards. Sunday was no different. Cyrus Jones failed to come up and make catches in traffic and the resulting bouncing ball climbed deeper into Ravens territory on three different occasions…Sam Koch was off, netting just 37 yards on 6 mostly returnable punts…The return game looked like the Ravens were running in quick sand. Why wasn’t Chris Moore returning kicks but healthy enough to be sent on crossing routes in traffic? … and of course, there was the miss by Justin Tucker from 50 yards out.
On the plus side, the Ravens were able to block a field goal attempt (Za’Darius Smith) along with the aforementioned partially blocked punt by Allen.
LB Patrick “Peanut” Onwuasor posted 7 tackles, including 2 for loss (1 sack), and a forced fumble that LB C.J. Mosley returned 12 yards. In two games vs. the Chargers this season, Onwuasor – an L.A. native – racked up 16 total tackles (14 solo), 4 TFL, 3 sacks and 2 FFs.
Matt Judon had 4 tackles, 2 for losses and 5 QB pressures.
Eric Weddle, according to our own Ken McKusick, he made 5 tackles in the 4th quarter alone for gains of 2 or less.
Michael Crabtree, caught two fourth quarter TD passes, the last of which was the result of fighting through a defender and working his way back to the ball. He was also wide-open on a deep post but Jackson couldn’t set his feet due to oncoming pressure.
The Fumble That Wasn’t
According to Alberto Riveron, Senior Vice President of Officiating of the National Football League, Melvin Gordon did not fumble at the 1-foot line:
“There were a couple of things that we looked at there,” Riveron said. “Number one, we have to make sure that the runner was not touched by a defender. Once we established that, we saw that the defender touches him in the backfield. Now, he’s down by contact, if he’s down. Now we have to see where he’s down, if he’s down short of the goal line before the ball comes loose, therefore the ball is dead.
“He was touched by a defender, he went down, then the ball comes loose. The ball coming loose has no bearing whatsoever because he was down by contact. The ball is dead once your elbow hits the ground short of the goal line.”
I disagree. He lost possession.
Regardless if the referee got the review correct…
🗣 YOU CANNOT WHISTLE CLOSE PLAYS DEAD WHEN WE HAVE AN INSTANT REPLAY SYSTEM!!! pic.twitter.com/XOd2aBXcMy
— Warren Sharp (@SharpFootball) January 6, 2019
Odds & Ends
Given the Chargers-lite defense (7 DB’s) it is a bit of a mystery why Nick Boyle (18 snaps) and Maxx Williams (17 snaps) were used so little…This marks the first time in Harbaugh’s seven postseasons that the Ravens did not win at least one playoff game…The Ravens are now 3-3 in home playoff games (2-1 under Harbaugh)…The Ravens’ defense allowed just 243 yards, marking the second fewest by Los Angeles this season. The fewest total for the Chargers (198 yards) took place at the StubHub Center on December 22 when the Ravens defeated LA 22-10…Prior to Sunday’s loss, the Ravens were (6-0) all time when permitting fewer than 250 yards in a playoff game, and they were (6-0) in 2018 regular season play when accomplishing such a feat.