The reign of terror by the 2019 Baltimore Ravens has come to an end, in devastating fashion.
It’s not the loss that hurts. It’s how they lost.
In the final edition of this season’s Good, Bad, and Ugly, we’ll take a look at the Divisional Round game against the Titans. Let’s get into it.
I’ve been staring at this section for a solid ten minutes, trying to bring any semblance of ‘good’ to my mind. For the first time all season, it’s a struggle.
And that’s really the biggest thing for me: in most losses, I’m able to find a silver lining. In this game, it’s a bad memory after a bad memory from start to finish.
If anything, I suppose the good that came from this is the realization of team needs. I’m not necessarily referring to free agency or the draft, although the need for a True-X wide receiver became increasingly apparent on Saturday. The need for an upgrade at inside linebacker became bigger than it already was, and an upgrade along the offensive line isn’t going to hurt anybody.
However, what I’m referring to is the need to keep Jimmy Smith. Outside of Marcus Peters, Jimmy was the only cornerback with a plus grade in all aspects of the game. He played great coverage, whether in man or zone, essentially locking down his receiver while Peters covered his own. The Baltimore secondary is a different animal when Jimmy is on the field, and while he’s not without his fault (his detractors will bring up his injuries at any possible opening) keeping him on a team-friendly deal should be a priority for the Ravens this off-season.
Keeping Jimmy not only gives you three very good outside corners, but it also opens up possibilities for what Baltimore absolutely needs to target in the draft.
Now for the fun stuff.
Where do I start? The run defense that allowed over 200 yards on the ground? The offensive line allowing four sacks, when it hadn’t allowed more than two in any game since Week 5? Lamar Jackson‘s three turnovers? The defense only notching one sack (shout-out Earl Thomas) and not creating a turnover for the first time in Ravens playoff history?
All week, I was reminded (via tape) of the way statistical rankings can lie, as the 5th-ranked run defense was only 5th-ranked because teams had to throw so much to try and catch up with Baltimore as they dominated the regular season. Sure enough, Derrick Henry had his way with them, averaging 6.5 YPC and totaling almost 200 yards on the ground by himself.
The entire game, I watched the inexperienced center struggle to maintain his blocks, and the left side of the line be weaker than I had seen it in months. Yes, the Ravens will be getting Matt Skura back, and maybe I’m overreacting, but it seems to me that the left guard position could be upgraded (although Bradley Bozeman played at an above-average level given what he was asked to do).
Jackson had three turnovers, one of which I will attribute to Mark Andrews playing through injury as he failed to corral a catchable pass. However, for all the talk of last year’s playoff game burning in his mind, this year seemed remarkably similar, as multiple turnovers hurt the 23-year-old’s confidence early on in the game.
And the defense. Man, the defense. Words of advice? Tackle low. Wrap up. Finish. They did none of these things in the run game, up to and including Henry spinning Earl Thomas around with a nasty stiff-arm. They couldn’t match the Titans’ physicality and with the offense struggling early on, they got gassed.
When you combine all of these things – especially since they weren’t the only problems – it’s a loss nine-out-of-ten times.
Now, let’s take a look at where the blame starts.
I know people have been waiting in the wings to jump on Lamar Jackson if he failed to win his second playoff game. I know fans of early exit teams like the Patriots have been waiting to jump down the throats of the Ravens Flock. I know Browns fans got more excitement out of the Ravens loss than their own team’s struggles.
But this isn’t all on Lamar.
Lamar had over 98% of the team's offense last night. He had almost 60 pass attempts, and 20 carries.
The fact that the RBs had nine combined carries is a joke. The #Ravens forgot who they were.
Did LJ make a couple bad reads? Sure. But the blame goes to Roman and Harbs.
— Draft Hobbyist 🇮🇪 (@LateRoundCorner) January 12, 2020
This, my friends.. this is on the coaching. During the Ravens’ dominant win-streak, they never once strayed from their game plan. They never once forgot what they were built on, even if they got down by a score.
But in a game that was separated by one score at halftime, for some reason, Greg Roman called seventy pass plays. For some reason, the running backs had a combined nine carries.
You can try to say that they had to throw because they were playing from behind, but you’re wrong. They were never in a ‘we have to throw’ situation. It’s not like they were down 24 points in the first half. It was a 14-6 game at halftime.
You can try to say that they didn’t run because Mark Ingram was banged up, but they have Gus Edwards. The run game wouldn’t take a big hit without Mark since Gus Edwards was averaging over 5.2 YPC in 2019. So you’d be wrong again.
The Ravens have been aggressive throughout the whole season, so you can argue that going for it on 4th and short was the correct call, with bad execution, but sometimes you have to say damn the analytics and play to win the game. Don’t put yourself in bad situations.
Coaching was the problem on Saturday night. They panicked, pure and simple. They thought the game was getting out of hand, and changed it on the fly. You can say that the Titans were stacking the box, but Edwards broke a long one against a stacked box early in the game. In fact, the Ravens have faced stacked boxes frequently throughout 2019 and abused them almost every time.
When you’re a team with a run-based offense, and you don’t run, that’s on the coaches. Not only are you asking the team to do something that they haven’t done the entire season, but you’re also handcuffing your offense. Even if the run doesn’t work, you have to put the question in the heads of the defense, especially when you’re running an RPO or play action.
At one point I hoped that the Browns offered Roman the head coaching position. It was that much of a misstep. 59 pass attempts with 70 pass plays called is an absolute joke.
Could some plays have been executed better (like following Bozeman on a 4th-and-inches)? Yes. Was Lamar victimized by drops? Absolutely. But if Lamar wasn’t put in a bad situation, then those things wouldn’t have happened.
It starts with the coaching.
The Katherine McNamara
It’s time to stop referring to Marquise Brown as a ‘deep threat’.
He’s becoming a complete receiver. On eleven targets, he caught seven passes for 126 yards.
They weren’t all deep passes. He worked the underneath and out routes flawlessly, showing his skills as a sideline threat, especially on a beautiful catch between three defenders.
I mentioned earlier that the Ravens need a True-X wide receiver, and they do – mostly because Brown was triple-covered more than once in the game against the Titans. While I love the Baltimore tight ends, they need to expand the threats in the passing game. (Especially if they decide to call another 70-pass game.)
But for this season, the Ravens showed that they can in fact hit on first-round wide receiver talent, and I’d expect Brown to blossom into one of the better receivers in the league in 2020.
This was probably the toughest Good, Bad, Ugly that I’ve had to write all season. It wasn’t the fact that it was the Divisional Round. It wasn’t the fact that it was the first loss in months.
It was how they lost. The coaches need to take a good look at themselves after this one.
It’s not the end of the writing season for me, folks. Look to Russell Street Report for all of your off-season Ravens news, draft information, and opinion articles. But for Good, Bad, Ugly? We’ll see you next season.