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Another Slow Start Puts Pressure on Offense Late

Devonta Freeman runs against the Bengals
Shawn Hubbard/Baltimore Ravens
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This is Tale of the Tape: Offense. For Tale of the Tape: Defense, click here.

It was an ugly day at the Bank for Lamar Jackson and company against the Cincinnati Bengals, one they’d surely like to put behind them as much as the rest of us. We here at Russell Street Report cover it all though: the good, the bad, and everything in between. Unfortunately for us, there was a lot more of the latter two on the offensive side of the ball Sunday. There’s a lot to unpack from this divisional matchup, and plenty of questions going forward as a result.

Without any further ado, let’s get right into the five most important plays from the Ravens’ difficult matchup last week.

Freeman One-Yard TD

On the Ravens’ opening four possessions, they punted three times and came away with a mere three points in the process. The defense up to that point had held tough, but a long Bengals’ touchdown courtesy of a Joe Burrow-to-C.J. Uzomah pass (and busted coverage by Marlon Humphrey) made the game 10-3 with just over six minutes to go in the first half. The Ravens were in need of a response to build momentum heading into the half, and that’s exactly what they got.

A combination of Jackson’s legs, and pretty passes to Rashod Bateman and Marquise Brown, set the Ravens up inside the Bengals’ five-yard line as the two minute warning hit. Coming out of the timeout, it was time for them to do what they’ve been known to do best over the last few seasons: pound the rock.

During the offseason, we’d heard rumblings that the Ravens planned to implement more play calls under center for Jackson, but so far it hasn’t been utilized much. On this play though, the offense lined up in the heavy set with Jackson doing just that. With seven blockers up front, and Pat Ricard and Mark Andrews in the backfield in front of Devonta Freeman, it was classic ground and pound football. Freeman followed Ricard and Andrews right through the hole between the center and left guard for the Ravens’ easiest score of the day.

Obviously this matchup would later get out of hand, but in a game where momentum was beginning to swing Cincinnati’s way early, this score was promising to see. One of the few bright spots the Ravens can look to build off of heading into Week 9.

Brown 39-Yard TD

It’s crazy to think that at one point the Ravens held a second-half lead in this game, and it was all thanks to the #1 and #2 wide receivers putting on a clinic in the opening drive. Three plays was all the Ravens would need coming out of the locker room to put more points on the board.

After another first down grab for Bateman, who’s already developed a penchant for picking those up, the Ravens lined up just inside the Bengals’ 40-yard line on first down. Jackson took the snap from the shotgun, and in one of the few times all day where he had ample time to throw, delivered a beautiful ball to the back of the end zone for the streaking Hollywood.

Brown, using his blazing straight line speed, blew past both Vonn Bell and Chidobe Awuzie and came down with a toe drag swag catch that would have Nate Burleson turning in his sleep. Overall, the wide receiver group was the only part of this offense who can hold their heads up after Sunday. With Sammy Watkins returning to the fold before too long, this group of pass catchers for the Ravens is going to cause serious problems for opposing secondaries as we head down the stretch.

At this point in the game, it felt like this play would be the one to open the floodgates for the Ravens offense. After their struggles in the first half, they came out firing and would surely handle the Bengals from here…right? Well, not so much.

Hendrickson Sack on 3rd-&-8

It was beginning to become clear after the Ravens had given up three scoring drives in a row, that the offense would have to figure out a way to win this one yet again. With Cincinnati up 20-17, the Ravens found themselves driving yet again, but a tipped pass on second down would lead to a 3rd-and-8 from the Bengals 34-yard line. Well within Justin Tucker‘s range, the worst the Ravens could do on this drive is tie up the game. That was of course, until the ball was snapped.

The pocket began to collapse quickly for Jackson with Cincinnati bringing seven rushers on the play. Brown was open underneath, and would’ve had at least a chance at moving the chains had Jackson been able to go through his reads, but the second he caught Trey Hendrickson out of the corner of his left eye he attempted to take off.

Credit to Hendrickson, who despite getting a big jump upfield on the snap managed to redirect his momentum and shed the block of Ricard to chase down Jackson. There were simply zero lanes for Jackson to slither through, and ultimately he had no choice but to be sacked on the play.

Not only did this knock the Ravens out of field goal range, but it also gave the Bengals a much needed shot in the arm on the defensive side of the ball. From this point on they were absolutely stifling, and the purple birds wouldn’t put a single score on the board for the remainder of the afternoon. Well documented are the Ravens’ offensive line woes, and with all of the injuries they’ve suffered (including Pat Mekari in this game), it’s completely understandable. They aren’t a team to make excuses though, and after signing Cedrick Ogbuehi already this week it’s apparent that Eric DeCosta is determined to fix this issue before the games matter most.

Failed 4th-&-7 

Following a Humphrey interception of Burrow to begin the 4th quarter, the Ravens were beginning to enter crunch time. Down 10 points, the offense was faced with a 4th-and-7 from their own 38-yard line and a major decision for John Harbaugh. Punt to the Bengals and hope for another stop? Or trust your offense to figure out a way to keep the drive going? Unfortunately on this play, Harbaugh chose wrong.

The Ravens came out in a five wide set in an attempt to spread out the Bengals defense and better isolate where the rush would be coming from. After the Mekari injury though, the edge rushers on both ends of the Bengals’ front were able to feast with little to no resistance. The Bengals simulated rushing six before dropping two men into coverage and only bringing four, but right from the snap Jackson still had Sam Hubbard and Hendrickson in his face.

With no time to go through his reads, Jackson’s only hope on the play was to attempt to loft a pass over the heads of two defenders to Brown. Brown was actually open on the play, and with another second or two to move around in the pocket Jackson could’ve definitely shifted those defenders and found a window to fit the pass through. Unfortunately, the aforementioned offensive line woes prevented that from happening. If the Ravens offense wants to win more games like they did against Los Angeles in week 6, improving this unit is paramount.

Williams Goes Out of Bounds

With eight minutes to go in the game, the Ravens were down 34-17 and had seemingly come to terms with the fact that this wasn’t their day. Regardless, what was in hindsight a meaningless 4th-and-15 play ended up telling us a lot about one Raven in particular. The point of these articles is never to single out one specific player, especially on days like the one we saw Sunday, but effort is one category where that doesn’t apply.

Jackson took the shotgun snap and danced around the pocket for a moment before taking his only open option on the play, Ty’Son Williams underneath. Williams catches the pass, makes a nice cut inside, and then instead of fighting for the first down made a clear business decision to step out of bounds and avoid contact from the Bengals defenders. Now, in fairness to him it’s likely he would’ve come up short no matter the effort, but as a professional football player fighting for playing time sometimes effort is all you have.

Not to mention, on the play before this he was completely lost when Jackson attempted to audible on the original 4th down. Seconds later they would commit a false start penalty that backed them up to 4th-and-15 in the first place.

It’s easy to say that Williams has shown the most “talent” of any of the Ravens’ current backs, but unfortunately it takes more than talent alone to be a mainstay on a John Harbaugh led team. His pass blocking is below average at best, and combine that with his ball security issues and this sequence of events from Sunday, and he may soon find himself on the outside looking in. It wouldn’t be surprising whatsoever to see him moved before the trade deadline in an attempt to bolster the offensive line or secondary.

Wrap Up

So, there you have it, a mixed bag of offense from Sunday’s tilt that was far more negative than it was positive. It was great to see the receivers continue their improvement, and perhaps for the first time in Ravens’ history this is the group they’ll need to rely on to continue winning games. The offensive line is approaching DEFCON 1 levels of concern though, and finding at least an average base level of consistency will be key going forward if they want these Super Bowl dreams to become a reality.

Now that we’ve got this taste out of our mouth, a much less daunting Minnesota defense is on the horizon next weekend, and with it comes an opportunity to again right the ship. First though, a much needed bye week for the players, coaches, and fans alike.

Enjoy the week off, and we’ll be back following Week 9 for another look at the five most important plays from the Ravens offense!

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