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Another Slow Start, Another Electric Comeback

Lamar Jackson throws vs Vikings
Shawn Hubbard/Baltimore Ravens
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Reading Time: 7 minutes

This is Tale of the Tape – Offense. For Tale of the Tape – Defense, click here.

It was once again a tale of two halves for the Baltimore Ravens offense on Sunday when the Minnesota Vikings came to town. The first half was one full of stalled drives, and an inexcusable turnover courtesy of Lamar Jackson that could have signaled an early nail in the coffin. As we’ve already seen on numerous occasions this season though, any time #8 is your quarterback you’ve still got a puncher’s chance no matter the circumstances.

The second half was one where the Ravens offense returned to form in seemingly the snap of a finger. There was a much more calm and cerebral pace to the approach in the final 40 minutes, as the run game began to tire out the Vikings defense and the short passing game began picking apart the zone coverage. It took almost five quarters to decide the outcome, but when it was all said and done, the purple birds pulled out yet another gritty come from behind victory in front of the Baltimore faithful. After a week off, it’s time to get back to work and break down the positives and the negatives, as we dissect the five most important plays from Sunday’s tilt.

Jackson’s 1st Interception

With under two minutes left to play in the first half, the Ravens offense took the field down 14-3 in desperate need of points. After a promising first drive stalled, leading to a field goal, they were forced to punt on three straight drives and combined for a mere 59 yards in the process.

Out of the shotgun, Jackson takes the snap with three wide and Mark Andrews lined up in the slot. Perhaps Jackson felt more pressure to make one of his signature big plays given the early struggles, or maybe he just didn’t see safety Camryn Bynum creeping over from the left. Either way, Jackson throws an errant pass to the streaking Andrews across the middle that was undercut by the rookie out of Cal for the interception. Bynum makes what was admittedly a great play on the diving pick before returning it deep into Ravens territory (effectively giving the Vikings another free three points before the half).

Jackson’s woes in the first half this year have thankfully been masked by his superhero ability to bring his team back in ball games, but this is still an issue that needs correcting. There was a major emphasis from the team this week on starting fast, and despite that they still only managed to put up three points before the play we’ll be discussing next. These dramatic comeback efforts make for some exciting football late on Sundays, but eventually in a big moment this lack of consistency will cost them if it’s not fixed.

Freeman 5-yard TD catch

Following the aforementioned turnover and Minnesota field goal, the Ravens had yet another crack at putting points on the board before the half. This was the point in the game where the offense truly began to come alive. Jackson remained calm and continued to play his style of football, using his legs to get the Ravens to midfield before a pass interference call against Rashod Bateman set them up inside the five-yard line.

The play itself was nothing to write home about in terms of flash – a simple bunch formation to the left with Bateman out on the right and Devonta Freeman in the slot. On the snap, Bateman runs a post route towards the middle of the end zone, which Freeman slips underneath heading towards the sideline. With the Vikings so concerned about defending the middle of the field, Anthony Barr was a second late in his break towards Freeman in the flat. By the time the ball was out of Jackson’s hand, Barr already knew he had been beat and the Ravens were in for a much needed seven-point response.

Simple design, but a monumental moment in this game. Had the Ravens been stalled on that drive again, especially after the interference call set them up in prime position to score, it would’ve been tough to imagine how they come out of the locker room with the poise and patience they did. Especially considering that Minnesota returned the opening kickoff of the second half for a touchdown, 24-3 may have even been too much for #8 and company. In a time where it truly felt do-or-die for their chances on the day, the Ravens offense responded in a big way and sparked what would be yet another incredible comeback.

Ricard 1-yard TD catch

After Minnesota returned the opening kickoff of the second half for a score, the Ravens offense took the field still confident they had more than enough time to get back into the game. After a lengthy drive downfield, and a 3rd down catch from Marquise Brown just short of the end zone, it was once again that time this offense loves. Fourth and short right on the goal line…the question didn’t even have to be asked as Jackson waved off the kicking unit before they could get their helmets on.

In a heavy formation with Patrick Ricard lined up as the left wing, Jackson sends him in motion to the right just before the snap and then fakes the hand-off inside to Ty’Son Williams. With the entire defense selling out to stop the run, Ricard was left uncovered in the slot as Jackson lofted a pass right into the breadbasket for an easy score. Going forward, this entire drive will affectionately be referred to by the Ravens Flock as the “Ricard drive,” as he notched three catches for 35 yards in the 10 plays it took them to score. He was carrying Vikings defenders left and right, just like he carried the Ravens offense on this drive when they needed him most.

The offense had plenty of success throwing into the flat in this game, but now, on to something a little more flashy.

Duvernay 5-yard TD

Well, it looks like we have a front runner in the “catch of the year” category for the Ravens. After another Vikings punt, the offense would go on one of their best drives of the season in the form of 18 plays, 82 yards, and over TEN minutes taken off the clock. The phrase “death by 1000 cuts” never felt more fitting, as the Ravens just took whatever Minnesota would give them and slowly worked their way down the field inch by inch.

On 2nd and goal from the five-yard line, Jackson lined up with Devin Duvernay, Bateman, Andrews, and Brown all tight inside the formation. This formation is one of Greg Roman’s favorites near the goal line, as it causes confusion and coverage switches in the secondary with the receivers being bunched so closely before peeling off into their routes (especially in man-to-man situations). The Vikings came out in zone coverage on this play, with all three defenders in the middle of the field looking to keep the action in front of them on the goal line. Duvernay runs what was probably his best route as a pro on the snap, expertly weaving between Barr, Eric Kendricks, and Xavier Woods towards the back of the end zone.

Credit to #8 on this throw as well. He put the perfect amount of touch on the pass over the outstretched arm of Kendricks, in a place where only his receiver could come down with it (and boy, did he ever come down with it). Duvernay makes an adjustment on the pass, and with one hand tips the ball to himself before corralling it with two and getting his left knee down inside the paint. The amount of focus it took not only to secure the catch on the self-tip, but also to come down in bounds with mere inches to work with was just incredible.

Duvernay has seemingly taken a major step forward this year as a pure wide receiver, and situationally he’s been a gigantic help for this offense when his number has been called (no matter how infrequently that may be). With Sammy Watkins already banged up, and his history of injuries as a whole, it’s a major comfort for Harbaugh and the rest of the staff knowing they have such a promising young option in his place should they need it.

Brown OT catch

With 5:17 left in overtime, the Ravens offense took the field after a major assist from the defense. Jackson’s interception to Barr on their first drive of the extra period set Minnesota up with great field position to drive down and kick the game-winning field goal. Credit to that unit though, as despite their early struggles they stiffened up when they needed to and gave the offense yet another chance to win the game.

On first down from their own 10-yard line, Jackson takes the snap and fakes the hand-off to Le’Veon Bell before rifling a pass 20 yards down field for Brown on the right sideline. Brown showed off some smooth athleticism on his route and timed his jump perfectly to come down with yet another huge grab on the day. Like the Freeman touchdown, the play itself isn’t anything spectacular; the importance lies in terms of what it meant as a whole. After Barr’s acrobatic interception on the drive prior, Jackson could’ve again felt the pressure to make a big play happen by any means necessary. With that pressure often comes mistakes, but to his credit he stayed calm and collected, delivering a pretty pass to get the offense out of the shadow of their own end zone and keep their momentum going.

This play was also important because it perfectly encapsulated the maturation of Brown in 2021. Prior to this season, Hollywood wasn’t a guy you expected to make tough, wide receiver #1 type catches on a consistent basis. We saw flashes, but it wasn’t until this season that he finally put it all together on a week-to-week basis. On Sunday he did it all: catches down the field, screens, crucial yards after catch, you name it. Seeing all of his hard work finally come to fruition has been a sight to see, and the 1-2 threat of him and Bateman is going to be an exciting one to watch in Baltimore for years to come.

Wrap-Up

Through all of the ups and downs on Sunday there was one major point made abundantly clear, the Ravens are still actively trying to take years off their fans’ lives. Kidding of course, but these one score games on a weekly basis have been great for folks out there looking to elevate their heart rate. In addition, with each one comes another layer of grit and toughness, an aspect that will be crucial to this team winning games in January when they matter most.

Hopefully the next couple of weeks will present a much more manageable challenge in Miami and Chicago, one where players like Nick Boyle, Patrick Mekari, and Ben Cleveland can get back to full health and reestablish themselves as part of the regular rotation. With the meat of the schedule quickly on the horizon, the Ravens will need all hands on deck as the push towards the playoffs begins. We’ll see how things shake out on Thursday following the team’s match-up with the Dolphins, as we dive into the 5 most important plays from the Ravens offense.

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