Pros & Cons of the 2021 Season Through 8 Games
How are we feeling, Ravens fans, after yet another heart-pounding, anxiety-inducing overtime win? I imagine, relieved, yet traumatized has to be at least part of the answer after Baltimore completed another improbable comeback at M&T Bank Stadium. The game was brought to a dramatic conclusion when Baltimore kicker Justin Tucker (a.k.a The G.O.A.T.) sealed the win by converting a 36-yard field goal with 16 ticks left on the clock in overtime to lift the Ravens over the Vikings 34-31.
This game was a microcosm of who the Ravens have been as a team through 9 weeks of the season — A team that starts slow, finishes strong, and makes you wonder which version of The Flock you’re going to get. The Ravens, like they’ve been for most of the season, were truly a team of two halves on Sunday. After Vikings kick returner Kene Nwangwu took the 2nd half kickoff to the house putting Minnesota up 24-10 to start the 2nd half, Baltimore outscored Minny 24-7 during the remainder of the game to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat. The Ravens maintained their place atop the AFC North at (6-2) as the Vikings fall to (3-6) on the season and dropped further down the pecking order in a competitive NFC playoff picture.
Sunday’s enthralling contest provided a lot of various talking points that are worth discussing as the Charm City football team gets into the 2nd half of its schedule. For Baltimore, acknowledging what they did well is just as valuable as recognizing the areas of weakness. This will help them further establish a team-identity as well as help to understand what the team needs to do in order to have further success in the latter part of the season and make a strong push through the playoffs.
To keep it simple, I’m going to provide 3 pros and cons that I took away from Sunday’s game vs. the Vikings. Hopefully, this will provide insight as to what the Ravens have done well this season that have contributed to their (6-2) record, as well as what the team can improve upon that will make Baltimore a team no one will want to face heading into the most crucial part of the season.
The Ravens have shown a knack for coming back from double-digit deficits this season.
Coming into the season, since Lamar Jackson took over the starting QB job late in 2018, the Ravens were 1-7 in games in which they faced a double-digit deficit at any point in the game. So far this season, Baltimore is 3-1 in such games having beaten the Chiefs, Colts, and now the Vikings when trailing by double-digits. The Flock have outscored their opponents 71-43 in the 2nd half and OT of those games and they hardly have anyone else to thank for this except for their MVP-caliber QB Lamar Jackson.
The improvement from Baltimore’s dynamic magic 8 ball QB in situations when the team needs him the most is forcing opposing teams to play a complete 4 quarters to beat the Ravens and is why The Purple and Black can never be counted out of any game, despite whatever deficit they may be facing. This makes the Ravens one of the favorites to finish near the top of the AFC and will make them a tough out in the playoffs.
In the playoffs, Baltimore will find it difficult to come back against more defensively-sound teams.
In games against KC, Indy, and Minnesota, the Ravens were able to string together enough plays to narrowly eke out victories in each of those contests. The outcome of all of those matchups could have played out differently if the defenses of those opposing teams were able to hold strong on even one Ravens possession. The point that’s worth mentioning here is that the Ravens simply haven’t put in enough complete performances to warrant being talked about more favorably than the other juggernauts in the AFC such as Tennessee and Buffalo. The only games in which the Ravens played with unwavering energy for all 4 quarters was when they squared off against the Broncos and the Chargers.
If Baltimore is going to contend with the other top teams in the AFC and be a true contender come January and February, they must avoid putting themselves in such deep holes in the 2nd half. Stressing playing a full 4 quarters should be a point of emphasis for coach Harbaugh and the boys throughout the remainder of the season. If not, the Ravens won’t progress further in the playoffs than they have the previous two seasons.
Jackson continues to put the team on his back, perform at an MVP-level, and deliver victories.
When speaking about Jackson, the obvious has to be stated that no other player in the NFL has the abilities that the Ravens QB possesses. The style of play Baltimore’s signal-caller employs forces the defense to always be on their toes as they must account for Jackson’s athletic ability as a runner, as well as his improvement as a passer, specifically throwing the ball downfield and outside the numbers.
Jackson’s role in the Ravens overcoming adversity this season, mainly in the form of injuries and deficits, is incredibly difficult to overstate as his season stats and performances in clutch moments have proven so far this season. The stat that highlights Jackson’s versatility as Baltimore’s best playmaker is the fact that he is now the only player in league history to have 2,000+ passing yards and 600+ rushing yards through the first 8 games of a season.
Teams have had a fairly difficult time shutting Jackson down as a runner, if he continues to provide a solid passing game to this Ravens offense, Baltimore should enjoy sustained success. It will however, take more than Jackson’s playmaking ability to reach the Super Bowl, but it’s safe to say that the NFL is miles away from “figuring out” how to stop the athletic freak that is Baltimore’s gunslinger.
Injuries continue to plague Baltimore which forces Jackson and other key guys to shoulder even more of the load.
The Ravens were hit with another injury to one of their key players this past Sunday as safety DeShon Elliott exited in the 4th quarter of Sunday’s game against the Vikings after suffering a torn pec as well as a torn bicep. *Queue a collective sigh from Ravens fans*. For Baltimore, injuries have been a nightmare the team can’t seem to wake from as Elliott is only the newest addition to an ever-growing IR list for the birds of Baltimore.
The injury will obviously impact the defense as the secondary in particular is getting quite thin. Further, the Ravens still have players like Marlon Humphrey, Chuck Clark, Tavon Young, and Anthony Averett who’ve all played decent given the context of Baltimore’s injuries this season. These injury hits to the defense place even greater pressure on the offense. And we can all agree, even before Elliott’s injury, that for the time being, the days of Baltimore boasting a stout defense are a thing of the past.
Justin Tucker is the greatest kicker in NFL history and gives the Ravens an edge, if they keep games close.
JT, AutomaTUCK, The G.O.A.T. Tucker takes on many nicknames, but if there’s one nickname the kicker with the highest field goal conversion rate in NFL history (90.6%) probably likes the most, it’s game-winner. For the 2nd time this season, the Ravens came out victorious thanks to the ever-reliable leg of its placekicker when Tucker knocked in the field goal that sealed the win for his team this past Sunday. And, who could forget the other game-winner Tucker hit this year when he famously banked an NFL-record 66-yard field goal off the crossbar and in, giving the Ravens an all-too-familiar comeback win in week 3 vs. the Lions.
For the Ravens, having a kicker who has ice running through his veins and stays calm in pressure situations during which other kickers would likely fold, is a valuable asset that not many teams have. So far this season, Tucker has converted on 16 of 17 field goal attempts and boasts a perfect extra point record thus far making all 19 of his PATs. Having that kind of consistency from your kicker provides an advantage when games are tight near the end. Additionally, seeing how 5 of the Ravens first 8 games have been decided by 6 points or fewer, Tucker always gives his team an edge in close games.
Lack of a pass rush and takeaways have repeatedly exposed deficiencies in the Ravens secondary.
I’m not usually one to throw out stats willy nilly just for the sake of it. However, two numbers that encapsulates the majority of Baltimore’s defensive issues are 15 and 7. The number 15 represents how many sacks the Ravens have racked up as a team so far this season, which is tied for the 5th fewest in the league. Further, the number 7 signifies the amount of takeaways Baltimore’s defense has generated at this point in the season, which is tied for 4th fewest in the league, ahead of only the 49ers, Jets, and Jaguars.
Being opportunistic and generating turnovers is invaluable for a defense because while it obviously limits the number of chances opposing offenses have to score, it also sets up your offense with shortened fields and better chances to score. For a defense that blitzes 32.5% of the time (6th highest in the league), ranking in the bottom 5 in sacks and takeaways is simply unacceptable and is not a recipe for success for a team with Super Bowl aspirations. Injuries have of course played a role in these low numbers. However, Baltimore must find more ways to generate a pass-rush and force turnovers whether that be by a scheme-change or getting tougher in the trenches. Either way, the defense will have to do more in creating short fields for Jackson & Co. if they are going to make a deep playoff run.