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Ravens Look to Bounce Back in The Windy City

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Shawn Hubbard/Baltimore Ravens
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The Baltimore Ravens will be going be to the drawing board this week after a head-scratching performance led them to a disappointing loss at the hands of the Miami Dolphins on Thursday Night Football. The Ravens, who entered this game with a record of 6-2, flew into the fish tank that is Hard Rock Stadium in Miami expecting to handle a Miami team who have been mediocre at best through the first half of the season. Instead, The Flock ran into a buzzsaw in Miami’s defense, posting their lowest point total with Lamar Jackson under center (10) and laid one of the biggest goose eggs in the league this season.

When a team suffers a loss as puzzling as the one Baltimore did this past week, any quality coach will take accountability and shoulder most of the blame for not having their team prepared. Ravens head coach John Harbaugh did just that in his weekly press conference on Monday. “

Bottom line is, this falls squarely on me as the head coach,” he said. “We were not prepared the way we needed to be prepared. Our schemes weren’t up to snuff and we weren’t prepared to execute the way we needed to.”

When asked about a clip of him yelling on the sideline during the game, Jackson detailed his frustrations with his team’s lack of offensive production. “We weren’t scoring no points,” Jackson explained. “We kept putting our defense out there… I feel like our defense played lights out. We just weren’t getting it done on offense, so that’s why I was getting mad.”

Despite Coach Harbaugh and Jackson citing their own failures as to why the team as a whole simply didn’t play well, there’s enough blame for this puzzling performance to go around. While the defense played well for large stretches of the game, the Dolphins offense executed a couple pivotal plays at the end of each half to score the few points they needed to defeat the Ravens.

With that being said, most of the blame for the latest loss has to be put on the offense. The offensive line play was pedestrian once again. They consistently got out-manned and out-muscled, leading to Miami sacking Jackson a total of four times, although it could’ve been a lot more.

As the quarterback and leader of the offense, Jackson has to do more pre-snap to recognize what the opposing defense is going to do, and change the play accordingly. Too many times on Thursday could the Dolphins blitz may have been avoided if Jackson switched to a play that would’ve exploited what Miami’s blitz-happy gameplan, whether that be by getting the ball out of his hands quicker, a draw play, or what have you. Jackson didn’t have as much command of his offense pre-snap that an MVP-hopeful quarterback in his 4th year should have. Of course, he also didn’t have much, if any, time to make adjustments, another problem that needs to be addressed.

If Jackson doesn’t have time to flash his playmaking ability due to poor offensive line play, there’s not much Baltimore’s signal-caller can do. However, Jackson’s understanding of opposing defenses is paramount to the Ravens offense being able to make adjustments mid-game in order to neutralize a hot defense.

Moreover, while responsibility for the lack of offensive production should be put on Jackson and the rest of the players on the field, the Ravens coaching staff simply didn’t make enough adjustments during the game to suggest Baltimore should’ve even come close to beating the Dolphins. For Miami’s defense, what seemed to work time-and-time-again vs. the Ravens was a “Cover 0” scheme that, sacrificing a safety in zone coverage, when executed correctly against the right offensive setup, leaves a free man to tee off on the opposing QB. This scheme gave the Ravens fits, as Jackson was forced to scramble for his life at too high of a clip for Baltimore to get into any type of offensive rhythm.

One of the most frustrating and befuddling issues the Ravens offense must address is how slowly they’ve started games this season. After being one of the most efficient 1st-quarter teams over the past two seasons, the Ravens have so far regressed at the start of games as Baltimore currently ranks 22nd in the NFL averaging a mere three points in the 1st quarter of games this season.

It wasn’t until midway through the 4th quarter that Jackson and the offense made adjustments to muster up some sort of offensive threat as Baltimore’s QB began getting the ball out of his hands more quickly. This led to a five-yard TD pass from Jackson to TE Mark Andrews, which turned out to be the only TD the Ravens would score all game. If the Ravens offense would’ve made this adjustment in the 1st half rather than in the 4th quarter, this game could’ve turned out a lot differently than it ultimately did.

The aftermath of the game wasn’t as bad as the game itself, as the Ravens (6-3) remain in 1st place in a tough AFC North division with the Browns (5-5) being blown out on the road vs. the Patriots, the Steelers (5-3-1) tying the still-winless Lions, and the Bengals (5-4) enjoying some rest on their bye week. The Ravens also currently sit 3rd in the AFC playoff picture behind the Tennessee Titans (8-2) and Buffalo Bills (6-3).

On the bright side, the Ravens can find solace in the floundering performance against the Dolphins in knowing that the AFC, as a whole, is a game of Russian Roulette as teams with losing records have consistently handed losses to the supposed juggernauts of the conference. So far this season, The Jets’ two wins have come against the aforementioned Titans and Bengals. Additionally, in Week 8, the mighty Bills suffered a shocking loss at the hands of the mediocre Jacksonville Jaguars.

However, moral victories and treading water is not where the Ravens ideally would like to be at this point in the season if they hope to be one of the teams in the mix to represent the AFC in the super bowl come February.

The Titans, one of the Ravens’ most heated rivals in the past couple seasons, have proved that winning with injuries is possible as they’ve won both of the games they’ve played without arguably their best player, Derrick Henry, after the star running back injured his right foot in Week 8 against the Colts. The Ravens are at their best when playing tough defense while they run the ball down their opponents’ throats. However, with the run game being inconsistent at best this season and Baltimore not having the personnel on the field to play the man-to-man aggressive style of defense they like to, the Ravens must reinvent themselves much like Tennessee have in order to keep pace atop the ladder of the AFC.

Building an offensive gameplan around a quick-passing game that allows for Jackson to get the ball out of his hands may be beneficial this week against a Chicago Bears team that currently is tied for fourth in the NFL in sacks (25). DC “Wink” Martindale might want to stick with stacking the box and gearing up for healthy doses of David Montgomery and Khalil Herbert as the Bears, so far this season, have run the ball at a higher clip than any other team in the league with 49.6% of their offensive snaps being running plays, according to https://www.footballdb.com/stats/play-selection.html

Whatever gameplan the Ravens configure to beat the Bears, the team must show a passionate response for their fans while also sending a message to the rest of the league that Baltimore is a team to be feared heading into the 2nd half of the season. If The Flock struggle against a Bears team that enters this game on the back of a four-game losing streak, there will be serious cause for concern in Charm City.

I, however, will put my money on Jackson and co. figuring things out to beat a Chicago team they haven’t tasted victory against since that snowy game in Baltimore back in 2009.

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