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Sacked at Heinz

Lamar Jackson sacked by Chris Wormley
Photo Credit: Joe Sargent, Getty Images
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Reading Time: 9 minutes

Leading into this game against the Steelers, I tried to take the long view. In other words, I considered the Ravens then No. 1 ranking in the AFC, how they got there and how the team might stay atop the conference. I reasoned that despite the injuries and the mountain of obstacles they’ve had to overcome, the Ravens were in the driver’s seat and if they could manage to stay there, continue to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat, then the road to the Super Bowl would have to go through Baltimore.

I further reasoned that the defense was finally rounding into shape. The pass rush was becoming more menacing, Tyus Bowser and Patrick Queen were regular contributors, even difference makers, the tackling had improved and without question, the offensive funk the Ravens have been in since their 34-31 win over the Vikings, would come to a halt and Lamar Jackson would dust off the Superman cape that he wore earlier in the season. All of this, I concluded, would help the Ravens round into shape and become the most balanced team in the conference, starting with their trip to Pittsburgh against a team in decay.

Unfortunately I was wrong – Sunday was just more of the same. (I hope that I can find the receipt for those purple goggles.) Instead of things coming together in the manner projected, they’ve fallen apart even more and the balance of the season looks daunting with road trips to Cleveland and Cincinnati paired with home games against the Packers, Rams and Steelers. I had the Ravens winning convincingly, 34-13, although in my defense that was before I learned that T.J. Watt would play. I then tempered my prediction on air during WGMD’s pregame show to 27-13 Ravens. Maybe I should change my Bold Predictions to Shots in The Dark.

But I digress…

You know it seems as if the Ravens just don’t embrace prosperity. After the Chargers did them a solid with a convincing win over the Bengals earlier in the day, the Ravens had a chance to take a two game lead in the AFC North. Instead, they struggled again on offense against a team that had given up 41 points in each of their previous two games – a team whose rushing defense bled as if they were on blood thinners, philanthropically yielding 229 yards rushing to the Lions just 3 weeks ago and an average of 195 yards by ground in each game since. On Sunday the Ravens managed just 107 yards rushing even with the most mobile quarterback in the history of the NFL.

Speaking of whom, Lamar has now been sacked 37 times in 11 starts this season. Tyler Huntley was sacked 6 times in his only start against the Bears. That adds up to a league leading 43 sacks allowed and that’s with the quarterback who has the best escapability of any in the game. If Joe Flacco had to stand behind that line they’d be preparing funeral services for the Super Bowl 47 MVP.

Lamar Jackson sacked

You hear it said often, the game is won and lost in the trenches and that’s exactly what happened in Pittsburgh. When the Ravens were on offense, the Steelers won the line of scrimmage. The offensive line has been a problem since day one of training camp and there’s little reason to believe it will get any better over the remaining five games.

Yesterday’s game, for all intents and purposes, ended when the Ravens failed to convert a two-point attempt. The call may have seemed ballsy to some but in reality it was a decision rooted in desperation. When asked about the decision to go for two after the game, John Harbaugh said, “We were pretty much out of corners at that point in time. It was an opportunity to try to win the game right there.”

Initially I had a problem with the call. But when I considered that the Steelers last three possessions ended in scores producing 17 points and then later learned that the team had lost Marlon Humphrey, something Harbaugh knew that the rest of the world didn’t, I then understood the call/decision.

Despite being on the field for just 6:30 in the first half and just 13:13 through three quarters, the Ravens defense looked gassed in the fourth quarter. Their tackling was shoddy and once again there were miscommunications in the secondary leading to chunk plays. So really, the story line has been pretty consistent all year. Terrible offensive line play, bad tackling and blown assignments in the secondary leading to big plays for the opponents.

When asked about the defensive struggles in the fourth quarter, Harbaugh was asked if the defense was tired.

“No, they hit zero coverage a couple times. You go to the well too many times, and they get you. That’s what happened.”

Hmmm, a little shade for Wink Martindale?

Despite it all, the Ravens were just a couple of inches away from advancing to (9-3) on the season. Instead they’ll have to settle for an (8-4) record with a one-game edge on the (7-5) Bengals in the AFCN. But you have to wonder if that will last. Patrick Mekari was knocked out of the game with a hand injury that sounds like it will keep him sidelined for a couple of weeks. His replacement Tyre Phillips moved on the edge like he was just released from the Maryland State Penitentiary and the guards forgot to remove his shackles. T.J. Watt had a field day and Myles Garrett will do the same next week in Cleveland.

Making things even worse, Marlon Humphrey is expected to miss the balance of the season with a pec injury. At some point, despite the team’s character, despite the next-man-up credo and despite their track record of overcoming adversity, the obstacles accumulate to the point where they become insurmountable. And unfortunately, that may be where the team is at this very moment. That said, the league just isn’t very good and as long as teams stay in contention, there’s always a chance. But it’s starting to feel like a Lloyd Christmas chance.

With 43 sacks allowed, a running game that is but a shadow of what it used to be and an offense that now has averaged just 15 points over the last 4 games, the (8-4) record seems a bit like lipstick on a pig.

 

THE GOOD

Devonta Freeman showed a burst at times and made positive yards when seemingly none were there. He finished with 52 yards on 14 carries plus a score…Latavius Murray was a surprising boost to the passing game although his contributions were short-lived. He had two catches (18 and 16 yards each), one of which produced a first down deep in Steelers territory and the other that got the Ravens out of a 2nd and 24 at the Steelers 28…Marquise Brown continues to present himself as an inviting target. He had 5 catches for 55 yards and drew a big DPI. Had the ball been thrown better (Lamar was under duress), Brown might still be running…Sammy Watkins was quiet for most of the game but stepped up on the Ravens final drive, with 2 catches for 19 yards including the 6-yard TD strike…Despite a drop, Mark Andrews contributed with four catches for 50 yards and showed tremendous fight battling for a key third down conversion…The play design that featured Devin Duvernay in motion, Lamar faking the handoff to him while pivoting to an inside handoff to Freeman was a thing of beauty. On a couple of plays Kevin Zeitler and Ben Powers got out in space to the second level…

Brandon posted a career-high 11 tackles (6 solo), including 1 TFL…Patrick Queen and edge defenders Odafe Oweh and Justin Houston helped to contain Najee Harris (21 carries, 71 yards, 3.4 YPC). They were kept clean thanks to Williams and Calais Campbell up front…Smart play by Chuck Clark to draw the offsides penalty to help preserve the clock…Special teams had a solid game with Sam Koch netting 42.5 yards on four punts; Justin Tucker was flawless while Duvernay averaged 30.5 yards on two returns.

THE BAD

Lamar Jackson string of consecutive bad games is now a bit alarming. He locks in on receivers and with his abnormal arm angles when throwing, he’s a regular victim of batted down passes. He’s struggling to see the field and seems hesitant to throw receivers open, uncoiling only when receivers are wide open and even then, the balls are often off target or they don’t give receivers a chance to make a play after the catch. Granted, his offensive line is a sieve and that’s made him a bit twitchy, but it just seems he’s looking way downfield too long, holding the ball too long and by the time he makes up his mind, receivers are covered forcing him to try to escape when it’s too late. He was sacked seven times but some of those are on his hesitation. Last week after his horrific outing v. the Browns, Lamar criticized himself saying that he played like a rookie. Well that rookie was back again on the Ravens first drive, throwing an interception in the end zone. The only thing keeping Lamar from “The Ugly” is that final drive which produced what could have been a game-tying touchdown with the PAT…Rashod Bateman had one target and a false start. Why he wasn’t more involved against a suspect Steelers secondary, is a bit of a mystery…Nate McCrary? Really? Why bother? (1 passive carry for -1 yard)…Eric Tomlinson with 2 penalties. Sheesh!

For a player who is paid to be elite, Marlon Humphrey is targeted quite often on the boundaries. He’s often a step behind and when there are opportunities to make a play on the ball he comes up empty. A ball hawk he is not. Per Pro Football Focus (“PFF”) Marlo was targeted 6 times giving up 5 completions and a passer rating when targeted of 136.1. It could have been even worse had the Ravens not challenged a 32-yard “catch” by the great Ray-Ray McCloud who beat Humphrey on the play…Chuck Clark had a chance for an INT but as the games go by, it’s becoming more apparent he’s the resident Roberto Duran – “Hands of Stone”. He also got away with a hit on a defenseless receiver that should have given the Steelers a first down in good field position…Jimmy Smith plays like a player trying to survive. He’s about as eager to tackle as a vampire is to go to the beach on a cloudless, summer afternoon.

Ray Ray McCloud
Photo Credit: Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

THE UGLY

The single biggest failure of the Ravens organization this season is their inability to assemble even a decent offensive line. Alejandro Villanueva may as well be Robot from Lost in Space; Tyre Phillips a third base coach waving home a base runner and Ben Powers, when he’s on the field in pass pro, if you listen closely you’ll hear him ask, “Which way did he go?” Opposing teams blitzing only makes matters worse, particularly when your offense is late to the line of scrimmage, press-snap adjustments are rare and hot reads are virtually non-existent…The snap that caromed off Patrick Ricard (negated by a false start) had NFL Bloopers written all over it. Fortunately the officials put an end to the comedy.

Anthony Averett was awful. He was targeted 9 times, yielding 6 completions and 108 yards to go with a passer rating allowed of 144.7, again per PFF. Averett’s tackling is shoddy, as if he’s protecting an injury. And given the way this season is going, he most likely is doing exactly that. Averett also drew a holding penalty that negated Queen’s interception with the Ravens leading 13-12 at the 2:55 mark of the fourth quarter. It was a questionable call but when you’re getting lit up all night, those calls inevitably go against you.

COACHING

On November 11, Brian Flores and the Miami Dolphins opened a gaping wound in the Ravens offense. They’ve yet to adjust, to do anything to deter opponents from unleashing a steady diet of blitzes aimed at Lamar Jackson. It’s been a feeding frenzy and the offense’s inability to adjust is akin to chum in shark infested waters. And until the Ravens do adjust, they’ll see more of the same…Lamar seems to shine when the Ravens run no-huddle and given how stuck in the mud the Ravens offense has been and the struggles of their offensive line, why they don’t make it a part of their regular offense is just irresponsible and arrogant…How do the Ravens not account for Watt on the two-point conversion? UNBELIEVABLE! Watt clearly contributed to the errant throw…Good challenge by Harbaugh to negate a 32-yard completion to McCloud on the Steelers opening drive of the third quarter. Full disclosure, I thought it was another wasted challenge. I’m not sure what a catch is anymore. I’m not sure the officials do either.


“We can put him in better position too in terms of getting the ball out quick with some of those calls. Seven sacks is too many. It’s way too many. That’s on us as a coaching staff to get that cleaned up.” ~ John Harbaugh when asked if Lamar is holding the ball too long


The miscommunication gaffes in the secondary leading to big plays is practically a weekly occurrence. And the over-reliance on Cover Zero and blitzes against a quarterback who gets the ball out in less than 2 ½ seconds just seems like a grossly ineffective deployment of resources. How are both of these things still an issue after 12 games?

In 39 games as a member of the Baltimore Ravens, Chris Wormley had 2 ½ sacks. Yesterday against his former team, Wormley matched that total.


They aggressively play analytics and from that standpoint they’re predictable.” ~ Mike Tomlin when asked if he was surprised that the Ravens went for two on their final possession.


THE MEGAN FOX AWARD

The MFA was a challenge, but I have to admit when the Ravens marched 99+ yards on 16 plays eating up 10:27 of clock, I thought they might cruise to a win. Obviously that didn’t happen but for these 10+ moments in time, things looked pretty good.

UP NEXT

The Cleveland Browns host the Ravens at 1 PM on Sunday. The Ravens opened as 1 point favorites but for the moment the line sits at Cleveland – 1 ½.

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