After a Sunday night performance where the Ravens offense was only able to muster 16 points, while barely pulling out a victory against the fledgling Cleveland Browns, Lamar Jackson and company were looking to right the ship heading into Heinz Field on Sunday. After a promising opening drive ended in yet another interception however, this unit remained stagnant again for the vast majority of the game against the Steelers (at least in terms of scoring points). There were definitely a few moments that the team can build off of heading into next week, but overall the offense just isn’t clicking in the way we’re used to whatsoever during the Jackson era. It was a tough loss to stomach, one that was inches away from being one of the more memorable victories in Pittsburgh that we’ve seen, but a loss all the same.
With that in mind, let’s dive into this week’s five most important plays from the Ravens offense.
Freeman 18-Yard Rush
The Ravens offense came out firing on all cylinders on their opening possession of the game, which was a refreshing surprise in light of the early game woes that have plagued them many times this year. Devonta Freeman opened the game with a 14-yard catch, and then a combination of Jackson’s legs and a sweep to Devin Duvernay had them set up just outside of Pittsburgh’s 30 yard line.
Ravens add new wrinkles to their run game each week and this one was really well executed. Counter with end around action by Duvernay and some slick ball handling by Lamar. pic.twitter.com/hQARfqTmUb
— michael crawford (@abukari) December 7, 2021
Duvernay’s sweep was crucial when mentioning this play, because it’s exactly what set it up to succeed. On 2nd-and-10 Jackson takes the snap with Duvernay motioning left behind him, giving the impression of another handoff or screen pass his way in the flat. Having already been beaten on this play for eight yards, linebackers Devin Bush and Derrek Tuszka both committed to Duvernay initially on the play fake. After faking the handoff to Duvernay, Jackson hands the ball off inside to Freeman, who runs a misdirection with Ben Powers and Pat Ricard both pulling off the right tackle from the left. The misdirection caused Taco Charlton and the rest of the Steelers defenders on that side to freeze momentarily, allowing the blocks to set up and creating a perfect lane for Freeman to hit for 18 in the process.
This play was very Chiefs-esque, and was a promising sign out of the gate that maybe Greg Roman did have a little more in his vault than we gave him credit for. Unfortunately, we didn’t see much creativity like this for the rest of the afternoon, which was a bit of a head-scratcher. Every week we’ve seen Duvernay become more and more involved in the offense though, so hopefully this entire sequence is a sign of things to come down the stretch.
More plays like this will certainly help open up the Ravens offensive attack, which they will need with high-powered teams like Green Bay and Los Angeles coming to town in the next month.
Thus begins my least favorite part of this article, the one where it’s probably going to come off like I’m anti-Lamar Jackson again. All I can continue to do is assure you all that’s not the case. He’s still the best player the Ravens have had at any position since Ray Lewis and Ed Reed, but he’s been playing the worst football of his NFL career over the last month. There’s simply no denying it, and what was now his eighth interception over the last four games may have been the most costly when looking at the 20-19 final score on Sunday.
— Pittsburgh Steelers (@steelers) December 5, 2021
On 3rd-and-long with T.J. Watt hot in pursuit, Jackson scrambles backwards and lofts a duck into the end zone for Mark Andrews off his back foot, right into the arms of Minkah Fitzpatrick. On an opening drive where everything was clicking, to come away with zero points in such an avoidable fashion was an absolute killer, as we saw for the rest of the day. Whether it just threw things completely out of rhythm, dinged the confidence of the offense, or gave Pittsburgh the spark they needed, it clearly affected how the rest of the game played out in terms of points on the board.
Somebody needs to get in Jackson’s ear about his unwillingness to throw the ball away, like yesterday. Sometimes the play just isn’t there, and if a running lane isn’t available you just have to dirt it. The line between playing smarter football and taking away what makes Jackson special IS NOT razor thin, there’s more than enough room to still accomplish both. The injury to Marlon Humphrey in this game is likely only going to add to the pressure he feels on every play to make magic happen, but it can’t come at the expense of easy points early in ball games. If this issue isn’t corrected, with the teams on the schedule down the stretch, it could end up being a cold holiday season for the Ravens flock.
Freeman 3-Yard TD
We’ll give the offense their roses on this one, because outside of the final drive of the game this was by far their best possession of the day. After what was undoubtedly a top-five punt in NFL history, the Ravens were backed up on their own one-yard line and proceeded to drive 99 yards down field for a score. In a drive that took 16 plays, and over 10 minutes off the clock, it was very reminiscent of the 2019 record-breaking offense we’ve been searching for over the last month.
Touchdown @devontafreeman to cap off a 99-yard drive!!
Tune in now on CBS! pic.twitter.com/ghzyfJMuqY
— Baltimore Ravens (@Ravens) December 5, 2021
The drive was capped by a play that was the bread and butter of the offense during that era: a power run to the right, with Ricard and the right side of the offensive line washing down on their blocks. By creating that muddle in the middle of the line of scrimmage, Freeman had nothing but green grass in the vacated area on the right to waltz into the end zone. It was nothing fancy, but it worked to perfection.
We also can’t finish this section without again giving massive props to Devonta Freeman for his play over the second half of the season so far. With a large part of the Ravens offense being totally stagnant, he’s been the only one outside of Duvernay who’s seemed to still improve every week. He finished this game just shy of 100 all purpose yards, 5 catches, and this touchdown. He was quite literally the best offensive player on the field for a large part of Sunday afternoon, and now gets to add his name alongside the likes of Willis McGahee and Justin Forsett of aging running backs who had a true second act in Baltimore.
With their backs against the wall, it seemed like the Ravens may have just enough left in the tank to pull out yet another incredible come from behind victory. Jackson looked poised as he fired strikes to Marquise Brown and Duvernay over the middle (for 22 and 18 yards respectively) to get into the red zone. Despite how it ultimately ended, this drive could be one to build off of this week in practice before heading to Cleveland. With the amount of success the Ravens have had late in games running the no huddle offense this year, it just makes you wonder why we don’t see more of it throughout the other three quarters.
Don’t know if this was by design or improvised but I really like Watkins’ route. Looks like he’s gonna run a shallow cross, stops, cuts upfield and gets behind the DB. pic.twitter.com/LHD5XXLnQl
— michael crawford (@abukari) December 7, 2021
On 3rd-and-5 from the Pittsburgh six-yard line, Jackson takes the snap and calmly goes through his reads. With the pass rush closing in, he fires a dart into the end zone right between Cameron Sutton and Tre Norwood to Sammy Watkins, who makes a tough grab with not much room to spare. Despite the early injury and that one fateful night in Miami, Watkins has been exactly what Ravens fans expected from him upon his arrival to the team. He isn’t lighting up stat sheets by any means, but he brings a veteran presence and a knack for making big plays at the end of games. We saw it in Detroit, saw it in Chicago, and we saw it again here, and I’m sure we’ll see it again at least one or two more times before the curtain closes on this season. This one almost had the same result as those previous catches as well…
Failed 2-Point Conversion
There’s a lot to break down here, so I’ll try my best to keep this short and sweet. First of all, the call by John Harbaugh to go for two points was absolutely the right decision. As he laid out in his press conference, the secondary was in a tough spot following the loss of Humphrey on the previous drive. Even with him in the game, the Steelers had just scored 17 fourth quarter points and showed no signs of slowing down. The options were to trust the fate of a coin flip, or trust your offense and former MVP quarterback for one play, that’s an easy decision seven days a week and twice on Sunday.
The Steelers survive the Ravens’ comeback bid as the two-point conversion attempt is no good! pic.twitter.com/CEhBbQlX69
— USA TODAY NFL (@usatodaynfl) December 6, 2021
The play call itself, also correct. Fitzpatrick was in man coverage on Andrews on the play, so by lining him up behind the line as a wing and then pulling him to the right on his route, there was no way Fitzpatrick was going to be able to reach him in time before he found the end zone. For all intents and purposes, this should’ve resulted in an easy two points and the Ravens leaving Pittsburgh with a monumental victory. Unfortunately, sometimes things just go the other way.
After having a few days to digest it, it’s this blogger’s humble opinion that the fault doesn’t go solely on Jackson, or Andrews, but rather just the way things were destined to go that day (expert analysis right there). In seriousness though, T.J. Watt made as good a play as he could make by clogging up Jackson’s throwing lane, which altered the usual pitch-and-catch connection between he and Andrews just enough to put the ball out of reach. We can talk about the decision to leave Watt unblocked on the play, and there’s been some pretty damning screenshots posted on social media that paints the offensive line in a negative light as well, but the play should’ve still worked.
With all of the circumstances the same, the Ravens likely still connect on that pass seven times out of 10. On this day, it just wasn’t meant to be.
Breaking down matchups like this is always tough, because in a game of inches the narrative completely changes based on the result of one single play. With that said though, there’s still a big problem with the Ravens offense right now, one that’s stopped them from putting up 20 points in a game for a month now. Some things, such as the offensive line, probably won’t be fixed before the season ends just given the circumstances. Turnovers, lack of consistent creativity in the play calling, those are things that can and need to be fixed immediately though. We’ll see if they can do just that after a trip to Cleveland this weekend, next time as we break down the five most important plays from the Ravens offense.