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Ravens Fall 31-30 After Another Failed Two Point Conversion

The Ravens entered the game against the Packers on Sunday as the 31st-ranked pass defense. That’s not ideal when facing the likes of future Hall of Famer Aaron Rodgers who has been on fire of late. Prior to yesterday, Rodgers had thrown for 1,033 yards, 10 TDs, 0 INTs, completing 70.1% of his passes to go with a passer rating of 128.9 during his three previous games. Making matters even more daunting, Baltimore’s already depleted secondary took a couple more hits prior to the game when it was learned that both Chris Westry and Jimmy Smith would miss the contest stemming from COVID-related issues.

Next men up!

That forced defensive coordinator Wink Martindale to get creative – even more so than usual. Special teamer Kevon Seymour was called upon to take 54 defensive snaps (87%); Robert Jackson, a street free agent back in November was in on 61% of the defensive snaps. Anthony Levine, Sr. who had not seen the field for a single defensive play this season, was called into duty for 19 snaps. Even Tony Jefferson, who hadn’t played meaningful football for nearly two seasons save two snaps on November 15 for the 49ers, saw the field against Green Bay for 9 plays. And if that wasn’t enough, Tavon Young was knocked out of the game with a concussion, playing in just 20 of the defense’s 62 total snaps.

The Ravens beleaguered offensive line was also confronted with a few challenges. Ben Cleveland was in for the injured Ben Powers at left guard, while the injured reserve right tackle Patrick Mekari missed another game with a hand injury and then his replacement, Tyre Phillips, left the game with a knee injury after just 23 snaps. That forced David Sharpe into action, a player just elevated from the practice squad.

The roster chaos influenced the betting line on the game which moved all over the place during the week. At one point the Ravens were 2 ½ point underdogs but given the injuries, COVID and the uncertainties concerning Lamar Jackson’s availability, the line took a few twists and turns before eventually landing on the Packers minus 9. And that didn’t seem generous enough.

What the Ravens lacked in personnel, they made up for in character and that is a reflection on the coaching staff and the culture that John Harbaugh has built within the confines of One Winning Drive. And they’ll need to tap even more into their collective intestinal fortitude if the Ravens are to stay in the race for the AFC North title. Sunday’s loss was the Ravens third straight – games that they’ve lost by a TOTAL of 4 points. The loss also snapped what was the NFL’s longest active inter-conference winning streak (13 games) and tied for the second longest since the 1970 merger. The game marked the third consecutive contest during which the outcome was influenced by a decision to go for two points instead of kicking the PAT.

The going has been rough for the Ravens as of late but believe it or not, they still control their own destiny.

Currently the Ravens are listed as 2 ½ point underdogs against the Bengals. The forecast in Cincinnati on Sunday calls for mostly sunny skies and temps reaching 50 degrees. But, before we look ahead, let’s stay focused on yesterday’s 31-30 loss to the Packers.

THE GOOD

For the second consecutive week Tyler Huntley exhibited poise while trying to lead his team to a come-from-behind win. The second-year signal caller engineered two fourth quarter scoring drives, each capped by a Huntley TD run. The first was from 3 yards out at the 4:54 mark of the 4th quarter and the second with just 42 seconds left in the game. Huntley had 73 yards rushing in the game on 13 carries.

4th Quarter Scoring Drives:

• 12 plays, 75 yards, 1 penalty, 4:39 drive
• 7 plays, 49 yards, 1:42 drive

Latavius Murray averaged 6.9 yards on 7 carries and I wondered why Greg Roman didn’t lean on the big back a bit more in the red zone…Rashod Bateman made a nice block to spring Huntley on a fourth quarter run along the left sideline…Nick Boyle’s return gave the ground attack a boost. Roman motioned Nick a few times which helped seal the edge, paving the way for Murray’s success running inside the tackles. That bodes well for the rest of the season particularly if Patrick Ricard makes his way back into the lineup.

Despite the injuries across the offensive line, Joe D’Alessandris’ group performed admirably. When Phillips was knocked out I thought the Packers might feast on replacement David Sharpe. But Sharpe held his own and gave the offense a fighting chance. Ben Cleveland was a force and it would be nice to see the rookie build on his performance moving forward. Alejandro Villanueva held up well in pass pro. Let’s hope that too becomes a trend for the balance of the season.

Justin Madubuike came up big when it mattered most. With 4:44 left in the game and the Ravens trailing 31-24, Madubuike dropped Aaron Jones at the LOS for no gain. Two plays later he did the same to Aaron Rodgers, sacking the Packers QB for a loss of 9 to force the three-and-out…The Ravens failed to generate much pressure. Too often Rodgers had plenty of time to set and throw in an extremely clean pocket. That said the most regular disrupter to Rodgers’ level of comfort was Justin Houston who had a half-sack and a few pressures.

Patrick Queen was menacing defending the run. He led all defenders with 13 tackles and according to Pro Football Focus (“PFF”) his average depth of tackle was a solid 3.6 yards…Also according to PFF Brandon Stephens was targeted just once and was clutch while breaking up a deep pass on third down to force a punt. As a unit the secondary did a nice job containing Davante Adams who was targeted 7 times, reeling in six for 44 yards and a score. Wink’s unique approach to defending Adams was a slight stroke of genius given his depleted secondary. Martindale on occasion would stack double coverage opposite Adams, with Anthony Averett (who played well) as the deep guy, with Robert Jackson at times in close quarters with a light press technique. It’s a challenging assignment against one of the league’s best receivers who is an accomplished technician across the route tree. The tactic helped clamp down on Adams who was asked to run more short and intermediate routes as part of Matt LaFleur’s countermove. Consequently Adam’s depth of target was a season-low 5.5 yards on average.

THE BAD

It’s tough to fault Huntley for anything given his incredibly positive performance under extremely challenging circumstances. But the all-important two-point conversion play essentially provided the Ravens QB with two options on the sprint-out right: Mark Andrews and Marquise Brown. And both were within the same line of sight. He failed to spot Brown for an easy conversion.

Brown was targeted 14 times, catching 10 for just 43 yards. Not one of his catches produced a first down…Receivers not named Mark Andrews were targeted 26 times, completing 18 for just 79 yards (4.4 YPC)…A false-start penalty on Ben Cleveland costs the Ravens a chance on 4th-and-1 from the Packers 15. Instead, the Ravens had to settle for Justin Tucker 38-yard FG to make it 21-17 with 3:20 to go in Q3. That said, this kind of movement happens all the time without a flag.

Odafe Oweh was largely forgettable. He had just 1 tackle and failed to generate much in the way of pressure. He did command our attention after he was flagged for roughing the passer. The resulting penalty changed a 2nd-and-10 from the Ravens 18 at the 13:40 mark of the second quarter into a 1st-and-goal at the Ravens 9. Two plays later the Packers tied the game at 7.

Opting to invest resources to contain Adams, the Ravens left themselves vulnerable when defending the Packers other receivers. Marquez Valdes-Scantling took advantage, hauling in 5 passes for 98 yards and a touchdown…The doubling on Adams worked but a couple of times with two men assigned to the All-Pro receiver, the Ravens defender (specifically Jackson) failed to defend the perimeter in order to force him towards the double coverage. That’s a waste of resources…The unorthodox game plan which committed more to defending the pass, took away some of the assets Wink normally deploys when defending the run. Aaron Jones was effective, producing 70 yards on 15 carries (4.67 YPC).

Chart courtesy of Pro Football Focus

THE UGLY

The officiating in this game was at best inconsistent. At the 7:46 mark of the third quarter, the Packers faced a 3rd-and-10 from the Ravens 21. Rodgers pass to Allen Lazard caromed off the receivers hands to force a would-be FGA from Mason Crosby. But the officials had other plans.

One play later Rodgers hit Aaron Jones in the end zone to put the Packers up 21-14. The scoring strike to Jones also carried a bit of controversy in that it appears Josh Bynes is knocked off his assignment with a pick. I’ll let you be the judge.

Back to the DPI on Seymour. If the officials are going to call that, then Eric Stokes should have been called for a DPI on Brown. If Stokes had been flagged, the Ravens would have had a first down at the Packers 14. Instead two plays later they kicked the field goal to make it a 21-17 game.

COACHING

Many today are of the opinion that the Ravens opting not to kick the field goal on their opening possession ultimately cost them the game. If that’s sounds like you, you’re wrong. Part of the thought process baked into the analytics when going for it on fourth down deep in an opponent’s territory, is the fact that if the attempt fails, the opponent takes over with bad field position. Then if you force a punt, the decision to not kick the field goal is more acceptable if you gain favorable field position and then take advantage of it. And that’s exactly how if played out, true to the analytics.

After the three-and-out, the Packers punted and following a kick/catch interference penalty the Ravens took over at the Green Bay 45. Seven plays and 3:32 later the Ravens enjoyed a 7-0 lead. That touchdown in part is a byproduct of the Ravens flipping the field following their failed fourth down attempt.

The game featured solid coaching from the entire staff, particularly the coordinators. Greg Roman helped his depleted troops by getting the ball out on time with short drops from Huntley. This helped them to enjoy more manageable second and third down attempts. Wink utilized the aforementioned stacking to throw off the timing between Rodgers and Adams. He also mixed in a variety of 3 and 4 man pressures to create confusion across the Packers offensive front.

The Two-Point Conversion Attempt

In hindsight it’s easy to criticize the failed two-point conversions, each of which have affected the Ravens current three-game skid. I supported the failed attempt in Pittsburgh. Last week in Cleveland, I thought keeping it a one score game and trying the PAT to make it 24-16 was the smart move. John’s staff thought otherwise. This week against the Packers, I can see both sides of the argument.

Rodgers was having his way with the Ravens, completing 74.2% of his passes with 3 scores, and was never really threatened by any potential INTs. So with the opportunity for the win, Harbaugh couldn’t resist. At the time, I didn’t question the decision but I did question the play call.

That said, after some more time to process the decision, I’ve reached a different conclusion and hindsight has nothing to do with it. Consider for a moment that the Ravens are now 2-of-8 for the season on two-point conversion attempts. Both of the successful attempts were at the hands of the Colts and both were passes from Lamar to Andrews. The analytics which are based on averages and probability may tell one story. But the Ravens 25% two-point success rate tells another story. They just aren’t very good at two-point tries and until they are, the read on the analytics isn’t accurate given their poor execution.

Also, if the threat of Aaron Rodgers influenced the decision in part and Harbaugh didn’t have the confidence that his defense would hold up in overtime, why did he think that they’d hold up for 42 seconds and Green Bay holding a timeout? Harbaugh’s lack of confidence in the defense was on display earlier in the fourth quarter when down by 11, he opted to go for it on fourth-and-6 from their own 29.

After the game Rodgers shared his thoughts on Harbaugh’s decision:


“‘Te’ [Davante Adams] and I were actually talking about it a few plays before the touchdown. We both agreed that they would probably go for two. I think it’s the same reason they went for it backed in their own territory down by 11, they just didn’t feel like they could stop us.”


Since the failed conversion, the Harbaugh critics are in full force even suggesting that he should be fired. Talk about ridiculous.

THE MEGAN FOX AWARD

Mark Andrews was dominant – arguably the most dominant player on either side of the ball for both teams, Aaron Rodgers included. With 10 catches for a game-high 136 receiving yards and 2 TDs on 13 targets to push his seasonal totals to 85/1,062/8, Andrews produced the 13th 1,000-yard receiving season in Ravens history (and the first by a tight end). Of the Ravens 12 first downs by air, Andrews converted 10 of them. Andrews has now notched three consecutive seasons with at least 700 receiving yards and receiving 7 TDs, marking the longest streak reaching those figures in Ravens history. It’s also the longest active streak by an NFL tight end. Mark now owns four 100-yard receiving games in 2021, tying (Steve Smith – 2014, Mark Clayton – 2006 & Michael Jackson – 1996) for the most in Ravens single-season history.

His record-setting day deserved a better outcome.

[Ravens Report Card]

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