You ever find yourself having a great day, and then something rears its ugly head and steals your newfound joy? Well, that was today for Ravens fans, as a fun, entertaining afternoon finished up with receiving a group wedgie on the playground as the cute girl from your history class joined in on the laughter. It was one more day of heartache. One more day of frustration.
One more day of “what could have been.”
Let’s hand out some grades for this stomach-turning loss to the Los Angeles Rams, and try to remember some of the good times along the way. There were some… you know, before the wedgie.
The Ravens had nice balance, running for 165 yards and throwing for 162, and the run game really seemed to get better throughout the game, until, well… falling apart in the red zone late. Too many drives ended on the foot of Justin Tucker, and they were woefully short of explosive plays. One touchdown just doesn’t cut it.
I like Tyler Huntley, and I believe he has a nice thing going in the quick passing game with Rashod Bateman and Marquise Brown. He’s also smart enough to know to look for Mark Andrews whenever he has the chance, and he is a tremendously-gifted runner. He had a nice game in a lot of ways, completing 20 out of 32 passes, and consistently buying time. He just never made that “big connect” that could have tilted the game. He just missed Bateman deep early, and the interception was some kind of weird miscommunication between him and Brown. The delay of game in the fourth quarter in the red zone hurt a bunch, and he could have hit Andrews on third down for a touchdown if he threw it on time. He was fine. The Ravens just needed a little more than “fine” today.
Running Backs: B-
Devonta Freeman rushed for 76 yards, though a lot of them came on one run in the fourth quarter. Again, he got what was easily there for him, and he missed badly on one block for a sack, while leaking out on another and leaving a man unblocked — though I don’t know if that was his responsibility or not. Latavius Murray ran hard, particularly in the fourth quarter, but he doesn’t make many people miss.
Andrews had six catches for 89 yards, adding another very good game to his 2021 resumé. Bateman was good on short, quick routes, and Brown is just not getting downfield for the big plays he was hitting earlier in the year. Lamar Jackson factor? I felt like James Proche could have come in handy on some of those short-yardage and red-zone opportunities.
Offensive Line: D+
It wasn’t all terrible. They did a nice job getting push for the run as the game continued, but there were a lot of mistakes. Ben Cleveland got bullied twice early, but I did think he looked better in the second half. Alejandro Villanueva had a very costly penalty, and Patrick Mekari got beaten a few times, including a game-sealing sack by Von Miller. Trystan Colon was bad, getting beat badly twice on that late “and-goal” possession that frustratingly led to a field goal. I felt like had Bradley Bozeman played… that was the difference in a 1-point game.
HE CAUGHT IT!!!!!
— Nic Mason (@British_Raven19) January 2, 2022
They got beat at the end, and that leaves a bad taste in the mouth. But they did generate three turnovers, scored seven points and hung in there against a very talented offense, while fielding an undermanned team. Holding the Rams to 20 points is a good day overall.
Defensive Line: B
Brandon Williams had a huge run stuff on a second-and-1 and Justin Madubuike and Calais Campbell both blew up a couple runs. It was by no means a dominant effort, but it was good against a good offense, with a good line.
Jaylon Ferguson made a bit of a splash early to blow up a run in the first quarter, but he had a problem disengaging from blocks much of the game. Patrick Queen, who had been playing much better recently, missed a couple tackles to help out Rams drives, and got beaten badly by Cooper Kupp on his touchdown. Josh Bynes made a couple plays, but also got washed out on a few runs. Tyus Bowser and Justin Houston combined for a great sack-fumble-recovery to stop a Rams drive.
Defensive Backs: C
They are undermanned, no doubt about it. And the Rams are good. Real, real good. Still… they just let the Rams have too many easy plays when they needed to make it harder on them. I understood the respect they were giving the Rams receivers, but it felt like Geno Stone could have been a step or two quicker responding to plays in front of him. There was some good, though, including Chuck Clark’s two interceptions, and his pick-six. Jimmy Smith and Tony Jefferson both made some terrific plays on that final Rams drive, and Brandon Stephens had a sensational open-field tackle on Tyler Higbee to end a drive. It was a really good performance by the unit until the end — you know, when it really mattered.
Special Teams: A
Sam Koch put two of his three punts inside the Rams’ 10-yard-line, and Justin Tucker made all four of his field goals. Tony Jefferson had a great tackle on a first-quarter kick return. Not a lot to say here: they did their job well every time they stepped on the field.
Again, this team fought hard under extremely adverse conditions. You have to give the coaching staff a ton of credit for that. Schematically, I completely understood Wink Martindale’s plan to keep receivers in front of his defenders — he honestly had no chance.
On offense, I’m starting to join the chorus of this offense needing to spread out more and take advantage of its personnel. There is no Ronnie Stanley, Orlando Brown, Jr., Hayden Hurst, Mark Ingram, JK Dobbins, Gus Edwards or Marshall Yanda, and Nick Boyle and Patrick Ricard are not as healthy as anybody would like right now. This is a different unit than it was in 2019 or 2020, and it’s time to understand that the best players available on offense are the pass catchers. Get it to them in space, and quickly. Also, on the first possession of the game, the Ravens are getting stuffed in the run game and moving it in the pass game — so they run the ball with Freeman on third-and-three? Also, I didn’t like the red-zone calls in the fourth. The timeout situation was tricky. I felt like the Rams picking up that fourth-down conversion, without scoring a touchdown, was a killer strategically for the Ravens.