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Painful Season Finally Ends

Season 2021 Ravens
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Six consecutive losses. Last place in the AFC North. Swept by the Steelers and Bengals. Fourteenth pick in the 2022 NFL Draft. Just 35 days ago the Ravens were the No. 1 seed in the AFC. Today, they will be cleaning out their lockers. The 2021 season has come to a crashing halt.

From the perspective of a fan, from the perspective of a fan who covers the team, this was the most gut-wrenching season of all. I get that recency bias might have an influence on these immediate emotions. The frustration of that what could have been, if not for the massive number of injuries and inordinate amount of COVID setbacks, is palpable.

The shock that accompanied the sudden season-endings in 2006, 2011 and 2019 was devastating. The teams in ’06 and ’19 were both capable of winning a Super Bowl. The 2011 squad had a potential championship slip through Lee Evans fingers. Those were knockouts. 2021 was a 15-round bout consisting of body blows that eventually led to a loss on the judges’ scorecards. Collectively, like the Ravens offense, we’ve succumb to exhaustion.

To put this season in perspective, the Ravens last win in 2021 was a 16-10 victory over the Cleveland Browns during which Lamar Jackson threw four interceptions, three of which came within the span of 6 second-quarter passes. After that November 28 game, Lamar admitted that “I looked like a rookie”. Well if we’re being honest, it was worse.

In retrospect, fans and even the team, may lament losses to the Raiders in OT, the Steelers in Pittsburgh, the Browns in Cleveland as well as home losses to the Packers, Rams and Steelers and conclude that the Ravens could have won any of those games with a fortuitous twist. And while that may be true, they were also the beneficiaries of good fortune in games they could have easily lost against the Chiefs, Lions, Colts, Vikings, Bears and Browns – six games won by a combined margin of 21 points.

It’s been that kind of season and for the Ravens, thanks to a 16-13 loss to the Steelers in overtime on Sunday, January 9, this chapter is now in the history books. As for the next chapter, the Ravens will need to determine if the massive number of injuries to key players was the major deterrent to success. But let’s be honest, they would be foolish to conclude that the bad luck in the health department was their only obstacle. There’s more to it than that. Much more…

THE GOOD

Mark Andrews had 8 catches for 85 yards to finish the season with a stellar 107 catches, 1,361 yards and nine touchdowns. Where would this ragtag bunch be without him?…The Ravens offensive line did a decent job of giving Tyler Huntley time to set and throw and they controlled the line of scrimmage running the ball. O-line standouts in the run game were Kevin Zeitler, Bradley Bozeman and Ben Cleveland…Props to Rashod Bateman for his willing support of the running game as well.

The defensive line controlled the LOS on their side of the ball, limiting the Steelers to 79 yards on 30 carries. Thirty-three of those yards were courtesy of Chase Claypool on the Steelers version of the jet sweep. RB’s were held to 46 yards on 27 carries (1.7 YPC). Calais Campbell, Brandon Williams and Justin Madubuike were outstanding…Patrick Queen had a splash series early in the second quarter. The Steelers began their first Q2 possession at their own 45. Roethlisberger hit Ray-Ray McCloud with a short out to the right and Queen took down the WR for no gain. On the very next play, Queen read the play pre-snap and timed it perfectly with a run blitz, meeting Benny Snell the moment he accepted the handoff. Bowser cleaned up for the 6-yard loss but the play was enabled by Queen. Overall the second-year linebacker had a very solid day defending the run. In coverage, well that’s a different story.

Justin Houston was effective on the edge. He’s been a nice all-around addition to the team. Hopefully he’ll be back…Tyus Bowser was effective as well, contributing 6 tackles, 2 for losses…Kevon Seymour was targeted 6 times, gave up 5 completions but the damage was minimal (16 yards). He also recorded 3 tackles for loss…Brandon Stephens had an opportunity to make an impact play but failed, dropping a rather easy INT. That said he had a productive outing and he’s become a nice chess piece for Wink Martindale given his versatility…Chuck Clark played well on the backend and in run support.

THE BAD

David Sharpe struggled in limited action but coming off the bench to slow down T.J. Watt isn’t an easy task for 99% of human beings. He allowed 2 pressures in 9 snaps per PFF…Queen’s open field tackling looked like a game of pin-the-tail on the donkey at worst – at best he looked like former Orioles “slugger” Chris Davis with 2 strikes…Sam Koch netted just 34.1 yards on 7 punts. His 23 yard water fowl at the 5:40 mark of the third quarter set the Steelers up with good field position at their own 35.

THE UGLY

Marquise Brown dropped a TD pass late in the second quarter forcing the Ravens to settle for a game-tying field goal. Then with 31 seconds left in the fourth, Brown had an opportunity to give the Ravens a first down at the Steelers 49 but failed to put it away. If he makes the catch the Ravens have a 1/2 minute to advance the ball 15-20 yards to set up Justin Tucker for the game-winner. So much for the “souljas”.

[Exercise Marquise Brown’s 5th-year Option?]

His early success aside, when he once surveyed the field, Huntley looked like a scared, one-read quarterback against the Steelers. He was 16 of 31 for 141 yards and two INTs for a wretched passer rating of 37.2. Facing a second-and-6 from the Steelers 11 on the first play of the 4th quarter leading 10-6, Huntley forced a ball into traffic to Andrews. The pass had little zip to it and was easily picked off by Cam Sutton. On the play, a touch pass to the left towards Bateman could have resulted in a score. The last thing you want in that situation is a turnover given how sloppy both offenses were and points were at a premium. The worst that should be expected in that situation is a 13-6 lead while maintaining momentum. Huntley had another pick of a pass that was nothing more than a prayer intended for Andrews. The butt-snap from Bozeman wasn’t Huntley’s fault – trying to advance it was, particularly in the wet weather. Tyler looked panicked at times in the pocket, once falling into the hind parts of Zeitler. At least he didn’t unleash his inner Mark Sanchez…The Ravens were 3 of 14 on third down conversion attempts, 0 for 2 in the red zone and 0 for 1 in goal-to-go situations.

While the defense, despite their personnel limitations, did a nice job of limiting the Steelers, once again they failed during crunch time. This is a familiar theme with Martindale’s defenses and speaks to the lack of playmakers the Ravens field. Simply put, opponents make more plays than the Ravens do when it counts the most. That’s how a team loses 5 games by a total of 8 points over their last six. During Pittsburgh’s game-winning drive in OT, Roethlisberger converted on third-and-7, third-and-9 and finally fourth-and-8 from the Ravens 41. It’s just a movie we’ve seen over and over and over.

COACHING

Greg Roman’s unit had just one touchdown over their final two games. During their last nine games dating back to the Thursday night game when they were exposed by the Dolphins, the Ravens have just 13 offensive touchdowns and they’ve averaged 17.7 PPG (removing the Chuck Clark pick-six). Prior to the South Beach debacle the Ravens averaged 27.7 points. What G-Ro said (or maybe what he didn’t say) during his most recent presser, is shockingly revealing when asked about the lack of big plays.


“I think halfway through the season, we were No. 1 in big plays, and they’ve dropped off dramatically. It’s not what we’re … We want to always be able to try to create big plays, or at least threaten the defense with big plays. A huge component of that is how defenses have played us. Really since that mid-point of the year, you could basically book us as running the ball and trying to hit big plays. We were very successful at it. A lot of teams changed their strategies against us. This last team that came in, we’ve never seen that kind of approach against us before, where they basically said, ‘Go ahead and run it every play if you want.’”


Shouldn’t a good offensive coordinator have an answer, particularly when opponents are just daring you?…The lack of imaginative play calling in the red zone (an Andrews run from the fullback position doesn’t qualify) makes you wonder what the Ravens practice all week. The fact that they still cannot execute a screen is mind-blowingly revealing.

As noted above, the Ravens just regularly fail when they need a defensive stand. This isn’t a 2021 thing or even a 2020 thing. This has been going on for years. It’s a pattern. Actually it’s beyond a pattern. It’s a character flaw of Wink’s defenses and injuries aside, it has to weigh into the equation of John Harbaugh’s two-point conversion attempts that have been a bust in 2021’s Analytics Department, located just a door down from the janitor’s supply closet.

As for Harbs, your M.O. is to go for it on fourth-and-2 from the opponent’s 47 yard line with your defense playing well. But instead, they opt to try a fake punt with a pass no less. What a confidence booster for Huntley, right?…And why would anyone sign off on dressing Sammy Watkins who hasn’t caught a pass in over a month while James Proche had 7 catches the last time he dressed. Let’s not pretend that you need Watkins to stretch the field when by the OC’s admission, they aren’t throwing the ball deep. Clearly Watkins is done in Baltimore, a place where aging receivers careers go to die. So why not give the nod to Proche? Oh and let’s not forget how important Ty’Son Williams is to the offense. What would they have done without his 1 carry for four yards?

Since the Ravens Super Bowl 47 win, they’ve gone (2-4) in the playoffs covering 9 seasons. Since losing to the Patriots in the 2014 Divisional Round, the Ravens have gone (1-3) over the course of 7 seasons.

Steve Bisciotti John Harbaugh

THE QUOTABLES

The Lack of Playmakers Theme

“They made the plays, and we didn’t — football is as simple as that. Whoever makes the plays in the biggest moments are going to win the game. It hurts just thinking about the opportunities we had, and we couldn’t get it done, but it’s football.” ~ Calais Campbell

“We fell short in numerous games here down the stretch in the sense that we just couldn’t find a play. We couldn’t find a play that we needed. We couldn’t find a way to put them in position to make the play that would make the difference in the game, and that’s what I feel worse about as a coach. Any one of these games we could’ve found something to find a way to win the game. We would have liked to have done that, but we didn’t come up with that. That’s my biggest disappointment.” ~ John Harbaugh

THE MEGAN FOX AWARD

Several Ravens have played their last game in Baltimore this season and this week’s Player of the Game is another – Latavius Murray, who unleashed his inner Gus “The Bus” Edwards against the Steelers. He ran purposefully with a burst, gaining 150 yards on 16 carries (9.4 YPC) including a 46-yard score.

Who would have thought that during a season that once held promise, that the team’s final touchdown of the season would come from a discarded former Saint who is one-and-done in B’more?

It has been that kind of season and now, we can stick a fork in it. But hey, if you are looking for a silver lining, here’s one. If the Ravens had won, the Patriots would have soiled the bed on Baltimore’s playoff chances after losing for the Dolphins. That’s what would have happened with a win at The Bank. Now, the Ravens get the benefit of a fourth-place schedule and a better draft pick.

Too soon?

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