One week after clinching their first AFC North championship in six years and their first playoff appearance in three years, the 2018 Ravens season is suddenly over.
1. Offensive line: What was that?
Without question, the Ravens offensive line performed the worst out of anybody against the Chargers. They got dominated. It was so bad that starting left guard James Hurst was pulled around halftime for rookie offensive lineman Bradley Bozeman. Ronnie Stanley got flagged twice for dumb penalties. The Chargers sacked Lamar Jackson seven times and hit him nine other times. Los Angeles finished the game with nine tackles-for-loss.
Simply put, the Chargers front seven had their way with the Ravens offensive line until midway through the fourth quarter when the Ravens scored two garbage time touchdowns off the hands of Michael Crabtree.
In Jackson’s seven regular season starts, the Ravens finished with below 200 rushing yards just twice – 194 yards against the Chiefs in week 14 and 159 yards against L.A. in week 16. On Sunday, the Chargers defense limited the Ravens to 90 yards on the ground, their fifth-lowest total of the season. Jackson led the Ravens with 54 yards on nine carries, while the duo of Kenneth Dixon and Gus Edwards combined for 36 yards on 14 carries between them.
John Harbaugh, Marty Mornhinweg, Greg Roman, and the Ravens offensive coaches deserve a lot of credit for what they did with Baltimore’s running game throughout the season. Credit should also be given to the offensive linemen for going from one of the worst running offenses in the NFL to arguably the best. However, the Ravens’ offensive line lacks physicality. Stanley and Orlando Brown are space-eaters that can get by with their size, but neither of them can match up with the top pass rushers in the NFL. Hurst is a glorified backup that knows the playbook well but has been known to get obliterated by physical defenders. Much of the same can be said for Matt Skura.
Offensive line should be one of the positions the Ravens heavily monitor through free agency and the draft this offseason. It’s unknown whether Marhsal Yanda will retire or not. Alex Lewis can’t stay on the field and his limited play this season left a lot to be desired. Skura isn’t a true center. He was forced into that role after Ryan Jensen‘s departure because the Ravens had no other options. Jackson already takes more hits than most quarterbacks, and the Ravens need to do a better job of protecting him. No matter who the quarterback was this season – Jackson or Joe Flacco – pass protection was always a weakness.
2. Even though we knew Joe Flacco’s time was up, John Harbaugh’s decision to not play him leaves a sour taste in our mouths
Even before Mike Badgley‘s 47-yard field goal that put the Chargers up 23-3 with just over nine minutes left in the third quarter, fans at M&T Bank Stadium were booing Jackson and calling for Flacco to enter the game. A big chunk of blame should fall on the shoulders of the offensive line, but Jackson missed several throws and put the ball on the ground multiple times in the first half. With no running game whatsoever and little time to make throws in the pocket, Jackson looked flustered on the playoff stage.
At one point, the Chargers had sacked Jackson more times than the rookie quarterback had completions. Not all of the blame should be placed on Jackson for how mightily he struggled on Sunday, almost every quarterback in the NFL wouldn’t have been able to do anything with the amount of pressure thrown on Jackson during Sunday’s game. Quarterbacks, particularly rookie quarterbacks, can get flustered in the playoffs. Look at what happened to Deshaun Watson in Houston yesterday. Being flustered is not an excuse for putting the ball on the ground, but the offensive line gave Jackson no help in his first playoff start.
Jackson and the offense came through late and scored two touchdowns in just under five minutes, but Harbaugh not giving Flacco a chance to throw the Ravens back into the game brought back memories of Buck Showalter not bringing in Zach Britton during the 2016 Wild Card game between the Orioles and the Blue Jays. I understand the viewpoint of not taking Jackson out because he’s the future of the franchise and Harbaugh didn’t want to hurt his confidence. But the Ravens have a former Super Bowl MVP quarterback on their bench and they had no inclination of putting him in down three scores in a playoff game. That’s awfully stubborn.
After the game, Harbaugh said what we’ve already known for weeks, and that’s that Jackson is the Ravens starting quarterback going forward.
Even with the Ravens confirming that Flacco won’t be a Raven next season, Baltimore was playing their first playoff game in three years. It’s do-or-die. If you’re lucky enough to have a quarterback of Flacco’s caliber healthy on the bench and you’re down 20 points, why not go to that guy who can throw much better than Jackson a chance?
The writing was on the wall in April and the shift from Jackson to Flacco was implemented in week 11, but the ending of the Flacco era ended in Baltimore is sure to leave a sour taste in a lot of fans’ mouths.
3. Even with Jackson cemented into the Ravens plans, the future of the Ravens franchise looks uncertain
It didn’t take long for reporters to ask Harbaugh about his future following Sunday’s loss. Even with the Ravens announcing their intent to give Harbaugh a contract extension a few weeks ago, stories have been popping up left and right about teams wanting to inquire about attaining Harbaugh, specifically through a trade. As expected, Harbaugh expressed his desire to remain with the Ravens going forward, and he said he believes that the Ravens do want him back as their head coach going forward.
Both Harbaugh and the Ravens have said the right things, but the fact is Harbaugh’s contract expires after the 2019 season. You won’t hear it out of Harbaugh’s mouth, but the belief is that Harbaugh is seeking a long-term contract that includes some sort of control over his team. It’s unknown if the Ravens would be willing to award Harbaugh that responsibility, especially with Eric DeCosta taking over for Ozzie Newsome as the team’s general manager, which opens up a whole other discussion.
It will be very interesting to see how Harbaugh works this out with the Ravens while the team undergoes a massive change in the front office. There’s also questions on the coaching staff, particularly involving Mornhinwerg. Harbaugh and Mornhinweg have spent years together with both the Ravens and the Eagles. Even though Mornhinweg’s play-calling is questioned after what seems like every game, no one knows whether or not letting go of Mornhinweg could fly with Harbaugh, even with Greg Roman waiting in the wings as a possible replacement.
Along with the questions involving the front office and the coaching staff, no one can be sold on if Jackson is capable on being a franchise quarterback. Jackson deserves all the credit in the world for going 6-1 in the regular season and helping the Ravens to their first AFC North title since 2012. But his play style and struggles as a passer leave many people skeptical. There have been a group of quarterbacks like Jackson who found short-term success in the NFL, but very few of them sign a second contract and last a decade in the league. That’s a scary thought as the Ravens prepare for life without Flacco, the best quarterback in the history of the Ravens.
There are a number of veterans on the Ravens roster who might not be on the roster next season. After 16 seasons with the Ravens, Terrell Suggs (36), is a free agent. Suggs said after the game that he wants to play next season, whether that’s with the Ravens or not. The Ravens will likely need some new pass-catchers with Crabtree possibly getting released and John Brown likely signing elsewhere. Eric Weddle turned 34 a few days ago and wouldn’t confirm his plans on playing in 2019. Jimmy Smith will probably fall victim to the salary cap, and the Ravens could also lose their leader in the middle of the defense, C.J. Mosley, who enters free agency. Along with Mosley, Za’Darius Smith and Brent Urban will hit the market as unrestricted free agents.
In 2019, the Ravens need to help Jackson with an improved offensive line and play-makers at running back and wide receiver. They will likely need to replace a few leaders on their #1 defense at edge rusher, safety, and middle linebacker. These types of holes haven’t always been filled adequately in recent memory, and no one knows if DeCosta will change the Ravens approach to these matters.
Despite how great it felt for the Ravens to be playoff game again, Baltimore’s postseason run ended abruptly, marking the first time in the Harbaugh era that the Ravens exited the playoffs in the first round. Now, all focus shifts to the offseason that could be different than any offseason Ravens fans have seen before with DeCosta taking over.
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Image Credit: Baltimore Sun