Three things we learned from Ravens 27-24 overtime loss to Chiefs

KANSAS CITY, MO — Having a 24-17 lead with less than two minutes left in the fourth quarter, the Baltimore Ravens found themselves one play away from picking up one of the biggest road wins of the John Harbaugh era. But after Patrick Mahomes found Tyreek Hill for 48 yards on fourth down, the momentum shifted.

The Chiefs tied the game up with less than a minute left in regulation and got the ball back again when Justin Houston strip-sacked Lamar Jackson. Even though Harrison Butker‘s missed 43-yard field goal sent the game into overtime, the Chiefs won the overtime coin toss and Butker redeemed himself with a 35-yard field goal on the Chiefs’ first possession. That kick ended up being all the Chiefs needed, as the Ravens’ ensuing drive stalled on downs and the Chiefs walked away with a 27-24 comeback win.

Here’s three things we learned from Sunday’s valiant but disappointing overtime loss.


1. Once again, defense crumbles in crunch time 

Yet again, the Ravens defense played one hell of a game on Sunday. The NFL’s #1 defense limited the league’s #1 offense, which averages over 35 points-per-game, to 27 points. With a lead in the fourth quarter, the pass rush got consistent pressure. But twice on fourth down when it mattered the most, the unit allowed two daggers – the 48-yard completion from Mahomes to Hill on 4th-and-9, and the five-yard touchdown pass from Mahomes to Damien Williams on 4th-and-3.

Before Kansas City’s 11-play, 75-yard drive the tied the game up at 24, the Chiefs had not scored in the second half. On their first possession of the third quarter, Chuck Clark snagged the Ravens’ first interception in nine weeks. The next two Chiefs drives before the touchdown drive resulted in punts. Containing the NFL’s top offense in the manner that the Ravens did is great, but when it mattered most the defense just couldn’t find the one stop they needed to seal the win.

To be fair, due to Houston stripping Jackson on the third play of Baltimore’s last possession of regulation, along with the Chiefs winning the overtime coin toss, the Ravens defense was on the field an awful lot at the end of the game. And it showed. It’s not the defense’s fault that the offensive line completely collapsed at the end of the game. With that said, not getting off the field twice on fourth down brought back the all-to-familiar memories of 4th-and-12 against Cincinnati from last season.

Hill is the most explosive receiver in the NFL and finished the game with 139 receiving yards on eight receptions despite playing through and injured ankle and wrist. The discouraging part of the 48-yard completion is seeing defensive leaders like C.J. Mosley and Eric Weddle come up short of making the big play yet again.

After the game, Brandon Carr said that the Ravens need to find ways to close out games against tough opponents. It’s been a struggle for the Ravens for some time now. If they can’t figure that out against the Chargers or hypothetically in the playoffs, the 2018 season could end exactly like it has the last two years for Baltimore.


2. Kenneth Dixon: From afterthought to arguably the Ravens top option at running back

When Kenneth Dixon went down with yet another knee injury in week 1 against the Bills, many thought that would be the end for him. Since the Ravens drafted Dixon in the fourth round of the 2016 draft, Dixon has only played in 15 games due to injuries and suspension.

With Dixon went on injured reserve, Alex Collins and Buck Allen led the Ravens’ backfield. Then Baltimore worked a trade with the Packers for Ty Montgomery before the bye. But as Collins struggled with a foot injury and Allen’s snap count went down, an opportunity opened up for Dixon when he became eligible to return to the practice field. Now, the Ravens backfield looks completely different than it did at the start of the season with Dixon, Montgomery and Gus Edwards sharing the load.

Although Edwards received twice the amount of carries than Dixon did on Sunday, Dixon’s 7.4 yards-per-carry was just over three yards more than that of Edwards. The coaching staff might be limiting Dixon’s snap count due to his injury history, but Dixon has more powerful legs than Edwards or Montgomery. He has the ability to extend runs and can push defenders forward without much assistance. When Dixon is on the field and effective, it’s easy to see why the Ravens used a fourth-round pick on him.

Dixon still needs to prove his sustainability, but right now he’s making a case for the Ravens to hold onto him beyond 2018.


3. Harbaugh’s aggressiveness on fourth down was the right move

On the Ravens’ first drive of the second half, the Ravens faced a 4th-and-1 on the Chiefs’ 39-yard line. Trailing 17-10, Harbaugh elected to go for it instead of punting. When Edwards was handed the ball, he was stuffed at the line for no gain. Kansas City took over and three plays later Clark intercepted Mahomes before the Ravens scored a touchdown open a 14-play drive. That touchdown, a 10-yard completion to Maxx Williams, came on 4th-and-2.

Many were quick to judge Harbaugh’s decision to go for it on fourth down after failing to convert on Baltimore’s previous drive, but relying on field goals wasn’t going to cut it against the NFL’s number one offense. In games like these, coaches need to be aggressive and score as many points as possible. Against an opponent like the Falcons who couldn’t move the ball at all on the Ravens, settling for three points is okay. The Ravens trailed the Chiefs 17-10 at the time of the fourth-down conversion, and if they don’t score the touchdown they still would have trail Kansas City instead of tying the game up.

Rather than knock Harbaugh down for being aggressive in the red zone against the top seed in the AFC, celebrate the fact that the decision worked and that the Ravens ended up with seven points instead of three.


As deflating as yesterday’s loss was for the Ravens, coupled along with the Colts, Dolphins, and Titans all winning their games this week, the Steelers 24-21 loss to Oakland still has the Ravens just a half-game out of first place in the AFC North. While the Ravens still need to go on the road and play the Chargers, the Steelers have the Patriots at home next weekend before facing the Saints on the road in week 16. Don’t look now, but a home playoff game is still very well in reach for the Ravens with the Steelers losing three straight games.

Here’s the current NFL Playoff picture:

Image Credit: The Kansas City Star 

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Three things to watch for as the Ravens head to Kansas City to take on the Chiefs

The Baltimore Ravens sit at 7-5 on the season and will head to Kansas City this weekend to take on the 10-2 AFC-leading Chiefs this Sunday at Arrowhead Stadium at 1:00pm.

It was again Lamar Jackson at quarterback last week for the Ravens in Atlanta and despite his worst performance as the starter to-date, the Ravens were able to come away with a 26-16 triumph and maintain their hold on the final playoff spot in the AFC postseason bracket.

Jackson was just 12-of-21 passing the ball Sunday for 125 yards while adding another 75 yards rushing and a touchdown run. He was inaccurate throughout and put the ball on the turf three times, including a fumble that led to a 74-yard return touchdown by Vic Beasley Jr. which gave the Falcons a 10-7 lead. John Harbaugh continued to be cryptic after the game about the quarterback situation while Terrell Suggs added his sentiments:

The Ravens are 3-0 in Jackson’s three starts but the competition ramps up this week as they take on a Chiefs team that moved to 10-2 last week with a 40-33 victory over the Oakland Raiders.

Here’s what to watch for ahead of Sunday’s contest.

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Lamar Jackson picked up his third rushing touchdown of the season Sunday in Atlanta. Image Credit: Kansas City Star

1) Can Lamar Jackson step up in his biggest test to-date?

Did you guys know Lamar Jackson is 3-0 as a starter in the NFL? Three straight wins in the NFL is nothing to talk down on but let’s break this down a little bit.

Jackson is 39-for-65 over the last three weeks and has thrown one passing touchdown to three interceptions. On the ground he has added in 54 carries for 265 yards and two touchdowns. He has also added five fumbles (one lost) in the last three weeks as well.

He has compiled these numbers against the NFL’s 32nd, 28th, and 26th ranked defenses respectively in Cincinnati, Oakland, and Atlanta. Jackson has been at the helm for just five touchdown drives in his three starts. Yet graphics are circulating like the one below:

And here is the perfectly appropriate response to this hogwash:

I have taken a lot of flack on social media the past few days regarding my lack of excitement for Jackson. Looking at these stats, what exactly is impressive?

Listen, Jackson has energized a rushing attack that was among the worst in the league prior to his insertion into the starting lineup. The Ravens now rank tied for seventh in rushing yards-per-game (129.2) thanks to Jackson and Gus Edwards leading the charge in piling up 716 yards on the ground the last three games.

A lot of attention has been paid to their time of possession advantage the last three weeks (112 minutes to 68 minutes) and that attention is deserved. It has helped keep the defense fresh and as a result they have been able to put teams away with late game-clinching touchdowns each of the last two weeks.

Luckily for Jackson, he runs into the NFL’S 31st-ranked defense this Sunday. It should present an opportunity for his biggest game yet in what promises to be a rocking Arrowhead Stadium.

The Ravens will need Jackson to be at his best if they want to keep pace with the NFL’s best offense.

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The Ravens will have their hands full with Travis Kelce and Tyreek Hill who are both over 1,000 yards receiving in just 12 weeks. Image Credit: AP

2) So about that Chiefs offense…..

In doing some research the last few days regarding the Chiefs offense, I can confidently tell you that they are every bit as good as advertised.

They are first in points-per-game at 37.0, third in yards-per-game with 437.2, third in passing yards-per-game, and fourth in third down conversion percentage. They have been held to under 30 points in just two of their 12 games so far this season. They did, however, win both of those contests. For comparison sake, the Ravens have scored 30+ in just two of their 12 contests. In Kansas City’s only two losses their opponents needed 51 and 43 points to beat them.

The moral of the story is that it is going to take 30 points or more to win this game. There’s been a ton of talk given to the importance of time of possession this Sunday and while I feel that can be an effective way to slow down a high-flying offense, consider this. The Chiefs have lost the time of possession battle in eight of their 12 games this season, including their two losses. It doesn’t seem to matter that they rarely win the tome of possession battle.

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MVP front-runner Patrick Mahomes puts up points in a hurry. Image Credit: USA Today

Furthermore, the Chiefs have 36 touchdown drives spanning four minutes or less this season. 27 of those lasted three minutes or less. They have a total of 63 plays this season that have gone at least 20 yards. This offense is explosive. It doesn’t need much time to find pay dirt.

The Ravens will catch a break, albeit for an awful reason in that running back Kareem Hunt is no longer a Kansas City Chief after his incident went viral last Friday. But the rest of the gang is still there in MVP front-runner Patrick Mahomes, wide receiver Tyreek Hill, who will be looking to rebound from one of his worst performances of the season, and tight end Travis Kelce who just torched Oakland with 12 catches for 168 yards and two touchdowns.

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The Ravens secondary will be looking for another big week. Image Credit: Baltimore Ravens

The Ravens defense has been stellar since the bye week. Their best game of the season was last week when they shut down a Falcons offense that features Matt Ryan, Julio Jones, Calvin Ridley, and Mohamed Sanu. Marlon Humphrey appears to be a budding star. Jimmy Smith, Brandon Carr, and Tavon Young held their own last week too. But remember that was a Falcons offense that hasn’t cracked the 20-point plateau since November 4th.

The Chiefs fewest point total all year is 26. The Ravens best defensive performance of the season likely holds Kansas City to 27. Their worst performance could lead the Ravens to needing 40 or more points to win. Let’s hope the defense can keep it close on Sunday.

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We’ll see if Lamar Jackson is jumping for joy this Sunday against a KC defense that ranks second in sacks. Image Credit: Getty Images

3) Is the Chiefs defense really that bad?

The numbers up there in bullet point one are pretty ugly so you’re probably thinking “What the hell is Ian talking about?”

And to a certain extent you’d be right. But the Chiefs have two pass rushers who are over 10 sacks each this season in Dee Ford (10.5) and Chris Jones (10). They have helped the Chiefs pass rush group to the NFL’s second-highest sack total at 39 for the year. The Chiefs are also in the top 10 in turnover differential at +10 on the season.

As a reminder, Jackson has four turnovers in three starts and has also put the ball on the ground an additional four times but was able to recover. So while the Kansas City defense may give up a ton of yards and a ton of points, they get to the quarterback and have forced 20 takeaways on the season. This could loom large against a turnover-happy rookie who could be dealing with a banged up offensive line.

The Chiefs could also get a boost this week if All-Pro saftey Eric Berry returns to the Kansas City defensive backfield. He returned to practice last week but was inactive against the Raiders. He is the heart and soul of their defense and he has been working back from a week one ruptured Achilles. His return this Sunday would be a plus for the Chiefs.

So yes the Chiefs defense is still bad. But it is opportunistic and can be a handful in pass protection. Jackson will need to protect the ball Sunday for the Ravens to have a chance.

Predictions

Jake McDonnell: Chiefs 30 Ravens 27

Nolan McGraw: Chiefs 28 Ravens 23

Jay Stavros: Chiefs 35 Ravens 20

Ian Schultz: Chiefs 31 Ravens 19

This Ravens defense has played very well since the bye week and is coming off their best performance of the season. None of that will matter as they take on a Chiefs offense that averages 37 points-per -game. The Ravens will keep them under this number and dominate the time of possession offensively, but they won’t be able to match the Chiefs potent attack.

Broadcast information:

Image Credit: USA Today

Four thoughts following the Ravens 26-16 win in Atlanta

ATLANTA — The Ravens picked up a solid road win this week by taking down the Falcons 26-16. The victory puts them at 7-5 and gives them their first three-game win streak of the season. A tough matchup in Kansas City looms on the horizon. For now, let’s enjoy this win. Here are four takeaways from the game.

1: Defense dominates

Most of the focus leading up to this week’s game was on the Ravens quarterbacks but the defense ended up stealing the spotlight on Sunday. It shouldn’t come as a surprise either. Lamar Jackson turned heads the past two weeks but the defense rose to the occasion in both of those games and sealed the win.

That was the case once again this week as the Ravens defense held Matt Ryan and company to just 131 yards of total offense. Ryan’s 97 passing yards stands as a career low for the veteran quarterback and the ground game wasn’t any better for Atlanta. Ito Smith led the way with 22 yards on seven carries while Tevin Coleman was practically nonexistent with eight yards on six carries. Surprisingly their 34 total rushing yards is not even their worst running performance of the season as they only mustered 26 in last week’s loss to the Saints.

It took the Falcons until the end of the fourth quarter to score a touchdown on offense and by that point the Ravens had already sealed a victory thanks to another timely turnover. Last week it was Matt Judon coming up with a big strip sack while Terrell Suggs picked it up and scored. The same scene played out this week but the cast was different. Patrick Onwuasor was able to get to Ryan on an all-out blitz and force a fumble which Tavon Young quickly scooped up and carried to the endzone.

2: A closer mentality

That fumble recovery by Young put the Ravens up 26-10 with a little over seven minutes to play. That’s the kind of game-sealing play that the Ravens could have used in a handful of crucial games the past few seasons.

With all the attention being put on Jackson and his first three NFL starts, the Ravens defense has put together three great games in a row. Has the level of competition been the toughest? Absolutely not, but tell me the last time you saw the Ravens defense successfully protect a fourth quarter lead three games in a row. 

After the game Eric Weddle spoke on the way the defense has been approaching these past few games. The veteran safety told the media the defense looks at themselves as closers and they relish the opportunity to put games away in the fourth quarter.

Obviously you want this kind of attitude out of your defense every week but their importance has only increased with Jackson as the starter. The Ravens may be 3-0 with Jackson and the run game has been given new life, but the offense as a whole is averaging just 21 points a game. The defense has been forced into some tough situations between this lack of scoring and Jackson’s turnovers but they keep getting the job done.

There is a lot of debate as to whether the Ravens defense deserves to be called the best in the league, but when you look at what they have done these past three weeks, I don’t know how you could say they aren’t. Other units may have more turnovers and sacks, but the Ravens are holding opponents to just 18 points a game and in 2018 that should be praised. The league is not designed for this to happen but Wink Martindale and his crew are finding ways to play tough defense in a league that values high scoring shootouts on a week-to-week basis.

3: Containing Julio Jones & Calvin Ridley

The defense’s overall performance was outstanding and when you look at the stats, it rivals their performances against the Bills and Titans from earlier this year. However, the Falcons presented a much bigger challenge with their offensive weapons. Most teams will only hope to limit receivers like Julio Jones and Calvin Ridley but Baltimore ended up shutting them down as the duo combined for just five receptions for 40 yards. Jones was targeted eight times in the game but only hauled in two catches. Both Marlon Humphrey and Jimmy Smith did a good job shadowing the star receiver and contesting almost every ball thrown in his direction.

In addition to that, the pass rush got to Ryan pretty quickly and forced some imperfect throws. The same thing happened a few weeks ago against the Bengals but you could really see how effective it was this Sunday as Ryan tried to stand tall behind a terrible offensive line. Very rarely have the Ravens gotten both their pass rush and secondary firing on all cylinders at the same time, but when they do they are very tough to beat.

4: Overcoming some bumps and bruises

The outcome of Sunday’s game was great but there was not a feeling of comfort while it was taking place. One reason behind that is the amount of Ravens players that left the game due to injury.

The most notable player to leave was Jackson in the third quarter. The rookie quarterback was leading the Ravens down the field and into scoring position looking to take the lead. On one of the last plays of the drive, Jackson scrambled for a gain of 10 yards. While being tackled, Jackson was accidentally kicked in the helmet by teammate Ronnie Stanley. Jackson did not leave the game right away but the NFL’s medical staff forced him to go into concussion protocol following the drive.  

Fans started to become worried when Jackson exited the injury tent on the sideline and headed for the locker room. It was later revealed that the medical staff could not properly evaluate Jackson in the tent and needed to go the locker room where it was quieter. As a result of the prolonged concussion test, Jackson was absent for an entire drive and Robert Griffin III had to lead the Ravens offense. 

Griffin performed well and helped the Ravens eat up over seven minutes of clock before picking up another field goal. Jackson would later return to the game to help close things out. Even if this is the only time we see Griffin this season, his presence should be valued. There was a lot of debate in the preseason around whether the Ravens should keep three quarterbacks or not. The case for keeping Griffin was mostly based on the possibility of Joe Flacco getting injured. That has come to be the case and having a guy like Griffin ready to go instead of scrambling to find some washed-up veteran in free agency was a very under-appreciated move.

Stanley was also injured on the previously mentioned play where his foot came in contact with Jackson’s helmet. Despite appearing to be in a good bit of pain, the left tackle would return to the game later in the third quarter. This is another huge relief for Stanley who has found himself banged up on a handful of plays in recent weeks.

Other Ravens players who left the game due to injury include Jimmy Smith, Brandon Williams, Maxx Williams and Alex Lewis. All would return to the game except for Lewis who suffered a shoulder injury.

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Image credit: Danny Karnik / Associated Press