Three thoughts following the Ravens 23-17 Wild Card loss to the Chargers

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 

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Three things to watch for as the Ravens head to the Queen City to take on the Panthers

The Baltimore Ravens will head to Charlotte, North Carolina this weekend looking to bounce back from a disappointing 24-23 home loss to the New Orleans Saints.

The Ravens fell to 4-3 on the season when an all-too-familiar script played out in Baltimore. The Ravens entered the fourth quarter with a 17-7 lead off the strength of a Lamar Jackson touchdown run, a Joe Flacco touchdown pass to Mark Andrews, and a Justin Tucker field goal. However, the defense which had been spectacular leading up to the fourth quarter, allowed 17 unanswered points while the offense couldn’t get out of neutral as the Saints took a 24-17 lead with 2:07 to go in the game.

Flacco went to work on the next drive, marching the Ravens 81 yards in six plays and completing the drive with a 14-yard touchdown pass to John Brown to cut the lead to 24-23 with 24 seconds remaining. Brown had a massive day receiving hauling in seven passes for 134 yards and that touchdown. Someone predicted that.

Everyone inside and outside M&T Bank Stadium knew what would happen next. Tucker, the most accurate kicker in NFL history, would boot through his 223’rd consecutive extra point and the Ravens would hope for overtime with :24 seconds remaining. And then this happened:

The reactions say it all.

So the Ravens are on to Carolina looking to upend a 4-2 Panthers team that had a fourth quarter rally of their own, scoring 21 points against the defending champion Philadelphia Eagles to win 21-17 in Philly.

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

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Coach Harbaugh and his Ravens need a big performance this Sunday in Carolina with a tough schedule looming. Image Credit: Getty Images

1) Is it a must win game?

When Tucker’s extra point failed and the Ravens fell to 4-3, this upcoming game against the Panthers may have become a must-win.

Here’s why. In the NFL, losing more than six games all but seals your playoff fate. Since 2012, there have been eight teams to earn playoff berths with seven or more losses. That breaks down to five division champions and three Wild Card berths, two of which were earned last season by the Bills and the Dolphins and the other being earned in 2013 by the Chargers. Just two of the last six seasons have produced a seven or more loss Wild Card team.

Since the AFC North was formed in 2002, there has never been a division champion with fewer than 10 wins. It has taken 11+ victories to win the division in 11 of the 16 years that the division has been in existence. In other words, nine wins isn’t going to be enough for the Ravens to win the AFC North. This becomes further the case when you consider Pittsburgh’s tie is likely to benefit them. A nine win Steelers team gets in over a 9-7 Ravens or Bengals team.

Year AFC North Winner Record
2002 Pittsburgh Steelers 10–5–1
2003 Baltimore Ravens 10–6–0
2004 Pittsburgh Steelers 15–1–0
2005 Cincinnati Bengals 11–5–0
2006 Baltimore Ravens 13–3–0
2007 Pittsburgh Steelers 10–6–0
2008 Pittsburgh Steelers 12–4–0
2009 Cincinnati Bengals 10–6–0
2010 Pittsburgh Steelers 12–4–0
2011 Baltimore Ravens 12–4–0
2012 Baltimore Ravens 10–6–0
2013 Cincinnati Bengals 11–5–0
2014 Pittsburgh Steelers 11–5–0
2015 Cincinnati Bengals 12–4–0
2016 Pittsburgh Steelers 11–5–0
2017 Pittsburgh Steelers 13–3–0

Is it possible with a loss on Sunday, that the Ravens could go 6-2 in the back half of the season to get to the magic number of 10 wins? Of course it is. But road contests are looming with the Atlanta Falcons, Kansas City Chiefs, and Los Angeles Chargers. The Ravens would need to win one of those games and be perfect at home. The home slate includes division match ups with the Pittsburgh Steelers next week, Cincinnati Bengals (Week 11), and Cleveland Browns (Week 17). The other home contests are the Oakland Raiders (Week 12), and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (Week 15).

A loss Sunday all but ends the Ravens division hopes if history is any indication. A Wild Card berth could remain in the cards, but the Chiefs and Chargers are both likely making the playoffs leaving just one Wild Card berth available. Can a seven loss team sneak in there? Certainly possible. I wouldn’t bet on it.

The Ravens very well could be in a must-win game this Sunday.

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The Ravens defense will be looking to start another sack party this Sunday after a rocky performance against the Saints. Image Credit: AP

2) Can the Ravens contain Cam Newton and the Panthers offense?

For the second week in a row the Ravens will face one of the NFL’S top quarterbacks when they take on Cam Newton this Sunday. Newton has the Panthers at 4-2 this season and he is once again putting together another Pro-Bowl caliber season.

He is completing 65% of his passes which would set his career high. He has 14 total touchdowns in six games and has thrown just four interceptions. He is the best dual threat quarterback in the game and he will present a huge challenge for a Ravens defense coming off their biggest challenge of the season.

The 2015 NFL MVP is 37-20 lifetime at home in the regular season and the Panthers have won eight straight games at Bank of America Stadium.

A big thing to watch for this week is how Ravens number one cornerback Jimmy Smith responds after the worst performance of his career. Michael Thomas’ numbers may not have been flashy (seven receptions, 69 yards and a touchdown) but Smith also committed two pass interference penalties and whiffed on a sack attempt that allowed Drew Brees to pick up a key conversion. Smith was accountable after the game:

There was plenty of blame to go around after Sunday’s game. The Ravens mustered just one sack after their franchise record-breaking 11 against the Titans. They gave up 17 points in fourth quarter which is nearly double what they had given up in the fourth quarter/overtime in the first six games combined.

The defense is in a good spot to get back to the domination we have been accustomed to against a Carolina offense that ranks 18th in total offense, 22nd in passing offense, and 18th in points-per-game. Their biggest threats on offense are running back Christian McCaffrey and tight end Greg Olsen. If the Ravens can do a good job on those two players, they should be able to come out on top.

NFL: Preseason-New Orleans Saints at Baltimore Ravens

More consistency is needed from the Ravens offense if they want to make it back to the playoffs. Image Credit: USA Today

3) Can the offense pick up the pace?

As those of you who read these articles weekly and listen to the Charm City Bird Watch podcast should already know (thanks for doing both), I am a major supporter of Flacco. If you’re new here (thanks for popping in keep doing it), now you know as well. That doesn’t mean that he is not subject to criticism.

When the Saints cut the lead to 17-14 in the fourth quarter, the Ravens offense responded with a three-and-out on a drive that ended with Flacco taking a sack on his own 15-yard line. The Saints would score on their next possession to take a 21-17 lead thanks to a short field and the offense again failed to get points, going nine plays this time but ultimately turning it over on downs. Flacco was 2-for-9 on those two drives and took a sack inside of his own 20-yard line.

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Joe Flacco led a big time drive to presumably tie the game against the Saints. But he and the offense could’ve helped the Ravens avoid the need for it. Image Credit: USA Today

Flacco played a great game on Sunday, one of his best of the year. His poise to lead the team down the field for the game-tying (we thought) touchdown after his offense and the Ravens defense faltered, should be applauded. Flacco is in the midst of having his best season yet but simply put the Ravens will need more consistency from Flacco and the offense this week if they want to emerge victorious in Carolina.

They will meet a Carolina defense that ranks 13th in total defense, 17th in passing yards allowed, and tenth in points-per-game allowed. Luke Kuechly and company are stout against the run, ranking ninth in the league. Flacco will need to throw early and often for the Ravens to come out on top.

Predictions:

Jay Stavros– Ravens 28 Panthers 17

Nolan McGraw– Panthers 19 Ravens 16

Jake McDonnell– Ravens 20 Panthers 19

Ian Schultz– Ravens 24 Panthers 20

I know I picked the Panthers on the podcast but this is a massive game for the Ravens. A win in this game keeps them on track for ten wins which should be enough to help the Ravens get back to the playoffs. Flacco and the offense are able to put just enough points on the board in Carolina this Sunday and the Ravens get to 5-3 ahead of their week nine showdown with the Steelers.

The Details:

Image Credit: Baltimore Sports and Life

 

 

 

Podcast Episode 22: Justin Tucker’s missed PAT stuns Baltimore and Orioles let international talent slip away

Image Credit: The Forward 

Welcome to Episode 22 of the Charm City Bird Watch Podcast with site owner Jake McDonnell, editor Nolan McGraw, and author Ian Schultz.

For the second time in four episodes, our guest this week is an employee from our sponsor, Seven Sports Bar & Grille in New Freedom, PA. This time, we welcome in Camden Williams, who works in the back of the house (3:37). Cam happens to be named after Camden Yards and he’s obsessed with football. We recorded our segment with Cam hours after the Ravens’ soul-crushing 24-23 defeat to the Saints, so you’ll hear plenty of raw emotion and reaction to Baltimore’s second defeat in three weeks. We’ll also go around the NFL to recap the top takeaways from week 7’s action.

Up next, McGraw and Schultz hop on the show to continue our assessment of the Ravens’ latest loss (33:14). Who was to blame – Justin Tucker, the offense, or the defense? Are the Ravens still a legit contender, or are we seeing more of the same from the previous three seasons? How will the Ravens’ defensive line make up for the loss of Willie Henry (45:55)? The Ravens are 4-3, and face a tough schedule ahead. The clock is ticking, and if the Ravens go 1-1 or 0-2 before their week 10 bye, the pressure will keep mounting.

As always, we’ll tell you Who’s Trending (48:32) after the Ravens’ most recent performance, and we’ll go over some things to watch for on Sunday (1:07:32) as the Ravens hit the road for the fourth time in five weeks for a 1:00 pm tilt with the 4-2 Carolina Panthers.

The World Series is underway, and there’s plenty of baseball talk on-tap for episode 22. We begin with the Orioles, who despite leading MLB in international slot money this offseason ($6.5 million), did not land three of the biggest international names in baseball – Victor Victor Mesa, Victor Mesa Jr, and Sandy Gastón. How in the world did the Orioles let this happen (1:15:20)? We then dive into the 2018 World Series, contested between the Los Angeles Dodgers and the Boston Red Sox (1:19:46). Will Manny Machado spark any drama against his old east coast rival, and who do we think will walk away as champions? All of this and more on this week’s podcast.

To wrap up the show, we dive into our weekly numbers segment, taking a look at the best Baltimore sports athletes to wear the number 22 (1:25:07).

You can find the Charm City Bird Watch Podcast on SoundCloudiTunes, and Google Play. Please leave us a review on iTunes, we love to hear your feedback and may read it on a future episode. Thank you for listening!

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The Charm City Bird Watch Podcast is brought to you by Seven Sports Bar & Grille. For a limited time only on behalf on Charm City Bird Watch, you can receive a 10% discount off any entree dish when you tell your server or bartender the promo code ‘Charm City.’ One possible entree combination, pictured above: Filet Mignon, Mac & Cheese, sautéed mushrooms, and a dinner roll!