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 


Five things we learned from Ravens 34-17 win over Raiders

BALTIMORE — The Ravens needed another win to lift them above .500 and keep ahold of the #6 seed in the AFC playoff race. On Sunday against the Raiders, Terrell Suggs scored a touchdown off a fumble recovery for the first time in his career, the Ravens’ offense combined for 242 total yards on the ground, and Matt Judon registered sacks on three consecutive plays as the Ravens took down the Raiders 34-17 at M&T Bank Stadium.

Here’s five things we learned from the Ravens’ first win over Oakland since 2012.

1. Gus Edwards has earned the starting running back job 

Alex Collins missed his first game of the season on Sunday with a foot injury, leaving the door open for undrafted rookie Gus Edwards to start his first NFL game. Edwards was coming off a 115-yard performance in last week’s win over Cincinnati. Edwards, a preseason darling, wasn’t even on the 53-man roster until October 13, but injuries to Kenneth Dixon and De’Lance turner opened the door and now Edwards is a significant part of Baltimore’s offense.

Edwards seized his opportunity against the 31st-ranked run defense, totaling 118 yards on 23 carries (5.1 yards-per-run). The most impressive part of Edwards’ play was his ability to follow his linemen and storm over defenders with his thick legs. His newfound success in the Ravens’ offense has sparked a running game that was almost nonexistent prior to last Sunday’s win over the Bengals.

Along with Edwards, Lamar Jackson racked up 71 yards and a touchdown on 11 carries, complimenting his 178 yards of passing with another touchdown. Ty Montgomery saw an increased role in his second game with the Ravens, ending the game with 51 yards on eight carries and 13 receiving yards on three catches.

It’s important to remember that the success of Edwards has come against the two worst run defenses in the league. With that said, both Atlanta’s and Kansas City’s run defenses rank in the bottom quarter of the NFL. No matter who’s the Ravens quarterback in Atlanta next week, Edwards has earned the opportunity to start, or at least receive the majority of the carries against the Falcons. The Ravens’ run attack has not been nearly as successful with Flacco under center. If Flacco starts, it will be intriguing to see if Edwards can sustain the momentum that he has now.

2. Ravens coaching staff can’t force Lamar Jackson into pass-heavy situations 

When John Harbaugh and Jackson spoke with the media earlier this week, both men emphasized that Jackson needs to pass more and cannot run the ball 26 times in one game. In Jackson’s second start, his run attempts went down from 26 to 11, and his pass attempts went up from 19 to 25.

Although the Ravens’ usage of Jackson became more balanced against the Raiders as a whole, the coaching staff tried to force the issue in the first half. Trailing 7-3 at the end of the first quarter, the Ravens had a 1st-and-10 from the Oakland 49-yard line. Jackson threw three straight passes, one incomplete and two going just one yard. Rather than stick with the read-option and play to Jackson’s strengths, the Ravens got into the same bad ‘pass-happy’ habits that they’ve gotten in with Flacco on several occasions.

The same happened again in the second quarter. With the ball at their own 30-yard line to start a drive, Jackson threw two incompletions before being intercepted by Reggie Nelson, leading to a Raiders field goal.

Jackson’s arm is a work-in-progress, but the Ravens shouldn’t force their rookie quarterback into pass-heavy situations. Like it or not, the Ravens need to realize that Jackson isn’t ready to make every throw that the average NFL quarterback needs to make. Much of Jackson’s success, at least for this season, should be through the read option and play action. Someday when Jackson establishes himself as a legitimate starting quarterback, putting the weight on him is rational. What the Ravens were calling on offense in the first half with a lead over Oakland was flat out dangerous.

3. For Ravens defense, the good stuff comes in bunches

In 2017, the Ravens defense led the NFL in turnovers. This season, turnovers have not been easy to come by, and the same can be said for sacks.

When Suggs recovered Derek Carr‘s fumble and returned it 43 yards for a touchdown in the fourth quarter, it gave Baltimore’s defense their first turnover since the first quarter of the Ravens’ 24-23 loss to the Saints in week 7.

Judon got to Carr and caused the fumble. Then when the Raiders got the ball back, Judon got into the backfield on the first two plays, giving him three straight sacks in as many plays.

If it had not been for Judon coming alive in the fourth quarter and quickly piling up three sacks, the Ravens would have went the entire game without a sack. That would have continued what has been a puzzling theme for the Ravens as of late. The Ravens came into Sunday with three sacks in their last four games. Judon now has 4.5 sacks in his last three games after a quiet start. His breakout on Sunday gave some life to a pass rush that’s been nonexistent recently.

The Ravens defense has struggled for turnovers all season long. They were able to get away with it against teams like the Bills and the Broncos, but not coming up with turnovers or sacks against teams like the Steelers, Saints and Panthers isn’t good enough. If the Ravens want to stand a chance against the Falcons, Chiefs and Chargers on the road, they can’t keep going full games without registering a single turnover or sack.

4. Ravens finally find answer in the return game

Finding the right guy to return kicks and punts hasn’t been the easiest task for the Ravens this season. Both Janarion Grant and Tim White got their chances early on, but they struggled and were demoted to the practice squad. Cyrus Jones bounced back-and-forth between the Ravens and the Patriots in September and October, but since resigning with the Ravens on Oct. 8 he’s handled the punt return duties.

When the Raiders punted to Jones with less than a minute left in the first quarter, Jones took the ball at the Baltimore 30-yard line and dashed down the right sideline for a 70-yard return touchdown. The score put Baltimore up 10-7, and the Raiders never held another lead.

Jones, a Baltimore native and Gilman School graduate, scored his first NFL touchdown in front of his hometown crowd. It was Baltimore’s first punt return touchdown since Michael Campanero‘s 77-yard punt return touchdown against the Chicago Bears on Oct. 15, 2017. Jones wasn’t in imminent danger of being replaced at punt returner, but it was nice to see him break out for a long score given the lack of production from Ravens returners thus far in 2018.

5. Lamar Jackson is winning over the locker room (or at least his receivers) 

Lost in the celebration of the Ravens’ second straight win was what was said in the locker-room after the action wrapped up on the field. Michael Crabtree, who caught three passes for 21 yards and a touchdown on Sunday, sang some high praises for Jackson.

“It’s the Lamar show,” Crabtree said. “You just have to sit back and watch, because he’s electrifying.… Just his attitude. He’s got a winning spirit. Everything he does, he does well. I’m just a witness and a receiver at his disposal.”

That’s quite an endorsement from Mr. Crabtree. It’s no secret that the Ravens have a big decision to make at the quarterback position if Flacco returns to practice this week. Harbaugh, for both personal and competitive purposes, wasn’t ready to answer questions pertaining to who will be the starting quarterback next week in Atlanta.

“Im not going to get into that for a number of reasons,” Harbaugh said. “Whether that decision has been made or not is not important for anybody to know but us. If I decide to do it one way or the other, I don’t want our opponent to know.”

The Athletic‘s Jeff Zrebiec pointed out that Flacco’s hip injury required three or four weeks or rest. Flacco got hurt three weeks ago, meaning that his return to practice is imminent. Do the Ravens stick with their rookie quarterback and officially turn the page on the Joe Flacco era, or will Harbaugh decide to stick to his roots in a playoff race, even if it halts the offense’s momentum and potentially goes against the beliefs of the locker room? For a team trying to hold onto a #6 playoff seed, this makes for an intriguing final five weeks of the season.

Quick hits

Image Credit: Baltimore Sun

Podcast Episode 21: Interview with Orioles legend Al Bumbry, revisiting the Ravens 11-sack dismantling of the Titans

Welcome to Episode 21 of the Charm City Bird Watch Podcast with site owner Jake McDonnell, editor Nolan McGraw, and author Ian Schultz.

At the top of this week’s show is an exclusive interview with legendary Baltimore Orioles outfielder Al Bumbry (5:20). Jake talked to Mr. Bumbry about the Orioles’ rebuild, his top career memories, and the MLB playoffs. Mr. Bumbry also mentioned the organization his son is involved with called Helping Latin America’s Orphans.

Up next, McGraw and Schultz jump in to talk about all things baseball (21:19). Along with breaking down the American League & National League Championship Series, the guys went back-and-forth over the Manny Machado drama, and the rumors swirling around about the Astros cheating in playoff games.

Did you hear that? I think Za’Darius Smith just sacked Marcus Mariota again. The football talk kicks off with the crew revisiting the Ravens’ 21-0 shutout over the Tennessee Titans that saw the defense rack up 11 sacks in the game (35:45). After the gang reveals their initial impressions from the win that advanced the Ravens to 4-2, they get into their weekly Who’s Trending segment (47:00) and went over some things to watch for on Sunday at 4:05 pm as the Ravens duke it out with the 4-1 New Orleans Saints at M&T Bank Stadium (56:20).

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 21 (1:05:17).

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!


The Charm City Bird Watch Podcast is brought to you by Seven Sports Bar & Grille in New Freedom, PA. For a limited time early on behalf of Charm City Bird Watch, you can get a 10% discount on any entree at Seven by staying the promo code ‘Charm City’ to your server! One possible entree combination above – Crabcake, Sweet Potato Fries, and side vegetable!