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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Five key takeaways from Ravens 36-21 loss to Panthers

The Baltimore Ravens looked poised for a big afternoon after taking a 7-0 lead on their first possession of Sunday’s game in Charlotte but things quickly fell apart as Cam Newton led the Panthers to a 36-21 victory. Here are five key things I am focusing on following the Ravens’ fourth loss of the season

1. Running game can’t put together a complete game:

It’s no secret that the Ravens’ rushing attack has been lackluster all season. Alex Collins has failed to build upon his breakout 2017 campaign and the depth behind him is not providing much supplemental help.

Collins’struggles continued on Sunday when he fumbled at the beginning of the second quarter. Panthers defensive tackle Kyle Love exploded through the offensive line with ease and leveled Collins for what appeared to be just a six-yard loss. Things took a quick turn for the worse when Collins juggled the ball after taking the hit and proceeded to cough it up. This marks the third time Collins has fumbled this season.

What’s frustrating is the fact that Collins was off to a solid start with 19 yards and a touchdown in the early goings. Collins ran the ball seven times after the fumble but I wouldn’t say the Ravens abandoned the run game in this one. It’s hard to keep going to a guy like Collins after a fumble but being down by three scores at the half doesn’t help either. Moving forward Buck Allen is going to need to be more involved in the run game. I don’t understand why but he has been called upon to run the ball just four times in the last three weeks.

2. Defense forced into tough situations:

The Ravens’ defense surrendered a season-high 36 points against the Panthers but the odds where not in their favor from start to finish as the Panthers found themselves starting with great field position on numerous drives.

Two Joe Flacco interceptions and the ugly fumble by Collins helped set up three short field scoring possessions for the Panthers. Overall it was a great afternoon for the Carolina offense as their average starting position was their own 37-yard line.

This still does not excuse the defense’s overall performance. Wink Martindale’s crew remained a top statistical defense even after last week’s game against New Orleans but the numbers were even worse in this one. The Ravens gave up a season-high 154 rushing yards and 386 total yards of offense. To give you some perspective, they have only given up more yards against the Browns (416) and that game featured an extra ten minutes of overtime.

3. Extended playing time for Lamar Jackson:

After the Panthers went up 36-14 late in the fourth quarter the Ravens opted to send Lamar Jackson out for the final offensive drive of the game. The rookie saw more playing time in the season opener against Buffalo but this week’s garbage time drive still showed us quite a bit. Jackson completed all four of his passes for 42 yards and capped off the two-minute drive with a touchdown pass to fellow rookie Hayden Hurst.

Prior to the final drive the Ravens were utilizing Jackson in the run game like they have most of this season. Jackson finished the afternoon with 26 rushing yards on three carries. His only mistake came in the first quarter when he failed to connect with a wide open Willie Snead on third and one.

4. Injury scare for Ronnie Stanley:

The Ravens have gotten pretty banged up over the past few weeks, especially on the offensive line. With Alex Lewis and James Hurst already inactive this week, everyone was holding their breath when Ronnie Stanley went down in the second half.

The Ravens’left tackle got rolled up by Flacco as he was in the process of falling to the ground. Flacco threw the ball away in an attempt to avoid the sack but he still came down hard on the back of the lineman’s legs. Stanley appeared to be in a lot of pain immediately following the play and had to be helped off the field.

Jermaine Eluemunor entered the game at left tackle after being called up from the practice squad earlier this week. Fortunately for the Ravens, Stanley was able to walk around the sideline after getting examined on the sideline and later returned to the game.

Right now the injury doesn’t appear to be serious, especially since Stanley returned to the game in garbage time, but the Ravens will need him at 100% moving forward. It goes without saying but the Ravens cannot afford anymore injuries on the offensive line. Their health was their strong suit early on this season but now that they have reached the midway point, it’s starting to get pretty shaky.

5. A look around the AFC North:

Morale was low following the heartbreaking loss to the Saints last week but at least the division standings didn’t change much with the Bengals and Browns both losing. This week there is no consolation for Ravens fans as the Steelers took down the Browns and the Bengals overcame a surprise Fitzmagic appearance for an overtime win.

Baltimore now finds themselves in third place with a record of 4-4. However, November will have a big impact on the way the division shakes out as the Ravens prepare to host both Pittsburgh and Cincinnati in the next three weeks.

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Three things to watch for as the Ravens head to Miami

The Baltimore Ravens will look to push their preseason record to 4-0 as they head to Miami Gardens, Florida to take on the Dolphins in preseason game number four at Hard Rock Stadium Saturday night.

The biggest stories heading into this game are surrounding cornerback Jimmy Smith and left tackle Ronnie Stanley.  Smith was suspended four games due to a violation of the NFL’s personal conduct policy dating back to an alleged domestic violence dispute with an ex-girlfriend. He is eligible to play in the remainder of the preseason and it appears that he will.

As far as Stanley is concerned, the Ravens left tackle is unlikely to appear in any of the final two preseason games as he is recovering from a right knee strain suffered in the 20-19 win over the Indianapolis Colts. Couple that with the continued absence of right guard Marshal Yanda and the absence of right tackle James Hurst from practices this week and it is possible that three of the five projected offensive line starters will not play Saturday night.

With all of that being said, here are three things to watch for in preseason game number four for the Ravens.

1) Who steps up on the offensive line?

With the absences on the offensive line, it will be intriguing to see if any of the Ravens younger offensive linemen can step up. Orlando Brown Jr. is an option to start at left tackle Saturday, but many believe he is better suited to play right tackle at the NFL level. It is also a lot for the Ravens to ask of Brown Jr. to move back to the left side after taking every rep at right tackle to this point in his NFL career.

The depth along the offensive line has been questioned all preseason and Saturday night will provide another test for players like Jermaine Eluemunor, Nico Siragusa, Greg Senat, Maurquice Shakir and Bradley Bozeman among others. Senat is likely the solution at left tackle for Saturday’s contest, but starting the sixth-round pick out of Wagner on the blind side will make the Ravens and their fans feel uneasy about the protection of their quarterbacks.

With the issues on the offensive line, I do not foresee the Ravens starting Joe Flacco in Saturday’s contest. Flacco has had a nice preseason to date and putting him out their without 60% of the starting offensive line is not a situation that the Ravens should explore.

2) Quarterback Competition

In what is becoming a weekly feature of this article, the backup quarterback competition should be on full display Saturday night in Miami. It is unknown to this point how the snaps will be distributed among Lamar Jackson and Robert Griffin III but it is known that the performances Saturday night will play a key role in deciding which of the two will be the backup.

Griffin III should be the leader in the clubhouse for that role. The Ravens have been incredibly torn on the issue to this point and it will be interesting to see if Griffin III can add some fuel to that fire with another strong performance on Saturday night.

Jackson has struggled so far this preseason. As ESPN’S Booger McFarland indicated on Monday night against the Colts: “We have this conversation about should Joe Flacco be worried. I don’t think he should be. Lamar Jackson, at best, in my opinion, is two years away from having an opportunity to see if he can play quarterback in this league.”

Jackson has been inaccurate thus far through three games. Jackson’s first instinct is to escape the pocket and put himself in positions to take big hits rather than move around in the pocket and scan downfield. Jackson has also struggled throwing a tight spiral to this point.

Jackson will have every opportunity the next two weeks to change the narrative and regain what many thought was a stranglehold on the backup role heading into the season.

3) Bubble players

Heading into the last two preseason games, there are several Ravens that will be looking to put an exclamation on their cases to make the 53-man roster.

  • Breshad Perriman caught a touchdown pass this preseason but also had a key drop in the Hall of Fame Game leading to an interception. He will be looking for a big night Saturday to solidify his roster standing.
  • Kamalei Correa flashed in the Hall of Fame game but has disappointed in each of the last two weeks. It is often a “what have you done for me lately” league and if Correa’s greatest accolade of the preseason turns out to be his performance in the Hall of Fame Game, he will be on the outside looking in.
  • Bronson Kaufusi has struggled to make an impact since the Ravens drafted him in the third round out of BYU in 2016. Kaufusi did have one pass batted down last week, but the 27-year old will need to make a much greater impact in the last two weeks to earn a roster spot.
  • Jaleel Scott was a 2018 fourth-round pick for the Ravens and has yet to make an impact this preseason. The 6’6 209-pound wideout out of New Mexico State took just three offensive snaps on Monday night against the Colts and appears to be destined for the practice squad at best.

Image Credit: AP