Eisenberg: Five Ravens-Related Playoff Takeaways


Some Ravens-related playoff takeaways:

1) A lack of offensive playmakers was one of the primary reasons why the Ravens didn't make the postseason in 2017.

"I don't think it is any secret that we need to add playmakers to the mix," Head Coach John Harbaugh acknowledged after the season.

Last weekend's divisional round of the playoffs drove home the point with emphasis. There were playmaking offensive pieces all over the field in every game – too many to name here, honestly.

You don't have to dig much deeper to understand why those teams were still playing and the Ravens are out – and why a segment of the fan base is especially frustrated after a third straight non-playoff season.

Although the defense let down at key junctures, the big story was the Ravens weren't consistently exciting on offense – and haven't been.

Alex Collins provided a taste of what they're looking for during his breakout season in 2017; his reverse-field touchdown in the season finale was beyond exhilarating.

But the Ravens need more guys who can do that, make something out of nothing, before they can start talking about a deep January run.

2) The Jacksonville Jaguars' surprising playoff victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers was eerily similar to the Steelers' late-season victory over the Ravens.

Jacksonville won Sunday, 45-42. In December, the Steelers defeated the Ravens, 39-38.

The outcomes were different, but I still think the games are related in a key way that bears watching going forward.

Against the Ravens in December, the Steelers were playing their first game without linebacker Ryan Shazier, who had suffered a serious spinal injury. His absence was glaring as Collins gained 166 total yards and the Ravens moved up and down the field.

From there, the Steelers defense was fine against an outmanned Houston offense, struggled in the season finale against winless Cleveland, then was manhandled Sunday, with Leonard Fournette reprising Collins' role.

The lesson is clear: Without Shazier, the Steelers have big problems on defense.

Shazier's health is far more important than any football considerations, and it's wonderful that he is now attending practices and games in a wheelchair. But it seems his football future is in doubt.

A year ago, the Ravens lost their leading tackler to a freak situation when Zachary Orr was forced to retire because of a spinal condition. The Steelers might well be in the same position this year.

Jacksonville's formidable defense learned the hard way Sunday what the Ravens already know: Stopping Pittsburgh's offense is close to impossible. Nonetheless, if I'm the Ravens, I see the sudden and startling vulnerability of Pittsburgh's defense as one reason to believe they might be able to close the gap in the AFC North.

3) The Jaguars and Ravens both had late leads in their shootout games against the Steelers, but only the Jaguars won.What was the difference? The Jaguars offense never stopped scoring, but the Ravens offense hiccupped.

The Jaguars led by seven points after three quarters and went touchdown, touchdown, field goal on their next three series. The Ravens led by 11 after three quarters but punted on two of their three possessions in the fourth quarter, including a three-and-out in the final minutes.

The Ravens defense rightfully took a lot of heat for melting down that night, but it should be noted that the offense was just as central to the team's inability to "finish."

4) The Ravens should be the least surprised of any team to see the Jaguars advance to the AFC championship game.

When the teams met in Week 3 in London, Baltimore was undefeated and favored, and Jacksonville was lightly regarded. But the Jaguars rolled, 44-7.

The Ravens surely would have embraced a second shot at the Jags in January, which became impossible when they missed the playoffs. But after watching the young, confident, underestimated-by-all Jags handle the Steelers, who also had vowed to avenge a regular-season defeat, I'm not sure the Ravens would have gotten the revenge they wanted.

5) The Steelers' loss, combined with the Ravens' late scratch from the postseason, adds fuel to the notion that the AFC North has slipped since its heyday of producing three playoff qualifiers in 2012 and 2014.

For just the second time since 2008, the division failed to produce a playoff victory this season. (The other time was in 2013, when the Bengals won the division and lost in the wild-card round, and neither the Ravens nor the Steelers made the playoffs.)

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