Eisenberg: Last Year-itis Is Unfair And Overstated


You don't need medical training to detect a malaise spreading through the Ravens' fan base. There isn't a clinical description for it, but it's a longing for the past – for the 2019 season, to be specific.

Let's call it last year-itis.

It has been close to rampant since the Ravens battered the Cincinnati Bengals Sunday to improve their record to 4-1 in 2020. Although the win came easily, social media and message boards have filled with complaints about the offense not scoring a touchdown in the final 44 minutes.

Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson himself exhibited classic symptoms in his post-game comments.

"We need to get back to how we were last year," the reigning NFL MVP said.

Ah, last year. The Ravens were the NFL's best team during the regular season, winning their final 12 games with barely a hiccup. And they didn't just win; they dazzled as Jackson and a record-setting offense led a spectacular charge. At one point, Baltimore scored consecutive wins by 36, 34 and 39 points.

With things not coming quite as easily a year later, it's hard not to long for a dream season in which the Ravens barely ever trailed on the scoreboard.

But honestly, the comparison is unfair. And it doesn't hold up as well as you might think.

Those longing for 2019 are remembering a finished product, the awesome Baltimore team that took shape down the stretch as big wins piled up and confidence soared. This year's team, conversely, is a work in progress. But that's normal for five games into a season. In fact, the Ravens were really a work in progress five games into, um, last season.

Remember? They started 2-0, then lost two straight as their defense collapsed and their offense sputtered. In Week 5, the Steelers and an undrafted rookie quarterback nicknamed Duck pushed them to the brink of a third straight defeat before a turnover saved them in overtime.

Things got a lot better after that, but the Ravens have a better record through five games this season than they did in 2019. Are you sure you want to go back?

They also have a stouter defense this season, better suited for the long haul, as opposed to last year's unit, which was rebuilt on the fly and held up OK, but didn't possess as many playmakers.

The front office spent the offseason trying to build a defense that could better stop the run and factor more in winning games. It stumbled during a Week 3 loss to the Chiefs, but big picture, the Ravens lead the NFL in fewest points allowed per game and only one team has forced more turnovers.

The Ravens might well end up having better balance between their offense and defense in 2020. Which was the goal.

As for the offense, no doubt, the running game isn't as dominant this year and opponents better understand what's coming. Bengals safety Jessie Bates III said Sunday they took away Mark Andrews and Marquise Brown because "that's all (Jackson) was really throwing to." Bates also said the Bengals crowded the middle of the field because that's where "all of their completions" come from.

It's nothing if not a challenge for Offensive Coordinator Greg Roman, who needs to find a formula that works in new conditions.

But it's not as if he lacks alternatives. More touches for rookies J.K. Dobbins and Devin Duvernay could provide a spark. Jackson had one of his roughest games Sunday, but he wasn't playing like an MVP at this point a year ago, either. It would help if the line wasn't being shuffled every week due to injuries. Let's see what develops.

I'm not suggesting the spread of last year-itis is entirely unfounded; Jackson and Andrews both acknowledged Sunday that the offense can get a lot better.

But I AM suggesting the rampant longing for 2019 might be somewhat overstated. This year, the Ravens have won games by 32, 17, 14 and 24 points so far. They might have work to do, but they aren't exactly a sinking ship. Their overall plus-73 point differential is easily the league's largest.

It's a new year. This team is going to win games differently. That's what happens in the NFL, where change is constant.

Last year was memorable. But if the Ravens keep finding ways to win, this year might be memorable, too.

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