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Eisenberg: Ravens Should Continue to Zig While the NFL Zags


With Lamar Jackson as their quarterback, the Ravens have proudly zigged while the rest of the NFL zags. They're a run-first team in a pass-first league.

The blueprint has worked wonders in the regular season, producing a 31-8 record and two division titles since Jackson became the starter. The Ravens have made a steep climb up the NFL's pecking order; you might recall them being stuck in a cycle of mediocrity beforehand, having made just one playoff appearance in five years.

But they haven't experienced the same success in the postseason, where they're 1-3 with Jackson as the starter after losing to the Buffalo Bills last weekend.

Inevitably, this has prompted harsh proclamations from some in the football world. Their run-first blueprint won't work in the postseason. They've got a ceiling with Jackson as their starter. They have to change if they want to win a Super Bowl.

I agree with that last point in that they do have to become a more productive passing team. That isn't exactly deep, probing analysis. The Ravens ranked No. 1 in rushing and No. 32 in passing in 2020. It's obvious they have work to do to achieve their stated goal of balance. It'll be interesting to see what they do in response.

But as for the suggestion that their blueprint will never work in January and they're doomed to fail with Jackson – I'm calling big-time BS on that. (Please excuse my language.)

It's an easy conclusion given their 1-3 record in the playoffs, and get used it, as you're going to be hearing it a lot. But if I'm the Ravens, I pay no heed. I stay the course and continue to zig while others zag.

Let's examine what happened in Buffalo. No doubt, the Bills were better. And they're rightfully getting credit for limiting Jackson and the Ravens' offense with heavy blitzing and zone coverage.

Basically, the Bills gambled Baltimore wouldn't take advantage of their defense selling out to stop the run. And they won the gamble.

But I would argue that execution, rather than strategy – a lack of execution – was what cost the Ravens the most.

They dropped passes in key situations. That had not been a consistent problem during the season. Their snaps from center suddenly went all over the place. That had not been a problem at all since a personnel change in November. It was immeasurably costly Saturday night.

All game, the offense appeared rushed and out of sync as it hustled to get snaps off just before the play clock expired. That had never been a problem.

Yet the offense still moved the chains decently, more than the Bills and certainly enough to put up six points that would have come in handy early. Alas, those six points never made it to the scoreboard because the Ravens' historically-reliable kicker had the worst night of his career – another issue of execution (and Mother Nature) rather than strategy.

And even with so much going so wrong all night, the Ravens were still on the verge of tying the Bills and creating a jump-ball game late in the third quarter when Jackson threw the first red-zone interception of his pro career – a total statistical one-off that turned devastating as a pick-six that effectively decided the outcome.

It did happen, and give the Bills credit, but when a single play is that influential to an outcome, it's dead wrong to extrapolate that your whole offensive concept is doomed. Sorry, not buying.

I'm not saying the Ravens should just ignore the text of this latest playoff shortfall. It's certainly fair to ask why their offense didn't take more advantage of an opponent blitzing so heavily and selling out to stop the run.

But the Ravens knew before the Buffalo game that one of their top offseason priorities would be addressing their low-rated passing attack. Their statistics told an unmistakable tale.

There's plenty of time to discuss what they should do, but what they should NOT do is abandon what they do best.

Their quarterback is a dynamic playmaker because of his legs, and having just turned 24, he is still on a learning curve. With him as an X factor, their running attack is a unique and dominant force that almost always produces and frustrates opponents.

They aren't hitting a ceiling with it. They just have work to do.

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