What to Make of Ravens' Loss in Carolina
Safety Eric Weddle put it best when he said "That didn't go the way I envisioned it," after the Ravens lost to the Carolina Panthers, 36-21, yesterday.
The Ravens were simply second-best to the Panthers in just about every way. The defeat dropped Baltimore to 4-4 in the AFC North, while the Panthers are now 5-2.
Here are a few takeaways from the defeat:
Losing the Turnover Battle Never Helps
The Panthers defense coaxed two interceptions out of quarterback Joe Flacco, and also forced a fumble from running back Alex Collins. Meanwhile, Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton put together an excellent day without any turnovers, and the rest of Carolina's offense followed his lead.
As The Baltimore Sun's Jonas Shaffer noted during the game, "Ravens and Panthers nearly equal in total yardage (12 yards apart) and time of possession (50 seconds apart). Only one team has three turnovers, though."
Carolina eventually pulled away to have 61 more total yards than Baltimore, but Shaffer's point about the turnovers is still valid. The Panthers scored 13 points in the three drives following the turnovers that went for a combined total of just 70 yards.
If your opponent consistently doesn't have to go far down the field to get points, you aren't going to win. As Head Coach John Harbaugh put it, "Those are killers."
"The most concerning moments of Sunday's performance for the offense were the three turnovers — one Collins fumble and two Flacco interceptions — that swung momentum toward Carolina's side," PennLive's Aaron Kasinitz wrote.
Losing the turnover battle against Carolina is also indicative of how the Ravens have done in that area all season. Baltimore is now at a -4-turnover differential for the season, which is a major slide from last year's +17 mark, which led the NFL.
One area where the group has fallen off is bringing in interceptions. Last season, Baltimore's 22 interceptions were most in the NFL. This year, Baltimore has just five interceptions, and hasn't forced one since cornerback Tavon Young grabbed one in Cleveland.
It was a tough day overall for the secondary, as Shaffer wrote, "On defense, the Ravens looked slow and listless, unable to stop the Panthers' passing game up the seams."
The Baltimore Sun's Childs Walker believes the drop off in the secondary is a result of cornerback Marlon Humphrey being unable to play due to a thigh injury. Humphrey missed last week's contest against the Saints as well.
"Newton shrugged off their blitzes and found numerous soft spots in a secondary that suddenly looks toothless with Marlon Humphrey out," Walker wrote.
Ravens Don't Record a Single Sack
What has happened to the vaunted Baltimore pass rush that set a franchise record with 11 sacks in one game just two weeks ago? The Ravens entered this week with an NFL-high 27 sacks, but didn't add to their total while in Charlotte.
In total, the Ravens had four quarterback hits on Newton.
"Baltimore's potent pass-rush fizzled out against a questionable offensive line," Baltimore Beatdown's Logan Levy wrote. "Cam Newton had seemingly plenty of time to throw on a majority of his dropbacks, which did not bode well for Baltimore. Whether the Ravens sent pressure or not, they failed to get near Newton."
This was the fifth time the Ravens have been held to either three sacks or less in a game this season. Since the sack attack the defense unleased on Tennessee Titans quarterback Marcus Mariota two weeks ago, the pass rush has managed one in two games.
As Levy put it, "If they want to play meaningful football in January, they will need to be more consistent in this area."
For Pro Football Focus, outside linebacker Za'Darius Smith was the lone bright spot amongst the pass rushers.
"Smith, while he didn't record a sack, recorded multiple pressures and provided the only real pass-rush throughout the game for the Ravens' defense," PFF wrote.
The pass rush was just a contributing factor to what was an overall underwhelming performance from the defense. As former NFL head coach and CBS analyst Bruce Arians put it during the television broadcast, "It's going to be interesting to see where Baltimore goes from here. That close loss last week, now this is an embarrassment for them with as well as they play defense."
Wide Receivers Struggle to Make Impact
Flacco was definitely not on his A-game, throwing two interceptions and averaging just 4.9 yards per passing attempt. He threw for just 192 yards, and finished with a quarterback rating of 56.8.
However, the play of Flacco's pass-catchers didn't help the performance either. As PressBox's Bo Smolka put it, "Flacco needs to be much better. So do his receivers."
The group was plagued by drops throughout the game against Carolina. Drops aren't an official stat kept by the NFL, but wide receivers John Brown and Willie Snead IV had passes bounce off their hands, as did rookie tight ends Hayden Hurst and Mark Andrews.
"Flacco didn't get a lot of help from the Ravens' revamped receiver corps, which is supposed to be able to generate much more offense than previous years," Smolka wrote.
Indeed, the Panthers secondary won the battle against Baltimore's wide receivers. Though Snead led the team with five catches for 54 yards, it took 11 targets for him to get there. He also had two pass interference calls as he struggled to get separation from Carolina's cornerbacks.
In total, the wide receiver trio of Brown, Snead and Michael Crabtree finished with 11 catches for 113 yards on 23 targets.
When Arians was asked why the Ravens were unable to win in Carolina, he remarked "They got out-physicaled." His first example of that was the pass-catchers being unable to create separation in man-to-man coverages.
"When the Ravens overhauled their receiver group, investing in three free agents and a pair of tight ends early in the draft, they envisioned an offense that would be versatile and could attack in a variety of ways," Smolka wrote. "In some games this year, they have shown that ability. In this game, though, Flacco and the passing game appeared to be firing on about half its cylinders."
Next Two Games Could Define Rest of Season
Though this loss stings and gives the Ravens their lowest winning percentage of this season, they'll have to get over it quickly. Many pundits believe Baltimore's next two games against Pittsburgh and Cincinnati (both at home) could define its season.
As for how to move on from the loss, Arians had some advice.
"The biggest thing is don't wash it away. Go back and look at the film and see what happened really. Be honest about what happened," Arians said. "It's all in your hands, you have division games at home coming up against Pittsburgh and Cincinnati. Your future is in your hands. But don't put this one to bed without understanding how and why it happened."
As Smolka pointed out, "The Ravens have a chance over the next two games to reassert their place in this division. Sweep these two AFC North rivals, and they are right back in the division title conversation."
This is true, as a 6-4 overall record with a sweep of the Steelers and splitting with the Bengals would put the Ravens in pretty good shape for the final stretch of the season.
Still, even if the Ravens do come away with victories against the Steelers and Bengals, Walker believes the loss to Carolina sets the Ravens up for an end of the season with almost no margin for error.
"Now that they've fallen to .500, the Ravens will have to scrape and claw over the second half of the season to remain in playoff contention," Walker wrote. "That's an all-too-familiar story for Baltimore fans who feel their franchise is stuck in a rut."
"The Ravens have plenty of work to do, but they still have a chance to turn it around," Levy wrote.
Ravens Facing Difficult Situation Along Offensive Line
Baltimore's offense was not aided by a dynamic performance from its offensive line. Flacco was sacked twice, hit seven times, and was under pressure for much of the afternoon in Charlotte.
To be fair, the Ravens started the game without two of their starting five offensive linemen: left guard Alex Lewis (neck), and right tackle James Hurst (back). They were also missing key reserve guard/center Bradley Bozeman, which meant that backup center Hroniss Grasu had to start at left guard. Left tackle Ronnie Stanley also suffered what looked like a serious leg injury, but thankfully he returned to play later in the contest.
To Walker, "The Ravens again face a talent deficit on the offensive line. This problem has haunted the franchise for several years."
The group has been criticized for its run blocking this season, as the Ravens are averaging just 3.6 yards per carry, which is only better than the Arizona Cardinals.
In Charlotte, Baltimore actually had a pretty solid day running the ball, as Collins averaged 4.5 yards per carry. But the group missed a big assignment at the start of the second quarter when Panthers defensive tackle Kyle Love ran untouched between Grasu and center Matt Skura to level Collins and force a fumble.
"The ensuing touchdown began a tailspin from which the Ravens would never truly recover…," Walker wrote. "After the game, Flacco described the Panthers as 'more physical' than the Ravens. He did not intend it as a comment on his offensive line, but the shoe fit in this case."
The hope is that the unit will be aided by the returns of Lewis and Hurst this week against Pittsburgh, and that Stanley's injury will not lead to him missing any games. "Otherwise, they'll begin another vital game at a disadvantage," Walker noted.
Up-and-Down Day for First-Round Rookies Ends on Positive Note
When the Ravens selected tight end Hayden Hurst and quarterback Lamar Jackson in the first round of this year's NFL draft, the front office definitely envisioned the duo connecting on touchdowns for years and years.
That partnership struck for the first time against Carolina, when Jackson connected with Hurst for a 26-yard touchdown. It was Hurst's first NFL regular-season touchdown, and Jackson's first passing score of the season.
Yes, the touchdown came after the game was already decided and was definitely "Too little, too late," as Shaffer put it, but it was still an exciting moment for two players who the Ravens believe have bright futures.
For many, the throw was an example of how Jackson has progressed since getting drafted. He finished his day with a 144.6 quarterback rating.
"When he [Jackson] enters the game, defenses wake up. They change their approach, and it makes the offense dangerous," Russell Street Report's Nick Capecci wrote. "That throw to Hurst for the score was the type of throw Lamar didn't make in the preseason that he will only get better at."
Still, it wasn't a perfect day for Jackson and Hurst. On a crucial third-and-1 in the first quarter, Jackson underthrew Snead, who was wide open. It was a big miss, and one that Jackson was still unhappy with after the game.
Hurst, meanwhile, had a pass that would've put the Ravens on Carolina's goal line bounce off his chest. It was Hurst's second drop in the red zone in as many games.
PFF Offensive and Defensive Ratings
· Right guard Marshal Yanda scored the best PFF rating on offense with a 1.3. Stanley battled with a leg injury during the second half, but still finished with a 0.9 mark. Center Matt Skura and Jackson each received a 0.3 rating.
· Snead was given a -3.2 rating, while Grasu scored a -2.3. Flacco's mark was -1.6.
· Safety Eric Weddle led the defense with a 3.9 PFF rating. Outside linebacker Za'Darius Smith was given a 3.3, while cornerback Tavon Young and defensive tackle Michael Pierce scored a 2.8.
· Defensive tackle Brandon Williams scored a -3.1, while cornerback Jimmy Smith was given a -2.2. Inside linebacker C.J. Mosley and defensive end Brent Urban were both given a -2.0 mark.
- A week after his first ever NFL extra point, kicker Justin Tucker converted all three of his attempts on Sunday. Tucker was featured in NBC Sports' Peter King's "Football Morning in America" article, where he spoke about what he learned during the week after that miss. "I'm still learning from the experience, as we're talking right now," Tucker said. "If I had to put it into something short and sweet, I am incredibly thankful for the relationships with teammates and coaches here in Baltimore. The outpouring of support was almost unsettling."