Ravens are Fighting for Their Postseason Lives
Just about everything that could have gone wrong, went wrong for the Ravens on Sunday night.
A 23-17 loss to the New England Patriots dealt significant blows that has moved Baltimore's playoff outlook from a virtual lock to a question mark.
"The Ravens (6-3) have gone from a preseason Super Bowl favorite to holding the No. 7 and final playoff spot in the AFC," ESPN's Jamison Hensley wrote.
"Playoff run? The Ravens (6-3) are limping to start the second half of the regular season and are fighting for their postseason lives. Baltimore's hopes of a third straight AFC North title have faded. The Ravens are three games back of the undefeated Pittsburgh Steelers (9-0) with seven games remaining."
Two weeks ago, there was plenty of optimism surrounding the Ravens despite a close loss to the Steelers. They followed it up with a comeback win against the Indianapolis Colts.
Now they're in the middle of a competitive field with five other teams in the AFC sitting at 6-3.
"The Ravens were dealt a two-fold blow in a nationally televised game," The Baltimore Sun's Daniel Oyefusi wrote. "The loss made catching up to the Steelers in the AFC North even more of a difficult task and lumped the Ravens with a handful of teams vying for a wild-card berth. Add that to the list of key injuries the Ravens continued to suffer and this very much feels like a team whose season is starting to hang in the balance."
If there's reason for optimism, it's that the Ravens have the easiest remaining rest-of-season schedule according to ESPN Analytics, but things don't get any easier over the next two weeks.
The Ravens face the Tennessee Titans next Sunday then head to Pittsburgh on a short week for a Thanksgiving matchup on Thursday night against the Steelers.
It's two of the most important games of the season, and the Ravens will be far from full strength.
"Doing so without [Ronnie] Stanley, [Calais] Campbell, [Nick] Boyle, and others, however, only makes a daunting task all the more challenging," Baltimore Beatdown's Frank Platko wrote. "John Harbaugh's teams have more often than not responded to adversity well over the years. This young core, though, has really not faced in-season hurdles until now. The division title is all but out of reach, but the Ravens now — based on their current record — the Ravens need to worry about clinching a playoff berth before anything else. The going is tough, but will the Ravens get going? We're about to find out."
Offensive Performance 'Raises Alarm Bells'
The Ravens haven't been the offensive juggernaut we saw last season, but the weather didn't do them any favors Sunday.
If you watched any of the broadcast, you saw the downpour conditions. The worst of it came late in the fourth quarter when Jackson and the offense took the field for a potential game-tying drive.
The Ravens ran more plays than the Patriots, outgained them 357 to 308, and averaged more yards per play, but still struggled to find consistency.
"The Ravens never scored fewer than 20 points in the regular season in 2019," The Ringer's Riley McAtee wrote. "They did just that against a New England squad that came into the game with a 3-5 record and the league's 31st-ranked defense by DVOA. It's the type of performance that should raise alarm bells for the Ravens – especially since this team has looked nothing like the 2019 team that tore through the NFL and propelled Jackson to the league's MVP trophy.
"[T]he Ravens found the end zone just twice, and beyond the stat sheet, everything looked sluggish and grueling for this offense. … Everything just looks so difficult for the Ravens now."
The Ravens looked sharp out of the gate. After a punt on the opening drive, the offense marched 94 yards down the field as Jackson found Willie Snead IV for the game's opening touchdown. Justin Tucker connected on a 24-yard field goal on the ensuing drive to extend the lead 10-7 midway through the second quarter.
But missed opportunities cost the Ravens. A deep pass to Marquise "Hollywood" Brown was intercepted by J.C. Jackson just before halftime that potentially took away at least three points. On the first drive out of the half, an aborted direct snap to Mark Ingram on fourth-and-1 killed the momentum.
"If there's a coach who can take advantage of a predictable offense, even with a defense that's undermanned, it's Bill Belichick," Yahoo! Sports' Frank Schwab wrote. "Brown was absent from the offense again. Jackson ran more than he has in some games this season, but didn't get any big plays with his feet.
"[Greg] Roman had a great 2019. The Ravens ranked first in points, second in yards and set an NFL single-season record for rushing yards by a team. He has done great work through his career, especially with mobile quarterbacks. However, even with most of the key pieces back aside from retired guard Marshal Yanda, the Ravens' offense looks nowhere near what it was a year ago."
How Boyle's Injury Affects the Offense
Perhaps the biggest blow to the Ravens Sunday night came when Boyle suffered a season-ending knee injury. Those who follow the Ravens closely understand the magnitude of losing one of the league's top blocking tight ends.
"[Brandon] Williams and Boyle are not players you're going to see debated and dissected on ESPN," The Baltimore Sun's Childs Walker wrote. "But each is a foundational component. The Ravens don't stop the run without Williams, and when they don't stop the run, they can't force teams to play into their turnover-craving hands. On the other side of the ball, they count on Boyle to play point of the spear in their power running game. There's not a more forceful blocker among the league's tight ends."
How will this affect the offense moving forward?
"It's tough seeing any type of injury, much less a season-ending one," Ravens Wire's Matthew Stevens wrote. "But Boyle's injury impacts the Ravens' offense quite a bit. Already down to two tight ends after trading Hayden Hurst to the Atlanta Falcons this offseason, Baltimore's offense hasn't found the same level of success as last season in part because they haven't been able to use [three tight end sets]."
The run game has still been a focal point of the offense. The Ravens are averaging 164 yards per game on the ground, second only behind the Arizona Cardinals.
Stevens said that the Ravens will have to add depth at tight end behind Andrews and Ricard.
There's no directly replacing Boyle as a blocker, but statistics back up Andrews' improvement in that area. Heading into Sunday, he was Pro Football Focus' second-highest graded run blocking tight end.
Did Chuck Clark Jump Offsides on Purpose?
Late in the fourth quarter, pundits believe Chuck Clark made a savvy move to help set up the Ravens with a chance to tie the game. Facing a second-and-2 with 2:40 left to play, Clark went offsides to give the Patriots a first down.
The reason why pundits believe Clark did this was to give the Ravens a better chance to stop Cam Newton and the Patriots offense.
Clark's move worked. The Ravens stopped the Patriots on three downs and got the ball back with a chance to tie the game – only for the pouring rain to turn into a monsoon.