Success Against NFL's Best Rides on Lamar Jackson
When Lamar Jackson is at his best, so are the Ravens. But Sunday's 28-24 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers was evident that success against the NFL's top teams rides on No. 8.
"They need Jackson to be great against their best opponents," The Baltimore Sun's Childs Walker wrote. "Instead, he's played his two worst games against the Steelers and the Kansas City Chiefs."
"Sometimes, we tend to overanalyze things, but this shouldn't be one of those times," The Athletic's Jeff Zrebiec added. "The Ravens didn't lose Sunday because of offensive coordinator Greg Roman's play-calling, two starting offensive linemen going down early in the first half, the officiating, Matthew Judon's ejection or their defense failing to get enough stops in the second half.
"A few of those factors made things difficult at times, but the Ravens lost because their quarterback turned the ball over four times, contributing to two Steelers touchdowns and taking what should have been sure points for the Ravens off the board."
As Zrebiec noted, the Ravens were the first team since 1950 to outrush their opponent by 200-plus yards and outpass them and still lose. For the better part of three quarters, Baltimore was on track to take down the NFL's lone remaining unbeaten team, but four turnovers from Jackson (two interceptions and two fumbles) were the difference.
In the Ravens' two losses this season Jackson is 30-of-56 for 305 passing yards, three touchdowns and two interceptions. He reiterated in the postgame press conference that he needs to be better, but some pundits questioned where the Ravens rank among the AFC's best.
"[I]t's legitimate to ask where they fall in the AFC balance of power," ESPN's Jamison Hensley wrote. "Baltimore entered Sunday having beaten only one team with more than two wins. The Ravens' last four wins came against teams whose combined record was 6-20-2 (.250) entering Week 8: Houston, Washington, Cincinnati and Philadelphia."
However, NBC Sports' Peter King still remains optimistic. The Ravens were fifth on his midseason power rankings under the "best of the best" category, but King echoed the same feeling about Jackson's performance.
"Not that home field has been Baltimore's friend, but now, barring Pittsburgh losing a two-game lead in the division with nine games to play, the Ravens could have to win three road games to make it to the Super Bowl," King wrote. "Very hard to do, especially when two of the road sites could be Kansas City and/or Pittsburgh. The good news is the Ravens, without Stanley, ran it well against a great run-defense team Sunday. The weekend takeaway: Jackson must be better, or the year will end in disappointment again."
Does Tackle Become Top Priority at the Trade Deadline?
There's simply no replacing All-Pro tackle like Ronnie Stanley, but could the Ravens try to find a substitute one day before the Nov. 3 trade deadline?
"With just a handful of days before the trade deadline, one of the Ravens' biggest needs now appears to be at tackle on the offensive line — especially if Stanley's injury turns out to be as bad as it looked as he hit the turf in agony," NBC Sports' Andrew Gillis wrote. "... No replacement on the roster, though, is ready to fill the shoes of the team's franchise left tackle."
With Stanley expected to miss the remainder of the season with a "severe" ankle injury, the Ravens moved Orlando Brown Jr. from right to left tackle and brought in D.J. Fluker at right tackle. This is how we could see the offensive line looking moving forward.
"[T]he Ravens will need to add a tackle to the 53-man roster, whether that is Will Holden from the practice squad, a player acquired before the Nov. 3 trade deadline or an outside free agent," Smolka added. "Complicating the situation, rookie Tyre Phillips, who played tackle throughout his college career, left the game early as well with an ankle injury."
If the Ravens were to target an offensive tackle in a trade, who would it be? A lot can transpire in the next 24 hours but there haven't been any indications from insiders like NFL Network's Ian Rapoport and ESPN's Adam Schefter that a big-name tackle could be traded.
Former Official Weighs in on Clock Controversy
John Harbaugh said he didn't receive an explanation as to why time wasn't added back on the clock for the injury to Steelers defensive end Cam Heyward, but one former official weighed in.
NBC rules analyst Terry McAulay said on Twitter that time should have been added to the clock after Heyward's injury. Instead of snapping the ball with eight seconds left on the clock, McAulay believes there should have been between 16 and 18 seconds.
"If the Ravens had ended up snapping the ball before Heyward was able to make it off of the field or get back to the line of scrimmage, the Steelers would have been called for an offsides penalty and that would have advanced the ball an extra five yards," Ravens Wire's Kevin Ostreicher wrote. "Instead of getting time put back on the clock or getting the ball closer to the end zone, Baltimore got neither."
The Ravens were only able to run just two plays – including only one to the end zone – before Jackson's pass to Willie Snead IV in the end zone fell incomplete. An extra ten seconds surely could have made a big difference.
Run Game Excels Despite Mark Ingram's Absence
There were questions about how the Ravens' rushing attack would fare against the league's second-best run defense without leader Mark Ingram II, but Baltimore passed with flying colors.
The Steelers came into Sunday's game allowing just 68.8 yards per game. Even with Ingram sidelined with an ankle injury, the Ravens still rushed for 265 yards and averaged 5.6 per carry.
"[Y]ou wouldn't [have] known that Ingram was missing from the lineup against Pittsburgh based on how the Ravens ran the football," Baltimore Beatdown's Frank Platko wrote. " … Combined with an additional 65 rushing yards from Jackson, and the Ravens rushed a total of 47 times for 265 yards — 179 of which came in the first half. They did so despite missing two starting offensive linemen against perhaps the best defensive front in the NFL, too, which makes the season-best rushing performance even more impressive."
It was a dominating performance, but perhaps the biggest storyline was the emergence of rookie running back J.K. Dobbins. He finished with a team-high 113 rushing yards on 15 carries, drawing comparisons to another No. 27 we became accustomed to watching in Baltimore.
The Steelers couldn't find much of an answer for the one-two punch of Dobbins and Gus Edwards. The Ravens found success particularly on quarterback-option plays that took advantage of Dobbins running in stride.
We had seen flashes of Dobbins' potential as a runner through the first six games of the season, and it was on full display against a very good defense. Pundits like Press Box’s Bo Smolka believe a performance like Sunday's is going to make it hard for Dobbins not to have a more consistent role in the backfield even when Ingram returns.
"Dobbins, just 21, represents the future of this running attack, which is what the Ravens must have envisioned when they selected him in the second round of this year's draft," Smolka wrote. "Coming into this game, Dobbins had never had more than nine carries in a game, and had roughly half as many carries as either Ingram or Edwards. But Dobbins is elusive, shows superb balance in extending plays after initial contact, and should command a larger role in this running game going forward."
High Praise for Jaylon Ferguson
Along with Stanley, the Ravens were also without one of their best players on the defensive side of the ball when Matthew Judon was ejected for making contact with an official in the second quarter.
That provided a bigger role for second-year outside linebacker Jaylon Ferguson, and pundits think he played some of his best football.
"The Ravens lost their most productive outside linebacker when Judon was tossed from the game for making contact with an official," Walker wrote. "But his absence provided an opportunity for Ferguson to showcase how much he's grown in his second season.
"Ferguson didn't exactly blow up the stat sheet to start this season, but he made good use of his part-time work, earning solid grades from Pro Football Focus as both a run and pass defender. His snap count rose from 14 in Week 2 to 30 in Week 6."
Ferguson finished with two tackles, two quarterback hits, and a sack. He also did a good job containing the edge against the run. The Ravens held James Connor to 47 rushing yards in 15 carries.
Ferguson's contributions are important to the pass rush success as the Ravens face another stout offensive line against the Indianapolis Colts in Week 9.
- Ebony Bird's Michael Natelli believes the Ravens' needs at the trade deadline remain the same.
- Support poured in for Ronnie Stanley following his ankle injury.