Late for Work 11/23: Ravens Are Fighting for Their Playoff Lives

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Time to Panic About the Ravens?

If the postseason started today, the Ravens would be on the outside looking in. They've lost three of their last four games and Sunday's 30-24 overtime loss to the Tennessee Titans put them in chase mode.

"The Ravens are now 6-4 and in third place in the AFC North," The Athletic's Jeff Zrebiec wrote. "They'd be officially eliminated from the division race with a loss to the Steelers on Thursday night, but that's a formality anyway. The Ravens now have to worry about even making the playoffs and trying to figure out why they blew their second double-digit lead in their last four games."

Is it time to panic about the Ravens? ESPN's Dan Graziano says that's not an overreaction.

"Last season, the Ravens went 14-2, Lamar Jackson was the MVP and they appeared to be set up for continued greatness in 2020," Graziano wrote. "We were doing TV segments in the offseason in which people wondered if they could go 16-0. Man – life comes at you fast.

"Baltimore blew a 10-point lead and lost to Tennessee on Sunday to drop to 6-4. The Ravens are in third place in the AFC North, four full games behind unbeaten Pittsburgh and a game behind the Browns. They play at Pittsburgh on Thursday. As in, three days from now. Jackson was, at one point, 21-0 in his career in games in which his team led by 10 or more points. In the Ravens' past three such games, they are 1-2. They were 6-1 against teams with winning records in 2019; they're 1-4 against them this year."

Right now, the Ravens are far from the team we saw last season and pundits don't have much confidence that issues on both sides of the ball can be fixed in the next six games.

"If it was only one or two flaws, perhaps you'd have more faith in this team's ability to get them fixed and go on a run," Zrebiec added. "Their schedule over the final month of the season is plenty forgiving. However, there are issues in many areas. The same flaws that were apparent in September are still prevalent now. They've multiplied, too. After Sunday, add tackling to that list. The Ravens tackling, particularly from the defensive backs, was horrid."

Added The Baltimore Sun's Daniel Oyefusi: "With a 6-4 record and a quick turnaround before playing the 10-0 Steelers on Thanksgiving, the Ravens are officially fighting for the playoff lives."

As Graziano noted, the schedule remains a source of optimism. But that doesn't guarantee a playoff berth.

"The reason for optimism is that, even with 10-0 Pittsburgh staring them in the face this week, the Ravens have the easiest remaining schedule of any team in the league, according to ESPN's Football Power Index," Graziano added. "After the Steelers game (and the ensuing 10 days off), they play the Cowboys at home, the Browns on the road, the Jaguars at home, the Giants at home and they finish the season in Cincinnati. Even if they drop to 6-5 on Thursday night, the schedule still affords them a chance to finish 11-5, which would surely get them into the postseason. But even if they do get there, it's going to be hard to expect greatness when we just haven't seen it from them this year."

Red Zone Struggles Prove Costly

One of the Ravens' biggest offensive strengths last season led to their downfall against the Titans.

After finishing with the fourth-best red zone touchdown scoring percentage last season, Baltimore ranks 15th in that department this year. The Ravens finished 1-of-4 in the red zone Sunday, and those missed opportunities proved to be the difference.

"Against a Titans defense that ranked 28th in the league in red zone defense, the Ravens reached the red zone four times but scored just one touchdown, a 2-yard run by J.K. Dobbins," Press Box's Bo Smolka wrote.

Instead, the Ravens settled for three Justin Tucker field goals against a defense that was allowing teams to score touchdowns on 74 percent of their drives inside the 20-yard line. All three drives ended on the 12-yard line or closer.

Tucker's 29-yard field goal with 28 seconds left sent the game to overtime, but the drive leading up to it felt like the Ravens were going to find the end zone for a touchdown.

Baltimore Beatdown's Frank Platko said the game felt similar to the Week 8 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers. This time, it wasn't turnovers that plagued the Ravens.

"In both games, they outplayed their opponent for the first three-and-a-half quarters and led by double digits in the second half," Platko wrote. "And in both games, they failed to close the deal and wound up losing.

"The Ravens were well-positioned to win this contest. The Titans were fortunate to get a field goal before halftime, thanks to a miraculous fake punt conversion and a roughing the passer penalty that gifted them 15 yards, and only be trailing by four points at intermission."

Defense Can't Contain Derrick Henry

With a running back like Derrick Henry, you can slow him, but it's nearly impossible to stop him.

One of the biggest questions for the Ravens coming into Sunday was how they would contain Henry with their top two interior run defenders in Brandon Williams and Calais Campbell out with injuries.

For most of the game, they did just that. On the Titans' first drive, Marlon Humphrey met Henry in the backfield for a 5-yard loss. On the ensuing drive, Malik Harrison dropped Henry for a 1-yard loss. DeShon Elliott, who's quickly become one of the league's hardest-hitting safeties, also laid the wood on Henry.

"Over the game's first three quarters, [Henry had] been limited to just 44 yards on 18 carries, hemmed in by a Ravens defense missing Campbell and Williams," The Baltimore Sun's Jonas Shaffer wrote. "Tannehill (22-for-31 for 259 yards, two touchdowns and an interception) had been the offense's biggest weapon."

Whether it was as a ball carrier or pass catcher, the Ravens made a concerted effort to limit the big plays from Henry. But containing one of the NFL's best running backs for four quarters is a tough task for any defense, and Henry ultimately broke free.

It was on a 29-yard touchdown run in overtime as the Titans were in field goal range. Henry started left, then broke free down the middle for the game-winning touchdown. He finished with 133 yards on 28 carries and the touchdown.

"In the fourth quarter and in overtime, he had 10 carries for 89 yards and a touchdown." Zrebiec wrote.

"They're a tough defense," Henry said. "They're physical. Got a lot of guys that fly around to the ball and got a lot of guys that play this game at a high level with a lot of experience. But as we get our momentum and guys get some blocks, us getting downhill and continuing to move the ball downfield, that wears on any defense."

The Tennessean's Erik Bacharach noted that 100 of Henry's 133 yards came after contact. Tackling was an issue across the board for the defense and they struggled to take down the 247-pound Henry late in the game and wide receiver A.J. Brown bullied his way through four defenders to give the Titans a late-game lead.

It's the second straight game the Ravens have allowed a 100-yard rusher and the run defense will be tested again on a short week against James Conner.

Absence of a Deep Threat Receiver Remains a Concern

The lack of big passing plays has been a concern this season, and outside of Mark Andrews, that continues to be the case.

"Contrast that with the Ravens' top two wide receivers: Marquise Brown went without a catch on three targets, and Willie Snead had three catches for 23 yards," Smolka wrote. "The leading wide receiver for the Ravens in this game was Dez Bryant, who had an expanded role in his second game as a Raven and finished with four catches for 28 yards.

"The Ravens' passing game has many issues right now, but among them is the fact that the wide receivers are not making enough impact."

"The outside vertical passing game does not exist," CBS Sports' Jason La Canfora wrote. "Over the middle, where they do their best work, it's all Andrews or Snead."

Andrews had one of his best games of the season. He finished with five catches for 96 yards and a 31-yard touchdown, but was the only pass catcher to provide any big plays. 

Tennessee was allowing the fifth-most passing yards per game (277.4) and was without its top pass rusher in Jadaveon Clowney.

"Brown's midseason slide continued against the Titans and bottomed out, as he failed to catch any of his three targets," Platko wrote. "Brown was targeted on a would-be first down early in the first quarter but dropped the pass despite being wide open.

"Since catching six passes for 77 yards and a touchdown against the Bengals on October 11, Brown has a total of 10 receptions and 112 yards over the past five games. This simply won't cut it for a supposed-to-be WR1, let alone any starting receiver. 'Hollywood' has more talent and potential than any other wideout on the roster, but it's clearly not clicking."

Yannick Ngakoue Makes His Presence Felt

One of the defensive standouts in the eyes of pundits was a player the Ravens acquired before the trade deadline.

Yannick Ngakoue finished with two tackles and a sack-strip in his strongest game since coming to Baltimore.

"Tennessee did a better job in the second half, frequently stationing a running back in Ngakoue's path to impede his progress after he beat the initial block," Walker wrote. "But if he commands that level of attention, he'll free up the Ravens' other pass rushers, especially after Campbell returns from a calf strain.

"The guy we saw in the first half was the difference-maker the Ravens sought when they acquired Ngakoue from the Minnesota Vikings. A few more strip sacks from him could loom large in what's shaping up as a tense playoff race."

It's encouraging for a defense that's struggled to generate pass rush at times this season. The front office traded for Ngakoue with the hope he'd provide a game-changing impact and Sunday showed that potential.

Quick Hits

  • In case you missed it, check out the tribute to Mo Gaba and the legacy he left for Baltimore sports.

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