A third-straight loss. A 4-5 record. The division title slipping out of the Ravens’ grip at home.
It was bleak at M&T Bank Stadium Sunday in a 23-16 defeat to the Pittsburgh Steelers.
The Ravens are heading into their bye with a lot of question marks about who they are and what they’ll be moving forward. And pundits aren’t too encouraged.
“The Ravens are who they are, and their record is what it is, and neither is very good,” wrote The Baltimore Sun’s Jonas Schaffer in a story headlined: “After loss to Steelers, Ravens and coach John Harbaugh reach a crossroads where 'anything can happen’.”
After a loss like that, and with the bye ahead, Harbaugh and nearly every player was asked whether sweeping changes are needed. They all said that’s not the answer.
“It’s hardly surprising that the Ravens didn’t roll over on their teammates and coaches,” wrote The Athletic’s Jeff Zrebiec. “But they have to understand that they’ve given their fans or their owner very little reason to believe things are going to change, whether it’s now or in the future. After all, we’ve seen this movie before and we know the ending well.”
After three straight years out of the playoffs, it’s all about getting into the postseason by any means necessary. The Ravens now have three more losses than the Steelers. As Zrebiec wrote, “you can probably kiss their hopes of winning the division goodbye.”
So what about a wild-card berth? The AFC is full of teams right around .500, so the Ravens are still in the thick of it. But they would have to go 6-1 to “have a good chance” and 5-2 to “have any chance.”
“Even the most optimistic Ravens fan will have a hard time convincing himself/herself that such a run is possible after watching the team over the past two weeks,” Zrebiec wrote. “In the past eight quarters against two teams with Super Bowl aspirations, the Ravens simply haven’t measured up.”
So what’s gone wrong? Here’s a look at three prevalent issues pundits pointed to after Sunday’s game:
Red-Zone Woes Doom Offense
The Ravens kicked off the season with a miraculous 13 touchdowns in their first 13 trips to the red zone. It was all the buzz – one heck of a streak.
On Sunday, settling for field goals was what doomed Baltimore, especially in the first half. Quarterback Joe Flacco missed a wide-open Lamar Jackson, then misfired on a potential touchdown pass to Michael Crabtree.
The Ravens had just as many trips (four) inside the 20-yard line as the Steelers on Sunday, but scored a touchdown just once.
Defense Isn’t Getting Sacks or Turnovers
After setting a franchise record with 11 sacks in Tennessee, the Ravens have mustered just two sacks in the past three games.
The Saints were the first team to try to consistently run on Baltimore. While they didn’t gash the Ravens, they did enough to set Drew Brees up with a lot of third (and fourth) downs and manageable situations.
The Ravens defense was excelling on third down, and getting a lot of sacks, in part because they were in second-and-long or third-and-long situations. With opponents getting positive yardage on first down, it’s taken the teeth out of Baltimore’s defense.
Only five NFL teams entered Week 9 with fewer takeaways than the Ravens, who led the league in that category last year. Baltimore didn’t get any against the Steelers.
The Ravens defense also continued to give up big plays in critical situations. On Sunday, it was a 22-yard completion from backup Steelers quarterback Joshua Dobbs – on his first career passing attempt on second-and-20 from his own goal line.
Offense Has No Big Plays
In Week 4, Joe Flacco threw for more yards than any Ravens quarterback ever has in Heinz Field (363 yards). He opened the scoring with a 33-yard touchdown strike to Brown, followed by a 71-yard catch and run also to Brown.
But Brown has gone under 30 yards in three of the Ravens’ last four games and with him, the Ravens’ deep passing game has disappeared too.
It appears teams’ defenses are focused on taking away Brown and making the rest of Baltimore’s attack try to beat them. With a sputtering run game and lack of playmaking elsewhere, it’s been tough for the Ravens to counter.
On Sunday, the Steelers used Pro Bowl cornerback Joe Haden to shadow Brown, who had a season-low three catches for 15 yards.
“We made sure they didn’t catch balls on the outside,” Haden said, per TribLive.com. “We tried to keep Brown in the box and not let him get over the top like he did last time. We paid a lot of attention to him. Those were some of the things to make sure they didn’t get big plays.”
The Ravens also still struggled to run the ball (61 yards total). Baltimore ran the ball just twice in the second half.
Chatter About Lamar Jackson Starting Has Begun
When Flacco was asked at the start of training camp whether he expected to get tired of questions about first-round rookie quarterback Lamar Jackson, he confidently said he did not.
“No, I don't because I think we're going to win and we're not going to hear about it,” Flacco said.
The Ravens have more losses than wins now, and Flacco fielded multiple questions about Jackson and his role in the offense – just minutes after Harbaugh said he wants to see more Jackson.
Harbaugh did not say that Jackson would take over as starter but indicated that he could see a larger share of the workload. That didn’t stop other media members from wondering whether (and when) it’s time to make a change.
“Harbaugh did mention following Sunday’s game that he’d like to get Jackson more involved,” Zrebiec wrote. “It, however, would be hard to imagine the Ravens benching Flacco when they still are alive for a postseason berth.”
Jackson has had a positive impact on the Ravens offense, especially as a decoy and runner. He’s giving defenses a challenge and is one of the offense’s most talented playmakers.
As a thrower, it’s been more of a mixed bag. On Sunday, he completed his one passing attempt for a 12-yard gain. The week before in Carolina, he spiked a wide-open pass into the ground, but also threw his first career touchdown.
Watch Orlando Brown Jr. Body Slam T.J. Watt
It feels awkward to talk about physically dominating the Steelers after a loss, especially one in which the Steelers ran for more than 100 yards and the Ravens had trouble protecting Flacco.
But there’s no denying what happened on this play between Ravens rookie right tackle Orlando Brown Jr. and Steelers outside linebacker T.J. Watt.
Making his third straight start, Brown had a tough matchup against the 2017 first-round pick Watt, who had seven sacks in seven games.
In making his game prediction on NFL Live, ESPN’s Tedy Bruschi pointed to Watt as the difference-maker against the Ravens. Watt did OK, but not on that play. He finished with five tackles and no sacks.
Ravens Can Get Healthy Over Bye, But Also Have New Injury Concerns
There’s no bad time for a bye, but with the Ravens’ offensive line missing both tackles, Ronnie Stanley (ankle) and James Hurst (back), this seems like as good a time as any.
Player after player said one of the best parts of the bye, besides a mental respite from the team’s three-game losing streak, will be the opportunity to get healthier. The Ravens’ offensive line injuries dramatically altered their game plan, and execution, Sunday.
However, the Ravens also may have some new injuries to worry about.
Cornerback Tavon Young limped off the field late in the fourth quarter. No update has come, but he needed help from trainers and did not return. Reporters also believe there could be something up with outside linebacker Terrell Suggs, who uncharacteristically did not speak to the media after the game.
“They left it with yet another injured defensive back (cornerback Tavon Young) and outside linebacker Terrell Suggs a bystander for much of the fourth quarter, then a no-show in the locker room afterward,” Shaffer wrote.
Some Things Are Bigger Than Football
On a day like this, it’s good to put things in perspective and remember that life is bigger than football (I know it can be hard to feel that way sometimes).
Yesterday, the Ravens held a moment of silence for the victims of the massacre at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh.
The Steelers were touched by the Ravens’ gesture.
“We in this NFL community, man, this is a brotherhood,” Head Coach Mike Tomlin said. “We understand the roles that we play within our community, and we embrace that.”
Ben Roethlisberger wore special cleats yesterday referring to the mass shooting.
“I want to say it was a very class act by the Baltimore Ravens for the moment of silence they had for the victims at the synagogue. We really appreciated it,” Roethlisberger said. “I wore those shoes in honor of the victims and [to] keep everybody’s thoughts on them. I always thought love should conquer hate, and we should work together on that.”
And in the name of love, check out what Harbaugh did on his way into the game yesterday, as witnessed by WBAL’s Brett Hollander. That spawned another story of a good deed done by Harbaugh.