Pundits Debate Reasons for Ravens' Offensive Slump
There's no question the Ravens' offense has been struggling for weeks. The question is why.
Is it as simple as Lamar Jackson just not playing up to his usual high standard? Is it the scheme? Is it the injuries to key players? All of the above?
ESPN's "Get Up" crews debated the topic. Host Mike Greenberg contends that the issue is the lack of a sound game plan.
"As I watch them, it seems to me their offensive game plan seems to be, 'Lamar, go out there and do something spectacular and hope someone gets open while you're running around,'" Greenberg said on "Get Up." "I don't see anything where he goes 1-2-3 and the ball comes out ever. … My perception is they're asking him to do the impossible."
Dan Orlovsky expressed a similar sentiment.
"It's one of the, if not the, sloppiest pass games in the NFL, and the reason why they've had success is because Lamar has played to an MVP level," Orlovsky said.
Ryan Clark said the problem is a combination of scheme and Jackson's subpar play.
"What [Offensive Coordinator] Greg Roman is doing from a scheme standpoint is hurting the Baltimore Ravens, but Lamar Jackson has to be better too," Clark said. "I'm not saying that it's his fault, but he is part of the blame for this because he's the quarterback. He's the player on the field. So he has to also step up from a mental standpoint and start doing some of those things to help his team."
Jeff Saturday said: "Greg Roman ain't out on the field on Sunday. He's not out there taking shots. And the plan can't be [to] scramble around and buy time and throw the ball deep. There has to be bang-bang plays made from the quarterback position, and I do put this on Lamar Jackson because it is at some point your responsibility."
"You gotta stop throwing damn interceptions. That's what it boils down to," Spears said, alluding to Jackson throwing eight interceptions in his past four games. "This is a double-edged sword, because there's no way in hell the Ravens are 8-4 without Lamar Jackson, and a lot of the reason for those four losses is because he's turning the football over."
Spears said the injuries on offense — specifically running backs J.K. Dobbins and Gus Edwards suffering season-enders in the preseason and All-Pro left tackle Ronnie Stanley going down after the season opener — also are a factor.
"Let's acknowledge that the Baltimore Ravens have been through a great level of attrition," Spears said. "A team that's based in the run game, and you take all of their running backs away? You expect to see them fall off and struggle a little bit."
After breaking down the film from Sunday's 20-19 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers, The Baltimore Sun's Jonas Shaffer concluded that Jackson, who was sacked seven times in the game, needs to do a better job of getting the ball out quicker and finding open receivers.
"According to a review of the Steelers' sacks, he had at least one receiver open when he last set his feet to throw on most, if not all, of his doomed drop-backs," Shaffer wrote. "It's impossible in some cases to tell where Jackson was in his progression or whether certain receivers in his line of sight were obscured. But time and again, he had opportunities to get rid of the ball, only to tuck it away and scramble into trouble."
NFL Network's Brian Baldinger said there were opportunities for Jackson and the Ravens offense and also pointed out instances of Jackson holding the ball too long.
"I think there's things Lamar can do better," Baldinger said, highlighting one RPO throw that went incomplete. "There's got to be more urgency to throw it. … Lamar is slow in getting the ball out and making the decision. … If you wait too long, you've got to be too perfect."
Obviously, the reason the offense's rough stretch is such a hot topic is because it had been so potent since Jackson became the starter. Several weeks ago, Jackson was considered by some to be the front-runner for NFL MVP.
Because of that track record, Spears said he hasn't lost confidence in Jackson.
"I love Lamar Jackson. Said he was the best player in the NFL. He's not right now, [but] he's still the most important player to his football team," Spears said.
Do Changes Need to Be Made on the Offensive Line?
In addition to the seven sacks, the Steelers had 10 quarterback hits in Sunday's game. The Athletic's Jeff Zrebiec said the issue wasn't just Jackson's failure to get the ball out quicker.
"Some of them were a result of Lamar Jackson holding onto the ball too long, but that doesn't change the fact that the quarterback had Steelers in his face all game, including on the decisive two-point play," Zrebiec wrote. "Steelers outside linebackers T.J. Watt and Alex Highsmith combined for an eye-popping 20 pressures, according to NFL Next Gen stats.
"Watt was the best player on the field by a wide margin and that shouldn't have been surprising. But allowing 12 quarterback hurries to a guy who didn't practice all week? Maybe, you can explain that one given that Watt is probably a top-3 defensive player in the league. However, how do you explain the Ravens making former teammate Chris Wormley look like Aaron Donald?"
Zrebiec wondered whether Head Coach John Harbaugh and Offensive Line Coach Joe D'Alessandris will consider making personnel changes for this Sunday's game against the Cleveland Browns. One change is out of the Ravens' control, as starting right tackle Patrick Mekari could be out a few weeks after suffering a hand injury in the Steelers game.
"Could rookie Ben Cleveland enter the mix at left guard either as a replacement for Ben Powers or at least as part of a rotation?" Zrebiec wrote. "Would the Ravens consider promoting one of their practice-squad tackles, David Sharpe or Jaryd Jones-Smith, to play on the right side instead of Tyre Phillips, who struggled mightily Sunday in place of an injured Mekari? Could guard/center Trystan Colon be part of the solution somehow?"
Ravens Have Persevered and Fans Should Follow Their Lead
Spears used the word "attrition" to describe the multitude of injuries on the Ravens' offense, but it also applies to the defense.
It was noted in yesterday's Late for Work that the Ravens have had the second-most players on injured reserve this season and the most missed starts due to injury.
Yet the Ravens are 8-4 and in first place in the AFC North. They've continually overcome adversity.
And while it was tough to see Steelers fans waving their towels Sunday to celebrate their team prevailing in a game in which victory was literally at the Ravens' fingertips, Russell Street Report's Kevin McNelis said Ravens fans shouldn't throw in the towel on this season.
"From the beginning, this season has been an uphill battle," McNelis wrote. "It's been gut punches over and over again from the start of training camp. The team has weathered those gut punches to an 8-4 record through Week 13 against all odds
"Could they let this loss be the beginning of the end? Sure. The temptation might be to call it a year and say that it was fun while it lasted. But that's just not in the character of this year's team. As hard as it might be, Flock, do your best to keep the faith, because there's not an ounce of quit in a single guy in that locker room."
Harbaugh was asked in Monday's press conference how he avoids taking a "woe is me" mindset as the injuries to key players continue to pile up.
"There's an old story that [asks], 'Who is going to go?' 'Send me, I'll go,'" Harbaugh said. "Don't we all have to make that choice in life? Are you going to go? Or are you not going to go? Kind of 'woe is me' to your question, [but] I'm going to go. … We're going to go. We can't wait. We'll be going to Cleveland, I promise you."