Are the Ravens Built to Play From Behind?
Lamar Jackson is used to playing with a lead. For most of his young NFL career, he's led an offense that controlled time of possession and dominated teams without falling behind.
Matched up against the Kansas City Chiefs on Monday night, Jackson and the Ravens found themselves down, 27-10, at halftime and were unable to fully rally in a 34-20 loss.
It sparked a hot topic of debate that's stemmed from the playoff loss to the Tennessee Titans last season. Are the Ravens built to play from behind?
"Jackson has yet to lead a significant comeback," ESPN's Jamison Hensley wrote. "He's now 0-5 when trailing by 10 points at any point in the game. He's also 0-5 when trailing at halftime. Some of this is due to a lack of opportunities. Jackson and the Ravens had led at halftime in 11 straight games, which was one shy of tying an NFL record. But, when given a large deficit, he has struggled."
"The problem for the Ravens is that this is now a recurring theme," NFL.com's Jeffri Chadhia wrote. "Since Jackson took over as their quarterback in the 2018 season, they've gone 21-1 against everyone else in the league during the regular season. They're now 0-3 against the Chiefs, with this latest defeat certainly stinging the most.
"... The Ravens, of course, were almost the complete opposite, specifically in the first half. They fell behind, 27-10, and it was impossible to ignore how much their effort resembled their playoff upset to the Titans. Instead of sticking with the same running game that proved effective on their first drive, the Ravens abandoned their smashmouth approach when the contest was still fairly competitive. When Jackson tried to pass his way back into the game, he couldn't connect on the throws he needed to make or his receivers dropped balls they desperately needed to catch."
The other side of the argument is that even in a loss, the Ravens proved they can play from behind.
While it didn't feel particularly close for most of the game, Baltimore scored 10 unanswered points in the second half to make it a one possession game with 14:55 left to play. On the ensuing Chiefs drive, the Ravens had opportunities to make stops on third-and-5 and third-and-10, but couldn't.
"It is natural, then, to take the result and define the Ravens as a fraud who can't beat elite competition, or to paint Jackson as a quarterback who can't play from behind because of his limitations as a passer," The Washington Post's Adam Kilgore wrote. "But that would ignore evidence to the contrary, even if that evidence happened to be absent Monday night with the Chiefs in town.
"Last year, the Ravens destroyed the then-undefeated Patriots, beat the Seahawks in Seattle, edged the NFC champion 49ers and drilled the Texans. San Francisco took an early lead, and Jackson calmly asserted control. They nearly erased a 17-point deficit in Kansas City. If you think that's not enough evidence Jackson and the Ravens are capable of playing from behind, how many NFL teams thrive in that circumstance?"
How Mahomes and the Chiefs Beat the Blitz
There's no simple answer to the Ravens' defensive struggles against Patrick Mahomes, but he continues to master what they do best.
Coming into Monday night's game, Mahomes had seen the highest amount of blitzes from the Ravens than any other team he's faced. They blitzed him 40 times in the first two meetings, and Defensive Coordinator Wink Martindale didn't let his foot off the gas Monday night.
Martindale had some wrinkles, including using Matthew Judon as a looping pass rusher who came from off the line of scrimmage and was already in stride at the snap.
"Mahomes acknowledged that part of the Ravens' blitz package included new details, unscouted looks with the hopes of confusing the Chiefs' offensive line," The Athletic's Nate Taylor wrote.
The Ravens blitzed on 47 percent of their defensive plays against the Chiefs, according to Pro Football focus, but had just four quarterback hits and didn't record a sack.
"Mahomes did not let it phase him, as he completed 17 of 20 passes against the blitz, racking up 240 yards and three touchdowns," PFF's Jame Fragoza wrote. "Andy Reid and Eric Bieniemy were the masterminds, calling and drawing up a plethora of unique plays that led to the offense's success, even getting left tackle Eric Fisher and fullback Anthony Sherman into the end zone."
There were times when the Ravens came very close to getting to Mahomes. An offsides penalty that looked like good timing by Matthew Judon wiped out what would've been a sack and a long third down for the Chiefs. Tyus Bowser also came close to sacking Mahomes on a handful of plays.
But Reid and Bieniemy seemed to draw up the perfect game plan to counter the Ravens' blitz.
"So often Monday, Reid rarely put the Chiefs in position to start their plays from a schematic disadvantage," Taylor wrote. "In his 42 passing attempts, Mahomes was at his best when the Ravens rushed more defenders than there were Chiefs blockers. Against the Ravens' blitzes, Mahomes completed 16 of his 19 attempts for 202 passing yards and three touchdowns, all of which were single-game career highs. The Ravens never sacked Mahomes.
"With the ball near midfield, Reid and Mahomes knew the Ravens were going to blitz on the 3rd-and-14 play. Once he received the ball, Mahomes backpedaled an additional 7 yards to create enough time to throw a 49-yard touchdown pass to a wide open Mecole Hardman. The speedy receiver ran a double-move, an out-and-up, even with the Ravens' blitzing, to confuse the coverage responsibilities between cornerback Marcus Peters and free safety Deshon Elliott."
The Jackson-Mahomes Rivalry Remains One-Sided
There's no question that Jackson and Mahomes are the future of the quarterback position at the NFL level, but those hoping for a Tom Brady-Peyton Manning rivalry have seen a one-sided affair.
"Mahomes and Jackson are many things -- quarterbacks, playmakers, artists and friends," ESPN's Ian O'Connor wrote. "But right now, one thing they are most certainly not is rivals."
Mahomes has gotten the better of Jackson, but I'm not sure I'd go as far to say that this isn't a rivalry.
Take away the recency bias of Monday night and the first two meetings between these two teams were extremely competitive. The Ravens have had opportunities in all three games, but the edge stays with the Super Bowl champs.
Still, O'Connor believes there's time to make this one of the NFL's best rivalries. The best ones remain defined in the postseason, where we'll hope to see these two teams again.
"The good news for Baltimore fans? This was a hyped-up regular-season game, and Jackson has plenty of time to catch up to Mahomes to make this a true rivalry," O'Connor wrote. "Manning lost his first six meetings with Brady but ended up winning six of the final 11, including their last three duels in the AFC Championship Game.
"The better news for NFL fans everywhere? Sometime in the not-too-distant future, people might look at the classic pocket passer the way they now look at a rotary phone, a typewriter or grainy film of a basketball player taking a two-hand set shot."
Devin Duvernay Provides a Needed Boost to the Return Game
The play of the night for the Ravens came when Duvernay raced down the sidelines on a 93-yard kickoff return for a touchdown to cut the Chiefs' lead to 13-10 early in the second quarter.
Duvernay's return sparked a momentum swing that the Ravens weren't able to capitalize on, but it provided a glimpse of what he could provide for the offense and the return game going forward.
Duvernay's 4.39 second 40-yard dash speed was on full display.
"Remember Harbaugh's visible elation when the Ravens drafted Duvernay in the third round this spring?" The Baltimore Sun's Child's Walker wrote. "We saw why on Monday when the rookie out of Texas dragged the Ravens momentarily back into the game with an electrifying 93-yard kickoff return for a touchdown. A reasonably fast returner would likely have been pushed out of bounds around the 35-yard-line given the angles of the play. But Duvernay simply erased those angles with his acceleration to the sideline. He was gone before the last line of defenders seemed to grasp what was happening. The Ravens have yet to incorporate Duvernay heavily in their passing game. He played just 17 offensive snaps over the first two weeks, and Jackson only found him on a pair of underneath throws against the Chiefs. But his burst on that kickoff return hinted at the damage he could do on vertical routes and runs after short catches."
There's Still Time to Bounce Back
Even though the most highly-anticipated game on the regular-season schedule ended in a loss for the Ravens, Press Box's Bo Smolka acknowledged that there's still plenty of football left to play.
"As disappointing as this loss is, every goal the Ravens have for this season is still in front of them," Smolka wrote. "Granted, the Chiefs essentially hold a two-game lead over the Ravens now, since the Chiefs also win any tie based on their head-to-head win, but 13 games remain, and the Ravens need to make sure that the weight of this loss doesn't linger."
This time last year, there were questions after the Ravens lost back-to-back games against the Chiefs and Cleveland Browns. They went on to win a franchise-best 14 straight games and earned the No. 1 seed in the AFC.
The good news for the Ravens is that there's not much time to focus on the loss with a short week. Upcoming games against the Washington Football Team, Cincinnati Bengals, and Philadelphia Eagles give them a chance to get back to their winning ways.
"While this result stings, the Ravens' best and only course of action is to look ahead and focus on what's in front of them," Baltimore Beatdown's Frank Platko wrote. "They're now a game back in the division behind Pittsburgh but have a favorable matchup against Washington this coming Sunday."
- In his biggest test of the season, rookie Tyre Phillips allowed just two quarterback pressures, according to PFF.