Late for Work 9/30: ‘Across-the-Board’ Defensive Mishaps, Mistakes Lead to Ravens’ Loss 

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The Ravens were unable to extend their division lead on Sunday, falling to the Browns, 40-25. It’s Baltimore’s second straight loss as Cleveland takes sole possession of first place in the AFC North for the first time in five years.

“Maybe every team in the league is like this, even the good ones,” NBC Sports’ Peter King wrote. “... Pittsburgh and Cincinnati in the next two weeks should help Baltimore recover, but the Ravens aren’t winning many games playing the way they did Sunday.”

Here are some pundits’ takeaways from the loss.

‘Across-The-Board’ Defensive Struggles

The Browns struggled to find offensive rhythm for three weeks but saw success in every facet Sunday. Baker Mayfield threw for 342 yards, Nick Chubb rushed for 165 yards and three touchdowns, and Jarvis Landry tallied 167 receiving yards.

The Ravens’ defense allowed over 500 total yards in back-to-back games for the first time in franchise history in an ‘across-the-board’ defensive struggle.

“There can be no more caveats, not after the Ravens allowed 530 total yards to a Browns offense that came in averaging 200 yards per game less, and facing questions about their quarterback and play-calling; not after they were run over and run around and were barely competitive at times; not after they allowed three plays of more than 50 yards,” The Athletic’s Jeff Zrebiec wrote.

Cleveland played more than well enough to win on Sunday, but Defensive Coordinator Wink Martindale’s unit hurt itself by allowing too many big plays from miscommunication and poor tackling.

“Every time the offense had a solid drive of their own and would get the crowd back into the game, the defense wouldn’t show up on basic things,” Ravens Wire’s Matthew Stevens wrote.

After Lamar Jackson found Miles Boykin for a 9-yard touchdown to tie the game at 7-7 just before halftime, Landry broke off a 65-yard reception to put the Browns within field goal range. The Ravens brought the game within six points early in the fourth quarter, but Nick Chubb found a hole around the edge and broke off an 88-yard touchdown run.

The defense owned every part of its struggles after the game.

Mayfield was given too much time in the pocket, and the pass rush recorded just one sack for the second straight game.

“Mayfield might not have found so many soft spots if he’d been forced to throw under duress,” The Baltimore Sun’s Childs Walker wrote. “Instead, a defense that prides itself on hitting the quarterback laid just one lick on the 2017 Heisman Trophy winner. That came on Cleveland’s first offensive possession. Mayfield’s only major mistake, an interception in the second quarter, was an unforced error.

“John Harbaugh has made clear his dissatisfaction with third-year pass rushers Tyus Bowser and Tim Williams. But the team’s top sack producers, Judon, and Pernell McPhee, were equally ineffective against Mayfield. The Ravens tried to use rookie Jaylon Ferguson to spell McPhee; he didn’t touch the box score.”

Injuries certainly didn’t help the defense’s cause. Pro Bowl defensive tackle Brandon Williams was a surprise inactive Sunday, and the losses of Jimmy Smith and Tavon Young continue to hurt the secondary.

The possibility of trading for Jalen Ramsey continues to linger, per reports. The Ravens were one of six teams who reportedly made “substantive inquiries” regarding the Jacksonville Jaguars cornerback, but pundits questioned how much it might help.

“If you’re first-year general manager Eric DeCosta, what’s the motivation to give up a ton of assets when there are so many other issues on the defense beyond cornerback?” Zrebiec wrote.

Zrebiec noted that a more realistic option is adding depth at inside linebacker after undrafted rookie Otaro Alaka was placed on injured reserve last week. Baltimore did so Monday morning by signing inside linebacker L.J. Fort.

Offense Must Shoulder Responsibility

The Ravens have been a franchise predicated on defensive prowess, but pundits believe the offense must shoulder the load amidst the defense’s struggles.

“The offense hasn’t struggled mightily, but the unit’s need to score points has been amplified amid the defense’s mishaps,” The Baltimore Sun’s Daniel Oyefusi wrote.

The Ravens came into Week 4 leading the NFL in average rushing yards per game (205.8), and continued that success. The trio of Jackson, Mark Ingram II, and Gus Edwards totaled 173 yards on the ground and averaged six yards per carry against a talented Cleveland front seven.

“Last season’s Ravens, with their run-heavy offense and methodical approach, were not built to withstand scoring binges,” The Baltimore Sun’s Jonas Shaffer wrote. “But they also did not give up many.

“Until Mark Andrews returns to full strength, they may have to be the Ravens’ engine. Last season, it was the defense that propelled a playoff charge.”

Added Stevens: “As we’ve seen in previous weeks, this offense has the talent to do these things, they just need to execute better across the board.”

Marlon Humphrey Shines Against OBJ

NFL Network’s Peter Schrager said in August that Marlon Humphrey could emerge as the NFL’s best cornerback. Shadowing one of the league’s top receivers in Odell Beckham Jr., Humphrey lived up to the billing.

“Humphrey was terrific,” Zrebiec wrote. “With an assist from a safety up top, Humphrey shut down Beckham Jr., holding him without a catch for the first three quarters for the first time in Beckham’s career. Beckham finished with two catches for 20 yards, but he didn’t get the best of Humphrey, either during the game or during a third-quarter altercation.”

Humphrey finished with one tackle and two passes defensed. He’s been the team’s top corner in Smith’s absence, showing his ability to match up against the NFL’s best.

“Humphrey was the team’s most consistent defensive player last season and based on what we’ve seen in the first four weeks, nothing seems to have changed,” Baltimore Beatdown’s Frank Platko wrote.

Ebony Bird’s Richard Bradshaw believes this could be the start of a rivalry between the two.

“The best part is we get to see this potential, budding rivalry twice a year between the two thanks to the Ravens being in the same division as the Browns!” Bradshaw wrote. “There’s little doubt that another performance like Humphrey had vs. Beckham will get him national attention and the credit he is well overdue for.”

Ravens Can Bounce Back Entering Crucial Divisional Stretch

The Browns sit in the AFC North’s driver seat after four weeks, but the 16-game season is a marathon, not a sprint. Despite two straight losses, pundits expressed optimism that the Ravens can get back on track entering a crucial division stretch.

“While the loss stings, the Ravens can help themselves with victories over the Steelers and Bengals,” Russell Street Report’s Todd Karpovich wrote.

The Ravens will travel to Pittsburgh next week to face a Steelers team without Ben Roethlisberger for the rest of the season. The Bengals are also far from full strength without star wide receiver A.J. Green.

The Athletic’s Sheil Kapadia isn’t ready to push the panic button yet.

“Four weeks in, this defense is clearly still trying to find itself,” Kapadia wrote. “Getting Mason Rudolph and Andy Dalton on the schedule next should help. The Ravens are a well-run organization with a smart coaching staff. They’ll figure things out and improve.”

Head Coach John Harbaugh’s team has faced adversity before. They were 4-5 last season before rattling off six wins in the final seven games to capture the AFC North title.

 Two straight division wins would put Baltimore in a great spot at 4-2. Not to mention, the Browns face tough matchups in their next three games against the 49ers, Seahawks and Patriots.

“The Ravens and Browns are tied atop the AFC North at 2-2, while the Bengals and Steelers head into a Monday night game with matching 0-3 records,” Penn Live’s Aaron Kasinitz wrote. “So Baltimore can look at the standings and find a reason not to panic.

“It’s possible the Ravens will be favored to win their next two games, at Pittsburgh and home against Cincinnati, and victories could put them back on the path toward a division title.”

O.J. Brigance Continues to Defy Odds Turning 50

Late in the second quarter, fans erupted to a standing ovation – not because of a touchdown or a big play, but to celebrate an incredible milestone for O.J. Brigance. Brigance celebrated his 50th birthday Sunday and continues to defy the odds.

Zrebiec profiled Brigance’s battle with Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS) and he’s one of the “pillars” of the Ravens organization.

“According to the ALS Association, only five percent of people with ALS live 20 years or more after the diagnosis,” Zrebiec wrote. “Ten percent live 10 years and 20 percent live five years. Brigance’s prognosis has not changed since the initial 2007 diagnosis, but he’s already part of the 10 percent.”

Brigance was a special teams standout on the Ravens’ Super Bowl-winning team in 2000 and rejoined the organization in 2004 to lead the team’s player development program. Zrebiec highlighted how Brigance has formed special relationships with players past and present.

“There might not be a more beloved member of the organization,” Zrebiec wrote. “There’s certainly not a more respected one.

Brigance is a regular around the team facility during the week and attends home games. And while the prognosis of the incurable disease hasn’t changed, Brigance’s strength puts everything into perspective.

“I serve as a daily reminder to them to live the best life you can today because you do not know what tomorrow holds,” Brigance said. “And they inspire me to keep fighting the good fight.”

Quick Hits

  • SI’s Conor Orr named Roman as one of 15 coordinators and position coaches to watch to become a head coach in the near future.

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