Lamar Jackson's return to South Florida was more nightmare than reunion.
Baltimore rolled into Miami with the league's No. 2-ranked offense. They were in Jackson's backyard, the place where he threw five touchdowns and led the Ravens to 59 points two years ago. That felt like forever ago by the end of the Ravens' ugly 22-10 loss to the previously two-win Dolphins at Hard Rock Stadium on "Thursday Night Football."
It was the worst offensive performance of the Jackson era, as the Ravens' 10 points were the fewest the team has ever scored in his 46 career starts. Not known for showing much emotion on the sidelines, except frustration with himself, Jackson was seen barking at some of his teammates on the bench.
"I was hot. Like, we weren't scoring any points," Jackson said. "We were putting our defense out there. … I feel our defense played lights out, man. We just weren't getting it done on offense. So that's why I was mad. If you were on offense, you would be mad, too."
Jackson was 26-of-43 for 238 yards with one touchdown. Fittingly, his night ended with an interception in the end zone in the waning minutes.
So why did the Ravens struggle so mightily on offense? The Dolphins, led by defensive-minded Head Coach Brian Flores, blitzed the snot out of them and the Ravens crumbled under the pressure.
According to Next Gen Stats, Dolphins safeties Jevon Holland and Brandon Jones both blitzed more times than any defensive back has blitzed in a game over the past five years. Holland blitzed 21 times and Jones came 17 times. Jones played 72 percent of his snaps in the box.
"That's something they've done all year," Head Coach John Harbaugh said. "We worked on it all week. We didn't have a good enough plan for it, you know, as a group, and we didn't execute well with the plan we had."
When an opponent calls a "Zero" blitz, it creates one-on-ones on the outside and opportunities for big plays. That seemingly would play into the Ravens' hands as, with the return of Sammy Watkins, Jackson had the best wide receiver trio of his career on the field for the first time. However, the Ravens didn't find their counterpunch until it was too late, if ever.
"Zero is one of those things where you have to make them pay," tight end Mark Andrews said. "I don't think early on we did that enough. That's one of the things, you make them pay early on, they kind of get out of that."
Baltimore's offensive line has been battered by injuries this season and it's been apparent in the three losses this season. The Ravens struggled with edge pressure against the Raiders, were bullied up front by the Bengals and couldn't handle the Dolphins' blitz.
"They did kind of what we thought they were going to do. They blitzed us a lot," center Bradley Bozeman said. "They brought a lot of [Cover] Zero, [and] we tried to pick it up. We didn't do a great job of picking it up. We have to make adjustments and go forward from here."
The short passing game to the outside, including wide receiver screens that helped get the offense going last week against the Minnesota Vikings, didn't materialize. Multiple passes were batted down and the Dolphins rallied to stop others.
"They had the guy off the edge coming in hot. So, I tried to get the ball out to the receivers to make a play," Jackson said.
The Ravens moved the ball well on their opening two drives. The first was a nine-play, 47-yard drive that fizzled after a delay of game and then the Dolphins brought an all-out blitz that caused Jackson to just heave the ball to the end zone on a prayer.
Watkins, in his first game back from a hamstring injury, seemingly lost track of the ball or his positioning and didn't make a play on the ball that landed just out of bounds and out of reach. The Ravens went 45 yards on the next drive, but this time Justin Tucker missed his field-goal attempt.
Despite moving the ball, the Ravens – who have struggled with slow starts for the past seven games – scored just three points until the fourth quarter.
"It's ridiculous. I don't understand it either," Jackson said.
Baltimore punted on seven straight drives after Tucker's miss, only interrupted by a Watkins fumble that was returned for a touchdown by Dolphins cornerback Xavien Howard that broke the game open.
The Ravens offense never got in sync the whole night. Often, it seemed communication was a problem and the unit was getting the snap off just before the play clock expired. The third-down troubles continued as Baltimore went 2-for-14 on the night.
"It was hard to get first downs. So, it's hard to get a rhythm when you can't get started," Harbaugh said. "You know, too many times we didn't get started, too many three-and-outs. And there was some crowd noise and things like that in terms of communication.
"Sometimes you have to handle blitzes and put plays together that are a little more complicated. That's no excuse. We just didn't handle it well. They were blitzing us, and we have to handle it better. And that's on us as coaches."