Ravens' Play Clock Issues Not New, But They've Gotten Worse This Season
It's hard enough to beat your opponent in the NFL without your offense repeatedly having to play beat the clock.
An exasperating, all-too-familiar issue was again on display in Sunday's loss to the Jacksonville Jaguars: The Ravens offense gets to the line of scrimmage with the play clock down to single digits; Lamar Jackson frantically claps his hands to get the ball snapped as the seconds tick away; the snap either comes just as the clock hits zero or a tick later, with the latter scenario resulting in a delay of game penalty.
If it seems like this happens with the Ravens more frequently than it does with other teams, it's because it does.
"By one metric, no other offense takes longer to get going," The Baltimore Sun’s Jonas Shaffer wrote. "According to a review of data from play index site nflfastR, 35.2% of the Ravens' plays in the first, second and third quarter this season have been snapped with three seconds or fewer on the play clock, the league's highest such rate. (Fourth quarters were excluded from the sample to account for clock-draining strategies in end-of-game situations.) As of Sunday's games, only three other offenses' late-snap rates were above even 21%.
"The Ravens are also tied with the Denver Broncos, Green Bay Packers and Seattle Seahawks for the most delay-of-game penalties (six) in the NFL this season. Had they taken a seventh Sunday, in a cruel twist of irony, they might've avoided a costly turnover on downs. [John] Harbaugh acknowledged Monday that Jackson's failed fourth-and-1 quarterback sneak early in the second quarter, snapped with no time left on the play clock, wasn't communicated or executed well."
While the issue isn't a new one for Offensive Coordinator Greg Roman, the frequency of the play clock problems has dramatically increased this season.
"Maybe the most confounding element of the Ravens' slowdown is how quickly it's happened," Shaffer wrote. "In 2015, Roman's only full year as Buffalo's offensive coordinator, the Bills snapped the ball with three seconds or fewer on 16.3% of their first-, second- and third-quarter plays, according to nflfastR. In 2019, Roman's first year as play-caller in Baltimore, his late-snap rate jumped only slightly, to 18%.
"There were marginal upticks the next two years, too: 20.7% in 2020 and 22.2% in 2021, when the Ravens had eight delay-of-game penalties, tied for fifth most in the NFL. Both marks would've ranked among the five highest this year, but still significantly lower than the team's 2022 pace."
There were several instances in Sunday's game when playing beat the clock proved costly. One was the aforementioned failed quarterback sneak, which shifted momentum, as the Jaguars took advantage of a short field to score a touchdown and take a 7-6 lead after having gained just one first down over their first two drives.
Two others occurred during the Ravens' first possession after they had a first-and-goal at the 10-yard-line and had to settle for a field goal.
"If anything has summed up the Ravens' slow-going, late-snapping, barely-beating-the-play-clock offense this season, it might not be the delay-of-game penalty they took in the first quarter Sunday. It might be what came immediately afterward," Shaffer wrote. "After watching a [delay of game penalty] turn second-and-goal at the Jaguars' 10-yard line into second-and-goal at Jacksonville's 15, the Ravens broke their huddle with about 10 seconds remaining. Coach John Harbaugh yelled from the sideline, 'Hurry up' with eight seconds remaining. The offensive line got set with three seconds remaining. Tight end Mark Andrews finished motioning over into a three-receiver bunch formation with one second remaining. Center Tyler Linderbaum snapped quarterback Lamar Jackson the ball with zero seconds remaining.
"The timing on the play, a 5-yard completion to Andrews, was so off that Jacksonville's edge rushers were already 2 yards downfield by the time Devin Duvernay, the receiver in the bunch formation closest to the line of scrimmage, crossed the 15. Like Andrews and wideout Demarcus Robinson, the third player in the cluster of receivers to Jackson's right, Duvernay looked surprised to see the ball snapped when it was."
A contributing factor to the Ravens not getting plays off quicker is that they run a complex offense that features a lot of substitutions and motion. Precision is required for it to work.
"They frequently change personnel groups three, four and five times in a single drive," Baltimore Beatdown’s Spencer Schultz wrote. "This can have the advantage of forcing opposing defenses to be just as clean in terms of matching personnel. However, the Ravens' sideline must flawlessly communicate with no lost time. The play call must come in immediately or the grand orchestration of personnel becomes an anxiety-ridden panic against the play clock. Huddles are rushed, calls are missed, and players have limited time to read defenses while they race to simply get set correctly.
"The cherry on top is the amount of motion that the Ravens use as previously mentioned. Not only are they fighting the clock due to the changes in personnel but also must execute a motion. This often requires impeccable timing relative to the snap, further heightening the growing perturbation. This leads to pre-snap penalties, missed assignments and a general lack of precise rhythm or the cohesiveness that an offensive line or front must have to execute blocking concepts. … What Roman creates, when operated precisely, is beautiful, tactical, complex and genius football. He's able to create disadvantages in the run game that spiral defenses into hesitancy that gashes them."
Earlier this week, Harbaugh said the coaching staff will do whatever is needed to fix the problem. The Ravens addressed the late snaps at halftime of the game in Jacksonville and it improved in the second half.
"If we have to have less offense, or less movements in the plays or whatever it might be, that's just what you do," Harbaugh said. "So, it's on us. That's something we have to get cleaned up."
Putting Loss to Jaguars in Perspective
Now that we're three days removed from Sunday's loss and some of the initial frustration and heartbreak has subsided, perhaps it's time to put it in perspective.
Harbaugh said on Monday that he's not going to downplay the defeat, but he also pointed out that tough losses on the road "happen in this league."
Press Box’s Glenn Clark expressed a similar sentiment.
"It felt like the Ravens were trending toward potentially becoming a dominant defense. The loss to the Jaguars certainly hurts the level of faith that they'll be able to get there. But strange games happen in the NFL," Clark wrote. "It is plausible to consider that with an even-more-banged-up-than-usual secondary, what we saw is not a fair representation of what this defense can (or will) be.
"That's why I'm inclined to say that this isn't quite as dramatic a loss as many of you are making it out to be. It's more like 'the type of loss that happens in the NFL because the other team is often trying too.' (See Colts vs. Chiefs, Week 3.) That doesn't absolve the Ravens of blame or responsibility. There's no way to describe this as an 'acceptable' loss. It could prove to be the difference in why they haven't clinched the AFC North ahead of their Week 18 matchup with the Bengals, preventing them from having the chance to rest their starters if they don't have a playoff bye. But we shouldn't make this out to be anything more than a close road loss with a banged-up secondary."
To Clark's point about the other team also trying to win the game, sometimes you have to offer the proverbial tip of the cap to your opponent – which Harbaugh and Jackson both did after Sunday's game. While the Ravens certainly could've played better, the Jaguars and rapidly improving quarterback Trevor Lawrence deserve credit for playing well, especially late in the game.
Brian Baldinger: DeSean Jackson 'Is Still as Fast as Anybody in the League'
One of the bright spots for the Ravens from Sunday's game was DeSean Jackson's 62-yard reception on a perfectly thrown deep pass from Lamar Jackson late in the fourth quarter that set up the go-ahead touchdown.
The three-time Pro Bowl wide receiver showed that even at 35 years old he's still incredibly fast. In fact, he was the fastest ball-carrier in Week 12, reaching a speed of 21.72 mph on that catch, according to Next Gen Stats. It was the third-fastest speed of anyone in the league this year and fastest of any Raven all season.
"He's still as fast as anybody in the league, including Tyreek Hill," NFL Network's Brian Baldinger said. "I remember when he was a rookie in 2008 in Philly. He's still doing this to the entire league 15 years later."
With Rashod Bateman lost for the rest of the season, the Jackson-to-Jackson connection could be the shot in the arm the offense has been seeking in the deep passing game.