Offense Fails to Capitalize vs. Chiefs' Weakness
The morning after the Ravens' 17-10 loss to the Kansas City Chiefs in the AFC Championship game, pundits are trying to explain how things went awry – particularly on offense.
One of the frequent critiques was a lack of establishing the running game.
The Ravens entered the game with the best rushing attack in the NFL, gashing defenses for 156.5 yards per game on the ground. On the other end, the Chiefs' run defense was ranked No. 18 by yards allowed (113.2 YPG) and No. 25 in yards per rush (4.5 YPC).
After the Buffalo Bills rushed for 184 yards in the divisional round against the Chiefs, pundits expected the Ravens to run over the Chiefs' defense, but their rushing attack never found rhythm.
NFL.com’s Grant Gordon: "Baltimore's offense put away Houston a week ago by pounding the Texans into submission via an unrelenting ground game, but on Sunday, it was almost as if offensive coordinator Todd Monken left the running portion of his playbook at home. Outside of [Lamar] Jackson's eight runs (which included scrambles), Baltimore ran the ball just eight times for 27 yards, abandoning the element despite trailing by no more than 10 points throughout this game. Even in obvious running situations, Monken opted to pass, often inexplicably so. Monken's unbalanced approach put far too much of the onus on Jackson's shoulders against a defense designed with the intent to harass him, and the results forced plenty of Ravens fans to shield their eyes."
The Athletic's Jeff Zrebiec: "Jackson and offensive coordinator Todd Monken had no answers for [Chiefs Defensive Coordinator Steve] Spagnuolo's defense. Jackson misfired on a few passes and seemed to struggle to see the field and see where the rush was coming from. Jackson will likely be awarded his second MVP trophy before the Super Bowl. However, the questions about his playoff struggles were reignited Sunday. He made one poor decision after another over the final three quarters. He wasn't alone either."
The Baltimore Sun’s C.J. Doon: "Why, after being patient and relying on quick passes to beat the blitz last week, did Lamar Jackson hold the ball so long and keep throwing deep? He played right into defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo's hands, and the Ravens paid the price."
The Baltimore Sun’s Brian Wacker: "From an inability to move the ball offensively to a lack of a running game to turnovers and costly, boneheaded penalties, Baltimore was out of sorts all night, suffering the kind of self-inflicted wounds it could ill afford against a team like the Chiefs."
The Baltimore Banner's Kyle Goon: "Desire and desperation must have factored into offensive coordinator Todd Monken's decision to abandon the run quickly, even though it was known that run defense is one of Kansas City's chief weaknesses."
Defense Plays Outstanding in AFC Championship
After conceding twice in the opening half against the Chiefs' offense, the Ravens' defense clamped down on the KC playmakers.
With Defensive Coordinator Mike Macdonald dialing up pressure on Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes II, the Ravens kept them off-balanced and off the scoreboard in the second half. Gordon praised the defensive brass for adjustments and an impressive second half.
"Baltimore's defense surrendered an opening-drive touchdown against an offense directed by a renowned designer of scripts in Andy Reid, but otherwise, the Ravens did more than enough to win on the defensive side," Gordon wrote. "They stood tall in a sudden-change situation following a Jackson fumble deep in Ravens territory, and limited the Chiefs to a field goal on another drive that seemed destined to finish in the end zone. Defensive coordinator Mike Macdonald recovered from a rough first half by adjusting at halftime, and his unit gave up just 98 yards and allowed the Chiefs to convert just 3 of 8 third-down attempts in the second half, buying Jackson and Co. plenty of opportunities to counter when possessing the ball."
When it comes down to it, The Baltimore Sun’s Hayes Gardner wrote the Ravens continued their league-leading ways.
"The Ravens' defense did what they have all year," Gardner wrote. "They made open-field tackles, they pressured the quarterback, they stood tall, even against Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs."
Among the Ravens' best players on defense was safety Kyle Hamilton, who drew praise for his playmaking.
Turnovers Haunt Ravens' Offense
Losing the turnover battle is one of the fastest ways to lose in the NFL. On Sunday, the Ravens had three turnovers and the defense couldn't force a takeaway on the other end.
ESPN’s Jamison Hensley: "Jackson punctuated the struggles of the Ravens offense when he slammed his helmet into the ground after throwing into triple coverage and getting intercepted in the end zone in the fourth quarter. The Ravens also turned the ball over on Jackson getting stripped from behind in the first half and wide receiver Zay Flowers fumbling near the goal line. The only other time Baltimore had turned the ball over three times was Week 5 in a loss to the Steelers."
The Baltimore Sun’s Tim Schwartz: "The Ravens had plenty of chances to get back in the game in front of a raucous home crowd but Zay Flowers' backbreaking fumble at the 1-yard line and Lamar Jackson's unforgivable forced throw to the end zone that was intercepted proved too costly."
Sports Illustrated’s Matt Verderame: "Baltimore (14–5) had an unbelievable season, but it ended in bitter disappointment. Lamar Jackson and the offense turned the ball over three times, including twice in the end zone to seal their fate despite a defensive effort that saw Kansas City shut out in the second half."
CBS Sports’ Tyler Sullivan: "On back-to-back possessions, Flowers had a fumble at the goal line that resulted in a touchback, and Jackson threw an inexplicable pass into triple coverage that was intercepted in the end zone. Those blunders effectively eliminated any chance of a comeback."
Chiefs' Playoff Experience Outpaces Ravens
The Ravens were playing in their first AFC Championship during the Jackson era. Meanwhile, the Chiefs were playing in their sixth straight.
Even though it was Mahomes' first road title game, pundits felt the Chiefs' playoff experience showed.
NBC Sports’ Peter King: "So many Baltimore errors, many of them so, so careless—and many by veterans. Kyle Van Noy, trusted 10-year vet, head-butting Travis Kelce for a penalty. Lamar Jackson, throwing a fourth-quarter pick into triple-coverage. Defensive leader Roquan Smith barreling into the KC line early for an unnecessary-roughness call, handing Kansas City a gift first down on the last series of the game. Jadeveon Clowney, with a big 15-yard roughing hit on Mahomes. And then, of course, the Zay Flowers stuff. A dumb taunting call late in the third quarter. And 10 inches from the goal line on the first play of the fourth quarter, fumbling away Baltimore's best chance to get back in the game."
Zrebiec: "The Chiefs were playing in their sixth straight AFC Championship Game. The Ravens were playing in their first AFC title game since early 2013. The difference in experience showed. While the Ravens turned the ball over twice, including Flowers' fumble as he was trying to dive into the end zone early in the fourth quarter with Baltimore trailing by 10, the Chiefs didn't have a single turnover. While the Chiefs were flagged for just three penalties for 30 yards, the Ravens had five 15-yard penalties alone and a total of 95 yards in penalties. This was a total meltdown for the Ravens, who wilted on the big stage."
Reactions to Zay Flowers' Taunting Penalty, Other Non-Calls
On the Ravens' biggest offensive play of the game, rookie wide receiver Zay Flowers hauled in a 54-yard deep ball from Jackson. It was the momentum swing the offense needed.
But 15 of those yards were quickly yanked back as Flowers spun the ball on the grass near Chiefs cornerback L'Jarius Snead, drawing a taunting penalty. Many gave their reaction to the flag, including USA Today’s Mike Freeman, who didn't fault the rookie for his post-play actions.
"Baltimore Ravens receiver Zay Flowers wasn't going to pass up a chance to talk trash. Why should he? Everyone else was running their mouths," Freeman wrote. "Kansas City was. All of his teammates were. The fans were. Everyone. So he joined in. Except game officials weren't having it. At least not this time. Flowers was penalized late in the game for taunting after a 54-yard catch, when he stood over Chiefs defender L'Jarius Sneed and sneered. That's a no-no."
A couple NFL players chimed in on the call, including Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow, who believed Flowers should not have been penalized for his emotions.
Others, however, were critical of his taunt.
Those weren't the only calls questioned by pundits.
Jackson said he expected to see a flag for pass interference on his fourth quarter interception.