At Quarter Pole, Ravens Have Looked 'Dominant' for Stretches, 'Dreadful' for Others
At the quarter pole of the season, the Ravens have been exhilarating at times, exasperating at others. Sometimes they've been both in the same game.
The Athletic's Jeff Zrebiec looked at the Ravens after four games and noted that inconsistency has been the constant.
"The Ravens have looked dominant during some stretches and dreadful in others," Zrebiec wrote. "They've been resourceful and resilient on the road and error-prone and erratic at home. They've been explosive yet inconsistent offensively, and opportunistic yet susceptible defensively.
"It's added up to a .500 start that hasn't lacked intrigue, excitement and frustration. The Ravens easily could be 4-0 and enjoying some breathing room in the AFC North. Instead, they are 2-2 and trying to move forward from blowing a three-touchdown fourth-quarter lead to the Miami Dolphins in Week 2 and a 17-point advantage to the Buffalo Bills Sunday."
Here are some more of Zrebiec's takeaways:
Are the Ravens better, worse or about where expected after four games?
"They've actually been better in some areas and considerably worse in others. As a whole, it would probably be fair to say the Ravens are a little worse than people expected. Even with a few injuries, nobody anticipated the Ravens having one of the worst defenses in football or blowing two big leads at home, where they used to be dominant. Nobody foresaw the Ravens having significant issues on all three levels defensively. It was never realistic to expect the Ravens to be in midseason form in September, with all the major pieces they were still missing or trying to work back in. It, however, was reasonable to expect a little more consistency on both sides of the ball."
Breakout player: Devin Duvernay
"There were questions about who would emerge as a complementary pass-catching option beyond tight end Mark Andrews and wide receiver Rashod Bateman. Duvernay has been that guy and more. He's second on the team with 12 catches, third with 172 receiving yards and tied for first with three receiving touchdowns. He leads all qualifying NFL players in kickoff and punt return average and scored on a 103-yard kickoff return in Week 2. Duvernay was an All-Pro return man last season, so it's not like he's come out of nowhere. However, eclipsing a career high in touchdowns by Week 3 represents a breakout."
Playoff contender or pipe dream?
"There's no question that the Ravens have concerns. Finding the right running back mix remains elusive and just got harder with Justice Hill's hamstring injury. Their depth at wide receiver is an issue, and now Bateman is dealing with a foot injury. The Ravens don't generate enough pass rush and their inside linebacker play hasn't been close to good enough. The secondary is prone to breakdowns. [Defensive Coordinator Mike] Macdonald needs to figure some things out quickly. However, the Ravens have shown for stretches that they can be a very good and dangerous team. They took it to the Bills, arguably the most balanced team in the NFL, for a half. They dominated the Dolphins for three quarters. They pulled away from the Patriots in Foxboro, never an easy place to win. In the coming weeks, the Ravens should get back left tackle Ronnie Stanley, running back Gus Edwards and outside linebacker Tyus Bowser. [Marcus] Peters and J.K. Dobbins, who have recently returned, should get better each week. Despite the two high-profile collapses, they'd have to be considered playoff contenders at this point."
Looking at the Offense's Role in Second-Half Collapses
The most surprising thing about the Ravens thus far has been their inability to close out two games in which they held three-score leads. It's uncharted territory for the franchise that has been the NFL equivalent of baseball's Mariano Rivera during Head Coach John Harbaugh's tenure.
"From 2008 until this season, the Ravens had been the NFL's best closers, winning 61 straight games under Harbaugh in which they had led by 17 points or more," ESPN’s Jamison Hensley wrote. "That was tied for the fourth-longest streak by a head coach to begin their career in the Super Bowl era, according to research by the Elias Sports Bureau. The Steelers had won 58 straight from 2008 until this season, and Mike Tomlin's streak remains active at 64."
While the defense has understandably received much of the blame for the team blowing big leads against the Dolphins and Bills, Hensley cited two areas in which the offense — which is third in the NFL in scoring — has contributed to Baltimore's sudden inability to close out games that appeared well in hand:
Lack of a run game
"From 2008 to 2021, Baltimore running backs led the NFL with 6,378 yards in the fourth quarter. This year, the Ravens haven't had the same production on the ground in the second half and haven't shown the same faith. Baltimore's running backs of J.K. Dobbins, Justice Hill, Mike Davis and Kenyan Drake managed 45 yards in the fourth quarter. As a result, the Ravens have handed the ball to them 13 times in the final quarter, the fifth-fewest in the league."
Less efficient QB play
"Jackson has played better than during his 2019 NFL MVP season in most areas this year, except for late in games. On Sunday, he missed a wide-open Devin Duvernay in the right corner of the end zone on fourth down and threw an interception with 4:09 left in the game. Jackson's QBR in the fourth quarter (24.3) ranks 28th in the league, putting him behind the likes of Mitchell Trubisky, Baker Mayfield and Mac Jones."
The good news is that, to Hensley's point, the Ravens have a proven track record of finishing teams off. The running game figures to get better, as Dobbins — while not yet in his 2020 form — scored two touchdowns last week and had 17 touches, and Edwards is set to begin practicing this week.
As for Jackson, he has typically played well in the fourth quarter. In Jackson's first four seasons, he completed 63.3% of his throws in the fourth quarter, recording 20 touchdowns and six interceptions, according to Hensley.
ESPN Pundits Applaud Ravens' Aggressive Decisions
If you thought the pundits were through talking about Harbaugh's decision to go for it on fourth down rather than attempt a field goal late in Sunday's loss to the Bills, think again.
ESPN's Mina Kimes looked at the decision in a broader sense. She contended that the fans and old-school, former NFL coaches who bristle when analytics are cited to support such decisions are off the mark. Rather than getting caught up in the fact that analytics "nerds" have a role in the process, they should be applauded for being aggressive.
ESPN analyst and former Ravens cornerback Domonique Foxworth agreed.
"As a defensive player, I would like them to go for it," Foxworth said. "I feel like a lot of defenders are like, take the points, take the points, whereas I am like, no, put it out of reach."