Having had just over 24 hours to digest (and regurgitate) the Ravens loss to the Jaguars, here are my 7 points to ponder from the Ravens disappointing performance on Monday night in Jacksonville, a veritable touchdown of takeaways in honor of the Ravens lone TD in the game.
Point #1 – This might be the best defensive performance we’ve seen from these Ravens in a long time.
Unlike their turnover driven performances against Pittsburgh and the Jets, this was smash mouth, “punch you in the face” defense. The 12 points that the Jags scored in the game were tough to come by. Ray Rice’s 1st quarter fumble set the Jags up for a 51-yard field goal if they had simply kicked it immediately on 1st down, in hindsight not a bad idea. Instead the Jags, pulling out all the stops, drove to the 1-yard line and converted on a 4th and 2 in the process before Maurice Jones-Drew fumbled the ball back to the Ravens. The ensuing possession had Sam Koch punting from his own end zone. Again, if the Jags had kicked immediately on first down, the field goal attempt would have been 51-yards from the spot where the drive started. Three negative yards, a timeout and a tough decision later, Jack Del Rio and the Jags were kicking from 54-yards and taking a 3-0 lead.
The second field goal for Josh Scobee and company, another ambitious 54-yarder, came only after a Paul Kruger running into the kicker call negated a Jags punt and improved their field position as a result.
The Jags 3rd field goal was the result of their most impressive drive in the game, a drive 16 plays in duration and one that arguably should have ended at 5 plays with a punt if not for a terrible unnecessary roughness penalty on Bernard Pollard. Another stop for the Ravens at the 7-yard line was nullified by a Brendon Ayanbadejo penalty and ejection. The 3 points they yielded on that series was ultimately a relief despite it putting the margin at 2 scores, the 8 minutes and 30 seconds they spent getting there might have been an even bigger win for the Jags.
And of course the 4th filed goal came after the decision to try and onsides kick at 2:02 of the 4th quarter and was the result of a 4-yard drive.
At the end of the day it was a shutout caliber performance by the defense, spoiled by circumstance and bad luck.
Point #2 – The Ravens were in the shotgun way too much.
The Ravens officially ran 38 passing plays and just 12 running plays against the Jags. In the aftermath of the defeat, those numbers have been heavily criticized and deservedly so. In a game as close as that one was, that type of imbalance is all but inexcusable for a team of the Ravens offensive identity. That said, that’s life in the modern NFL, and had the Ravens won, no one would have batted an eye.
That Ray Rice only had 8 “touches” has been a bit overstated though as he also had 5 catches on 8 targets in the passing game. Furthermore down and distance have a lot to do with making running opportunities available and the fact that the Ravens offense only ran 25 plays in total in Monday’s first half, 8 of which were 3rd downs explains the imbalance somewhat.
What’s tough to explain from where I sit is why the Ravens felt compelled to tip their hands out of the running game as readily as they did on Monday.
By my unofficial count, the Ravens lined up 46 times on Monday either in the shotgun formation or with Flacco under center and intending to pass (this includes sacks and penalties). Of those 46 plays, 14 snaps under center were passes leaving 32 snaps from the shotgun.
On each of those shotgun snaps the Ravens seemed to go to silent counts with no cadence from Flacco at all. Instead, Marshal Yanda would watch for Flacco’s foot pump and then tap Matt Birk on the leg. Once Birk felt the tap, he’d rock back and snap in a predictable rhythm. I say predictable, but in fairness it appears the Jags got caught jumping offsides at least twice while trying to anticipate the snap. That said, that means there were 30 other plays where they conceivably timed it correctly. Surely this had something to do with the effectiveness the Jags were having with simple 4 and 5-man rushes.
That Jacksonville generates enough crowd noise to dictate the Ravens using a silent count in the shotgun is strange (especially after watching Matt Ryan direct the no huddle in Detroit last week). That Flacco is looking less and less like a quarterback during these scenarios is debatable in its impact perhaps, that the Ravens are essentially declaring that Ray Rice running the ball (a staple of the Ravens attack) is not an option and giving the defense a timing mechanism with which to start their jump at the line is absolutely baffling.
That Flacco looked so out of sorts when trying to direct a hurried offense when the Ravens needed him to may speak to the limited control he’s given of his offense pre-snap throughout the game.
Point #3 – Home field advantage may be more important than ever this year.
The Ravens have played 3 road games against 3 very bad teams and have looked good for exactly one quarter of one game. They’ve lost 2 road games to teams that had no business playing with them on paper, and while we all know that’s why they play the games, it’s un-Raven-like to say the least.
Your glass could easily be half empty or half full regarding the Ravens road successes and failures in the playoffs in the last 3 years and concerning the path that led them there and the missed opportunities to have games at home. If the Ravens are going to have a real shot this season in the playoffs, getting there will only be half the battle. These Ravens thrive on home cooking it seems.
Point #4 – This is not the same old offense.
It may be the same old result, but it’s not the same old offense. Don’t let your lingering frustration from the previous regime cloud your point of view. This isn’t even the same offense they had last year. Much less the Billick offense or the unbalanced run heavy (literally) attack of 2008. Call them crutches, call them security blankets, call them whatever you want, but Flacco knew where Mason and Heap were going to be all of the time it seemed. This new group…not so much.
The offensive line was an ambitious experiment to begin with putting 3 of 5 opening week starters in positions that they hadn’t even played in the pre-season together spoke to the possibility of tough sledding. The number of plug-ins necessitated by injuries on the line already only serves to perpetuate that problem. That the offensive line is struggling shouldn’t be a surprise. Maybe the bigger surprise should be how good they have looked at times. Either way they project to get better as time allows them to continue to evolve.
Anquan Boldin and two second year tight ends are the long tenured members of the receiving corps already, rookie LaQuan Williams seems to be playing more wide receiver as a rookie for the Ravens than he ever did as a collegiate for the Terps and Lee Evans has been a non-factor.
It stands to reason that this offense would struggle and will again, check back on them around week 13 or so, once the weather has changed, to see how well primed they are for the playoffs.
Point #5 – There’s lots of finger pointing going around.
Harbaugh pointing at Cundiff, Suggs pointing at Cam, the fans and the media joining Suggs in pointing at Cam and at Flacco too, everybody it seems blames somebody, and everybody just might be right. For a 4-2 team though this has to be at least a little bit unnerving.
This was a lot funnier when it was coming from the Jets locker room a couple of weeks ago.
Point #6 – You can’t blame apathy again.
When the Ravens lost to Tennessee apathy could have been to blame. Whether it was actually the case or not, it was easy for everyone to simply dismiss the loss as the Ravens were riding too high after a win against Pittsburgh or that the Ravens simply didn’t come to play. On the surface you might be tempted to say the same about Jacksonville, but it simply can’t be true.
As pointed out in Point #1, the Ravens defense did come to play. It was the defense that should have and could have been riding high and resting on their laurels, but they didn’t. It was the offense that failed to perform on Monday. The offense has been feeling the proverbial heat of criticism for weeks, and while folks were surely taking the Jags as a whole lightly, no one was discounting their defense. The Jags needed a big performance to have any chance against the Ravens on Monday; everyone knew that, including the Ravens.
Apathy may never be a legitimate excuse, here it absolutely wasn’t.
Point #7 – There are deep waters in the AFC North.
The sting of Monday’s loss was surely agitated by the fact that it represented a loss of first place in the division (at least mathematically) to the 5-2 Steelers. It also puts the Ravens in a tie with the surprisingly 4-2 Bengals and just a game ahead of the 3-3 Browns. This isn’t your dad’s AFC North it seems, and the 5 games the Ravens have left in the division are looking scarier by the minute.