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Familiar script plays out for Ravens in deflating loss at Tennessee

Posted on 05 November 2017 by Luke Jones

The script was all too familiar for the Ravens in a 23-20 loss to Tennessee on Sunday.

Some of the names have changed, but we’ve seen this defeat over and over and over again since Super Bowl XLVII.

A comatose offense that stumbles its way into some decent football late — but only after putting itself in a sizable hole. A defense that perseveres at a high level until needing to make a big stop in crunch time. And an array of little things from special-teams penalties to debatable coaching decisions sprinkled into a one-possession loss.

It might as well be 2013 or 2015 or 2016. Having lost five of their last seven going into their bye week, the Ravens are firmly in that mediocre spot that’s become their residence for the last five years. And they’ll need a strong finish to avoid missing the playoffs for the fourth time in five seasons and haven’t won back-to-back games since the first two weeks of the season.

What else really needs to be said about an offense that’s summarily broken? Even with a solid running game, the unit hasn’t been good enough, so you didn’t need to be Vince Lombardi to predict what would happen when the Titans were able to shut down the surprising Alex Collins on Sunday.

The problems are abundant and the solutions aren’t there from a coaching or talent standpoint.

On a day when veteran wide receiver Jeremy Maclin, the team’s only dependable pass-catcher, had his best performance of the season, 2015 first-round pick Breshad Perriman again looked like someone not belonging on the field as he failed to high-point two deep passes — one leading to an interception — and dropped another pass in an awful first half. Fellow speedster Mike Wallace was also a non-factor until catching a 1-yard touchdown in the final minute when the Ravens trailed by two possessions.

Joe Flacco doesn’t have nearly enough help around him, but he’s also slow to react to certain situations and threw a bad interception on the first drive of the second half. As has been the case for a few years now, the veteran quarterback isn’t the offense’s biggest problem, but he hasn’t been enough of an answer, either.

By design or by execution, the horizontal passes well short of the chains on third downs continue to be maddening.

You’d like to think the bye could spawn some new ideas and the return of the oft-injured Danny Woodhead might help, but offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg has now had the reins of this group for 20 regular-season games and has yet to show himself as any kind of meaningful asset. Are the Ravens miraculously going to have an offensive breakthrough with the week off while maintaining the status quo?

Of course, the defense isn’t without blame despite a strong showing for much of the day. The two touchdowns allowed through the first three quarters came on short fields, and Eric Weddle’s interception set up Baltimore’s first touchdown of the game to make it a 16-13 deficit with nine minutes remaining.

But when the Ravens needed one more stop to give the offense a chance to tie or take the lead, the defense crumbled, allowing two third-down conversions and a touchdown pass from Marcus Mariota to Eric Decker with 3:58 to go. Yielding a couple first downs or even a field goal wouldn’t have been the end of the world, but you just can’t give up seven in that spot. Tennessee ran fewer plays and trailed in time of possession, so you can’t say it’s because Dean Pees’ group was tired.

The defense couldn’t finish, which has been the story way too often for some statistically-strong units over the last several years. It’s the reason why the front office chose to ignore the offense this offseason to focus on strengthening a top 10 defense from a year ago, but the problem reared its head again on Sunday.

To be clear, this is a good defense, but the group hasn’t been great enough to overcome the major deficiencies on the other side of the ball or to justify the many resources exhausted on it this past offseason. The Ravens may have cleaned up their issues stopping the run over the last two weeks, but the pass rush still isn’t good enough to expect the group to become otherworldly down the stretch.

The little things also killed the Ravens on Sunday. Teams with such little margin for error can’t have Tyus Bowser line up illegally on a successful punt and then have Sam Koch shank one that sets up an easy Titans touchdown. Za’Darius Smith’s unnecessary roughness penalty was as ticky-tack as it gets, but even head coach John Harbaugh and teammate Eric Weddle said it was avoidable, especially knowing officials were on alert after Matt Judon’s borderline hit on Mariota earlier in the half.

Harbaugh received much criticism for unsuccessfully going for a fourth-and-inches from the Tennessee 17 to begin the fourth quarter, but I’ll side with the decision despite the outcome. As the 10th-year coach noted, anyone would tell you going for it in that situation is a no-brainer from a win probability standpoint. Yes, kicking a field goal does make it a one-score game, but you’re then counting on your defense to not allow any more points and your offense to drive the length of the field again to score a touchdown, which was highly questionable at that point. Many cited Justin Tucker as the reason for taking the points, but having such a great kicker leaves me more inclined to go for the touchdown there, knowing I may not need to do very much later to get a shot at a 50- or 55-yard attempt to tie the game.

Sure, if you know your defense will force a turnover on the ensuing possession, you’ll take the three points every time, but we can’t assume subsequent events play out the same or that Tennessee would have played the same defense had the Ravens trailed by seven and not 10 on their final touchdown drive. The decision was certainly debatable and I didn’t like the play call itself, but it wasn’t the egregious error some made it out to be, especially when replays indicated that Buck Allen picked up the first down. Alas, it was a bad spot and a predictable review outcome on a type of challenge that’s difficult to win.

In the end, the Ravens were unlucky to go along with not being good enough on Sunday.

It added up to the kind of loss we’ve seen too many times in recent years.

Instead of securing a road win that could have put them in a good position with a very reasonable schedule after the bye, the Ravens face a steep climb with a losing record and a less-than-ideal tiebreaker profile in a mediocre AFC wild-card race. Six of the remaining seven games do look quite winnable on paper, but each is also a potential loss for such an inconsistent group.

And after Sunday’s bout of déjà vu, the Ravens aren’t showing signs that things will be different this time around.

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Free-agent receiver Maclin leaves Ravens facility without deal

Posted on 08 June 2017 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Free-agent wide receiver Jeremy Maclin left the Ravens’ training facility without signing a contract Thursday afternoon.

Head coach John Harbaugh said the Ravens had “a great visit” with Maclin, who also met extensively with the Buffalo Bills earlier in the week. Despite famously reaching agreements with past free-agent receivers such as Steve Smith and Mike Wallace before they left the building, Baltimore had no such luck with Maclin, who will continue to weigh his options.

“We didn’t press him to stay. You give us way too much credit on that,” said Harbaugh as he laughed. “I think talking to his wife is really important. He has a wedding this weekend, so he wants a little more time to make his decision. The main thing is you want guys to be happy. If they come here or wherever they go, you want them to look back and say, ‘Hey, I made the best decision of my life to do that.’ Well, he just got married, so second-best decision of his life. And that’s what we’re hoping for if he decides to come here.”

According to Harbaugh, Maclin had dinner with wide receivers coach Bobby Engram Wednesday evening before meeting up with several Ravens players to watch Game 3 of the NBA Finals. The retired Smith was in Owings Mills Thursday doing work for NFL Network and posted a picture of himself with Maclin outside the team cafeteria Thursday morning.

With Smith, fellow wide receiver Kamar Aiken, fullback Kyle Juszczyk, and the recently-released tight end Dennis Pitta no longer on the roster, the Ravens are trying to replace roughly half of their receiving production in the passing game from a season ago. Maclin is coming off an injury-plagued 2016 campaign that brought only 44 receptions for 536 yards and two touchdowns in 12 games, but he registered back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons in 2014 and 2015.

General manager Ozzie Newsome has spoken about adding more of an intermediate receiver to go along with Wallace and 2015 first-round pick Breshad Perriman since the start of the offseason, but the Ravens have yet to add a veteran in free agency and did not draft a wideout in April.

“It was great the way it worked out, so he had a chance to get to know the players, which is one of the big factors, certainly,” said Harbaugh of Maclin being in the building Thursday before the Ravens conducted a voluntary workout. “He was in here all morning into the early afternoon getting to know us and us getting to know him.”

With Maclin mulling offers, the Ravens could shift their focus toward New York Jets wide receiver Eric Decker, who is expected to be released or traded in the coming days. The 30-year-old missed all but three games last year with shoulder and hip injuries, but he has posted three 1,000-yard receiving seasons in his career.

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Why will this one be any different for Ravens against red-hot Denver?

Posted on 08 January 2013 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — The Ravens have heard the doubts since the first hours following their wild-card playoff win over the Indianapolis Colts on Sunday night.

The Broncos demolished them in a 34-17 final at M&T Bank Stadium less than four weeks ago, the worst home loss of the John Harbaugh era. The score really wasn’t even that close as Denver seemingly took its foot off the gas pedal after building a 31-3 lead midway through the third quarter.

Denver has a league-best 11-game winning streak and hasn’t lost a game since the Orioles were still playing postseason baseball in early October. Baltimore has been installed as a nine-point underdog by oddsmakers in Las Vegas.

How can the Ravens possibly expect a different result this time around as they travel to Sports Authority Field at Mile High on a short week to take on the mighty Broncos coming off a bye week?

The image of quarterback Joe Flacco throwing an interception returned 98 yards for a touchdown by cornerback Chris Harris right before halftime is just too much to shake, isn’t it?

“It doesn’t surprise me that nobody would really give us too much of a shot,” Flacco said. “They beat us up pretty good a couple weeks ago. I think you always have that little chip that you want to go out there and prove to people that you’re a good football team.”

The Ravens believe they are a better football team now than the one on display that day at M&T Bank Stadium as they were only six days removed from firing offensive coordinator Cam Cameron and promoting quarterbacks coach Jim Caldwell. Five key starters were missing from the lineup due to injury. And what could have been a one-possession game going into halftime — with the Ravens set to receive the opening kickoff of the second half — was dramatically transformed into a 17-0 deficit that broke the spirit of what was an inspired defensive effort against Peyton Manning in the first half.

So, as the rest of the country focuses on the deficiencies that were on full display in that embarrassing loss, the Ravens instead look ahead at Saturday’s opportunity while acknowledging how one play can dramatically change the tone — and outcome — of a football game.

“Everybody has an opinion. Whatever that opinion is, let them have it,” said linebacker Ray Lewis, who reminded reporters that the 2000 Ravens were underdogs through much of their run to Super Bowl XXXV. “One thing about it, the game has to be played. No matter what anybody says or who they feel is going to win, you have to play the game on [Saturday]. That’s the way we feel — let the game play out. Because at the end of the day, some people are going to be right and some people are going to be wrong.”

There’s no way to sugarcoat that the Ravens are the clear underdog in this one as the Broncos have dominated on both sides of the ball — ranked fourth in total offense and second in total defense during the regular season — over the last three months to enter the postseason as the AFC’s No. 1 seed. The Denver defense is led by Defensive Player of the Year candidate Von Miller and Elvis Dumervil, who formed the best pass-rushing duo in the league with a combined 29 1/2 sacks this season. The Broncos battered Flacco to the tune of three sacks and nine quarterback hits in that first meeting.

Manning has played at an MVP-caliber level in throwing for 4,695 yards and 37 touchdowns this season, and wide receiver Eric Decker torched the Ravens with 133 receiving yards in that Week 15 win. The Ravens haven’t beaten a Manning-led team in 11 years as the future Hall of Fame quarterback has gotten the best of them over and over.

But a Baltimore defense without Lewis, Dannell Ellerbe, and Bernard Pollard held the Broncos to 10 points in the first 29 minutes of play on Dec. 16, three coming after a Flacco fumble on the Ravens’ first drive to set up Denver at midfield. It was only after the backbreaking interception on a quick out intended for Anquan Boldin that an undermanned defense completely wilted in the second half.

Flacco and the rest of the offense know they must perform at a much higher level to give the Ravens any chance to pull off the upset in Denver. In Caldwell’s debut as offensive coordinator, Baltimore had a fumble, five three-and-outs, and an interception over its first seven drives.

Recently, the starting offense has looked much better in scoring 57 points in games against New York and Indianapolis that sandwiched the regular-season finale in Cincinnati that was a glorified preseason game. The Ravens also may have finally settled on their best offensive line this past Sunday with veteran Bryant McKinnie finally being inserted at left tackle with Michael Oher moving to the right side and rookie Kelechi Osemele shifting inside to left guard.

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The Five Plays That Determined The Game-Ravens/Broncos

Posted on 18 December 2012 by Glenn Clark

Following every Baltimore Ravens game this season, Ryan Chell and I will take to the airwaves Tuesdays on “The Reality Check” on AM1570 WNST.net with a segment known as “The Five Plays That Determined The Game.”

It’s a simple concept. We’ll select five plays from each game that determined the outcome. These five plays will best represent why the Ravens won or lost each game.

This will be our final analysis of the previous game before switching gears towards the next game on the schedule.

Here are the five plays that determined the Ravens’ 34-17 loss to the Denver Broncos Sunday at M&T Bank Stadium…

(Note: not all pictures are always of actual play)

Glenn Clark’s Plays…

5. Bernard Pierce 15 yard run negated by Matt Birk holding penalty (2nd quarter)

4. Rahim Moore recovers Joe Flacco fumble on 3rd & 1 forced by Justin Bannan (1st quarter)

3. Eric Decker 51 yard TD catch from Peyton Manning (3rd quarter)

2. Joe Flacco pass intended for Torrey Smith incomplete on 3rd & 10 (3rd quarter)

1. Chris Harris 98 yard TD return of Joe Flacco interception (2nd quarter)

(Ryan’s Plays on Page 2…)

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