Sitting at a pretty 6-2, the Baltimore Ravens were rolling into Thursday Night Football, ready to add another win to their record and propel themselves to the top of a tightly-contested AFC North.
That all changed on Thursday night. The Ravens offense seemed inept and only scored a touchdown in the final three minutes of the game against the 28th-ranked defense in the NFL. The Miami Dolphins offense managed to push around the Ravens defense when it needed to, scoring the Dolphins only offensive touchdown of the game in the final three minutes of the game.
The game brought the Ravens down one game closer to the rest of the AFC North, and if the Pittsburgh Steelers won Sunday against the Detroit Lions, the Ravens would have moved to second place in the division. While that is concerning, it is not quit as alarming as the problems Dolphins exposed on Thursday.
Or better yet, weaknesses that the Dolphins uncovered, that the Ravens have no way to fix.
The Baltimore Ravens are Headed in the Wrong Direction
The Ravens 22-10 loss to the Dolphins could be chalked up as one of those “classic trap games.” Or be dubbed “a weird Thursday night game.” Both of those phrases are potentially accurate, but they do not tell the whole story.
The Dolphins exposed the Ravens. They blitzed their safeties and cornerbacks 17 times, the most since at least 2016, when Next Gen Stats began tracking such a thing. The Ravens defense proved to be lenient, and the offense inefficient. Either side of the ball has not held up to expectations, and both have issues that could prove irreparable all year.
Passing Game Woes
The Baltimore Ravens received criticism in 2020 and 2019 for their inability to pass the ball consistently. Critics pointed out how the Ravens would need to make a late-game come back at some point but would have to abandon their running game to do so. This year seemed different, with three double-digit come-from-behind wins already in 2021.
Still, the loss to the Dolphins seems to have exposed the Ravens passing game. If the Ravens cannot change their offense, to improve the passing game so that it becomes consistent, the Ravens will have no chance at a Lombardi trophy.
Inability to pass vs. Man
The Ravens greatest passing game woe is throwing versus man coverage. Most defenses must play man against the Ravens for the majority of the game, due to the threat of Lamar Jackson and the run game the Ravens pose. That is what the Dolphins did against the Ravens.
And the Ravens could not force the Dolphins out of man the entire game. Why? Because the Ravens receivers have not been able to prove that they require more than man coverage to stop them. Sure Marquise Brown will force defenses to put a safety over the top, because of his speed, but he does not have the route running skills to demand more than that.
Rashod Bateman could be the man coverage-beater the Ravens need, and the rookie has shown flashes of promise. Until then, the Ravens do not have a player who can force defenses to double-team him, aside from Lamar. And until then, Lamar will continue to see 8-man boxes.
Defense allowing big plays
The Baltimore Ravens have always been known for their defense. This year, they are known for the defense, but not for any good reasons. The Ravens defense has allowed big plays all year, to the tune of eight 50+ yard plays on the season. The Ravens defense sorely misses Marcus Peters too.
Not only have the Ravens been unable to blitz because they cannot leave their corners in man coverage, but their defensive backs have also struggled with communication all year. Big plays primarily are the cause of two things: miscommunication or a player slipping/missing a tackle.
The Ravens have struggled with both all year, and it has been evident in every game they have played this year. The Ravens have been fortunate that they have been able to pull out last-second wins this year, but if not for some late-game/overtime heroics from Justin Tucker the Ravens would be sitting at 5-4 and have losses to the Detriot Lions and Minnesota Vikings.
“We weren’t ready… We didn’t do a good job of it. The boys weren’t coached up well enough.” John Harbaugh was referring to the 64-yard game-winning catch that the Ravens allowed against the Dolphins. It was just another blown assignment.
The problem for the Ravens is that they don’t really have a way to change anything on their roster. It’s too late to make drastic schematical changes. They must, and will, live on the edge this season. Their defense allows too many big plays, and the Baltimore Ravens offense does not make enough, for it to be otherwise.