The Baltimore Ravens suffered a heartbreaking overtime loss to the Las Vegas Raiders in the first week of NFL action. Though last weekend featured several upsets against playoff-hopeful teams, the Ravens’ 27-33 defeat on Monday Night Football felt most concerning. With someone added to IR seemingly everyday and an offense facing an uphill battle to get back to their 2019 standards, the Ravens biggest issues won’t be resolved as soon as they need them to be.
It’s only one game. Way too soon to panic, I know. But with the second-hardest strength of schedule in the league, Baltimore needs every win they can get. With Kansas City on the horizon in Week 2, things could spiral out of control quickly for the Baltimore Ravens.
Visions for a Remake of 2019
The goal of Baltimore’s front office this offseason was to bolster the Ravens’ passing attack. In 2019, the top-ranked offense was led by quarterback Lamar Jackson’s MVP campaign, but was stifled in the playoffs by the Tennessee Titans. In 2020, amidst injuries and a pandemic, the script flipped. The Ravens finished 13th in offensive EPA and last in passing. However they ranked fifth in defense and second in special teams. Yet again, Baltimore lost in the divisional round. This time, to the Buffalo Bills. Thus, Jackson’s 1-3 postseason record became a favorite point of criticism for doubters of the former Heisman winner and roundtables debated if the league had “figured Lamar out”. The Ravens didn’t think so. Thus, they sought to figure out how to combine the potential Jackson once showed as a passer with the defensive might of their 2020 roster.
In the hopes of helping Jackson stretch the field more, Baltimore signed free agent WR Sammy Watkins, and drafted Rashod Bateman with the 27th overall pick. The Ravens lost their top two rushers from 2020, but expected former Ohio State standout J.K. Dobbins to have a breakout year. However, all but one starter on the offensive line was changed. Some of those changes were, um, interesting, like signing a career left-tackle to play on the right side in an entirely different offense.
Regardless, the effort certainly seemed to be there for a passing offense reminiscent of 2019 glory.
You saw this one coming. The Baltimore Ravens have not been able to catch a break with regards to injuries, especially on offense.
The revamped WR room, rather than logging valuable reps with Jackson, missed a combined 38 practices in training camp. Rashod Bateman suffered an injury that ruled him out at least through Week 3. J.K. Dobbins suffered a season-ending injury in the preseason finale. Two weeks later, his replacement, Gus Edwards, suffered the same fate. A week prior, the third RB on the depth chart, Justice Hill, tore his achilles. Oh, and former All-Pro Marcus Peters tore his ACL the same day as Edwards. LG Tyre Phillips, CB Chris Westry, and LT Ronnie Stanley, are also expected to miss time in the wake of their MNF opener. Baltimore now leads the league with 14 players on IR.
Injuries don’t doom a team to failure. They can adjust and reorganize. Unfortunately, the effects of the ravaged running back corps were felt against the Raiders. Latavius Murray (signed four days prior to kickoff) and Ty’Son Williams (an undrafted rookie free agent) were largely learning on the fly. Thus, though their stat lines were OK, ball control and blocking were issues. In the most crucial play of the game, Williams failed to pick up the blitz and the pocket collapsed on Jackson. He fumbled the ball, and the Raiders won on the following drive.
Offensive Line Disappointment
Though the extensive injury list doesn’t bode well for the Ravens’ future, their issues extend beyond it.
Jackson was pressured on 54.5% of his dropbacks and hit 17 times, despite the Raiders only blitzing twice. Left tackle Ronnie Stanley allowed seven hurries and seven pressures. If you think that’s bad, right-tackle Alejandro Villanueva allowed two sacks, six hurries, and 10 pressures. The pressure proved costly even for Jackson, who’s produced many highlight reels through his ability to escape pressure. However, on Monday, that resulted in two costly fumbles (one of which set up the game winning score). The Raiders’ defensive line wasn’t that well-regarded before they spent all of Monday night in the Ravens’ backfield.
With a calamity on the line of scrimmage, the task became even taller for Jackson. The emphasis in the offseason was becoming a better passing offense, with Jackson utilizing the pocket more to spread the ball downfield. Without a clean pocket most of the night, he wasn’t consistently able to that. Jackson couldn’t fall back on the read-option either, as Baltimore, lacking trust in the new backs, largely abandoned the team’s staple. The defense made matters worse, with the secondary allowing 308 yards through the air through the first half. Jackson still had a solid day with 235 passing yards, 86 rushing yards, and a TD. He made some incredible plays, like a spectacular scramble before a 10 yard TD pass to Marquise Brown in the second quarter. Ultimately, between the injuries and offensive line, the Ravens asked too much of Lamar.
Week One was a historic week for underdogs in the NFL. Titans, Packers, and Bills haters and fans alike are shouting that it’s too soon to panic. And they’re right, one game is not enough to judge a team on. However it can be a good indicator of what’s to come.
The Ravens differ from those teams in that the issues displayed in their opening game do not have quick fixes. The receivers need reps in order for Jackson to distribute the ball the way Baltimore wants him to. The running backs need experience and time with the playbook to learn their assignments. Most importantly, the offensive line needs to elevate their play. With Stanley now possibly going to miss time, shuffling and inexperienced play is more likely. That means Jackson will have to get used to the pressure and hold onto the ball anyway.
I’m not calling it over for the Ravens. They’re more beat up than anyone and it’s been one week. Lamar Jackson is still unbelievably difficult to defend, and he’ll always give them a chance to win games. I am saying they have deeper issues than the #6 power ranking led many to believe they had going into the season. Against a Chiefs team that has never lost to the Ravens with Jackson under center, they are likely to look worse before they look better. If they don’t tighten things up on the line and mature quickly at the skill positions, the Ravens could spiral out of playoff contention.