We can probably make this quick. The season is over, it’s pointless to even play any of the rest of the games moving forward, it’s time to think about new coordinators and a new head coach and a new GM and a new quarterback and maybe a new stadium or whatever. I would tell you not to watch the Steelers game because it would ruin your Thanksgiving if that ship hadn’t left the harbor quicker than the Ravens’ AFC North chances.
Did that about cover it? Did we work it out of our collective systems? Those are all loose translations of comments I received during our “Project Gameday” postgame show after the Ravens’ loss to the Titans Nov. 21. They’re mostly hogwash, of course, which is good because it’s been weeks since I’ve remembered to use “hogwash” in a sentence.
Look, I get it. That was as dispiriting a setback as we’ve seen in recent memory. It was demoralizing. If the Ravens had simply been gashed by Derrick Henry and the losses of Brandon Williams and Calais Campbell proved to be overwhelming, it might have been easier to stomach. But this was pure self-destruction. A team that was built to get leads and protect them got a lead and … did not do that. They had multiple opportunities to just make one play that could either flat-out win the game or seize momentum to the point where it would essentially win the game and they simply didn’t make them. And that’s become far too common a theme during the last month.
Things look really bad. I’m not really interested in trying to tell you that things aren’t as bad as they look. The offense has been inconsistent all season. The defense has come up small in the most critical situations. While Williams and Campbell are expected back, Nick Boyle and Ronnie Stanley aren’t and I’m not certain the Ravens feel strongly about who their five offensive lineman might be moving forward.
The good news? J.K. Dobbins has looked pretty good, Yannick Ngakoue had his best effort yet as a Raven, the punter and kicker are still as good as they always were and, yeah, that’s mostly the list.
When teams go through stretches like this, it is quite popular to blame the coordinators. Sometimes that’s because those coordinators are fully deserving of scorn. Far more often it’s because fans don’t own a coordinator’s jersey and didn’t wait in an hour-long line to meet them once, so they would simply prefer for things to be the fault of the coordinator so that the issues are unrelated to the individuals they have made far greater investment in.
The point of this column isn’t to fully absolve offensive coordinator Greg Roman, whom Ravens fans have directed significant scorn toward just months after they appeared willing to build him a statue for his efforts with the 2019 team. I don’t think Roman has been particularly great this season. I’ll never understand the lack of commitment to a successful ground attack early in the year, going empty backfield on fourth down against the Steelers, lining up in Wildcat formation (when your quarterback is literally Lamar Jackson) on fourth down against the Patriots or their seeming lack of interest in staying up-tempo when it was so successful in the second half against the Colts and again on the tying drive against the Titans.
None of that makes sense to me.
But we cannot absolve the guys who are actually on the field of their mistakes because we’d rather yell at the offensive coordinator. With 7:53 left in the fourth quarter against Tennessee, the Ravens had a 21-16 lead. Despite a brutal false start backing them up to third-and-5, Jackson had tight end Mark Andrews wide open for a huge gain in the middle of the field and … simply missed the throw. That’s not Greg Roman’s fault. That play worked. It should have been one we praised Roman for while reveling in a Ravens victory. It simply wasn’t executed correctly.
And of course there’s also the whole “no one wants to make a tackle” thing. When four different defenders have a shot at A.J. Brown and none of them bother to actually make the play, that’s … definitely not the fault of the offensive coordinator. I don’t think. Nor is it when a pass hits Hollywood Brown right in the hands and he doesn’t make the catch.
Speaking of which, yes, the juxtaposition of the two wide receiving Browns on the field Nov. 22 was a bitter pill to swallow.
The other part of this equation that no one wants to hear: Though this is not entirely the fault of a coordinator, it’s not entirely the fault of the players, either. Some of this is just plain old bad luck! The 2019 Ravens were extraordinarily fortunate. They largely avoided major injury and some of their closest competitors weren’t nearly as fortunate. That’s how the sport works. The Ravens haven’t been nearly as lucky in 2020 … and haven’t been nearly as good, either. They walk hand in hand.
If we’re being honest, we know that it’s quite possible 2020 won’t prove to be the Ravens’ year. It seems particularly unlikely at the moment. But let’s not pretend like the Super Bowl winner has always been the best team — or even the team with the best player. (In fact, no NFL MVP has won the Super Bowl in the same season since the turn of the millennium.) Should the Ravens figure out how to right the ship in Pittsburgh on Thanksgiving night, who knows?
I’m not telling you I expect any of that. I’m just trying to view the situation practically.
And if we’re being practical, we need to recognize that this stretch of play reflects these players and a run of bad luck just as much as questionable play calling. That and the time-honored tradition of wide receiver shortcomings in Baltimore. It all adds up.
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