It’s hard to say what was the most enduring image of the Ravens game at Miami on “Thursday Night Football” on Nov. 11. Was it a frustrated Lamar Jackson gesturing angrily on the sideline after another stalled drive? Was it Miami receiver Albert Wilson running all alone after another Ravens breakdown in coverage? Was it punter Sam Koch trotting onto the field after another failed third down?
All of them were fitting snapshots of the Ravens’ most disheartening game of the season, a 22-10 loss to the Miami Dolphins that again exposed Ravens’ flaws and called into question the team’s long-term prospects this season.
The Ravens (6-3) were outplayed on both sides of the ball, outcoached on both sides of the ball and totally outclassed by a Miami team that came into the game with a 2-7 record and was starting its backup quarterback.
In short, the Ravens looked very much like a team playing on the road on a short week that didn’t want to be there.
“The bottom line is this falls squarely on me as the head coach,” John Harbaugh said. “We were not prepared the way we need to be prepared. Our schemes weren’t up to snuff, and we weren’t prepared to execute the way we needed to.”
After an opening drive that led to a 46-yard field goal by Justin Tucker, Jackson and the Ravens could accomplish virtually nothing against a Dolphins defense that entered the game ranked 30th in the league. The troubles were compounded when Sammy Watkins fumbled and the ball was returned for a touchdown by Xavien Howard for a 15-3 Miami lead early in the fourth quarter.
The Ravens clawed back into the game with a 99-yard drive that ended with a 5-yard touchdown pass from Jackson to tight end Mark Andrews, but on the Dolphins’ ensuing possession, the Ravens left Wilson all alone down the left sideline for a 64-yard gain that led to the game’s final touchdown.
Here are five quick observations about the game, perhaps the worst loss of the Lamar Jackson era in Baltimore:
1. The Dolphins’ relentless blitzes overwhelmed Jackson and the Ravens.
As Jackson waited for the snap, the Dolphins often appeared ready to rush seven or even eight defenders. Sometimes, one or two would drop into coverage, but the pressure was relentless. When Jackson wasn’t getting buried, or scrambling to avoid the onslaught, he tried to counter with wide receiver screens and other quick throws, but they proved to be ineffective. Jackson rarely had time to go through any progressions, and if the Ravens kept extra help such as Patrick Ricard or Eric Tomlinson in protect, that left fewer options out in the pattern.
Nothing about the passing game was crisp, beginning with the snaps from center Bradley Bozeman. None was disastrous, but many were low or caused Jackson to adjust just to catch the ball, which also affected timing. Jackson (26-for-43, 238 yards) was often off target and his delivery was inconsistent. At times he dropped to sidearm throws and tried to force passes that misfired. The entire operation looked out of sync from the start.
The Dolphins didn’t make a secret of their intentions, and Harbaugh said, “That’s something they’ve done all year. We worked on it all week.”
But the Ravens’ offensive line was overmatched and Jackson was thrown off his game. Expect other teams to follow suit.
2. The receiving group was finally all healthy but accomplished little.
Top draft pick Rashod Bateman was hurt during training camp, then Sammy Watkins was hurt early this season. Players and coaches stressed that once they Ravens had their full complement of receivers, this offense led by Jackson would be dangerous. They had their full complement of receivers for the first time all season in this game, but this group accomplished little.
Because of the Dolphins’ disruptive pressure, Jackson was unable to work the entire field as he would have liked. But Watkins had a disastrous day. Early in the game, he appeared to give up on a potential touchdown catch, perhaps losing track of where he was on the field. He had a step on his defender at the goal line, but never extended for a catchable ball that landed at the back of the end zone. His bigger mistake came later, when Watkins caught a slant, fumbled, and Xavien Howard scooped up the ball and returned it 49 yards for a touchdown.
Marquise Brown had six catches on a team-high 13 targets, but Jackson missed him at times and Brown also dropped a pass and fumbled after a catch.
Bateman had six catches for a team-best 80 yards, including a terrific catch on a quick slant that produced the Ravens first third-down conversion. It’s fair to wonder why Bateman wasn’t utilized more often on slants early in the game. He only had one target in the first half.
The Ravens have claimed for months that this passing game would reach a different level once everyone was healthy. It definitely did not do that in this game.
3. The Ravens were abysmal on third down.
The Ravens converted just two of 14 third downs against a Dolphins defense that entered the game ranked 30th in the league in third-down defense. The Ravens did not convert a third down in the first half, going 0-for-6, and a delay of game on third-and-4 on their opening drive proved to be a harbinger of what was to come.
The Ravens’ third-down problems could be traced in part to a running game that accomplished virtually nothing on early downs. Devonta Freeman (10 carries, 35 yards) and Le’Veon Bell (3-1) frequently put the Ravens behind schedule. Freeman had 20 yards on his first three carries on the Ravens’ opening field-goal drive, then 15 yards on his final seven carries. Bell found no running room.
The Ravens’ last three first-down runs by the running backs went for 0, 0 and 0 yards. Whether from the lack of a running game or the Dolphins pressure creating sacks or rushed incompletions, the Ravens were frequently put into second- or third-and-long situations from which they couldn’t recover.
4. Breakdowns in the secondary have been a recurring and disastrous problem.
It’s one thing when Ja’Marr Chase slips a tackle and scores on an 82-yard catch-and-run, as the Bengals receiver did. It’s quite another when the Ravens inexplicably blow a coverage, leaving receivers open by 10 or 20 yards. It has been a frequent problem this year and was again in this game.
With the Dolphins clinging to a 15-10 lead, and the Ravens finally enjoying a little momentum, the Ravens’ secondary completely failed to account for Dolphins receiver Albert Wilson moving in motion. Tua Tagovailoa lofted a pass down the left sideline, and Wilson did not have a Ravens defender within 15 yards of him. Chuck Clark finally brought him down after a gain of 64. That set up the Dolphins’ final touchdown.
Earlier in the game, Isaiah Ford slipped past Anthony Averett, and no Ravens safety came to help. Left all alone, Ford hauled in a catch for 52 yards.
These plays come after Vikings receiver Justin Jefferson got all alone for a touchdown catch last week, and Cincinnati tight end C.J. Uzomah was left wide open for a touchdown catch a few weeks earlier.
The Ravens have had to adjust in the secondary, with Averett replacing the injured Marcus Peters and with rookie Brandon Stephens this week replacing injured safety DeShon Elliott. But veterans like Chuck Clark and Marlon Humphrey need to be taking charge, directing traffic and making sure these gaffes aren’t happening, let alone happening weekly.
“I think we’re practicing right, we’re doing the things right,” Humphrey said. “It seems like we’re getting to the game and there’s kind of a disconnect at times.”
5. The Ravens better hope it’s a week-to-week league.
Harbaugh and the Ravens frequently say the NFL is a week-to-week league, and that the results of one week are irrelevant a week later. They better hope so. The Ravens have the mini bye to rest up before visiting the Chicago Bears (3-6) on Nov. 21, and then the Ravens begin their three-week AFC North crucible, facing Cleveland, Pittsburgh and Cleveland back to back to back.
Despite this Miami fiasco, the Ravens will emerge at the end of the week in first place in the AFC North at 6-3. The Steelers will also be 6-3 if they can beat the winless Detroit Lions this weekend, and the Browns (5-4) and Bengals (5-4) are right behind.
The Ravens have a chance to take ownership of the AFC North race with that upcoming three-week stretch, but they will need to do some serious soul-searching about went wrong in Miami. They have flaws that were exposed, and problems to fix, if they expect to stay atop the division.
Photo Credit: Kenya Allen/PressBox