Once upon a midnight dreary, the Ravens lived through a nightmarish 28-12 loss to the Titans. Baltimore’s playoffs were dashed again.
For the second consecutive year, the Ravens were dumped out of the playoffs in front of the shocked crowd at M&T Bank Stadium.
The January 2019 loss to the Chargers resulted in the dismissal of offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg. His replacement, Greg Roman, led a terrific 2019 offense.
In January 2020, the Ravens were plagued by questionable play calls. Mark Ingram and Gus Edwards combined for just nine carries. After falling 14-0 in the first half, Ingram and Edwards had four rushes. It was bizarre to see such a run-heavy team abandon the run in a close game. Even into the second half, the Ravens barely utilized the backs. Lamar Jackson had a steady dose of runs throughout the game, but Ingram and Edwards were ignored. Jackson was excellent on the ground but, Ingram and Edwards should have been used more.
Ingram was nursing a calf injury, so his minimal usage has some basis in logic. However, he did not help in the second half when the Ravens could have avoided a barrage of 2nd-&-10 situations. Ingram had just one second-half carry. Even hobbled, using Ingram would have been more in tune with Baltimore’s identity. Ingram averaged 13.5 carries per game played, and he had just six against the Titans.
Edwards had just three carries against the Titans. After a 19-yard gallop on his first carry, Edwards carried on the next play. In the second half, Edwards had a single carry, the final non-Jackson rush. The Ravens went 25 minutes without handing the ball off to a running back. Edwards averaged 8.3 carries per game in the regular season. Without Ingram in the lineup for Week 17, Edwards totted the rock 21 times.
In all fairness to Greg Roman, not every Jackson run in the second half was a designed run. Many of his runs were option plays that Jackson pulled from the running back or scramble plays when the pocket broke down. Jackson ran the ball 20 times, a season-high. Jackson recorded 143 yards on the ground, but he could not find the end zone.
Why do the Ravens get away from their identity in big spots?
While it is a small sample size, the Ravens got away from the run in their two playoff losses in the Jackson era. Against the Chargers, Edwards and Kenneth Dixon had 14 combined carries. Edwards alone averaged 17 carries per start in 2018. Dixon averaged 10 per game in 2018. In 2019, Edwards and Ingram combined for nine carries. While Jackson led the team in carries for both playoff games, there is little reason for the Ravens to combined for 23 running back rushes in two playoff games. Despite installing the run-heavy offense in Week 11 of 2018, the 2018 Ravens averaged 34 carries per game. The 2019 Ravens averaged 37 per game.
The Ravens did not lead in either playoff game, a semi-valid reason for abandoning the run. However, neither game got out of hand until late as the Titans did not get a three-score lead until the four-minute mark of the third quarter. Similarly, the Ravens did not trail by more than 12 until the fourth quarter versus the Chargers. It is one thing to abandon the run in a blowout. The Ravens are abandoning the run at the first sign of trouble.
How can they fix the problem?
The easiest solution is to take a lead. The Ravens are as good as any team in the NFL when they take the lead. However, the playoffs are a different beast, and teams must be able to play from behind. The Ravens can play from behind, but they tend to try to play “hero ball” through Lamar Jackson rather than committing to the original gameplan. As good as Jackson is as a passer, he still has room to grow. A pass-heavy Ravens offense is nowhere near as efficient as a run-heavy offense. Even in the playoff games, the Ravens never became inefficient on the ground. Against the Chargers, the Ravens were slightly under four yards per carry. Against the Titans, the Ravens averaged over six yards per carry.
The work of Jackson on scrambles puts those averages a little higher than they would otherwise be, but opposing teams are not stopping the Baltimore rush attack. Alternatively, they are taking a lead on offense and hoping for Baltimore to abandon the run. In two games, Baltimore has abandoned the run both times.
Should Harbaugh or Roman be fired?
No. The solution is to stick with the run. Harbaugh and Roman coached to not get blown out. If they had coached to win, Ingram and Edwards would have had larger roles in the offense. Baltimore’s playoffs would not have been possible over the last two seasons without Harbaugh and Roman. However, both coaches need to improve come Baltimore’s playoffs in January 2021.
Hopes for 2020:
The Ravens are favorites in the AFC North, but it is unlikely that they will win the division by six games again. Pittsburgh should have a better offense with Ben Roethlisberger returning. Similarly, the Bengals will likely upgrade at quarterback with Joe Burrow. The Browns were bogged down by poor coaching, a problem that Kevin Stefanski should solve. However, Baltimore’s expectation is no longer winning the division. Baltimore must win the playoff games ahead of them. Anything short of a playoff win will be deemed a failure. There are no more excuses. The Ravens wasted their best season in franchise history. They wasted 12 initial Pro Bowl selections. They wasted five All-Pros.
It is Super Bowl or Bust in 2020.
Baltimore’s playoffs in 2020 must have something of substance.
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