It wasn’t supposed to end this way for Lamar Jackson and the Ravens - John Feinstein
“They played winning football in a tough environment,” Baltimore Coach John Harbaugh said of the Titans. “We didn’t play winning football. This will stick with us for a long time.”
There’s no doubt about that. The Ravens — barring an injury to Jackson — probably will be back in the playoffs a year from now. This loss will be felt until then. And perhaps even after.
“We beat ourselves,” said Jackson, who walked to midfield after the final whistle and hugged and congratulated every Titan he came across. “I had turnovers, and that hurt. We fought, we moved the ball, but we didn’t finish when we needed to finish.”
It wasn’t supposed to end this way — not again — not after such an exhilarating and remarkable regular season. Jackson shrugged when asked how long it would take to get over this loss.
“I don’t know,” he said. “I hate losing. But we have to move on. We’ve got to get better for next year.”
The Winners and Losers of the NFL Divisional Round - Rodger Sherman
Loser: Fourth-and-1 Analytics
ounting the playoffs, when they went for it on fourth-and-1 this year, the Ravens converted 80 percent of the time. Pretty good! Knowing that, you’d advise them to go for it on fourth-and-1 every time they had the opportunity. However, entering Saturday’s game, Baltimore was better than converting on fourth-and-1 80 percent of the time—before facing Tennessee, the Ravens hadn’t been stopped on fourth-and-1 all year long. With an analytics-friendly coaching staff led by John Harbaugh and a rushing attack skilled in picking up short yardage led by Lamar Jackson, the Ravens led the NFL this season in both fourth-down conversions (17) and fourth-down conversion rate (70.8 percent). They were the team anybody could point to when explaining why teams should be more aggressive with their fourth-down decision-making.
And then they played the Titans, who pantsed them. In the first half, the Ravens faced a fourth-and-1 on their own 45-yard line. They called a QB sneak—the best play in football!—and were stuffed, as Tennessee’s defensive line pushed the Ravens back.
On the first drive of the second half, the Ravens faced a fourth down on the Tennessee 18-yard line. They called a QB sneak—t h e b e s t p l a y i n f o o t b a l l, I scream—and again, were stuffed, as Tennessee’s defensive line busted through and left Jackson hopeless.
The numbers say the Ravens did the right thing. The problem is, even when you make the choice most likely to lead to success, there is still the possibility for failure in certain situations. The Ravens’ failures happened to come in their most important game of the season, and they’ll be remembered for it.
Baltimore Ravens’ 22 pending free agents: Categorizing each player with an expiring contract - Aaron Kasinitz
The role players
WR Seth Robets
WR Chris Moore
WR De’Anthony Thomas
S Brynden Trawick
S Anthony Levine
The mid-level defensive contributors
DE Jihad Ward
OLB Pernell McPhee
ILB Josh Bynes
ILB Patrick Onwuasor
Ward, Bynes and Onwuasor all played in rotational roles for the Ravens during their run to the playoffs, while McPhee started the first seven games of the season before suffering a torn pectoral muscle. These four border-line starters shouldn’t attract bloated markets in free agency, but they do carry real value to the Ravens. It’s clear Baltimore must either re-sign a few of these pending free agents or face a remodeling of the Front 7.
The potentially high-priced defensive stars
OLB Matthew Judon
DT Michael Pierce
CB Jimmy Smith
Jackson was not as accurate in the Divisional Round as he had been during the season, throwing an on-target pass on just a little over two-thirds of his attempts against Tennessee. However, he needed to throw the ball away five times and had another five passes dropped. Marquise Brown had a nice game, hauling in seven of 11 targets for 126 yards, adding to an encouraging, but injury-hampered, season in which he averaged 1.81 yards per route run and offered a solid complement to Mark Andrews when healthy.
The Ravens had no other receiver with 20 or more targets who earned a yards per route run over 1.10, and their inability to get open and catch the football was very palpable against the Titans. In the offseason there are some solid options available. Would A.J. Green want to join a division rival that is primed for a Super Bowl as his career draws to a close? There are, as we’ve said, a number of very talented receivers in the upcoming draft. With wide receiver being the second-most valuable position on the offensive side of the ball, this should and probably will be the first place the Ravens look to improve in the offseason.
The Ravens brought the most rushers in the NFL this season, and were somehow middle of the pack in terms of opponents’ time to throw. While this is a testament to their great coverage (forcing quarterbacks to hold on to the ball too long) it also sheds light on the Ravens issues with pass rush. They were our 28th-highest-graded group there, and only player earned more than 30 pressures and five sacks (Matthew Judon). After letting Terrell Suggs and Za’Darius Smith go last offseason, they were only able to get pressure on Ryan Tannehill six times in 17 dropbacks Saturday (he completed zero passes and was sacked once).
Judon is a pending free agent, but big free-agent splashes along the front-seven is something the Ravens have (smartly) shied away from, and wide receiver is probably a higher priority. Thus, to upgrade this unit they may have to come through the draft, trades, or (moderately) cheaply via free agency. They’ve shown an ability to take players that have fallen out of favor with other teams and acquire them relatively cheaply in the past (e.g. Peters). Could they do the same this offseason? Do they lean into their advantage in coverage, making pass rush easier for less-established players? The answers to these questions will be interesting to see play out for the league’s best team over the next few months.