Baltimore dug themselves a hole early and couldn’t find the juice necessary to recover, as a combination of defensive struggles, offensive miscues, and injuries took a cumulative toll in the six-point defeat.
Some deflating takeaways below:
1) Slow start woes continue
The Ravens second drive of the game was masterful: 13 plays and 94 yards in 8:04, capped off by a six-yard touchdown reception from Willie Snead IV. However, this was preceded by an unsuccessful opening drive that was over after just four plays, which marks the continuation of a potentially concerning trend from the Ravens offense.
Since the bye week, the Ravens have failed to score on their opening possessions in three straight games. Against the Steelers in Week 8, Lamar Jackson threw a pick-six on just the third play from scrimmage. Last week against the Colts, Baltimore mustered only six total yards on a three-play drive to begin the game.
Not since Week 6 against the Eagles have the Ravens put points on the board early. In that Steelers game and tonight against the Patriots, they responded on the following drive with long scoring drives that resulted in touchdowns — which is a positive development.
However, after such a high level of success on opening drives in 2019 and earlier in the season, it’s a bit concerning to see the pendulum swing in the opposite direction over the past several weeks. The Ravens could do themselves a favor by getting out to faster starts offensively, as opposed to putting themselves behind the eight ball time and time again.
2) Dominated in the trenches
In very uncharacteristic fashion, the Ravens were obliterated in the trenches by New England all night long. It was known that the Patriots sought to run the ball downhill early and often leading up to this matchup, and they did not waver from their game plan.
Unfortunately, a shorthanded Ravens defensive line had no answers.
Already down Calais Campbell, starting DT Brandon Williams exited the game early with an injury of his own. From this point on, it was clear that the Patriots offensive line was going to control the line of scrimmage.
After ceding a seven-play touchdown drive on New England’s second possession, the Ravens saw their 10-7 lead disappear towards the end of the second quarter after the Patriots put together a 10-play, 75-yard scoring drive in 4:30. 39 of these 75 yards came courtesy of RB Damien Harris, who made the most of his six carries.
Harris continued to heat up on the Patriots first drive of the second half. Back-to-back rushes of 16 and 25 yards set up a four-yard rushing touchdown by Cam Newton, giving the Patriots a commanding 20-10 lead.
In addition to getting beat off the block consistently, the Ravens also struggled with tackling in the second level a bit. DeShon Elliott and Patrick Queen were on the receiving end of a few noticeable missed tackles.
The run defense tightened up in a big way in the fourth quarter, which aided in the Ravens mounting a comeback effort. However, it’s difficult to simply set aside what transpired for most of the game — which was a drubbing in the run defense category.
3) Another one bites the dust
Through the first half of the season, the Ravens were fortunate to avoid any major injuries, sans a season-ending torn ACL suffered by CB Tavon Young. However, since the midseason point of Week 7, the tide has turned in a pretty significant way. This unfortunate development continued on Sunday night.
As mentioned in the previous paragraph, the Ravens lost Brandon Williams early in the first quarter and were already missing Calais Campbell. Campbell suffered a calf strain in last week’s win over Indianapolis and is now on injured reserve.
You thought another starting defensive lineman couldn’t get injured? Wrong. Derek Wolfe also was the victim of a setback. On Newton’s four-yard rushing touchdown in the third quarter, both Wolfe and CB Terrell Bonds went down at the same time. Fortunately Wolfe proved to be okay, but Bonds did not return.
Bonds had been playing a larger role in this game given the absence of Jimmy Smith, who was inactive, as well as the continued absence of CB Anthony Averett. In addition to Smith not being available, starting ILB L.J. Fort was also inactive for a second straight week.
This slew of injuries on the defensive side of the ball is quite remarkable, especially when considering Marlon Humphrey had just returned after recovering from COVID-19. Perhaps the worst injury (and moment, for that matter) of the night was to TE Nick Boyle.
Boyle suffered a gruesome leg injury midway through the second half and was immediately carted off the field. Boyle’s absence gave the Ravens just one healthy tight end for the remainder of the game in Mark Andrews.
Between Ronnie Stanley, Campbell, Boyle, and everyone else mentioned, it’s been an extremely rough stretch of injuries in Baltimore recently. Frankly, a worse-case scenario.
4) Musical chairs: offensive line edition
Since Stanley’s season-ending injury in Week 8, the Ravens moved Orlando Brown Jr. to left tackle and inserted D.J. Fluker in the vacant right tackle spot. Additionally, they opted to replace the injured Tyre Phillips at right guard with Patrick Mekari.
This combination held up fairly well against the Steelers and did okay versus in the Colts last week, but Baltimore wasted no time making an in-game change in Week 10. The adjustment was benching Fluker and sliding Mekari to right tackle. Inserted at right guard in Mekari’s place was backup Ben Powers.
Fluker was flagged for a false start early in the second quarter but had already struggled up to that point in the blocking department.
It’s an interesting development considering many have clamored for the Ravens to make an offensive line change in recent weeks, but rather swapping Mekari out for Powers at right guard instead of Fluker being the odd man out. Nevertheless, it’s apparent that Orlando Brown Jr. and Bradley Bozeman are the only sure bets on the offensive line right now.
Mekari’s play has been subpar, Fluker is seemingly now on the pine, and Matt Skura appears to have forgotten how to snap the ball correctly.
On that last point, Skura made a handful of errant snaps against the Colts, but it was largely chalked up to him having suffered a cut on his hand. Against the Patriots, this problem surfaced once again — and this time it was especially costly.
With the Ravens seeking to erase a 10-point deficit in the third quarter, Skura’s snap to Mark Ingram (in the wildcat formation) on 4th-&-1 resulted in a fumble, a loss of 14 yards and consequently, a turnover on downs. The Patriots took advantage of good field position by putting a field goal on the board.
Flash forward to the fourth quarter and Skura made another costly error. After forcing a quick three-and-out, the Ravens received the ball trailing by six points with momentum seemingly swinging in their favor.
Following a 11-yard scramble on third down by Lamar Jackson, Skura set the Ravens back in a major way, as an errant snap way below Jackson’s hands resulted in a 16-yard loss in yardage. From there the Ravens failed to erase a 26-yard deficit and were forced to punt the ball away.
Whether it was Skura’s hand injury, poor weather conditions, or a combination of both, perhaps it’s time to consider an additional change on the offensive line at the center position?
5) When the going gets tough . . .
There’s no way around the fact that this loss is quite a setback for this Ravens team. Now sitting at 6-3, a full three games back behind the Steelers for the division lead and tied in record with the Browns for second place, the Ravens are at a crossroads.
It’s not all doom and gloom per say, as the home stretch of the season does set up to be quite favorable on paper. However, the next two games may prove to be make-or-break in the grand scheme of things.
The Ravens return home in Week 11 to face the Titans before traveling to Pittsburgh on Thanksgiving day. The prospects of facing either of these teams when fully healthy is already less-than-ideal. Doing so without Stanley, Campbell, Boyle, and others, however, only makes a daunting task all the more challenging.
John Harbaugh’s teams have more often than not responded to adversity well over the years. This young core, though, has really not faced in-season hurdles until now. The division title is all but out of reach, but the Ravens now — based on their current record — the Ravens need to worry about clinching a playoff berth before anything else.
The going is tough, but will the Ravens get going? We’re about to find out.