The storylines following the Ravens 34-20 Week 3 loss are predictable. Baltimore struggled to overcome a first half deficit, John Harbaugh was out-coached, Lamar missed some throws, coordinator Roman passed too often, the pass rush failed to record a sack, coordinator Martindale’s blitzes were ineffective and the secondary blew assignments. There is certainly truth in each point.
Nonetheless, the key takeaway that has escaped many is that the Ravens front office has not surrounded Jackson with the weapons he needs to combat the best teams in the NFL.
This in not a new issue. The Ravens managed 17 passing yards and were shutout in the first half of their 2018 wildcard round playoff loss to the Chargers, scored six points in the first half of their 2019 divisional round loss to the Titans and totaled 35 passing yards and a field goal in the first half on Monday night.
In fairness, the offense was moving the ball on Tennessee when Derrick Henry took over the game. Bolstering the run stopping unit that Henry gashed in January was definitely an offseason priority, but improving the passing game should have been too. Baltimore allowed the fifth least rushing yards while throwing for the 28th most passing yards last season.
Free agency and the draft were primarily used to strengthen the defensive front. Calais Campbell and Derek Wolfe were acquired to replace Michael Pierce on the line. Patrick Queen and Malik Harrison were selected to replace Josh Bynes at inside linebacker. As for the receiving corps, Devin Duvernay and James Proche were drafted to replace Seth Roberts and former first round tight end Hayden Hurst, who was traded away for draft capital.
Duvernay and Proche were the 16th and 29th receivers picked in the 2020 draft, respectively.
After their recent humbling loss, the Ravens retain the second best odds to win the Super Bowl. Their combination of prolific rushing and aggressive defense is enough to jump out to early leads and then dominate the majority of teams in the league. Yet in order to win the Super Bowl, they must be equipped to win in a variety of ways.
From their own experience, Ravens brass should understand the importance of fielding a complete team. Their 2012 Super Bowl winners featured an opportunistic defense, capable run game and provided Joe Flacco with an assortment of weapons, including Anquan Boldin, Torrey Smith, Dennis Pitta, Jacoby Jones and Ray Rice. Even the 2000 champions, with arguably the best defense in the history of the game, had a group of playmakers that rival the 2020 group. Jamal Lewis, Priest Holmes, Shannon Sharpe, Qadry Ismail, Jermaine Lewis and Brandon Stokley helped Trent Dilfer hoist the Lombardi trophy.
As presently constructed, the Ravens roster has not proven an ability to engineer large comebacks. Drops aside, Marquise Brown and Mark Andrews are excellent building blocks and the rookies may develop into major contributors. But modern passing games require several threats to keep defenses honest. The stable of running backs do not benefit the offense that much when used in a timeshare committee, especially when their production is largely determined by blocking and game flow.
Too much pressure is put on Lamar’s shoulders to be both the facilitator and main playmaker when up against top competition.
Kansas City is such a team and a particularly tough matchup for the 2020 Ravens. It is more difficult to block their best defender, Chris Jones, without Marshal Yanda. And limiting their elite tight end, Travis Kelce, is more challenging without the presence of Earl Thomas patrolling the middle of the field. The Chiefs also boast one of the few receiving corps capable of besting the Ravens lockdown corners. Add in Mahomes, a special player who can shred Martindale’s blitzes when paired with Andy Reid and Eric Bieniemy’s play calling - the Ravens face a tall task.
In theory, controlling time of possession with a run-heavy approach could be helpful if the defense can make stops. Ultimately though, the key to beating Mahomes is putting enough points on the board to win a shootout. In the eight career games he lost as a starter, the Chiefs opponents have averaged more than 35 points scored.
To dethrone Kansas City, if the Ravens earn that opportunity in the postseason, they must be prepared to fight fire with fire. Eric DeCosta has assembled one of the best rosters in the NFL, but a bottom third receiving corps has not been enough to overcome negative game scripts or the juggernaut that is Kansas City.
After propelling the Ravens into contention, Lamar deserves the weapons required to pull off comebacks through the air. Perhaps Miles Boykin and Duvernay can grow into feared third and fourth options during the coming weeks. In order to maximize this rookie contract window, the Ravens must find the solution soon. The NFL trade deadline is October 29th.