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Ravens News 1/18: Familiar Disappointment and more

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Divisional Round - Baltimore Ravens v Buffalo Bills Photo by Bryan M. Bennett/Getty Images

Divisional Round: What we learned from Saturday’s games - Nick Shook

The Divisional Round brought us a matchup sure to be a barn-burner Saturday night, with two of the NFL’s hottest teams clashing in western New York. Both ditched defensive tendency, leading to a slog of a first half in which each offense used the majority of the first two quarters to figure out what these defenses were doing while producing a combined total net yardage of 294 and converting just 4-of-12 third-down attempts. Buffalo’s change in approach came in its blitz frequency. Defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier bought into bringing the heat from the beginning, posting a blitz rate of 41.5% (per Next Gen Stats), a mark that finished well above Buffalo’s typical rate of 35% and was over 50% at one point late in the second quarter. Baltimore chose to do the opposite, blitzing on just 25.6% of Josh Allen drop-backs. Buffalo also committed to matching Baltimore’s two-back attack, going with a base personnel grouping on all 20 of Baltimore’s two-back plays in the first half, a massive reversal of tendency (Buffalo only used base personnel on 6 percent of defensive plays in the regular season). Each team struggled to find a rhythm as a result, making for a low-scoring affair and a 3-3 tie headed into the half.

Bills vs. Ravens score: Historic pick-six lifts Buffalo, Lamar Jackson exits with injury as Bills advance - Durbin & Benjamin

Why the Ravens lost

Their offense was sorely one-dimensional — and not even good in its one dimension. Greg Roman may have taken the NFL by storm when he unleashed Jackson as the centerpiece of a relentless rushing attack back in 2019, but boy did this whole operation look stale and stagnant. It didn’t help that Matt Skura seemingly forgot to snap at various points in the game, but from Jackson on down, the whole thing lacked pizzazz. Neither Jackson nor Gus Edwards nor J.K. Dobbins hit 45 yards on the ground, and No. 8’s occasional speed burst couldn’t make up for an aerial game that was non-existent aside from a few Marquise Brown cameos. Jackson leaving early wasn’t as troublesome as it could’ve been, with backup Tyler Huntley at least taking shots downfield, but make no mistake: This loss was squarely on Baltimore’s inability to do anything with the ball, especially during drives deep in Buffalo territory.

NFL Divisional Round PFF ReFocused: Buffalo Bills 17, Baltimore Ravens 3 - James Fragoza

Jackson was knocked out of the game on a high snap that he had to throw away just outside of Baltimore’s endzone. He was unable to return and lead his team to a comeback victory, but even before he left, Jackson was having fits throwing the football. On pressured dropbacks, he completed just 1-of-9 throws for seven yards and took three sacks. He was widely inaccurate outside of the safety of play action, as well, connecting on 8-of-17 passes for 119 yards and an interception compared to going 6-of-7 for 43 yards on play fakes.

J.K. Dobbins and Gus Edwards enjoyed the same stat line, as each carried the ball 10 times for 42 yards. Dobbins added another 51 yards on three receptions, to boot. Receiver Marquise Brown is the only other notable offensive player for the Ravens; he reeled in four targets for 87 yards and was overthrown by Huntley for a deep touchdown that would have made the game 17-10 in the fourth quarter.

Outside of Dobbins and Huntley, guard Tyre Phillips, linebacker Patrick Queen and interior defender Justin Madubuike hit the gridiron for the Ravens. Phillips allowed two pressures, including a sack, while paving the way in the running game. Queen endured a rough night in coverage, as he allowed all three of his targets to be caught for 24 yards, two first downs and a touchdown. Madubuike was called for more penalties (1) than he had pressures and total tackles combined (0).

Five Things We Learned from the Ravens’ 17-3 divisional-round loss to the Buffalo Bills - Childs Walker

After a familiar disappointment, the Ravens will go into their offseason facing familiar questions.

From the day they showed up for a pandemic-abbreviated preseason, the Ravens set their sights on the Super Bowl. They made no effort to hide their ambitions, which seemed natural after they won 14 games in 2019.

Now that they’ve again exited two rounds short of this goal, a period of painful self-examination will commence.

How could an offense that trampled opponents in the last five games of the regular season produce just three points with everything on the line?

How could Jackson, the NFL’s most exciting improviser, be neutralized by a combination of blitzes and zone coverage?

How can the Ravens design a pass offense to bail them out when opponents sell out to stop the run? Is it a matter of finding another receiver who can win one-on-one battles outside the numbers? Or is the problem more a lack of tactical imagination?

Some familiar faces could depart, as Judon and Snead reminded us with postgame expressions of gratitude to the organization. Those that remain will wrestle with disappointment even as they remember all they overcame in 2020.

2020 NFL season in review: What went wrong, what’s next for eliminated playoff teams - Jamison Hensley

Biggest offseason question: Will the Ravens decide to acquire a No. 1 wide receiver for Jackson? A proven playmaker on the outside is the missing piece for an offense that ranked No. 1 in rushing but No. 31 in passing. Last offseason, the Arizona Cardinals traded for DeAndre Hopkins to give QB Kyler Murray an elite receiver, and the Buffalo Bills acquired Stefon Diggs for Josh Allen. It’ll be interesting to see whether the Ravens get just as aggressive in bringing in a top target for Jackson, or if they will put their faith in Marquise Brown, who finished the season strong and totaled 109 yards receiving in the wild-card win in Tennessee.