That was rough . . .
The Ravens fell victim to the classic “trap game” on Thursday night, falling to the Dolphins in Miami by a score of 22-10. Both teams struggled offensively for most of the game but the Dolphins made a few more plays when it mattered most.
It was a difficult watch and very underwhelming performance. Four takeaways from the dreadful showing are below.
On their opening drive of the game, the Ravens moved the ball 47 yards over nine plays and Justin Tucker connected on a 46-yard field goal. For the remainder of the first half, the Ravens crossed midfield only once and it resulted in zero points, as Tucker missed wide right on a 48-yard attempt.
After the first two drives of the game, the Ravens only gained two first downs in the first half. Also in the first half, they failed to convert on any of their six attempts on third down. The Ravens ranked No. 23 in the NFL in third down efficiency entering tonight.
You might be able attribute early offensive struggles like this to playing on a short week and on the road. However, this has been a season-long trend for the Ravens. Prior to the bye week, the Ravens were the lowest-scoring first quarter team in the NFL. In back-to-back games coming out of the bye, they’ve scored three points in the opening frame.
It does not appear to be a trend/issue they corrected during their week off. We now have a nine-game sample size saying the Ravens are a slow starting offense. Thursday night was the second time the Ravens have scored only three points at halftime but their 132 offensive yards marked a season-low.
Can’t flip the switch
The Ravens came from double-digit deficits in the second half and won against the Chiefs, Colts and Vikings last week. While they again started slow against the Dolphins, the difference was they couldn’t seem to flip the switch offensively.
Baltimore’s first two drives of the third quarter started near midfield. Unfortunately, they did not take advantage of good field position, gaining only two total first downs and punting on both possessions. Their third and final drive of the quarter ended with Jackson being sacked on third down. Jackson was sacked three times in the third frame alone.
Still trailing by only one possession in the fourth quarter, Sammy Watkins fumbled a nine-yard catch on a slant route. Xavien Howard returned the fumble 49 yards to the house to give Miami a 15-3 lead after they failed a two-point conversion try.
The Ravens punted the ball again on their next drive before eventually getting the ball back and putting together a 99-yard touchdown drive. However, it was too little, too late — as any potential for a comeback was thwarted when the Dolphins responded with a 75-yard touchdown drive of their own.
If you don’t score a touchdown until there’s 4:12 left in the fourth quarter, you probably aren’t going to win.
Couldn’t crack Miami’s defensive code
The Dolphins defense is talented. They deserve credit for playing well in this game, as does Brian Flores and company for devising an effective strategy to slow the Ravens down. With that being said, it was puzzling to see the Ravens struggle to counter what Miami was throwing at them all night long.
For the most part, the Dolphins’ defensive strategy seemed pretty consistent. They were blitzing a ton and playing man coverage. The Ravens saw a lot of cover-1 and cover-0 looks throughout the game. Yet time and time again, they just did not seem to have any answers.
They struggled to pick up blitz packages and didn’t have a lot of man coverage-beating routes you’d typically see, like slants or quick outs or ins. They threw an uncharacteristically high amount of screen passes, especially on third down early in the game, that did little-to-nothing.
It’s difficult to pinpoint exactly why this is. Did Greg Roman just call a poor game? That is certainly a possible explanation. Jackson also seemed to make a handful of audibles at the line of scrimmage and check into screen passes a few times in the first half.
The defense has a big-play problem
Baltimore’s defense has been inconsistent for most of the season. There’s been more lows than highs, frankly, but Week 10 was one of their better overall performances of the year — all things considered. However, while they limited Miami’s offense for most of the night, they ceded a few big plays that made a significant difference.
The Dolphins’ first field goal of the game was set up by a 21-yard pass to Adam Shaheen on third down. Shaheen essentially boxed out Chuck Clark, who was in one-on-one coverage on the play. Two drives later, Isaiah Ford got wide open for a 52-yard reception, which set up another field goal before halftime to put the Dolphins up 6-3.
The ultimate backbreaker, though, came late in the fourth quarter. Albert Wilson caught a 64-yard reception and was literally uncovered along the sideline, as nobody in the Ravens’ secondary seemed to recognize his route. A few plays later, the Dolphins punched the ball in to take a commanding 22-10 lead.
The Ravens’ defense has been susceptible to chunk plays all season, especially in the passing game. Most of the time they appear to simply be the cause of poor play recognition or miscommunication between defenders.