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Exhaustion evident in Ravens loss vs. Dolphins

Blaming the schedule isn’t good enough, but it was a factor


The loss against a 2-7 Miami Dolphins team is inexcusable; this is not an apologist hit-piece on the schedule-makers as the sole reason for the Ravens’ defeat. The Dolphins also were given only four days to prepare against a ‘superior’ Baltimore Ravens team competing for the top seed in the AFC. But, it was evident this team was gassed and I think there’s evidence to show for it.

Sunday’s Competition

The Ravens schedule is, and has been, a gauntlet. After their bye week, the Ravens didn’t calmly waltz through the Minnesota Vikings. They played in their third overtime game this season. The offense played 98 snaps, and all five offensive lineman and Lamar Jackson played in every one of them. The starting line surpassed 100 snaps when including special teams (104). For them to then come back and compete against a violent blitz-heavy defense was a tall order.

To the Dolphins’ credit, they have yet to enjoy a week off as the Ravens have; they won’t be doing so until Week 14. However, on Sunday, the Dolphins faced arguably the worst team in the NFL in the Houston Texans (1-8). Their offense played 75 snaps, 23 fewer than the Ravens.

Leading Up to Thursday

Both practices were walkthroughs for the Ravens. Same goes for the Dolphins. With the Ravens just under 100 hours before the Thursday affair, the coaching staff tried to get their guys back to rested by allowing chairs during pre-walkthrough, according to Ravens Head Coach John Harbaugh.

“We had chairs out for the early walk-through, I can tell you that,” Harbaugh said. “So, guys were sitting behind the early walk-through. Normally, we make them stand. So, that was our one concession today.”

Though this isn’t the be-all-end-all, I think it shows the Ravens, after all the close battles, the stress, drama and unending injury lists, were just gassed.

Visible Fatigue

Before the relentless blitz pressure capsized the already sinking Ravens offense, there were signs of burnout. Wide receiver Sammy Watkins pulled up early on a deep shot from Jackson, though that could’ve been him being concerned about running head-first into the stanchion. There was an early fumble from wide receiver Marquise “Hollywood” Brown. It’s those small things that look like a player can be strong and feel good going into the game, but fatigue has what feels like 100-percent lower in actuality.

“I love football, so it doesn’t really matter to me,” Jackson said, regarding playing on a short week. “It’s just the recovery part from the last game, but I’m good. I’m ready to play, especially in South Florida, for sure.”

The first few drives showed both teams at full strength, I’d argue. Ravens offense was moving bodies and the defense was creating pressure and getting home against quarterback Jacoby Brissett. But the gas meter went from full to half-empty expeditiously.

Race Against the (Play) Clock

It wasn’t helpful that the Ravens were snapping the ball with only a second remaining on the play clock for what appeared to be the majority of their plays. This allowed the Dolphins to anticipate the play and attack, rather than react. It’s the difference between getting to the line with enough time to keep the defense from gaining the extra half-second necessary to corral the elusive Jackson.

There’s a lot of big picture when it comes to the NFL, and even greater are the finite details. We know that when listening to coaches like Pass Game Specialist Keith Williams, who discusses the meticulous approach to each route, hand placement, arm placement, steps, etc.

This is only speculation, but getting to the line just a moment or two faster allows for the offense to snap at different times. To not go until the play clock is within a second of a five-yard penalty, which defenses can tee off on. It becomes less about watching for the snap and more about watching the clock and anticipating the snap within a 1-2 second range. The marginal differences to gain a competitive advantage are discussed in the realm of sports, and this felt like a time where the team in aqua-colored jerseys had said advantage.

A lot of this is speculation and reading into the actions on the television broadcast in an attempt to diagnose the issues present in Thursday’s loss. Be them true, false, or, as most things typically are, a shade of grey, these were significant enough for them to be noticed and documented