The Ravens traveled to Cleveland this Sunday to face the Browns for just the second time in the past three weeks. This game started off rough, to say the least . . .
Calais Campbell exited with a thigh injury in the first quarter, Lamar Jackson was carted off the field with an ankle injury a few minutes later, and the Ravens quickly fell behind by 21 points. In spite of this, they outscored the Browns by 16 points in the second half before ultimately falling just short of a comeback victory.
Baltimore’s 24-22 defeat marks a second straight loss, something that hasn’t happened since last December. There’s a lot to unpack from this game, so let’s get into some takeaways below.
Just when you’re out, they reel you back in . . .
You can say there’s no such as thing as “moral victories” — but if there was, this might be the definition of it.
Everything worked against the Ravens early in this game. They fell behind 17-0 early in the second quarter and lost both Lamar Jackson and Calais Campbell, maybe (definitely?) their most important players on both side of the ball, to injury. Already down a slew of other players, it was reasonable to expect the Browns to roll for the rest of the game.
Instead, they came out in the second half erased an 18-point deficit — something they’ve done multiple times this year — on the back of a defensive shutout and inspired quarterback play.
The Ravens’ defense forced three punts and ceded only six first downs in the final two quarters of play. They buckled down and gave the Ravens’ offense, which has shown little signs of life in recent weeks, a chance to make something happen. With Tyler Huntley at the helm, they put together three scoring drives to claw the Ravens back into the mix.
Huntley again showed impressive moxie in a tough spot. He made some costly errors but kept drives alive with timely completions to Mark Andrews, Rashod Bateman and others.
Cleveland was the healthier, well-rested team in this matchup. They were also at home and had multiple weeks to prepare for the Ravens, who they just played two weeks ago. Given all the circumstances, it’s hard not to call this an admirable effort from Baltimore.
Costly miscues compound
The Ravens were obviously up against it in this game personnel wise, but the final score is actually a bit misleading. The defense pitched a shutout in the second half and if not for some costly penalties and turnovers, this game could have looked a whole lot different.
On the Browns’ opening scoring drive in the first quarter, 48 of their 60 yards were gifted to them thanks to two pass interference penalties on Baltimore (one very controversial called on Chris Westry). Two drives later, Tavon Young was flagged for pass interference in the end zone and moved the Browns half the distance to the goal — which was at the one yard line.
Huntley help will the Ravens back into the game late, but his two fumbles before that were incredibly costly. The first was returned for a touchdown by Myles Garrett. The second killed a potential scoring drive to begin the third quarter, where the Ravens had quickly advanced 60+ yards in just five plays.
On the next drive, Justin Tucker’s 55-yard field goal cut the deficit to 24-9. Perhaps the Ravens have scored a touchdown, though, if not for losing 30 yards on two holding calls and an offensive pass interference.
Take away even one of the turnovers and a couple of penalties, and the Ravens may not have needed to mount such a huge comeback effort to have a chance to win.
Crisis mode at offensive tackle
After replacing Patrick Mekari mid-game last week, Tyre Phillips drew the start at right tackle today with Mekari still injured. He struggled against the Steelers and did again today against the Browns, as did Alejandro Villanueva opposite him at left tackle.
Blocking the likes of Myles Garrett and Jadeveon Clowney, and T.J. Watt last week, is not an easy task for any offensive tackle. However, we’ve seen enough throughout the year to say that Villanueva-Phillips is a worrisome combination.
Villanueva was flagged twice for holding today, which seems like a weekly occurrence now, and Phillips was as well. Phillips allowed Clowney to get around the edge and sack Huntley for a 10-yard loss on the Ravens’ final offensive drive, which set up a 3rd-&-20 scenario.
Not having Patrick Ricard and Nick Boyle in this game certainly did not help matters. Both players are effective chip-blockers and Ricard has been used regularly as a double-teamer on the edge this season. The fact that their services are needed to this extent, though, speaks to the fact that the tackles cannot be trusted.
The interior offensive line trio of Ben Powers, Bradley Bozeman and Kevin Zeitler, who have started most of the Ravens’ games this season, is mostly reliable. Strong interior play can be canceled out by poor play from the tackle positions, as we’ve seen on a number of occasions for the Ravens in recent weeks.
Unfortunately, their options are quite limited. The Ravens may have no choice but to stick it out with Villanueva and Phillips and hope they can perform better over the final four games.
Up-tempo has to be the answer
The Ravens’ recent offensive rut continued into this game for most of the first half. Before Jackson exited with injury, they had gained just one first down and less than 25 total yards in three drives. They begin to show signs of life at the end of the second quarter and beginning of the third quarter, with one common denominator between both drives — no huddle, up-tempo offense.
This has been a talking point for a couple of weeks now and was especially prevalent over the past few days heading into this matchup. Whether it’s Jackson or Huntley under center next week and moving forward, there’s been mounting evidence to suggest the Ravens’ offense produces at its best when they go up-tempo.
For the past five weeks, almost all of their offensive touchdowns have come on drives where they operated in no-huddle fashion. This development continued today in the second half against Cleveland. When going huddle and using most of the play clock to snap the ball, the Ravens have routinely struggled to grind out yardage and gain first downs. When they go up-tempo, a flip just seems to switch.
It’s not necessarily realistic to play this way every drive of every game but it seems pretty clear that the Ravens need to do it as much as possible moving forward. They’ve struggled in pass protection for weeks now, and playing at a faster pace can help mitigate opposing pass rush. They also have pass-catchers who can create separation and win one-on-ones consistently.