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Ravens News 1/18: Pivotal Plays and more

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Cincinnati Bengals v Baltimore Ravens Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images

The 10 plays that defined the Ravens’ 2021 season, from injuries to overtime scores - Jonas Shaffer

Week 2, vs. Chiefs: QB Lamar Jackson converts clinching fourth-and-2

After taking a 36-35 lead in Baltimore with three minutes left, the Ravens got a forced fumble by outside linebacker Odafe Oweh and a crucial catch from wide receiver Sammy Watkins to set up fourth-and-short at their 43-yard line.

Rather than punt the ball back to quarterback Patrick Mahomes with less than a minute left, coach John Harbaugh asked Jackson whether he wanted to go for it. Of course he did. Jackson took a quick shotgun snap, looked for a crease and surged forward for a 2-yard gain. The prime-time win was the Ravens’ first against Mahomes (343 passing yards and three touchdowns) and kicked off a five-game winning streak.

Week 3, at Lions: K Justin Tucker hits game-winning, NFL-record 66-yard field goal

The Ravens finished with the NFL’s best special teams play this season partly because there’s only one Justin Tucker. According to Pro Football Focus, in finishing 35-for-37 on field-goal attempts this season, the Pro Bowl kicker led the NFL in both success rate over expectation and the number of made kicks over expectation.

His 66-yarder was certainly unexpected. The Ravens, trailing 17-16, needed to convert a fourth-and-19 with 26 seconds remaining to even give Tucker a chance. After Jackson found Watkins for 36 yards, Tucker lined up from Detroit’s 48 with three seconds remaining. His fourth field goal of the day doinked off the crossbar inside Detroit’s Ford Field and carried through the uprights, breaking Matt Prater’s record-setting 2013 kick (64 yards).

The Game That Changed the Ravens Season - Todd Karpovich

The Ravens were mostly rolling as they headed into their Week 10 against the Miami Dolphins.

However, quarterback Lamar Jackson and the rest of the offense hit a wall trying to adapt to Miami’s Cover 0 defensive scheme.

Teams tried to emulate the Dolphins game plan against the Ravens.

Miami played man-to-man coverage against the Ravens’ receivers while the rest of the players blitzed Jackson. It’s a strategy that is often used sparingly, but Dolphins coach Brian Flores, who has since been fired, stayed in that formation because it was working.

The Dolphins had their defensive backs keeping the pressure on Jackson with safeties Jevon Holland blitzing 21 times and Brandon Jones attacking the quarterback 17 times.

The biggest issue is the Ravens were not able to make any adjustments by using quick passes, crossing routes, bunch formations, and deep shots downfield.

“Live by the sword, die by the sword,” Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. “So, those plays are going to be hit or miss. The blitzes are going to be hit or miss. So, you have to make them pay with big plays, and that’s what we’re going to work very hard to do.”

The Ravens are prioritizing a more improved passing attack again this offseason.

Much of the film work will revolve around that Week 10 against Miami.

Ranking the Ravens’ needs from biggest to smallest: GM Eric DeCosta has plenty of work to do - Jeff Zrebiec

1. Offensive tackle

Under contract for 2022: Ronnie Stanley, Patrick Mekari, Ja’Wuan James, Jaryd Jones-Smith, Brandon Knight (ERFA)

Potential departures: David Sharpe (UFA), Alejandro Villanueva (retirement or release)

If you’re the world’s biggest optimist, you focus on a scenario where Stanley is healthy again and playing at a Pro-Bowl level, James returns to good health and solidifies the right tackle spot and Mekari occupies the all-important swing tackle role. Throw in a developmental tackle from the draft and you have a comfortable situation at one of the game’s most important positions. But how realistic is that? Stanley has had two major ankle surgeries within the past year and the Ravens don’t know at this point whether he’ll ever return to his previous level or even if he’ll be ready come September. James, a former first-round pick, has played in three games over the past three years and he’s endured a litany of season-ending injuries in his career. The Ravens need a desirable Plan B for Stanley and James to avoid the situation they were in at tackle in 2021. It seems likely that Villanueva will move on, creating $6 million of space. The Ravens need to come out of the draft with a potential Day 1 starting tackle, and adding a solid veteran stopgap in free agency should be on the table, too.

Jessie Bates Landing Spots: Lions, Ravens, Colts, Patriots could have interest in the Bengals safety - Dallas Robinson

The Baltimore Ravens’ pass defense cratered in 2021

Baltimore’s secondary couldn’t have played much worse this season. They allowed the most passing yards and the third-most most passing touchdowns in the NFL. Only the New York Jets lost more expected points in the passing game. Sure, a lot of the Ravens’ struggles can be chalked up to injury issues, but the club could use reinforcements on the back end.

The Ravens have spent big on a safety in the recent past. In 2018, they signed Earl Thomas to a four-year, $55 million deal with the hope that he’d play center field. Thomas didn’t even make it to Year 2 thanks to off-field/personality issues, but Baltimore has shown a willingness to invest in the position. Bates’ presence would allow incumbent Chuck Clark to stay closer to the action, and together, they’d form one of the better safety tandems in the league.

2022 NFL Mock Draft: Denver Broncos select North Carolina quarterback Sam Howell - Austin Gayle

PICK NO. 14: BALTIMORE RAVENS: CB TRENT MCDUFFIE, WASHINGTON

What McDuffie lacks in size — 5-foot-11, 195 pounds — he makes up for in short-area quicks and polish. On 296 coverage snaps in 2021, he allowed just 16 catches from 36 targets for 111 yards and zero touchdowns, earning an impressive 88.7 PFF coverage grade in the process.