The Baltimore Ravens had their four-game winning streak snapped in a 33-31 loss to the Cleveland Browns in Week 10. There were several encouraging and infuriating performances by players in all three phases of the AFC North matchup where they got outgained on the day and outmuscled in the trenches on both sides of the ball.
Here are a few noteworthy performances from the team’s Week 10 defeat that warrant some spicy yet reasonably conceivable takes:
Keaton Mitchell needs to have a featured role in the offense
The Ravens’ offense features multiple first-round picks, a former unanimous league MVP who also happens to be the greatest dual-threat quarterback in NFL history, and a pair of three-time Pro Bowl pass catchers. However, their most exciting playmaker on that side of the ball over the past two games has been the undrafted rookie running back.
Mitchell followed a sensational breakout performance on limited touches in Week 9 with an almost equally impressive encore in Week 10 with even fewer opportunities. He only got to touch the ball four times and lost seven yards on one carry but still finished with the second-most scrimmage yards on the team with 66 thanks to a 39-yard scoring run for his second career touchdown in as many weeks and a 32-yard catch and run on a halfback screen.
Both of his big plays came in the first quarter with one resulting in six points and the other setting up another eventual scoring drive but he shockingly only touched the ball one time in the entire second half. Even though the Ravens still had the lead until the final seconds of the game when the Browns kicked the game-winning field goal, the offense definitely could’ve used the spark his big-play potential provides when they were struggling to consistently stay on the field.
After the game he told reporters in the locker room that “It is what it is” and that he is just grateful for the opportunities that come his way and that he’ll continue to make the most of them when they come. Head Coach John Harbaugh indicated in his post-game presser that utilizing him less wasn’t part of the game plan but rather was a result of the plays that were called and on Monday, he elaborated further.
Coach Harbaugh on getting Keaton Mitchell and Mark Andrews more involved: pic.twitter.com/Tt3QK0yOqr— Baltimore Ravens (@Ravens) November 13, 2023
“I don’t think we felt probably as an offensive coaching staff we were going to throw the whole gameplan on him,” Harbaugh said. “Those are the plays that get called from the groupings that were called in the second half. Looking back on it, would we have wanted him out there more? Yes. I think that’ll factor into this gameplan. The way it got called – those plays weren’t the ones he was scheduled for.”
Whatever play or series of plays that Offensive Coordinator Todd Monken dials up moving forward should include a heavy dose of the electrifying rookie because of how dangerous he is with the ball in his hands and the threat he possesses to opposing defenses on any given play. While he might not be the best pass protector at his size, that is no reason to use him as sparsely as he has been considering what he has shown. In addition to being explosive and possessing breakaway speed, Mitchell also runs hard behind his pads, breaks and bounces off tackles, and exercises great patience and vision.
Second half defensive collapse will be an outlier
This game was touted as a defensive slugfest that many anticipated might be a low-scoring affair but it wound up being anything but with 50 offensive points scored between the two rivals. The Browns’ defense gave up several big plays but they made the game-winning plays when they needed them most. Meanwhile, the performance of the Ravens’ vaunted defense after halftime was so far from what has been their incredibly high standard this season that it ultimately cost them the game
Defensive Coordinator Mike Macdonald’s unit struggled to consistently make stops and get off the field despite forcing multiple negative plays to make the Browns have to overcome long down and distance situations. They allowed Cleveland’s offense to go on long and methodical scoring drives as well as quick ones. There were only two possessions in the entire third quarter because they were on the field for 18 plays and over 10 minutes of game time as the Browns marched 80 yards for a touchdown.
Browns quarterback Deshaun Watson completed just six of his 20 passing attempts in the first half but would be a perfect 14-of-14 in the second. This uncharacteristic complete and utter collapse can be credited in large part to Watson’s Herculean efforts to avoid pressure and slip out of near-sacks.
However, it likely won’t happen again to this degree for the rest of the season. That doesn’t mean they will be pitching shutouts in the third and fourth quarters in every game moving forward but this unit is too talented, well-coached, and flat-out prideful to let what happened on Sunday, transpire again. Expect to see a renewed focus from the entire unit and less blown coverages as well as better communication in the backend in particular.
Special teams inconsistency is a concern
Even though the Ravens have an elite pair of specialists with future Hall of Fame kicker Justin Tucker and rising star punter Jordan Stout, their blocking and coverage units have been way too inconsistent compared to the typical gold standard that has been executed in Baltimore for Harbaugh’s entire tenure up to this point.
The reason that Tucker is now 0-4 on field goal tries from beyond 50 yards this season was because he had his 55-yard attempt in the final minutes of the first half blocked. Stout had a punt blocked in the team’s Week 5 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers on the road resulting in safety that proved crucial in their rivals completing a late comeback.
When it comes to consistently covering punts, if Stout doesn’t pin the opposing team back inside their own 20-yard line, the Ravens have struggled to limit returns. They have given up the fifth-most punt return yards (257) in the league through 10 games and are allowing the second-most yards per punt return (14.3) as well.
With the retirement of their best and longest-tenured special teams aces in recent years, they’ve seen a dip in their consistency in that often-overlooked but still vitally important phase of the game. During that time, they’ve also strayed away from reserving roster spots for players on either side of the ball who exclusively play on special teams in lieu of more young players who earn their stripes there and veteran players who can be trusted and relied upon to contribute on offense or defense as well.
Having a kicker who is capable of confidently making just about any attempt from midfield as well as a punter who can flip the field with excellent ball placement is both amazing and tremendously rare. However, they both need more consistent play from those around them to be able to execute at the highest level. Preventing or recording a long return could be the difference come playoff time, whether it is to spark a sputtering offense or pin their opponents back deep with nearly the length of the field to travel.
There is still no need to hit the panic button
As much as the national media and loud contingents of the Ravens’ fan base love to sound the alarms and act like the sky is falling every time they lose a game, there is still no need to panic moving forward despite the agonizing defeat. While they were the orchestrators of their demise this time around as they have been in their two other losses, it still needs context and it isn’t the end of the world.
In their previous losses, the Ravens’ defense gave up just one touchdown drive and the offense was still ironing out some early season kinks. The loss to the Indianapolis Colts also came in a torrential downpour and needed a narrowly missed 61-yard field goal by Tucker and a historic kicking performance from Matt Gay from 50-plus to pull off. Their loss to the Steelers was simply due to an unexplainably high number of drops by Jackson’s most trusted pass catchers.
While all of the Ravens’ detractors want to make blown fourth-quarter leads the crux of their arguments, each loss has played out in its own uniquely tragic way. On Sunday, just about everything that could go wrong, did go wrong for this team. This team is still very capable of being the daunting force of nature that was being exalted last week as the best team in the league that appears to be Super Bowl-bound.
Thankfully, they avoided a pair of disasters as it pertains to injuries suffered by two of their highest-paid players. All-Pro left tackle Ronnie Stanley sustained a knee sprain and did not return and three-time Pro Bowl cornerback Marlon Humphrey went down with a non-contact injury and did return. Harbaugh isn’t ruling out either player to be out on the field as soon as this Thursday when they host the Cincinnati Bengals but for now, they are considered “day-to-day.”
Coach Harbaugh says Ronnie Stanley and Marlon Humphrey are "day to day": pic.twitter.com/KJA1iSYRZx— Baltimore Ravens (@Ravens) November 13, 2023
If one or neither plays in Week 11, the Ravens are well-equipped to weather that storm for the short term. They have several players who stepped up when both of those pillars missed stretches at the beginning of the season and are capable of doing so again if needed.