The Baltimore Ravens are suddenly in big, big trouble.
They hosted the Titans Sunday with both teams desperately needing a win, and the Ravens managed to lose in a particularly brutal fashion, blowing a seemingly comfortable 11-point lead, still looking for an identity on offense and getting run over on defense for the second straight week (by wide receivers and running backs, alike). They are a reeling bunch, unable to put 60 minutes of quality football together, and now at 6-4 they are on the outside of the playoff picture and fall to third in the division.
Oh, and don't look now but on Thanksgiving night they face the unbeaten Steelers in Pittsburgh in what now looks like a must-win game. Issues abound on what at one point was the NFL's top scoring defense, with tackling and coverage and the ability to get pressure without blitzing all in need of rapid improvement. Sure, injuries to defensive linemen Brandon Williams and Calais Campbell hurt, but every team is beat up this time of year, and as the Ravens watched A.J. Brown and Derrick Henry run over and through them, conjuring images of their playoff loss to the Titans, it was hard not to look at this as a team in crisis.
Lamar Jackson is not nearly as effective as he was a year ago, through the air or on the ground. Their scheme isn't fooling people with any regularity. They seem reluctant to turn the run game over to rookie J.K. Dobbins -- though his explosion in spread formations when they run with multiple receivers on the field is the best thing they have going for them. Coordinator Greg Roman has yet to tap into the speed and potential of rookie receiver Devin Duvernay or fully invest in the horizontal passing game. They commit pre-snap procedural penalties at an alarming rate.
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The outside vertical passing game does not exist. Over the middle, where they do their best work, it's all Mark Andrews or Willie Snead. The offensive line is being shuffled and reshuffled seemingly before and during the game the past few weeks, and it's too early to project that Dez Bryant and Luke Willson -- veterans elevated off the practice squad -- are going to elevate the passing game.
The joy in Jackson's game has been lacking for weeks, as he seems burdened and forlorn. He's being pressured at a far higher rate than last season and turning it over far more. His runs and scrambles aren't netting nearly as many yards.
As for the defense, wrapping up and tackling has become a lost art. They have been getting pushed back far too often. Once the Titans adjusted to some of their blitzing and overloads, there were free runners galore and Ryan Tannehill picked them apart in the second half. So many of the players they identified as key components to help them build on their 2019 season simply are not helping.
Patrick Queen, their first pick in the 2020 draft, had another very rough game. Last Sunday night, New England had its way with him on the ground and through the air, and it was more of the same this week. He was caught in the wash or out of position and failed to see Tannehill take off on a huge run from his own 10 in the second half. He was driven all over the place on some key sequences, and teams will continue to test him.
Hollywood Brown, their top pick in 2019, has pretty much disappeared. He had one catch for three yards in a critical loss to the Steelers, was shut out for much of the game against the Colts before finishing with three grabs for 38 yards, played 94 percent of the snaps last week and had two catches for 14 yards and was completely shut out Sunday on three targets. His lack of size and struggles at high-pointing the ball are exacerbated by the routes he runs, and Roman refuses to feature him in the outside run game or horizontal passing game. No quick hitters or bubble screens.
Their two key free agent signings from 2019 are basically a wash at this point. Earl Thomas was cut after punching a teammate at camp and Mark Ingram has not been effective this season as he has been banged up, and frankly the best rushing performances of the season came while he was out.
Campbell, whom they acquired from Jacksonville in the spring, has played well but, at age 35, expecting a weekly sustained pass rushing push is probably not reasonable. Campbell has been effective, but the Ravens' front seven finds itself under fire, nonetheless.
Their trade-deadline splash, landing Yannick Ngakoue from Minnesota, has been held of the scoresheet for the most part; he had successive impactful pass rushes and registered his first sack Sunday, but struggles against the run and hasn't changed the complexion of the defense or been much of a disruptive force.
And now they have just a couple of days to get it together and try to beat the Steelers. Tall task. The Ravens outplayed them in the first outing, losing because of turnovers, but that seems like a long time ago right now with a season possibly slipping away in Baltimore.
Pats can forget about playoffs after defensive letdown
It wasn't about Cam Newton -- he played his butt off. Not about that fourth-and-4 at the end of the game, either. Should have never come to that. The problem was they couldn't stop Deshaun Watson on the ground or through the air. He managed to get the Texans an early lead and the Pats never built up the type of volume on the ground that most expected, given how badly the Texans struggle with that (New England losing Rex Burkhead hurt).
Newton carried the ball just three times, which surprised me quite a bit given the magnitude of the game, but he carried the offense with his arm. The margins are slim for New England, with the lack of skill player talent. And at 4-6 you can forget about any more playoff games in Foxboro for a while.
More Week 11 Insider Notes
- How about P.J. Walker? Pretty wild watching him sling the ball all over the place against the Lions. Looked like a gamer to me. Not sure he is even 5-foot-11 as listed, but he played much bigger than that ...
- Matt Patricia's defense left a lot to be desired, as has often been the case, and getting shut out by the Panthers, followed by a Thanksgiving loss to the Texans, would surely open another round of questions about the feasibility of his tenure there ...
- Neither offense could score in the first half of the Eagles-Browns game. Yuck. Carson Wentz continues to look worse each week and Philly has too much talent to be this bad ...
- The less Baker Mayfield has to throw the better the Browns chances of winning. Hats off to Oliver Vernon for beasting out with Myles Garrett out on the COVID list. When you get home with a three-man rush on the first drive of the second half, you are living right. Cleveland is going to be in the postseason. The offensive line is legit, Nick Chubb makes a big difference and Garrett will be back soon enough ...
- Sean Payton knows what he is doing. Taysom Hill got better as the game went on, he opens up new avenues in the run game and takes some of the very heavy load off of Alvin Kamara. I don't know if Hill will ever be a top QB, but I know they can scheme things up to suit his strengths and if Payton thinks he merits a look as the potential starter, that should be good enough for anyone.