Not many people could have, or would have, predicted the outcome of this game. Leading up to the game, and even on ESPN’s pregame show, the Ravens were being hyped as one of the best—if not the best—teams in the AFC.
They certainly did not play like it against the Jaguars. If anything, they played like one of the worst teams in the AFC.
The Ravens’ offense continues to struggle with consistency to say the least, and Monday night’s game can only be described as a spectacular failure for the offense. There really is no question about it: The offense is the sole reason that the Ravens lost the game.
The offense could not move the ball all game, quarterback Joe Flacco’s receivers couldn’t get open, the offensive line could not block anyone and even running back Ray Rice, who previously held the longest active streak for the most carries without a fumble, couldn’t seem to hold onto the ball or find any positive yardage.
It was not only the worst offensive performance in the head coach John Harbaugh and Flacco era, but it was also the worst offensive performance in Ravens history—and possibly one of the worst in NFL history. It really was that bad.
The Ravens and Jaguars traded the ball back and forth all game, and the Ravens defense was strong as usual. The Jaguars didn’t have much success moving the ball and were limited to field goals all game, despite the fact that Ravens’ offense gave them great field position all game. The score would have been much worse with a lesser defense.
The Jaguars’ kicker, Josh Scobee, was also hitting long field goals all game and made two 54-yard kicks, a 22-yard kick and a 51-yard kick to close out the game. The Ravens, on the other hand, were barely able to get their kicker, Billy Cundiff, into field-goal range, and he missed a 51-yard field goal.
The Ravens were able to manage a 90-yard touchdown drive, but with only five minutes left at the beginning of the drive and terrible clock management by the offense, they were left with only three minutes on the game clock.
Harbaugh decided to try an onside kick, but it was unsuccessful and the Jaguars received the ball on their own 37-yard line. The defense was able to force a three and out, but Scobee was able to conclude his amazing evening with a 51-yard field goal that would force the Ravens to score a touchdown to win the game.
The offense took the field to attempt a game-winning drive, but as if to sum up their performance in the game, Flacco threw an interception. The Jaguars won 12-7.
There are many things that we can look at in this game, and outside the standard defensive performance, there really are not many positives. Let’s take a look at what we learned from the Ravens’ 12-7 loss to the Jaguars.
First of all, there’s no question that the Ravens are the more talented team. Even the Jaguars’ head coach, Jack Del Rio, would have to agree with that assessment, and that’s why this game is so frustrating for Ravens fans. There really is no reason why they lost to the Jaguars other than the simple fact that they were out-coached and out-played.
The thing that stands out the most is the apparent lack of adjustments by the offense. Offensive coordinator Cam Cameron was clearly not ready for the type of game that developed, and could not or would not adjust to what the Jaguars were doing.
Sure, there was a lack of execution on the part of the players, but the players can only play up to their level of talent. From the Ravens’ first offensive series, it was clear that the Jaguars had their number. The Jaguars’ defense had a great scheme and game plan and executed it perfectly. They probably spent all week studying the Ravens' every tendency on offense, and it really paid off.
On the other hand, the Ravens' offense was rigid and predictable. They didn’t seem to have an answer and could not adapt to what the Jaguars were doing. The most amazing part of their inability to adapt is that the Jaguars really weren’t doing anything complicated. They were using some stunts and overload blitzes to confuse the offensive line, but for the most part, they were just playing man coverage with the Ravens’ receivers.
For some inexplicable reason, Cameron did not exploit that. Man coverage can be exploited with the right play calls, but the Ravens didn’t seem to want to divert from their game plan.
That may be the most alarming aspect of the offense’s performance. The inability, or refusal, to adapt or make any kind of adjustment in-game is the fastest way to become completely inept as an offense.
That’s really what we’ve been seeing as the season progresses. It’s clear that teams have figured out the Ravens’ tendencies on offense, and the offense will need to adapt to have any sort of success moving forward. One thing’s for sure, the offensive performance against the Jaguars is the type of game that gets coaches fired.
The Jaguars have a good secondary, and it’s clear that they did not view any of the Ravens’ receivers as a threat because they basically played single-man coverage all game long.
The Jaguars even left wide receiver Torrey Smith in single coverage on several plays down the field. The play that sums up the entire night for the receivers was when Flacco threw a deep pass to Smith down the sideline and Jaguars cornerback Derrick Cox ran with Smith and was actually in better position on the play. In fact, Smith looked more like the defender trying to prevent an interception.
This is the most serious issue for the Ravens as far as personnel are concerned. There are many, many adjustments that they can make as far as coaching is concerned, but they can only do so much with the talent of the players that they have right now.
Physical talent really isn’t the issue, although wide receiver Anquan Boldin has been showing his age with his inability to separate from coverage. The biggest issue is timing, route running and concentration on the part of the young receivers, Smith and tight ends Ed Dickson and Dennis Pitta.
Whether the Ravens like it or not, they must find a way to spread the ball around and get it in the hands of the young receivers. Flacco’s abysmal completion percentage is more the function of poor timing with his receivers and the fact that they are inconsistently running routes and lack veteran concentration. None of those things are really their fault since they’re still young, developing players.
Unfortunately, the Ravens have put themselves into a position where too much of the offense’s success is dependant on the inexperienced receivers. If the Ravens want to avoid becoming one of the worst offenses in football, the receivers need to step up or the play-calling needs to get very creative.
The offensive line was one of the biggest concerns for the Ravens heading into this season as they were extremely thin across the whole line. Luckily, the Ravens were able to sign offensive tackle Bryant McKinnie and center Andre Gurode before the season began, because if they hadn’t, the Ravens probably wouldn’t have had even more struggles this season.
There’s no doubt that McKinnie is a better left tackle than Michael Oher, and Gurode is much better than Mark LeVoir at replacing an injured Ben Grubbs. However, there is clearly a trade-off going on. McKinnie may be better at left tackle, Oher may be better at right tackle and Gurode may be a good backup, but it’s clear that they haven’t gelled as a unit and are still struggling to pick up complex blitz schemes.
In Week 1 against the Steelers, the offensive line was able to have success because they started off running the ball strong. A healthy Ben Grubbs helped to get the running game going for sure, but that quick start put the Steelers’ defense on their heels. They were forced to play from behind and were never really able to give the Ravens' offensive line any complex blitz schemes.
Every other game this season—particularly the games against Tennessee, Houston and Jacksonville—the opposing defenses have learned that the way to get to Flacco is not to rush him from a base formation. Defenses are using stunts, overloads, delayed blitzes and safety blitzes to keep Flacco under constant pressure.
Obviously, all teams use those types of blitzes on occasion, but the Ravens are starting to see less and less base defenses and more and more complex blitzes. The purpose is to take advantage of the offensive line’s lack of chemistry, and it’s a smart strategy.
The Ravens’ offensive line has shown that they can be one of the best in the league when they work together and play as a unit. The problem is that opposing teams are not going to allow the offensive to get into a groove and will continue to do what is successful until the Ravens prove that they can stop it.
This Ravens defense is excellent, but it’s a bit ridiculous to hear people compare this Ravens defense to the 2000 or 2006 Ravens defenses. There’s no way anyone can say this defense is as good as either defense at this point in the season. Those defenses were completely different schemes for one thing, but they were also able to win games almost by themselves.
To be fair, those days are long over. It’s almost impossible to have a defense that will single-handedly win games anymore. The Ravens’ defense right now is about as close as it gets, so with that obvious handicap, the argument could be made that this defense is one of the most impressive that they’ve ever had.
However, being impressive isn’t going to win the Ravens a Super Bowl. It seems ridiculous to talk about a championship after a game like Monday night’s, but the fact is that the Ravens still have the talent to make it there. After a bad loss, it’s important to remember that things probably aren’t as bad as we think they are. Just like after a big win, we should remember that things aren’t as good as we think they are.
In order to even get to the playoffs this season, the Ravens are going to need to do some serious adjustments on offense. If the Ravens were out of the playoff hunt, it would probably be time to consider an offensive coordinator change, although many of the offense’s struggles are not Cameron’s fault.
Since the Ravens are still very much a contender, the best thing that they can do is to find a way to win right now, but it’s not going to be easy. They’re going to need to game-plan every team to the Nth degree. They’re going to need to be honest about their strengths, as well as their weaknesses. They’re going to need to step up on every level of the offense.
This Ravens defense may not be good enough to win games completely by themselves in the modern NFL, but they are much too good for the offense to squander their hopes of a Super Bowl.