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AFC North

“Total breakdown”: What’s wrong with the Ravens?

“Total breakdown”: What’s wrong with the Ravens?
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Actually, the title’s a little disingenuous – we know what’s wrong with the Ravens. They’re simply not a good football team, and after yesterday’s dismantling at the hands of the resurgent Cleveland Browns, the Ravens have nowhere else to look for explanations except inward, and what they’re seeing is undoubtedly ugly. For those of us in attendance, it certainly was.

Let’s start with the aftermath of last week’s loss in Kansas City, which featured a bizarre offensive gameplan with no intended punts, two-point attempts after every touchdown and mostly zone coverage on defense. Since most of those options backfired in a much-less-close-than-it-appeared 33-28 loss, Ravens head coach John Harbaugh responded to queries about what had happened in churlish, defensive fashion, as though it was ridiculous for his designs to ever be scrutinized. “We’re going to keep playing that way just for the record. When you write your article, just understand that we’ll disagree with your criticism. We’re going after it. That’s the way we’re going to play all year.”

Okay, John.

Fast-forward a few days, and an equally-hostile Harbaugh can be found “explaining” a few more things to the media, this time regarding the injury status of starting tight end Mark Andrews: “I know everybody is dying to know what it is, but you know I’m not going to share it with you. There’s no reason to; sorry.”

Couple this braced attitude with truly odd in-game decisions and play calls, and one gets an image of a man desperate to keep his job and one that will try anything from a football perspective, regardless of the chances of success, to take an advantage.

Hey John? Here’s some unsolicited advice. Regardless of what you think of the media, keep in mind that the media is generally the only conduit a team has to its fanbase. By belittling and talking down to the local media, you’re essentially doing the same to your fans as well. Tread lightly, unless you really feel your time is at an end in Baltimore.

Yesterday, the Ravens reverted to a more traditional offensive game plan by employing an adequate run-pass mix; to be fair, they moved the ball somewhat effectively and took advantage of a few of the opportunities a transitional Browns defense allowed, such as a remarkably easy Miles Boykin TD pass in the first quarter. The game appeared relatively even through halftime until the Ravens defense suffered a series of letdowns, all of which seemed to occur after running back Mark Ingram II’s costly fumble in the third quarter on what would’ve been a game-tying drive. The Ravens never recovered offensively while the defense allowed the Browns to total 40 points, and given Cleveland’s own miscommunication of offense, it should’ve been far more.

Before we proceed, let’s remind readers that the Ravens’ offense squandered several chances to score with dropped passes (Andrews), poor positioning (WR Chris Moore) and turnovers (Ingram and QB Lamar Jackson). For all of its accolades and hopes for the future, it was not good enough against the Browns, who employed a relatively basic defensive scheme; stocking the middle and deep areas of the field with defenders to force Jackson to throw short and outside, where he’s statistically far less effective. The Ravens simply couldn’t overcome this scenario, and the untimely mistakes certainly didn’t help.

The defense has, well, no defense.

Pundits will point to the absence of jumbo DE/DT Brandon Williams as a contributing factor, and while it certainly opened up many running lanes for Browns RB Nick Chubb (20 carries, 165 yards, 3 TDs), Williams doesn’t play in the secondary, which responded to a poor showing in Kansas City (374 yards allowed) with an equally poor showing yesterday (342 yards allowed).

On one memorable play before halftime, Browns WR Jarvis Landry received a relatively short pass and was hit by three defenders almost simultaneously. All three neglected to wrap their arms around Landry and simply bounced off of him, allowing him to gain an additional 65 yards and nearly score before losing his balance. He was untouched by defenders after the initial contact.

Each time the Ravens drew somewhat close, a defensive breakdown would almost immediately allow the Browns to retake the lead and further demoralize the Ravens. Witness Chubb’s 88-yard run from scrimmage – the most yards given up on a single rushing play in Ravens history – which came at a point in the game where the Ravens actually looked like they might have a strategy to steal the game somehow.

So, in sum, the Ravens have a grumpy and now (in his own mind) embattled head coach, a broken, reeling defense that seems more comfortable blaming each other for their collective shortcomings, and a young, adversity-challenged offense that’s walking a tightrope between innovation and utter, mocking failure.

That’s not a recipe for winning football games. Or anything else, for that matter.

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