By Chris Schisler
1. John Harbaugh can frustrate like no other but he’s not the problem and shouldn’t be on the hot seat.
Rational thinking Baltimore Ravens fans can understand that John Harbaugh should be safe going into the next season of Baltimore Ravens football. In a game where the Baltimore Ravens had everything go wrong from the start, where their injury problems extended to their quarterback, and where the NFL officials helped their opponent out a lot, the Ravens almost won the game. The Ravens didn’t give up, showed resilience, and that Harbaugh had the train on the tracks.
Do the tracks lead to the playoffs? We’ll find out later. The thing is that the head coach hasn’t lost the team. The Ravens have an unprecedented amount of injuries and it’s starting to be too much. One thing is for sure, Harbaugh has done an admirable job with this beaten-up roster. The Ravens shouldn’t have eight wins. They shouldn’t have been able to give the Browns a scare down 24-6.
John Harbaugh is not mistake-proof. Because Harbaugh went for the two-point conversion at a questionable time, the Ravens needed one more possession than they would have needed. Harbaugh was being aggressive and not rational in that stretch. He’s not perfect. My question is this: What would this team be without him? I don’t want to know the answer to that question.
2. It’s troubling that Tyler Huntley looked better than Lamar Jackson in the past several weeks:
Is Tyler Huntley better than the 2019 NFL MVP? Absolutely not. The ceiling for Huntley is never going to be as high as it will be for Jackson, who is a truly generational talent. The floor for Jackson has been on display for the past handful of weeks and it’s relatively unbearable. Jackson is the quarterback of the now, and the quarterback of the future. There is no reality where Huntley replaces Jackson as the starter. That shouldn’t have to be explained, yet you know how the internet works, don’t you?
With that preface, we can get into the real conversation. Why did Tyler Huntley play better football than Jackson did in this game? If Jackson stayed in this game, it’s hard to see this comeback happening, and that’s hard to type into the keyboard. The difference is that Huntley was distributing the football and making quick decisions. Whether they were the right call or not, Huntley wasn’t hesitant and the offense stayed mostly on schedule. This highlighted the problems that Jackson is having. That’s something to be aware of moving forward.
3. The officials were unbelievably bad, especially with pass interference:
In the first half, the Baltimore Ravens were playing so poorly that it almost didn’t matter how bad the refs had been. Now that we almost saw the comeback nobody saw coming, let’s look into the refs. The Ravens were flagged 10 times for 125 yards, while the Browns only had four penalties. Early in the game, it seemed like the Ravens couldn’t have a play without a defensive pass interference call. Late in the game, Huntley missed Marquise Brown deep down the field, and the Browns more than probably got away with pass interference on the play.
Pass interference is always questionable. The NFL has made it complicated and reasonable fans just want it to be called consistently and as fairly as possible. The NFL officials have a built-in leeway on these calls, but several of them question the intelligence of the players, coaches, and the viewing audience. When Chris Westry got penalized for interference on a play where he played the ball and was in textbook perfect position, and the calls kept coming just like it, the integrity of the game was affected.
4. This offensive line is bad:
The offensive line is bad. Last week, there had to be a clear focus in my writing that the quarterback wasn’t immune from criticism. This game doesn’t allow me to cover anybody from the smear of blame. The offensive line was horrible. Alejandro Villanueva and Tyre Phillips struggled in a big way. Tyre Phillips should never be the plan at right tackle; I can’t watch it anymore. This offensive line is in a situation where nobody expected them to be good, but it’s still bad.
5. Opening up the offense isn’t a bad idea:
The Ravens didn’t have Nick Boyle or Patrick Ricard in this game. They had a bad offensive line. It forced the Ravens to spread out the offense and rely more heavily on their wide receivers and Mark Andrews. Mark Andrews, by the way, has an inspiring amount of heart and continues to be my favorite player not named Jackson. Opening up the offense was effective.
Huntley had 270 yards in the air and 45 on the ground. Ironically it felt almost like having Lamar back in stride. Rashod Bateman won his matchup in this game and had 103 yards. Seven different players caught a pass and Devonta Freeman still got 64 rushing yards as the main running back. The offense didn’t play in a box, and the ball moved more freely around the field.
6. The Baltimore Ravens defense deserves a lot of praise:
Anthony Averett came away with a huge interception that got the Ravens their first points. It stopped the bleeding and prevented this game from getting too out of hand in the second quarter. This was cracking the door open for a comeback attempt (at the time a comeback seemed like a distant dream). The Browns scored all 24 of their points in the first half. Did Don Martindale just have his guys pitch a second-half shutout? You bet your butt he did.
In a game, the Browns led wire to wire, Cleveland only managed an even 100 rushing yards. The Ravens were playing catch-up and still ran for more yards than the Browns. Nick Chubb had 17 carries and only picked up 3.6 yards a pop. The Ravens’ front seven did some serious work in this game.
7. How was this game close?
I still don’t really understand this. Cleveland had to be very generous hosts for this game to be close. They were up 24-6. They wasted a lot of chances. Cleveland won the time-of-possession battle, yet its not like we can reward them for chewing up big chunks of game clock. The Ravens shouldn’t have been allowed to get back into this game. It says as much about Baltimore’s resilience as it does Cleveland’s proficiency.
The Ravens were playing without Lamar Jackson for most of the game. Jimmy Smith didn’t play the week after Marlon Humphrey was lost for the year. The defense did okay, all things considered. Nick Boyle and Pat Ricard were out on offense. Patrick Mekari was out at the right tackle spot. This was an even more banged-up Ravens team than usual, after a heartbreaking loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers. The Browns had a bye week before this game. That may have been the advantage that won them the game. One thing is for sure, you can’t make this up. The Browns have issues. The Ravens may not win another game (It’s a dark and conceivable thought) but the Browns should take no solace here. They have issues that will come back to bite them.
8. Mark Andrews should just live in the slot:
According to a tweet by sideline reporter, Aditi Kinkhabwala, Mark Andrews was lined up in the slot 10 times, targeted 10 times, and caught all 10 passes. I’m half-joking here, but why line up Andrews anywhere else? This has been his most impactful spot all season. Andrews has 75 receptions for 926 yards and he’s done a bit of everything for this offense. Tight ends have to block, especially without Nick Boyle. You want to show different looks and all that good stuff. One thing is for sure, the Browns couldn’t stop Andrews when he lined up in the slot. I’m not sure many teams can.
9. The Baltimore Ravens know how to hurt us the most, don’t they?
Most Ravens fans were probably ambivalent at the halftime intermission. If ever there was a game where you laughed not to cry and made a couple of extra drinks it was this one. The first half was about as fun as waiting in line at the MVA or sitting in traffic for an hour because there was an accident up ahead. It was what it was and fans just had to sit there and make the best of it. Then the Ravens came back and got hopes up.
The Ravens get the onside kick. Then a two-yard pass on fourth and six falls to the ground. Then the heartbreak is worse than watching the first half. Ravens fans, I know. This one stunk. The Ravens are competitive no matter what, getting steamrolled may have been easier to digest. It sounds silly, but the emotions of this game were universally felt among the Ravens Flock. Being a sports fan is signing up for punishment and the Ravens can take this to extremes, can’t they?
10. Young bright spots are what you have to cling on to:
The obvious example of a young bright spot is Rashod Batemen. He was incredible in this game. His explosive and tough style of play is working. We knew the Ravens needed to get him the ball more and this game just confirmed it. Let’s talk about some other guys though.
In the secondary, Brandon Stephens is going to have a long and illustrious career with the Ravens. Stephens played really well in this game. The Ravens were absolutely needy at cornerback and he was on the field almost the entire game for this defense. He had six tackles in this game and his quick and fluid skillset shined in coverage. Chris Westry was really sharp at cornerback as well. Westry was an undrafted free agent that made the roster. Stephens was a third-round pick nobody saw coming. Ravens fans, on a day where everything is bumming you out, enjoy this.
11. Where is the Baltimore Ravens- Cleveland Browns rivalry?
The Ravens split the season series with the Browns, so where is the rivalry? The Browns can’t be too happy with the power dynamic. This should have been an easy win. In the back of Kevin Stefanski’s head is that the Ravens took his team to the brink even when everything stacked against them. The Ravens have won four of the last six games against the Browns. It will be interesting to see what happens next time.
If the Browns beat the doors of the Ravens, the way it looked they would, we’d have to talk about the status of this rivalry. For the moment, the Ravens don’t fear the Browns. The Ravens wish they had another crack at Cleveland. The Browns are glad they’re done with the Ravens on their regular-season schedule, whether they admit it or not.
12. The Browns had a great game plan:
The Browns were incredibly prepared for this game. They throttled the Ravens’ offense at the start of the game. They knew exactly where to attack the Ravens defensively. Kevin Stefanski and his staff had more answers than John Harbaugh’s crew did. This allowed the Browns to get ahead from the start. While I think the Browns overthought the second half to their detriment, they had all the right concepts prepared for this game. You have to credit the Browns on that. They learned lessons from the last game and unleashed on Baltimore at the start of this game.
13. Hosting Green Bay could be another brutal Sunday:
The Green Bay Packers dropped 45 points on the Chicago Bears last night. Aaron Rodgers went 29 of 37 passing for 341 yards and four touchdowns. Devante Adams had 10 receptions for 121 yards and two touchdowns. The Ravens defense is hurt most in the secondary, hasn’t had a great pass rush, and might be playing without the help of Lamar Jackson on offense. Hope for the best Baltimore. Still… brace yourself.
Thank you for reading my long-form thoughts. There is a lot to process here.