In Defeat, Baltimore Ravens 2021 Blueprint to Improve is Unchanged

Ravens 2021

The Baltimore Ravens saw their season come to a close Saturday night with their 17-3 NFL Divisional Round loss to the Buffalo Bills. Plagued by drops, penalties, turnovers, and perhaps biggest of all, losing Lamar Jackson with 0:05 left in the third quarter, the Ravens had a number of their season-long shortcomings rise to the top at the worst time. Jackson and company rushed for just 150 yards — their lowest total on the ground since their last loss, Week 12 to the Pittsburgh Steelers. The Ravens have some issues to fix entering 2021.

The Ravens failed to find their footing all night but their biggest mistakes were not uncommon occurrences during the season. Baltimore struggled in a number of areas all season and many came to the forefront in their final game of the 2020 playoffs. Pass protection, passing the football and putting pressure on Bills quarterback Josh Allen were some of the biggest issues.

However, in defeat, the Ravens path to improve this off-season is clearly laid out. General manager Eric DeCosta’s team was flawed in a number of ways, but knowing where they need to improve is a big advantage going forward. The Ravens had a successful season in 2020 and could be a lot better in 2021 if they improve in just a few key areas.

In Defeat, Ravens 2021 Blueprint to Improve is Unchanged

Discipline

The Ravens took eight penalties against the Bills Saturday night. They averaged 6.5 penalties per game throughout the regular season and playoffs, and ended the year with the worst penalty differential in the NFL. Only the Jacksonville Jaguars and New Orleans Saints averaged more penalty yards per game than the Ravens. Head coach John Harbaugh’s team averaged 60 penalty yards per game and had another 59 yards worth of infractions against the Bills. The Ravens offense took a total of 52 offensive penalties and a total of 49 defensive penalties in 2020.

Baltimore averaged the most penalty yards in a single season  in which they made the playoffs since 2012. The difference between their 2012 Super Bowl-winning season and 2020 was that the Ravens fixed their penalty issues in the playoffs in 2012. Baltimore averaged six penalties a game for 52 yards in their four-game run to Super Bowl 47 supremacy — including just seven infractions in the AFC Championship Game and Super Bowl together. They averaged 59.5 penalty yards per game in 2020.

A lack of training camps and preseason likely contributed to the Ravens inability to iron out the kinks in their team. Baltimore lost 109 yards (fifth-most) to false starts and illegal formation penalties and 261 yards (third-most) to defensive pass interference calls in 2020. The secondary and offensive line were arguably the two biggest strengths of the Ravens in 2019 and both stumbled for times throughout the seasons. 2021 will be a chance to reset and fix their penalty woes from last season

Offensive Line Improvements

The clearest advantage the Bills held over the Ravens on Saturday was their pass blocking. Buffalo finished ranked fourth in ESPN’s pass block win rate while giving up just 26 sacks the entire year. Only seven other quarterbacks that played 12 or more games were sacked fewer times than Allen. The Bills almost ignorantly threw the ball 37 times on 55 total plays and the Ravens barely got a hand on Allen outside of a sack-fumble by Matt Judon that the Ravens failed to recover. Baltimore’s three quarterback hits were tied for their third-fewest in a single game this season.

The Bills on the other hand got to Jackson early and often. Jackson was pressured on 55 percent of his dropbacks while being sacked three times. He and Tyler Huntley took a combined eight quarterback hits. The offensive line’s poor day in pass protection was perhaps best exemplified when center Patrick Mekari sent an errant snap over the head of Jackson resulting in a scramble and hit that left the quarterback concussed.

Sorting out the offensive line and getting left tackle Ronnie Stanley and tight end Nick Boyle back from injury will likely help steady the offensive line. The Ravens had nine different offensive lineman play 100 or more snaps in 2020. Neither Mekari nor Matt Skura was able to firmly hold down the starting center job and D.J. Fluker saw his snap counts fluctuate all season due to the lack of confidence the coaching staff had in him.

Baltimore finished the regular season as Pro Football Focus’s 16th ranked offensive line. They improved marginally as the season progressed but could be one of the position groups that is most worked on during the 2021 off-season.

Lack of Balance in the Offense

The Ravens offense scored a season-low three points against the Bills. It was the fewest points scored in a game Jackson has started in his entire career. His previous lowest total came against the Tennessee Titans in last year’s divisional playoff round when the Ravens scored just 12 points.

Baltimore’s offense was perhaps more stagnant as the box score would suggest.  The Ravens piled up 340 yards of total offense but their once-potent rushing attack dried up. Gus Edwards and the Ravens offense rushed for 45 yards on their first possession of the game en route to 150 yards on the day. To most teams, 150 is a great day but the Ravens averaged 191.9 rushing yards per game during the regular season. Baltimore averaged just 4.7 yards per carry against the Bills after averaging 5.5 in the regular season.

While the rushing offense struggled, the passing game did not pick it up. Jackson and Huntley combined for 222 passing yards but went 0-2 on fourth down with a Jackson pick-six in the red zone. The Ravens offense has had problems balancing the run and the pass all year but it hasn’t caught up to them until their AFC Divisional matchup.

Past and present members of the Ravens family have spoken out about having to find a better pass/run balance within offensive coordinator Greg Roman’s offense. Former Ravens wide receiver Steve Smith spoke out, calling the Ravens route combinations “very elementary school, very cracker jack-like, very easy to defend.” Per Jamison Hensley, Marquise Brown was quoted saying “Whenever you’re the No. 1 rushing [offense] and the 30-something passing, that’s not right. That’s not balance. We have to find a way to balance our game.” following the Saturday night loss.

Drops

Off-season duty number one for DeCosta may be to find Jackson another viable pass catcher. Baltimore finished 2020 with the least passing yards in the NFL but it wasn’t because of one factor. The Ravens drop percentage jumped from 3.3 percent in 2019 to 5.3 percent in 2020.

Drops once again showed up against the Bills as J.K. Dobbins had two crucial drops throughout the game. The first one came on the Ravens second drive of the game on 3rd and 5 from the Ravens own 15-yard line. The second came on a 3rd and 10 deep in Buffalo territory. Huntley hit Dobbins square in the chest but Dobbins dropped the potential walk-in touchdown with just 2:46 remaining in the game.

Dobbins is not the only culprit on the Ravens to have a game ruined by drops. Mark Andrews tied a career-high with three drops and a fumble against the Kansas City Chiefs Week 3 — one of which he was wide open for in the end zone. Marquise Brown had two multi-drop games and six total drops after having totaled just two all of 2019.

The trio of Andrews, Brown, and Dobbins could potentially lead the Ravens one-through-three in targets next year but DeCosta will likely be looking to add another pair of viable hands to the offense this off-season. Baltimore is a run-centric team but they also need a larger quantity of reliable receivers in the future.

To Conclude the Season

The Bills held the Ravens to their lowest point total of the season and shined a light on the flaws that Baltimore has had all season. However, DeCosta now has a clear blueprint of what to fix during the offseason. Baltimore will likely throw a lot of stock into fixing the interior of the offensive line, finding some more weapons for Lamar Jackson, and, potentially, finding a way for Roman to diversify his offense.

The Ravens got Jackson his first playoff win and overall, the season was a success. Multiple members of Baltimore’s core are still in the midst of their rookie contracts and can take a lot of valuable lessons from this past year. Harbaugh and DeCosta’s team is headed in the right direction, they just need a bit more fine-tuning before being a front-runner for the Super Bowl.

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