I spent most of last night and the better part of today trying to figure out what went wrong with Baltimore last night in its 12-7 deflating, unimpressive, embarrassing loss to the lowly Jacksonville Jaguars. The short answer is the offense. That’s obvious. Offensively, things couldn’t have gone much worse. No first downs for the first 40 minutes of the game. 40 MINUTES! An offense with Ray Rice, Anquan Boldin, emerging young tight ends Dennis Pitta and Ed Dickson, budding receiver Torrey Smith and Joe Flacco who can throw a football through a bank safe couldn’t gain 10 yards to get one first down. That is down right pathetic.
So let me start breaking down exactly how bad the loss was. First, it came on Monday night in front of a national television audience. There were talks before the game about the Ravens being the best team in the AFC. Not after last night. Second, the team that beat the Ravens is a team that has to tarp off 14 sections of its stadium seating with advertisments so it drops the stadium’s capacity down to around 67,000 so it’s easier to sell out games an avoid television blackouts. Third, the Jags had lost five straight games going into to last night’s game. Fourth, they had a rookie quarterback (Blaine Gabbert) starting. Everyone — and I mean everyone — figured the Ravens would easily win that game. Well, almost everyone. I’m sure all 23 Jacksonville fans had faith. Yes, it was bad.
Trust me, if you watched the game, you’ll know there’s plenty of blame to go around, so I’ll start at the top with John Harbaugh. He deserves some if not most of the blame on this one. It’s pretty much inexcusable to not have your team ready to play. The Ravens were not ready to play. It’s worse because the game was on ESPN. Harbaugh needed to realize that this could have been (and was) a trap game. The Jags had nothing really to play for. At 1-5, the season is pretty much over with, but there is still pride involved. Jacksonville played with plenty of pride last night. That team was fired up. They were ready for the Ravens and coach Jack Del Rio did a great job throughout the week of preparing his team to face Baltimore. Harbaugh did not. For the most part, the Ravens looked flat. There was no real emotion evoked when Baltimore made a play. Everyone was just going through the motions. I don’t care if its the Jags or the Packers you’re playing on Monday night. It’s Monday night! The Jags didn’t want to get embarrassed on national television. I was hoping Harbaugh would want his team to come out with their foot on the gas and blow this team away, but that just didn’t happen. Harbaugh needs to do a better job of preparing the team for a game following a good win. After the 35-7 romping of the Steelers, the Ravens were doubled up by Tennessee, 26-13. A three-game winning streak was capped off by a 29-14 win over Houston and was stopped dead in its tracks last night when Baltimore was held under 10 points. Unacceptable, Harbs.
Next up, Cam Cameron. I try to defend this guy as much as I can because I really do think he is a good offensive coordinator, but after last night’s train wreck, I offer no sympathy. I’m curious to see what was on his call sheet. Whatever it was simply didn’t work. Everything he tried was thwarted. I’m not sure if there were actual plays on his call sheet or he accidentally grabbed his grandson’s place mat off the kitchen table. The fact that all-world running back Ray Rice only touched the ball 13 times (8 runs, 5 receptions) is garbage. He needs to touch the ball at least 25 times in a game. 20 runs, five receptions should be the goal for Rice in every game. The offense is built around Rice. He can do it all, and doesn’t need a lot of space to work. Cameron has got to utilize him far more in future games than he did last night. Behind Rice is Ricky Williams who can still move and in front of both of them is Vonta Leach, who’s regarded as one of the best blocking fullbacks in the league. Between Rice and Williams was a grand total of 12 carries. The Ravens spent money to keep Marshall Yanda in purple. They went out and picked up Bryant McKinnie and Andre Gurode. Use them! No to mention Matt Birk and Michael Oher are up there, too, who are both pretty solid. The lack of carries hurt the offense. If Cameron wants to spread it out, then the system has to be changed. The Ravens aren’t a spread offense. Yes, they can spread the field, but for Baltimore it starts with the run, not the pass. Cameron needs to have a better gameplan that utilizes all of the team’s weapons, not just Flacco’s arm. Which reminds me …
I saw it and heard it last night and today about Flacco’s interception he threw late in the game. People were saying how Flacco will never be elite and can’t get the job done. I’ll say it right here that I believe in Flacco. I think he can get the job done. And this just isn’t because I’m a Ravens supporter. The guy can play. He can rifle the ball with the best of them. He just needs some help sometimes. The wide receivers were not getting open at all last night. Many times Flacco was standing in the pocket just waiting for someone to pop open but no one ever did. The Jags have a solid defense but I wouldn’t call their secondary stellar or anything. Most of the time, Jacksoville only brought four- or five-man pressure and had six or seven guys covering the receivers. The offensive line can only block so long and a lot of Flacco’s throws were throw aways or short check downs. He didn’t get much help at all. But, late in the game when he tried to make a play, his pass got picked off. I can’t fault the guy for trying to make a play. No plays had really been made all night and he was trying to shoulder the offense and march down the field. It backfired, but at least he tried to do something. The quarterback is the easiest person to blame after a loss like last night’s. It’s like a student blaming a teacher for a bad grade, they’re just the easiest to blame. Especially when the last play was an interception. But I have faith in Flacco and the offense for that matter. Last night just wasn’t a good night.
And I cannot stress enough how much I HATE talking about the officials in game. But when all three broadcasters disagree with the call, something has to be brought up. Benard Pollard laid out Deji Karim that caused an incomplete pass on third down on Jacksonville’s first drive of the second half. It was a textbook tackle. Pollard wrapped up and drove Karim to the ground. The official immediately threw the flag and penalized Pollard for unnecessary roughness, which gave the Jags a fresh set of downs that led to a field goal. Ron Jaworski, Mike Tirico and Jon Gruden all disagreed with the call. The reason the flag was thrown was due to helmet-to-helmet contact. The back of Pollard’s helmet hit the bottom of Karim’s facemask. That was the contact the referee saw. Prepostreous. There was no reason to throw that flag, but it happened. Sometimes you get the calls, sometimes you don’t. That’s football.
I have absolutely no gripes with the defense’s performance last night. Jacksonville got within a yard of Baltimore’s end zone, but forced a fumble and recovered it to save the touchdown. Aside from that, the defense played lights out. Heck, it got me 14 points in fantasy. The only reason Jacksonville got points on the board was Josh Scobee’s foot. He knocked in four 50-plus-yard field goals. I’m not sure the Jags played well enough to win, they just didn’t play bad enough to lose. Gabbert only completed nine passes for 93 yards and a 59.0 quarterback rating. Maurice Jones-Drew did run for over 100 yards but that came on 30 carries. Even at 5’7″ MJD can fall forward every time for three yards. He’s a fierce runner but, for the most part, the Ravens held him in check. The defense is playing at an incredibly high level but can’t be counted on to win every game. The offense has to do its job, which it didn’t do last night. Ray Lewis was extremely upset after the game and didn’t talk to the media, probably the best call. But it would be axiomatic of the offense to help the defense out a little after all these year’s of the defense pulling through.
If there is anyway whatsoever to remedy last night’s eyesore it’s this: there are 10 games left. 10 games to clean up the offense. 10 games to redeem what happened last night. Somewhere in that 10-game stretch, the Ravens are getting back No. 2 receiver Lee Evans, starting guard Ben Grubbs and nickle back Chris Carr. Not to mention a healthy Jimmy Smith, who played sparingly last night.
Behind Anquan Boldin is rookie Torrey Smith and undrafted rookie LaQuan Williams. Both from Maryland. It’s hard for a team to ask two rookie receivers come in and make an impact right away. Torrey did it in the St. Louis game, had a solid performance against Houston and made a big catch late in the game last night that led to a touchdown. The problem is those guys are rookies. The Ravens went out and got Evans for several reasons, one to be a deep threat, another was to be a much-needed veteran presence in the receiving corps. Once Evans gets back, I think the offense will really start to click. Torrey and Evans will probably alternate the No. 2 and No. 3 receiver spots with LaQuan getting some time, too. But once Flacco has a full compliment of receivers to work with, the Ravens will be even more dangerous. If the Ravens go three-wide, on first or second down, a linebacker or a safety will end up covering either Evans or Torrey. Good luck. Both those guys can cruise down the field and win a foot race with just about anyone. People keep forgetting the No. 2 receiver has been out since week 3 — and it’s a very important position. With the return of Evans comes a wide open playbook. It will be hard to cover those three receivers plus Rice plus Dickson or Pitta.
Defensively, once Carr and Jimmy Smith return fully, the secondary will have a nice problem. Lardarius Webb has played well. So has Cary Williams. Off the bench, Danny Gorrer has made some nice plays. But add the potential and natural ability of Jimmy along with the veteran presence of Carr and Baltimore’s secondary becomes even more scarier because the best ball-hawking safety ever, Ed Reed, still plays at a high level.
If anything last night was a wake-up call. The Ravens need to now understand after two dismal performances that they aren’t invincible and can be beaten by anyone in the NFL. Harbaugh needs to have the Ravens prepared for the remaining 10 games regardless of the opposing team’s record or the stadium he Ravens are playing in. Cam Cameron needs to have a better offensive game plan. He needs to utilize the vaunted skills Rice possesses and utilize them often. The defense doesn’t need to change a thing, it’s playing at an elite level and has stifled some of the league’s best so far.
Yes, last night’s game was probably top-five worst in Baltimore history. But it better have lighted a fire under the team. This week against Arizona is a must win. The following week against Pittsburgh: beyond must win. The Jacksonville loss is a minor set back in a long season. Having a couple losses in the regular season isn’t a bad thing. It keeps the team on its toes and makes them realize that unless they bring their ‘A’ game every week, they’ll fall flat on their face. Having three or four losses takes some the pressure off a team. But three or four losses is all the Ravens can afford this season. I just hope and pray there aren’t too many more games like last night’s. It’s too frustrating. I can’t take it, neither can my bank account or my liver for that matter. Jack gets expensive. Too many more close games and I’ll have to scale back to Evan Williams, which is worse than Baltimore’s offense was last night.