The Baltimore Ravens play against the Pittsburgh Steelers on Sunday night. The original game on Thanksgiving has been moved to Sunday thanks to COVID-19 related matters.
Quarterback Lamar Jackson was named MVP last season and the Ravens were seen as a sure thing to reach the playoffs and the AFC Championship game.
However, the Ravens have lost three of their last four games. If the playoffs were to start tomorrow, the Ravens would miss out altogether. So what has gone wrong for the Baltimore Ravens? Could they miss out on the postseason completely?
Not many would have predicted the way this season has gone so far for the Baltimore Ravens. Colin Cowherd even predicted a 16-0 season.
The season has not quite gone to plan and the Pittsburgh Steelers, their AFC North division rivals, are currently 10-0. A loss to Pittsburgh tomorrow would all but win the division for the Steelers, especially with the tiebreaker going in Pittsburgh’s favour. In reality, even if Baltimore win, the AFC North is very much still likely to be won by Mike Tomlin’s team.
Lamar Jackson’s Dip In Form
Lamar Jackson was the unanimous MVP after an excellent 2019 season. Jackson threw for 36 touchdowns, 6 interceptions and 3,127 passing yards last season as well as running for 1,206 rushing yards and 7 rushing touchdowns.
So far this season, he has thrown for as many interceptions as he did during the whole of last season (6). He has thrown for 1,948 passing touchdowns and 15 touchdowns. It would take an end of a season like no other for Jackson to reach the same numbers as last season.
Jackson has certainly seen a dip in form, but this cannot all be blamed on Jackson. Teams have found a way to get to Lamar and the coaching staff led by head coach John Harbaugh need to take some blame for not adjusting the game plan.
Harbaugh must have expected teams to target Lamar. We all thought Patrick Mahomes broke the Madden curse after winning the Super Bowl last season. Is the Madden curse back?
Teams know that if can stop the run and keep the coverage tight, this will force Lamar to throw the ball. Jackson has been unable to make those deep balls, which is partly down to the sophomore slump of Marquise “Hollywood” Brown.
Marquise Brown’s Sophomore Slump
The wideout and cousin of Antonio, had an excellent rookie year. Brown caught for 584 yards and 7 touchdowns last season whereas this season, he has only caught two touchdowns whilst recording 431 yards.
Crucially, his longest play last season was 83 yards. Meanwhile, this season, his longest play has been 47 yards. There has not been that deep threat for Jackson to throw to.
What Should John Harbaugh Do?
Harbaugh needs to consider finding an elite weapon for Lamar to throw to. Whilst Lamar has had a poor year by his standards, he hasn’t had that one true number one receiver. We have seen Josh Allen have his best season in 2020 after the addition of former Minnesota Viking Stefon Diggs.
We have also seen Arizona Cardinals quarterback Kyler Murray improve after the Cardinals traded with the Houston Texans for Deandre Hopkins. Murray only needs one more touchdown to equal the amount he recorded in the whole of last season.
This is what Lamar needs. The Ravens acquired free agent Dez Bryant but the former Dallas Cowboys wide receiver has been out of the league. Last weekend saw Bryant record his first NFL catch since the 2017 season.
Tight end Mark Andrews leads the team in receptions and receiving yards, which says as much about the trust Lamar and Harbaugh have in the receivers as it does in the productivity of the Baltimore wideouts.
Running Back Issues
There is a saying in the NFL that a running game is a quarterback’s best friend, which has not been there for the Ravens this season. In the 2019 regular season, Lamar Jackson ran for 1,206 yards and seven touchdowns, leading the team in rushing.
This season, Jackson also leads the team in rushing but the numbers are not the same, with just three touchdowns and 575 rushing yards. Mark Ingram also managed over 1,000 yards in the 2019 regular season, with ten touchdowns. Ingram has managed just 232 rushing yards and two touchdowns so far this season.
Rookie J.K. Dobbins has had more carries and yards than Ingram but has only managed 380 rushing yards and three touchdowns.
Defensively, Baltimore have still been effective, especially against the pass. The Ravens have remained one of the top teams for stopping the pass, with 217 passing yards allowed per game and 2,170 total passing yards allowed. Run defense hasnt been quite as good, with 1,160 total rushing yards allowed and 116 rushing yards per game allowed.
Conclusion On The Baltimore Ravens
Baltimore have certainly not had the season we all expected. All is not lost for the Ravens. The Steelers, Dallas Cowboys and Cleveland Browns await the Ravens in their next three games. The Jacksonville Jaguars, New York Giants and Cincinnati Bengals face Baltimore to conclude the 2020 season.
There are some winnable games here. The record of Baltimore’s remaining opponents is 26-33-1. The AFC North is all but won for Pittsburgh, who can seal the division this week.
They are in poor form but I feel that they will get the wins needed to make the playoffs. There are four games left where the Ravens are the clear favourites. The Browns and Steelers represent much tougher fixtures but a ten-win team reaches the postseason most years. I am backing Baltimore to make the playoffs as the sixth seed.