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Ravens week nine analysis: same questions remain after gritty win

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All conditions leading up to the Baltimore Ravens week nine matchup against the Indianapolis Colts pointed to a disappointing showing. It would have been understandable if the Ravens lost on Sunday.

Instead, they pull off perhaps their most impressive victory of the season, winning 24-10.

Image credit – USA Today
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How did they get there?

The team was coming off of an emotional loss against rival Pittsburgh Steelers in week eight. They squandered a 17-7 half time lead and the offense turned the ball over an inexcusable four times. On top of that, they lost All-Pro left tackle Ronnie Stanley to a season-ending broken ankle injury in that game.

Read Jack Mullins’ Ravens/Steelers Week 8 review here.

The next day, All-Pro cornerback Marlon Humphrey announced he tested positive for COVID-19, which put him on a minimum 10-day quarantine stint. Humphrey’s positive test was the first Raven’s player to test positive this season. It led to an extensive contact tracing procedure that put eight defensive players on the inactive/COVID list. These players had to be monitored for a minimum of five days, keeping them from practicing most of the week.

The Ravens could have gone into Sunday’s game allowing all of these factors to affect them. Instead, they found a way to deliver a convincing victory against a tough AFC opponent.

Image credit – The New York Times
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A tale of two halves

In the first half of Sunday’s game, those obstacles indeed looked to be too much for the Ravens to overcome.

The offense looked, to be completely honest, ugly. They managed a pathetic 80 yards of total offense. All five possessions ended in a Sam Koch punt. Additionally, it was the first time in the Lamar Jackson era where the offense was shut out in any half.

The defense played solidly in the first half, especially after the Colts’ second drive, going 60 yards and ended in a touchdown. The highlight of the half was a Chuck Clark fumble recovery for a touchdown that kept the game close, down only 10-7 at halftime.

But the offense was going nowhere and history was working against the Ravens. They had lost 20 straight games when trailing at halftime.

So what changed in the second half?

Offensive coordinator Greg Roman, to his credit, decided to play up-tempo. They ran more quick-passing plays to get wide receivers Willie Snead and Marquise Brown touches. This opened up the run game, which Roman never abandoned. Eventually, the offense was able to wear down the defense by the end of the game.

Jackson was a completely different quarterback in the second half. Extremely efficient, he went a perfect 10-10 on his passes. Running backs J.K. Dobbins and Gus Edwards ran through more open holes, which extended drives and kept Philip Rivers and the Colts offense off the field.

Arguably, head coach John Harbaugh’s decisions on two key plays in the second half were the deciding factors of the game.

The first play was on a successful challenge, when Harbaugh believed Marcus Peters intercepted a pass on a play that was initially called incomplete. The second play was on a gutsy call to go for it on 4th & 3 at the beginning of the fourth quarter. They converted it and scored a touchdown at the end of the drive, going up 21-10.

Same questions still remain

Image credit – The Associated Press
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At 6-2, the Ravens sit with an identical record through the first half of the season as they did in 2019. Still, the team is not meeting the lofty expectations they carried with them at the beginning of the season.

The offense still looks uneven and ineffective through good portions of every game. Jackson has only 1,513 passing yards through eight games, which ranks 27th among all quarterbacks in 2020. This puts him on pace for 3,026 passing yards by the end of the year. In 2019 he had 3,127 yards, but he played only 15 games. Even more concerning is that he only has 12 passing touchdowns so far this season. His 24 touchdown pace puts him well behind the 36 passing touchdowns he had in 2019.

Jackson is also about 300 rushing yards behind his record-setting pace from 2019. It seems that opposing defenses are starting to figure out how to better contain his running ability.

While some of his stats and accuracy concerns can rightly be blamed on Jackson, it may be Roman who the finger should be pointed at. There are legitimate questions whether or not Roman can tailor an effective passing scheme around Jackson’s talents.

Image Credit – Sporting News
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He is also being criticized for being too predictable as a play-caller. This criticism is not just coming from fans either. On Wednesday Jackson said on the Rich Eisen Show that he can hear defenses calling out their plays, which could explain why the offense has struggled mightily at times.

Lastly, it is not certain that Jackson has the same caliber of offensive weapons as other top quarterbacks like Patrick Mahomes and Kyler Murray. Brown, Mark Andrews, and Miles Boykin have all underperformed relative to expectations.

Does the Ravens offense have enough to take them to their ultimate goal, which is to win a Super Bowl?

The answer to this question still remains uncertain.

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