The Baltimore Ravens are dynamic on both sides of the ball, but their loss to the Buffalo Bills highlighted some major flaws in their design.
The conversation will be about John Harbaugh’s decision on 4th and Goal. That’s missing the point.
Harbaugh believed his quarterback could get the six feet and give the Baltimore Ravens a touchdown lead over the high-powered Buffalo Bills. The Ravens went spread, Lamar Jackson scrambled and ultimately threw a desperation interception.
Again, the discussion about Harbaugh believing in analytics is a side story.
The real problem is Baltimore’s complete reliance on Jackson to win games.
Going into the week, I examined Jackson’s workload. He entered Week 4 accounting for a league-high 84.8 percent of his team’s total yardage.
On Sunday, the Ravens gained 296 total yards. Jackson accounted for 217 of them, giving him a more traditional 73.3 percent. The problem? Baltimore scored a season-low 20 points, including zero in the second half. And furthermore, 10 of those points came on Buffalo turnovers in its own territory.
In the first half, Baltimore notched 139 offensive yards. Jackson was responsible for 120, or 86.3 percent. Then, in their scoreless second half, the Ravens totaled 129 yards. Jackson accumulated 83 of them, a minuscule 64.3 percent.
Without Jackson doing everything, Baltimore struggles to move the ball, let alone score.
Despite Jackson’s tremendous dual-threat abilities, this is a problem for the Ravens. Jackson can’t be great every play, and every drive, when surrounded by suspect receivers and an average offensive line. This, compounded by a defense ranked near or at the bottom of many categories, is forcing Jackson to play perfectly.
Nobody does that without eventually pressing and making mistakes.
Now, back to the 4th and Goal at Buffalo’s 2-yard line, with the game tied 20-20 and only 4:15 remaining in regulation.
Instead of taking a 20-yard field goal from the greatest kicker to ever live, Harbaugh felt compelled to go for a touchdown. Why? Because the defense has been awful and had already allowed 17 second-half points against the water-logged Bills.
Harbaugh understood a field goal was likely akin to punting the ball through the end zone because he had little evidence to think Josh Allen wasn’t going to drive Buffalo down the field — which he ultimately did despite horrific field position.
The national discourse always, eventually, centers on the quarterback. With Jackson notably playing out the final year of his contract, everything he does — and the Ravens do as a byproduct, good and bad — will be over-scrutinized.
Currently, Baltimore is putting Jackson in a position to amass an incredible stat line, but ultimately lose games against quality teams. Therefore, Jackson will be criticized because while he dazzles, the Ravens once again are a second-class team in a conference boasting more well-rounded rosters.
The blueprint is hard to follow for most, but clear on Baltimore. Do whatever is necessary to make any player besides Jackson win for the Ravens.
If that happens, Baltimore, and Jackson, are going home losers.
NFL Power rankings
Top 10 worst uniforms in Super Bowl era
1. Seattle Seahawks — Neon Green alternates
2. Washington Commanders — All black alternates
3. Denver Broncos — 1960’s vertical striped socks
4. Buffalo Bills — Drew Bledsoe era
5. Jacksonville Jaguars — All-mustard alternates
6. Baltimore Ravens — Gold pants, purple tops
7. Cleveland Browns — Johnny Manziel era
8. Cincinnati Bengals — Andy Dalton era
9. Minnesota Vikings — Jared Allen era
10. Arizona Cardinals — All-black alternates
“I can’t say enough about how his play. What it has possibly done for this team this season to give us a chance to sit here after these last three ball games and maybe have the opportunity we’ve got for the rest of the year. It’s amazing. It’s far more than what I would’ve expected.”
– Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones on the surprising play of quarterback Cooper Rush
When Dak Prescott was injured in Week 1, many — including yours truly — figured the Cowboys were toast. Instead, they’re now 3-1 and a game back of the unbeaten Philadelphia Eagles in the NFC East, reeling off three straight wins behind Rush.
Rush hasn’t been prolific, but he’s avoiding the mistakes backups so often make. Dallas is playing terrific defense, offering a few explosive plays on offense and avoiding turnovers.
With Prescott coming back in the next week or two, Dallas appears well-positioned to make a run toward the postseason.
The Carolina Panthers are 1-26 under head coach Matt Rhule when allowing at least 17 points. Considering Rhule came to the NFL as an offensive guru, that’s a staggering statistic.
Info learned this week
1. Tua Tagovailoa concussion leads to major problem for NFL, Dolphins
Thursday night won’t be remembered for the Bengals beating the Miami Dolphins. It’ll be remembered for the horrifying moment in the second quarter when Tua Tagovailoa was slammed down and went into a fencing posture before being backboarded off the field and taken to a local hospital.
Of course, the national outrage isn’t about a singular concussion, but the entire saga. The Sunday prior, the Dolphins initially termed Tagovailoa with a head injury after being hit by Bills linebacker Matt Milano. However, Miami then reversed course despite ugly visual evidence, stating Tagovailoa had ankle and back injuries, but nothing above the neck.
Now, after Thursday’s clear concussion, the NFLPA and NFL are investigating the Dolphins, and the independent neurotrauma consultant whose job it was to examine Tagovailoa has been fired.
This story is far from over. The NFL doesn’t have a sterling reputation for investigating head injuries, and the NFLPA isn’t trusted by many of its own members.
Still, the situation demands a complete understanding of whether Tagovailoa was incorrectly allowed to play on Thursday. If he was, the guilty parties should be hammered with penalties, including termination.
2. Chiefs offense sizzles in stunning way against Bucs’ defense
The Kansas City Chiefs running the ball? In this economy? Shockingly, yes.
On Sunday night, the Chiefs left an ugly performance last week behind them to dominate the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, winning 41-31 on Sunday Night Football. Scoring 41 points was surprising enough against a defense that through three weeks allowed a total of 27. However, it was the 189 rushing yards on 5.1 yards per carry that left the biggest impression.
Kansas City has an excellent offensive line led by a nasty interior of guards Joe Thuney and Trey Smith, and center Creed Humphrey. Yet it’s been a struggle to bully strong fronts over the years under head coach Andy Reid. Against Tampa Bay, the Chiefs ran the ball with their running backs for at least five yards on 16 occasions.
If the Chiefs can marry a quality run game with Patrick Mahomes and a burgeoning defense, they’ll be the best version we’ve seen yet.
Now, they must prove this isn’t a one-off and stick to balance.
3. Eagles remain lone undefeated team while Trevor Lawrence struggles
The Eagles faced their first bit of adversity. They fell behind 14-0. Then they rolled.
After trailing by two touchdowns early, the Eagles got busy against the Jacksonville Jaguars, outscoring the visitors 29-7 the rest of the way, benefitting from five Trevor Lawrence turnovers, including four fumbles. Lawrence has been much-improved this year, but the Eagles held him to 11-of-23 passing for 174 yards. Offensively, Philadelphia ran for 210 yards and four touchdowns.
Looking forward, the Eagles are in a great spot. The NFC East is surprisingly competitive with the Giants and Cowboys each sitting at 3-1, but Philadelphia doesn’t play another team with a winning record until Week 12, save for their Oct. 16 clash with Dallas at The Linc.
Most importantly, the Eagles are winning in myriad ways. Last week, the defense created nine sacks against Washington. This week, it was turnovers. The two games before that, Jalen Hurts put on a clinic and the offense could do no wrong.
Philadelphia isn’t winning with one avenue. It’s taking a bevy of roads to success.
4. Raiders keep season alive while Broncos sustain concerning injuries
Last week, I wrote about the Las Vegas Raiders needing to win their upcoming games against the Broncos and Chiefs. Halfway home.
In a 32-23 win over Denver, the league’s most unbalanced offense found its running game. Josh Jacobs ran for 144 yards and two scores, while the Raiders tallied 214 yards on 5.9 YPC in total. Derek Carr only threw for 5.5 yards per attempt, but it was plenty to notch their first win of the season while dealing Denver a divisional loss.
For the Broncos, it was a tough day in multiple ways. Running back Javontae Williams and edge rusher Randy Gregory were both carted off the sideline with knee injuries, with evaluations to come. The defense, which had been the calling card early in the season, allowed 25 points and 385 total yards, along with the aforementioned rushing yardage.
Ultimately, Denver is 2-2 playing against four teams at .500 or worse. Russell Wilson played his best game on Sunday, but the offense has still struggled as a whole. Now, the Broncos play the Colts at home on Thursday night. If they lose, it’s time to full-blown panic in Denver.
5. Rams-49ers key divisional battle, chance for L.A. to roll
If the San Francisco 49ers want to win the NFC West, they better beat the Los Angeles Rams on Monday night.
At 1-2, the Niners have an opportunity ahead. With a victory, San Francisco is tied atop the NFC West and has wins over the Rams and Seahawks. With a loss, the Niners are suddenly two games behind Los Angeles with a loss at home against Matthew Stafford and Co.
As for the Rams, it’s equally important for the aforementioned reasons. Additionally, though, Los Angeles has a tough schedule ahead with tilts against the Cowboys, Buccaneers and 49ers over the next four weeks. A loss here, and it could be a struggle to stay above .500 as the season hurdles towards Thanksgiving.
Whoever wins will feel it’s in a great position to make a move in the West. Whoever loses will feel the hurt.
The Pittsburgh Steelers gave Kenny Pickett the job on Sunday. It didn’t help.
Behind a leaky offensive line with questionable play-calling, the combination of Mitch Trubisky and Pickett went 17-of-26 for 178 yards and four interceptions, with three belonging to the rookie. It was a hideous afternoon punctuated by a controversial game-winning Breece Hall touchdown, giving the New York Jets a 24-20 win at Pittsburgh.
Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin has never endured a losing season, but he’s about to. Pittsburgh is 1-3 and the next four games come against the Bills, Buccaneers, Dolphins and Eagles, with only Tampa Bay at home. There’s a very real chance the Steelers are 1-7 when they welcome the New Orleans Saints to Acrisure Stadium on Nov. 13.
It’s only four weeks into the season, but for Pittsburgh, this campaign is now about Pickett’s development. Anything other than that could be very depressing for a fanbase used to playing meaningful December football.
Inside the league
Last week, the Chiefs donated a win to the Indianapolis Colts. This Sunday, Frank Reich’s team found itself losing another divisional game, this time by a 24-21 count to the Tennessee Titans.
Indianapolis has been awful, with quarterback Matt Ryan fumbling 10 times this season, including four that were lost against Tennessee. Jonathan Taylor, last year’s rushing champ, has carried 50 times for 167 yards over the past three weeks, totaling a measly 3.3 yards per carry.
At some point, when do general manager Chris Ballard and Reich feel some heat?
Both Ballard and Reich are well-respected in the league. Each is seen as a quality hire who, if fired, would quickly find work. And yet the question is fair if the Colts take a full-blown nosedive this year.
Indy has the highest-paid offensive line in football, and Taylor can’t get loose. Ryan has also been under duress, being sacked 13 times over the last three weeks. Even when well-protected, Ryan has been below-average.
This offseason, the Colts had cap space. They could have added a few receiving weapons. Instead, Ballard drafted receiver Alec Pierce and tight end Alex Ogletree. Pierce has seven catches for 141 yards, while Ogletree is on Injured Reserve.
Reich and Ballard have been tasked with plenty following the surprise retirement of Andrew Luck in the summer of 2019.
That said, the NFL is a demanding league, and the Colts aren’t answering the call.
BetSided’s best bet
Falcons +8.5 at Bucs
Don’t look now, but the Atlanta damn Falcons are atop the NFC South division with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in first place with a showdown in Tampa next Sunday.
Atlanta remains perfect against the spread this season at 4-0, and should be 3-1 on the season rather than 2-2. They also shouldn’t be afraid of facing up against a Bucs’ defense that showed their vulnerabilities in prime time for the rest of the league to see.
The Bucs will almost assuredly win next week, but 8.5-points is a whole lot to cover in a divisional game, and with the Falcons all of a sudden continuing to hang around and showcase some very impressive offensive football, I fully expect this line to keep moving towards the Dirty Birds.
— Ben Heisler
The New York Giants and Chicago Bears played one of the most memorable games in NFL history. No, it wasn’t Sunday’s spectacular.
In 1934, the undefeated Bears visited the Giants for the league championship at the Polo Grounds. On that December afternoon, the field was frozen, leaving both teams with no traction. At the half, Chicago led 10-3. At halftime, the Giants sent a team staffer to Manhattan College in search of sneakers. The basketball team provided them, and the Giants were reborn, winning 30-13, with 27 unanswered fourth-quarter points.
The Detroit Lions are lovable, but they need to start getting much better.
Detroit’s defense has been a mess all year, allowing 35.25 points per game. As bad as the Lions have been over the past 20+ seasons, the 141 points allowed in their four weeks is the worst figure Detroit has surrendered since 2008 when they went 0-16.
The Lions are certainly more talented with second-overall pick Aidan Hutchinson on the edge and stud rookie linebacker Malcolm Rodriguez on the second level. Still, nothing is working for coordinator Aaron Glenn. If Detroit is ever going to truly improve and become a playoff contender under head coach Dan Campbell, the defense has to make a quantum leap.
Right now, all that unit is doing is getting gashed for yards and points at a stunning clip.