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Mike Preston: Ravens need to upgrade passing game to make deeper postseason run | COMMENTARY

Here’s how the Ravens graded out at each position after Saturday's 17-3 AFC divisional-round game loss to the Buffalo Bills.

After two straight years of losing in the AFC divisional round, the Ravens have to find a way to improve their passing game if they want to advance further in the postseason and possibly play for a Super Bowl title.

The Ravens don’t have to build a passing offense as prolific as the ones in Buffalo or Green Bay, but at least good enough to complement their running game, which was the best in the NFL this season. The Ravens had 150 rushing yards on 32 carries in a 17-3 loss to the Bills on Saturday night, but they didn’t control the pace of the game and dictate terms.

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It was the Buffalo defense that caused a lot of problems for the Ravens offense. Because of their speed, the Bills kept quarterback Lamar Jackson from working the perimeters. They were too quick and got penetration into the Ravens backfield, which slowed running backs Gus Edwards and J. K Dobbins, who each rushed for 42 yards on 10 carries. They also played a lot of zone coverage underneath so Jackson couldn’t scramble and break long runs.

Jackson had nine carries for 34 yards. When he can’t run, neither can the Ravens, and there really isn’t a backup plan because the Ravens don’t have much of a passing game. Some will say that the wind affected the Ravens’ passing attack Saturday, but the conditions didn’t stop Bills quarterback Josh Allen from completing 23 of 37 passes for 206 yards. Unfortunately, this has been the case for the past three years with the Ravens. It’s time to make some changes because they have become like an old, vintage TV rerun.

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“Whenever you’re the No. 1 rushing [offense] and the [No. 32] passing [offense], that’s not right. That’s not balanced,” Ravens wide receiver Marquise Brown said Sunday. “So, we’ve got to find a way to balance our game. Even with our great rushing attack, we’ve got to be able to throw the ball, we’ve got to be able to move the ball through the air, and that’s something that we’re going to continue to work on and continue to try to implement into the offense more.”

This is the time coach John Harbaugh needs to huddle with his coordinators and general manager Eric DeCosta to figure out what is needed. Do they need a new offensive coordinator to replace Greg Roman, or just an assistant who specializes in juicing up the passing game?

But that’s only part of the problem.

The Ravens have to find a way to get more out of Jackson in the passing game. There is little question that he is the most dynamic offensive player in the NFL, but his limitations hurt the offense. By midway through the second quarter, the Bills were using a lot of run blitzes to slow the rushing attack, and once pressured, Jackson reverted back to his poor mechanics.

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He started staring down receivers, which resulted in a 101-yard interception return for a touchdown by cornerback Taron Johnson. Because of early pressure in the game, Jackson started throwing off his back foot and not stepping into his passes. There were times when he was jumping in the air and throwing passes as if he was shooting a jump shot from 3-point range.

“I just think he’ll look back at the whole season — not just this game, the whole season — and he’ll make those adjustments that he needs to do to be an elite quarterback; an even more elite quarterback,” Ravens receiver Willie Snead IV said of Jackson, who finished his third season. “He is an elite runner, an elite passer, but there are steps he can take, better strides that he can take, and he knows that. That’s the competitor in him to want to get better each and every offseason, to fix the little things that his game needs improvement on and continue to get better as a passer.

“They weren’t really doing anything special; they were just playing top-down coverage, a lot of Cover-4, a lot of zone. They just eliminated the run, and they tried to make us one-dimensional in the passing game, and we just didn’t take advantage of what they were giving us. Hats off to them; they had a great game plan for us. I think if he [Jackson] knuckles down on that part of his game and really reaches his full potential in that area, then the sky is the limit for Lamar. It’s just a matter of time. So, it’s really on him. I think this game is going to be a wake-up call for him, hopefully this offseason. So, we’ll see what he does next year.”

Because the Ravens have a run-dominant offense, they bring in top-heavy offensive linemen who struggle in pass blocking, such as right tackle D.J. Fluker and guards Ben Powers and Tyre Phillips. It’s a sound strategy by the Ravens and they are able to win 10-12 games a year, but you have to wonder if they can go deeper into the postseason with this philosophy.

Wide receivers have been criticized for years — rightfully so — in this offense about their lack of production and separation, but there is also a problem with the scheme. When passing, the Ravens don’t always use the entire field and Jackson usually throws in the middle, which led to Johnson’s interception.

There are other teams in the NFL who are one-dimensional. That’s not to say the Ravens can’t win with this style, but they need to be more balanced. A week ago, they shut down Tennessee running back Derrick Henry and the Titans offense struggled.

On Saturday night, the Bills were effective in limiting Jackson’s big plays and the Ravens lost. If this happened once, it would be reasonable to stay the course. But after three years, it’s time for some things to change.

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