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Mike Preston

Mike Preston: Ravens’ inexcusable loss to Dolphins shows they’re not serious contenders yet | COMMENTARY

The Ravens have played nine games this season, and it’s still unclear if they are a good team or just a slightly above average one in the watered-down NFL.

In recent weeks, fans around the country have spent time laughing at teams like the Cincinnati Bengals when they lost to the New York Jets or the Buffalo Bills when they were beaten by the Jacksonville Jaguars.

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But on Thursday night, the Ravens (6-3) were upset by the lowly Miami Dolphins, 22-10. So, after that loss, the conclusion here is that there aren’t any good teams in the AFC at this point. In fact, there are only two good teams in the entire NFL in the Arizona Cardinals and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

The Green Bay Packers can be just as dominant when quarterback Aaron Rodgers decides to quiet down and play and the secondary improves. The rest of this league, though, is suspect. Let’s not hear this is a week-to-week league. The Ravens aren’t supposed to lose to the Dolphins (3-7), no matter what. Miami came into the game ranked No. 30 in both total offense and total defense.

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They had the worst rushing offense in the league, averaging only 75.1 yards per game, and were No. 30 in pass defense, allowing 280.9 yards per game. And the Ravens still lost.

There are no excuses. Forget about mentioning the short week of preparation, the traveling or the humidity in Miami. Every team plays at least one clunker a year, and the Ravens used theirs two weeks ago when they were trounced by the Bengals, 41-17.

The NFL has become a pig pile of average teams. Even if the Ravens had been able to pull out a miraculous last-minute win Thursday night, it would be hard to put them in the same class with Arizona or Tampa Bay.

The Ravens came into the game with the No. 31 ranked pass defense, and they played like it. Lo and behold, they gave up more big plays. It’s not as if the Ravens were beaten physically, but their safeties and cornerbacks weren’t even in the right areas to make plays. And it’s happening week after week, even more consistently than the missed tackles that have occurred since the beginning of the season.

“You know, things we’re trying to work on,” cornerback Marlon Humphrey said of the big plays. “But, you know, I guess you are what you put on film in the game, and that’s kind of been our Achilles heel, you know? Even when we play good, good, good — a slip up here — good, good, good — a slip up there, a slip up, bad quarter. [Defensive coordinator Don] ‘Wink’ [Martindale] asked me, ‘What’s something you can guarantee is going to happen in the game for the secondary?’ And I said, ‘We’re going to communicate.’ You know, as a leader in that secondary, that’s on me, man. We’ve got to communicate better through the secondary and then throughout the whole defense as a whole.”

Offensively, the same weaknesses were exposed again. The Ravens’ offensive line continues to struggle against athletic and agile front sevens, and they couldn’t keep pace with the Dolphins’ blitzes as Miami had four sacks.

Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson hasn’t thrown well in the past three games, either. It’s hard to criticize him in Baltimore because of his running, big-play ability and popularity, but his arm angles are bad again and the low release is causing some of his passes to sail.

He was clearly frustrated with the blitzes, so much in fact that he got called for several delay of game penalties and was close to earning a few more. Neither Jackson nor offensive coordinator Greg Roman had an answer for the Dolphins showing “zero” blitzes, which leave no safety help against one-on-one matchups.

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It was like the Ravens were playing their own defense, except the Dolphins actually knew where they were going.

“They brought a lot of zero [blitzes] and we tried to pick it up,” center Bradley Bozeman said. “We didn’t do a great job of picking it up. We have to make adjustments and go forward from here.”

Overall, it was just a bad effort by the Ravens.

Perhaps most disappointing, it came at a time when they seemed prepared to play at a higher level. On Sunday, some of the players were annoyed to have to go to overtime to beat the Minnesota Vikings. But maybe that was a sign of what was about to happen.

The Ravens needed that overtime and an NFL-record 66-yard field goal from Justin Tucker in the final seconds to beat the winless Detroit Lions in Week 3. Kansas City literally gave the Ravens a 36-35 victory with a last-minute fumble in Week 2, and the Ravens also had to come from behind to beat the Indianapolis Colts, 31-25, in overtime in Week 5.

The Ravens had the winning formula and were riding some momentum, but they crashed Thursday night.

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“You know, we moved the ball pretty well. But, you know, that’s one of those things that we have to go in and work on, is just starting fast,” tight end Mark Andrews said. “We have a bunch of players that work hard and, you know, fly around, play 100%. And coaches that, you know, coach us hard and really care. So, we’re going to get this thing down. There’s a lot of positives that happened tonight. You know, we’re a 6-3 ball team, and, you know, there’s a lot of positives. And that’s what we’re going to build on, learn from the mistakes, and build on the positives. And we’re going to continue to be a dangerous team.”

The reality is the Ravens aren’t ready to make a serious move yet, even though the New England Patriots and Tennessee Titans seem to be putting things into place to make a run in the postseason.

The loss to Miami hurt. Instead of gaining separation, they are back in the pig pile.


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