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Ravens Five Things

Five things we learned from the Ravens’ 42-38 loss to the Miami Dolphins

The Ravens began the fourth quarter of their home opener with a three-touchdown lead thanks to one of the great performances of Lamar Jackson’s career. They finished it as 42-38 losers, licking their wounds from a disastrous defensive collapse against the Miami Dolphins.

Here are five things we learned from their stunning defeat:

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The Ravens don’t know where they’re headed after an epic collapse

What does one say to sum up 15 minutes of unfathomable football horror? For Ravens cornerback Marlon Humphrey, it was the recurring image of passes sailing over his head. For rookie teammate Jalyn-Armour Davis, it was the sense that no one on the Baltimore defense could find the same wavelength as they tried to stall the aqua-blue avalanche rolling their way. For coach John Harbaugh, it was the stinging realization that his team must fix its foundation in the weeks to come.

This was not the most soul-deadening home loss in franchise history. It lacked the finality of the playoff loss to the Tennessee Titans that ended the Ravens’ romp through the 2019 season. It was not marked by a single stunning play, like the 49-yard pass from Andy Dalton to Tyler Boyd that erased the Ravens’ playoff chances on the last day of the 2017 season. But for sheer whiplash, it was one for the annals.

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See, this was not a tense contest for most of the afternoon. It was a party — Baltimore’s chance to shout hosannas for its sublime quarterback and its refreshed team.

For three quarters of their home opener Sunday, the Ravens told us they were a contender reborn. They scoffed at the same Dolphins defense that had smothered them last season and covered their own defensive lapses with the takeaways that were so scarce for them in 2021. Going into the game, we wondered if Miami had their number. When the score reached 35-14, it seemed the Ravens were saying no one would have their number in 2022.

Perhaps we should have read the early omens. The Ravens began with a 103-yard kickoff return. They cut off Miami’s first drive with an interception. On their first proper drive, they ran 18 plays and held the ball for nearly 11 minutes. All that, and with 10:54 to go in the second quarter, they were tied at 7.

But whatever opportunities they left on the table seemed irrelevant in the glow of Jackson’s unfolding masterpiece. His scalpel-sharp throws put them up 28-7 at halftime, and when he glided 79 yards through the heart of the Miami defense to make it 35-14 with 26 seconds left in the third quarter, chants of “MVP! MVP!” resounded across M&T Bank Stadium.

Not even the most cynical fan could have envisioned the nightmare to come.

For the last 15 minutes, however, all the troubling storylines from last year crawled back into the building. The Ravens watched helplessly as Miami quarterback Tua Tagovailoa, an uneven performer through his first two NFL seasons, finished off a 469-yard, six-touchdown performance. Injuries, either fresh or lingering, hampered their most experienced cornerbacks, leaving much of the job of covering Tyreek Hill and Jaylen Waddle to discombobulated rookies. The dominant front seven we saw in Week 1 against the New York Jets did nothing to discomfort Tagovailoa. On offense, the Ravens could not muster the kind of grinding drive they used to count on to put games away.

Weighing this collapse against the electric happening of the first three quarters, what do we know about the Ravens as we look ahead to 16 more weeks of this?

“There’s really no conclusions to be drawn at this point in time,” Harbaugh said.

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Secondary health is already concern No. 1

We spent the last nine months assuming the Ravens could not reach the depths of 2021, when they finished last in pass defense. Humphrey and Marcus Peters would be back. Safety Marcus Williams would shore up the back line. First-round pick Kyle Hamilton would be an immediate playmaker, and veteran Kyle Fuller would provide battle-tested depth. New defensive coordinator Mike Macdonald would make the pieces dance in patterns not limited by traditional notions of position. No, it could not get as bad as it did last year, when they gave up 435 yards to Derek Carr and 402 to Carson Wentz and 525 to Joe Burrow.

Well, Tagovailoa’s fourth quarter — 13 of 17 for 199 yards and four touchdowns — said 2022 could be every bit as bad.

With Fuller lost to a season-ending torn ACL, Brandon Stephens (quadriceps) inactive, Humphrey limited by a sore groin and Peters easing his way in after 20 months away because of a torn ACL, they had to count on Armour-Davis and another rookie, Damarion Williams, against the terrifying duo of Hill and Waddle.

We saw a panoply of horrors on the 59-yard catch-and-run by Waddle that set up Miami’s first touchdown. Linebacker Patrick Queen stumbled and fell in coverage. Armour-Davis was bowled over by a block. Williams could not shove Waddle out of bounds.

With the Ravens protecting a two-touchdown lead in the fourth quarter, Hill ran right past Peters for a 48-yard touchdown. He dusted him badly enough that he had time to stop and wait for Tagovailoa’s underthrown pass to reach him.

On Miami’s next possession, Hill accelerated past Armour-Davis, who seemed to think he would have safety help behind him. There were three Ravens who could have shaded to that side of the field, but none did as Hill caught a 60-yard touchdown with no one near him to tie the game at 35.

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“There were miscommunications across the whole defense,” Armour-Davis said when asked what happened on the play. “It’s something we’ve got to fix. It’s something we emphasized all week, so it’s definitely disappointing.”

Asked if the same answer could apply to the entire fourth quarter, the rookie said yes.

Logic tells us this was probably the nadir. Peters and Humphrey will feel better and play more snaps. So will Stephens, who looked like he wanted to play as he went through a hard workout in front of trainers before the game. Armour-Davis will learn. But the Ravens cannot feel good, already staring at the same troubles they could not outrun a year ago.

“Never did you think we were going to have that many balls thrown over our head,” Harbaugh said. “That just can’t happen; that’s not OK. I don’t care who’s back there, [or] what they’re doing.”

The Ravens slew their offensive demons from 10 months ago

Disappointing as the day ended up being, Jackson buried the notion that he could not punish Miami’s attacking defense. His statistics — 11 of 13 for 210 yards, three touchdowns and a perfect 158.3 passer rating — told a compelling story of how well he threw the ball in the first half. If anything, he was better than the cold digits said.

Against a defense that had given him fits 10 months earlier, he did not make an off-target throw until the last minute before halftime. His one incompletion to that point was a beautifully feathered pass that tight end Mark Andrews dropped (not a phrase we utter often).

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A long pass from Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson falls out of reach for tight end Mark Andrews (89) in the fourth quarter against the Dolphins on Sunday.

Jackson hit Rashod Bateman perfectly in stride for a 75-yard catch-and-run touchdown. He threaded passes to Andrews and Demarcus Robinson in traffic. He did not take a sack all day.

Give the Ravens’ pass protectors credit for that last number. They spent the whole week hearing about how the Dolphins upset Jackson’s composure by crowding the line of scrimmage and firing safeties, unblocked, into the Baltimore backfield. They did their homework on Miami’s Cover 0 while understanding the Dolphins might take a more patient approach this time around (which they did). Jackson operated from a clean pocket — “Our line did a heck of a job protecting me,” he said — and did more than enough damage to win the game.

The running game couldn’t put the game away

Even as so many things went right for the Ravens early, their ground game continued to be a concern. Running backs Kenyan Drake and Mike Davis combined for 13 yards on eight carries on their near-11-minute drive that straddled the first and second quarters. Offensive coordinator Greg Roman turned to fullback Patrick Ricard and Andrews (on a direct snap no less) for two short conversions to extend that march. The Ravens had four chances to punch the ball in from the 2-yard line and could not, with Jackson coming up an inch short on third down and fumbling on fourth.

That’s a problem for a team that counts on having the most productive ground-and-pound operation in the sport.

We saw this weakness again in the fourth quarter, when the Ravens needed a sustained drive to blunt Tagovailoa’s momentum. They failed to convert on fourth-and-short on one drive and went three-and-out on the next. Drake and Davis, aided little by the same blockers who did a good job protecting Jackson, finished with 12 yards combined on 11 carries.

“We’re not there yet; we’re not blocking like we need to,” Harbaugh said. “That’s a good front, just like last week [against the Jets] was a good front, but we’re not doing it right now. So, that’s one of the things we have to take a hard look at and try to get to where we need to be in that way, because that’s how you win games.”

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We don’t know enough to second guess the Ravens for holding out their No. 1 runner, J.K. Dobbins, for another week. As Dobbins detailed Friday, he suffered an unusually devastating knee injury before last season, and we don’t know precisely what the Ravens are looking for to determine his readiness. What we do know is that they badly need a more dynamic threat in the backfield.

The defensive front also went missing

Nose tackle Michael Pierce and defensive tackle Justin Madubuike were among the best defenders in the league in Week 1, and the Ravens generally owned the line of scrimmage in an easy win over the Jets. With the Dolphins down a starting right tackle and counting on ailing left tackle Terron Armstead (toe), Baltimore’s front seven seemed set up for another big day.

Instead, they made little impact on Tagovailoa as he fired at will with the game slipping away. The Ravens managed just two quarterback hits and their one sack, by outside linebacker Justin Houston, came early.

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Defensive tackle Calais Campbell credited Tagovailoa with perhaps the best performance of his three-year career: “He was getting his feet set, getting rid of the ball, making quick decisions and got the ball to his playmakers and let them make plays. That’s what the quarterback does, so you have to give him his props. We were pressuring him and getting there sometimes, but he’s making good throws, putting it right on the money [while] we’re pressuring his face.”

Fair enough. Sometimes, the other guy is just good. But with their secondary ailing, the Ravens could have used a transformative play from their pass rush, and it never arrived.

Week 3

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