From poor pass blocking to an absent pass rush, the Ravens have plenty to worry about after a wild 33-27 overtime loss in their season opener against the Las Vegas Raiders. Here are five things we learned Monday night:
The Ravens left Las Vegas with more to worry about than their 0-1 record.
Las Vegas fans partied after an improbable close to their first NFL dance. A national audience celebrated the wackiness of an overtime that would not end. But it was an evening of bitter disappointment and bad tidings for the Ravens, who were already a haunted team after injuries wiped out their starting backfield and one of their best defenders before the first snap of the 2021 season.
They led for most of the night. Lamar Jackson appeared to have enough magic in his arm and legs to bail them out in a tense fourth quarter. But a rebuilt offensive line failed to protect Jackson all night, and he was stripped on the Ravens’ final offensive play of overtime. Meanwhile, their vaunted secondary, playing without injured cornerback Marcus Peters, ran out of steam after an excellent first half. In a fitting final image, cornerback Marlon Humphrey pulled up and watched helplessly as the game-winning touchdown pass sailed over his head.
“We just didn’t close the game out when we had the opportunity to do it three or four times,” coach John Harbaugh said.
It’s Harbaugh’s job not to make too much of a single loss, but there were plenty of worrisome portents in this season opener.
Instead of burying their demons from the end of last season, the Ravens picked up where they left off on offense, with Jackson taking three sacks and fumbling the ball away twice. Tackles Ronnie Stanley and Alejandro Villanueva simply could not keep Raiders edge rushers Maxx Crosby and Yannick Ngakoue from wrecking his pocket. Offensive coordinator Greg Roman stopped calling plays for running back Ty’Son Williams after he scored a 35-yard touchdown and flashed as a receiver in the first half.
A Ravens defense that had dominated throughout training camp and the preseason looked all too mortal in the fourth quarter and overtime as pass rushers failed to reach Raiders quarterback Derek Carr and defensive backs lost high-stakes battles on the back end. The Raiders scored on four of their last five drives, with their only miss coming on a flukish interception that went through the hands of former Ravens wide receiver Willie Snead IV and bounced off the helmet of safety DeShon Elliott.
The more we pull back to look at the greater context, the darker the view gets. This team needed a positive performance to push back the gloom of last week, when Peters and running back Gus Edwards fell to season-ending knee injuries just minutes apart. Instead, the Ravens ate a dispiriting loss, and now they have a short week to prepare for Patrick Mahomes and the Kansas City Chiefs, who embarrassed them last September.
Harbaugh has never lost his grip on a season, and the Ravens have never fallen out of contention with Jackson at quarterback, but they’re already sailing through rough seas as they try to steer this voyage back on course.
Lamar Jackson showed promising signs of development before the Raiders’ pressure consumed him.
Jackson finished his evening with a frustrated shake of the postgame lectern as he described how “ticked off” he felt at his ill-timed fumbles.
We saw plenty of good work from him, however, especially in the first as he showcased his growing poise. Despite pressure from Crosby and Ngakoue that arrived early and often, Jackson patiently worked his way through reads and completed the passes available to him instead of forcing the issue.
He put together as impressive a sequence as you’ll ever see in the second quarter when he completed a 29-yard play-action strike to Marquise “Hollywood” Brown between two linebackers, stepped up to get away from Crosby and find Sammy Watkins on a shallow cross for another 29 yards and used his legs to dance away from more pressure until he could find Brown with a dart in the end zone. This was a glimpse of what Jackson could be in his absolute prime, with his dazzling legs accentuating his command of the field and accurate arm.
He completed 11 of 15 passes for 128 yards in the first half despite facing pressure on more than 60% of his drop-backs.
Jackson went colder in the second half as the persistent pressure continued. He missed a wide-open Williams on third down, forcing the Ravens to settle for a field goal after they started their second drive of the third quarter from the Raiders’ 38-yard line. His fumble in the fourth quarter set the Raiders up for a short, game-tying touchdown drive.
Even then, he mixed in moments of brilliance, including a 47-yard pass completion dropped neatly over Watkins’ shoulder and a 28-yard scramble to set up Justin Tucker’s go-ahead field goal late in the fourth quarter.
We know Jackson’s magic will keep the Ravens in many a game. If the offensive line can protect him consistently, we might also see a more refined version of the 2019 NFL Most Valuable Player emerge over the next few months.
The Ravens gave Derek Carr too much time to pick them apart.
Defensive coordinator Don “Wink” Martindale tried his usual array of blitzes to rattle Carr, but the Ravens, going against a battered offensive line missing its best interior blocker (Richie Incognito), could not deliver consistent heat. Even when Martindale sent the house, the Raiders quarterback had time to survey for favorable matchups on the back end.
According to NFL Next Gen Stats, the Ravens managed 16 pressures on Carr compared with the Raiders’ 27 on Jackson. Veteran pass rushers Calais Campbell, Justin Houston and Pernell McPhee did little to disturb the pocket despite combining for 141 defensive snaps.
Martindale often talks about how pass rush and coverage go hand in hand. In this case, Ravens defensive backs could not hold up late in the game as blitzes exposed them to one-on-one matchups. Raiders tight end Darren Waller finished with 105 yards on 10 catches after the Ravens shut him down early with a wide array of coverage looks and bumps at the line of scrimmage. Wide receivers Hunter Renfrow and Bryan Edwards also did plenty of damage.
There were bright spots for the Ravens.
On the last drive of the first half, rookie linebacker Odafe Oweh ran down Carr for his first career sack, forcing the Raiders to settle for a field goal. This was more about Oweh’s effort and closing speed than his development as a pass rusher, but he found a way to be productive in his first NFL game. His speed caused problems for the Raiders’ tackles all night.
“Relentless motor, high effort, speed,” Campbell said in assessing Oweh’s debut. “He goes and gets them; that’s pretty impressive.”
Middle linebacker Patrick Queen dropped Carr for a 13-yard loss off an inside blitz in the fourth quarter, highlighting one of the greatest skills in his rapidly developing package. The second-year linebacker also delivered a few notable pops, including one on Waller.
The Ravens have serious problems at offensive tackle.
Crosby set the tone immediately, zipping around Villanueva to sack Jackson and put an end to the Ravens’ first drive of the night. Late in the third quarter, Crosby got under Villanueva’s pads and pushed the 6-foot-9 veteran into Jackson’s pocket, setting up a sack that cut short another Ravens drive. He finished with a game-high nine pressures as he outmaneuvered and outleveraged Villanueva, who was making his debut as the Ravens’ right tackle.
We knew there was a good chance Stanley would not have enough flexibility in his surgically repaired ankle to regain his All-Pro form in the early weeks of the season, but it was shocking to see him look so helpless against the outside speed rushes of his former teammate, Ngakoue.
The Raiders pressured Jackson on five of the Ravens’ first six plays and on 10 of 16 dropbacks in the first half. They kept it up all night, with defensive end Carl Nassib forcing the fumble that ended Jackson’s last drive in overtime.
This was alarming stuff from an offensive line that was supposed to be more reliable than the unit that finished last season. Stanley has a ways to go physically, and Villanueva has yet to look entirely comfortable at right tackle after he spent six seasons as the starting left tackle in Pittsburgh. The Ravens don’t really have another candidate to start at tackle, so they’ll have to hope Villanueva rounds into form.
Ty’Son Williams vanished from the game plan after an exciting start.
Williams put an exclamation point on his meteoric rise to the top of the Ravens’ depth chart with that 35-yard touchdown run on a fourth-down carry in the first half. We saw the burst and fight that made him an unexpected star in the preseason. He also made an impression as a receiver, catching three passes on four targets for 29 yards.
Why then did the Ravens go to Williams so infrequently in the second half? He carried two times for one yard after halftime, and Jackson missed him on one of his two targets as a receiver. His most notable play was a missed block on the sack that dropped Jackson in overtime. The Ravens featured Latavius Murray more heavily, even though the veteran running back gained just 28 yards on 10 carries.
Williams could be one of the best stories on the team, an unlikely savior after the Ravens lost Edwards and J.K. Dobbins to torn ACLs. They brought in bigger names to fill out their running back room, but he’s still their best option. They need to keep feeding him.
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