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    Looking Back at the Ravens’ 2021 Collapse: What Happened?

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    Just one month ago, the Baltimore Ravens sat atop the AFC. They were in great position to make their fourth playoff appearance in a row. The Ravens were a force to be reckoned with, with Baltimore fans excited for the future.

    Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images

    Until the Ravens proceeded to lose five straight, falling to 8-8 with marginal chances to make the NFL Playoffs heading into the final week of the season. They have, without a shred of doubt, been one of the worst teams in football over the past month. Some people were shocked that it happened, but the issues that have shown up during the worst losing streak John Harbaugh has endured have been there the entire season. The difference now? They don’t have elite quarterback play to bail them out, and other teams are doing a better job of exploiting huge flaws in the team.

    Let’s start with the side of the ball which has received the most criticism, the offense. Ravens fans have made it no secret that they want Greg Roman gone. The offense has been dysfunctional all year with constant miscommunications, poor offensive line play and an underwhelming run game.


    The Ravens rush EPA per play from 2018 to 2020 with Lamar Jackson was 0.038, 0.098, and 0.093 respectively, leading the league by a significant margin in 2019 and 2020, which were the first 2 seasons where Lamar Jackson was the full time starter. In 2021, the Ravens EPA per rush is -0.043, easily the worst mark during Greg Roman’s tenure and ranking 12th in the league.

    As all things are, the blame doesn’t lie on a single person, but on a lack of cohesiveness from a lot of different people. You can point to coaching, line play or the runningbacks on any handful of plays and you could come up with a reasonable argument for the struggles. But the truth is that the Ravens have had very little explosive plays from the runningbacks and quaterbacks in the run game and the offensive line has been poor, both on the outside and inside. Defenses have done a good job countering a lot of the gap runs that Roman has made a name for himself with by using various forms of scrape exchange with their linebackers.

    If there’s an area to bash Roman for, it’s his spacing in the passing game. As seen in the example above (and in far too many plays), the Ravens offense has poor spacing, to all levels of the field, and with all of their players, even those with multiple years in the system. Roman’s route concepts often involve many vertical and option routes. This type of offense worked very well in 2019 when paired with an elite offensive line, veteran and smart receivers who understand spacing, and defenses who were not prepared to defend against a 4.3-speed quarterback that could progress through full-field reads and make every throw on the field.

    Since then, the Ravens have opted to invest more in younger receivers and have built a poor offensive line. This formula might be beneficial to some NFL teams such as the Bengals, but for the Ravens and Roman’s offense, it has not worked. Lamar’s mistrust in the offensive line to protect him, the lack of a run game, and execution that looks like it’s out of the first day of training camp have led to a struggling Ravens offense.
    As bad as the offense has been, it ranks in the middle of the pack in terms of EPA per play.

    Defensively, only 4 teams, Washington, the Jets, Jaguars, and Lions rank worse, and during the losing streak, the Ravens defense ranks last in the entire league. Oddly enough, they actually rank 11th against the run, however, they are dead last against the pass, and it’s not particularly close. The Ravens lost starting corners Marlon Humphrey and Marcus Peters but were expected to have one of the deepest corner rooms in the league. However, for whatever reason, that did not happen. The combination of Anthony Averett, Tavon Young, Jimmy Smith, Kevon Seymour, Robert Jackson, and Chris Westry has not been able to get the job done. This is despite the Ravens pass rush generating pressure.
    The Ravens have allowed the largest amount of big plays this season in the league. It’s hard for me to pin down exactly what went wrong in any play without being in the defensive meetings and knowing rules but allowing chunk plays at the rate the Ravens are is a problem. It’s even more so when you can’t do much else at a high level.
    Playing soft shoe at the goalline without any type of bunch or stack, especially on Davante Adams is…interesting. On top of that, the Ravens are playing some type of cone/bracket backside coverage on Adams, yet he still separates with ease to the outside. It’s 3rd and goal, the Ravens lost this game by one point. As I said, I don’t know if this is a coaching or personnel issue but this is not the type of defense we’ve been accustomed to seeing from a Baltimore or Wink Martindale defense.

    The Ravens have also struggled with boots and middle field coverage against the Rams, one on one outside stemming routes against the Colts, and with mismatch slot weapons against the Raiders. Teams for the most part, especially on early downs, have been able to do what they want to against the Ravens defense, and lately, it has been the worst it’s ever been with the team struggling to muster stops of any kind. They have also not forced turnovers at a high rate, although they were able to do so against the Rams. Wink has been able to scheme up pressure on later downs, as the Ravens have been a good defense on 3rd down, but they’ve been struggling to even get there as of late.

    As of today, the Ravens have not been mathematically eliminated from the playoffs, but would need to win as well as a lot of other things to go their way. Even if they were to sneak in, this was not a playoff caliber team at all down the stretch.

    Heading into 2022, the Ravens are in a very interesting situation in terms of their roster and coaching staff. First off, Harbaugh and Lamar aren’t going anywhere, despite some fans voicing displeasure. Mark Andrews, who will be a first team All-Pro, also is not going anywhere as he was extended last offseason. The young receiving core that includes Marquise Brown, Rashod Bateman and Devin Duvernay look very promising. However, there are massive questions at tackle. Alejandro Villanueva is a lock to be cut. Mekari, who played well at right tackle and can play anywhere on the offensive line, was extended on a three-year deal worth 15 million. They also signed Ja’Wuan James after he tore his Achilles in the offseason. Ronnie Stanley’s health is the biggest wildcard, as he is over a year removed from his gruesome injury. Inside, the Ravens have an established veteran in Kevin Zeitler, but the starting center Bradley Bozeman is a free agent. Questions remain at left guard with Ben Powers, Tyre Phillips and Ben Cleveland who have struggled for the most part. There’s No doubt the Ravens want to have an elite offensive line, but how the team addresses it given the current state will be very interesting.

    Defensively, the Ravens have questions on all three levels. Up front, nose tackle Brandon Williams is set to hit the market, and Calais Campbell has contemplated retirement. Ravens have young pieces at the 3-tech position with Justin Madubuike and Broderick Washington, and should get Derek Wolfe back. However, they could want to add more depth. At middle linebacker, Patrick Queen has played much better. Queen is in a more limited role that requires him to think less and play faster. However, he will need to take another step forward if he wants to be an elite linebacker. Josh Bynes was a nice placeholder, but at this point, he’s not a long term answer. Malik Harrison is an interesting player who was on the bench, and then subsquently hurt, but is someone the Ravens want to become the long term answer at LB. At cornerback, the Ravens are fine on starters, but the depth must be improved. Humphrey is a superstar and Peters is great, but Peters will be 29 next season. At the safety position, they will need to make a decision on Deshon Elliott, who missed most of the season with injury. Elliott is an upcoming free agent. S Brandon Stephens seems like a guy they like going forward but another veteran prescience may be beneficial short term.

    There will be a lot of attention on the coaching staff, with an emphasis placed on the coordinators. The Ravens have a decision to make with Greg Roman, who has been the team’s coordinator for quite some time now, and may be someone the Ravens may feel inclined to move on from. I can’t say for sure what they’ll do, but if I had to guess I’d say they will part ways. I’d be surprised if Wink left unless it was to take up a head coaching position, which I think is unlikely. It was clear that this defense was not well coaching this year. The Ravens will have a lot of tough decisions to make in the offseason, but will have more draft capital then they’ve had in a long time, and will be relieved of the contracts of Earl Thomas and Brandon Williams.

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