Welcome to Ravens Reality Check, where we always wait the prescribed 10 minutes for the Monday morning hot takes to rest, lest we burn our mouths.
As one might expect, the takes this morning after a 17-10 loss to the Steelers are molten. Baltimore has been seeking the spotlight, and unfortunately in Week 5, they got it. But as much backlash as the Ravens deserved for their unsightly defeat in Pittsburgh, there’s a lot of wild takes to cut into:
What a day to be reading out the figures of Lamar Jackson’s contract.
I don’t want to pretend Jackson was especially good yesterday, and I was among those calling out his back-breaking turnovers in the final five minutes of the game that ended any hopes of a road victory. But still: seven drops! Two of them were probable touchdowns. If anything, the entire Ravens offense should be sharing the blame here, including the offensive line that gave up a great opportunity before halftime to get a field goal, then could not protect Jackson on a drop back that led to the strip sack.
Deciding the merit of a contract on a game-by-game basis is perilous, especially when we are one week removed from Jackson dicing up the Browns defense, which some thought might be on a path to being historically great. Jackson is still completing passes at a career-high level this year. He still is probably the league’s toughest dual threat on offense. In the moments against the Steelers when the offense was actually functional, you could see that Jackson’s gravity as a rusher continue to makes the whole thing spin.
Jackson is not even the best-compensated quarterback in the NFL anymore: the Bengals’ Joe Burrow is. Before Burrow got bailed out this week by a record performance by Ja’Marr Chase against an Arizona team that has no competitive interest in a winning season, he had thrown as many touchdowns as interceptions (2) and his Bengals are still winless against other teams in the AFC North. The Ravens, as bad as yesterday was, are still 2-1 in the division, and Jackson has looked phenomenal in the two wins. The moments of offensive transcendence are inextricably linked to Jackson, and that’s why NFL quarterbacks get paid handsomely.
There is an element of the criticism that Jackson has to wear, however: turnovers. With an NFL-leading seven fumbles, he’s got to be better, and his interception was far too risky a pass in a situation where throwing it away would have made more sense. Jackson still rolls the dice, too, often reaching for the extra yard or the extra points. And had the Ravens played a more conservative game and been able to kick two additional field goals, that might have been enough momentum to hold off the Steelers.
I don’t know how you look at the play in the AFC North so far and determine that the Ravens still don’t have a very good shot at winning the division. They outplayed the two teams that were expected to challenge them, and should have won in Pittsburgh if not for their determination as a team to find a way to lose.
Mark Andrews was probably onto something when he described the team as a “sleeping giant.” We’ve seen this giant when it’s awake — blowing out the Cleveland Browns at the Dawg Pound, taking a commanding lead and holding on in Cincinnati. The Ravens’ schedule does get harder as the season goes along, as I’ve written about before, but shoot: Their final three AFC North games are all at home, and that counts for a lot.
I’m interested to see what the Ravens look like as they get healthy again, which is how things are trending lately. Marlon Humphrey got burned in coverage in his first game back from a foot injury. Odell Beckham Jr. didn’t look all the way recovered. Marcus Williams and Ronnie Stanley were reasonably solid given that they hadn’t played since Week 1. Justice Hill was running well in the first half before coughing up a fumble.
Defensively, the Ravens are still among the NFL’s best. On offense, we see one of two personalities: efficient and unpredictable, or mistake-prone and combustible. If Todd Monken and Co. can find a way to get more of Column A than Column B, it’s definitely achievable for the Ravens to recover from this loss and still claim the division crown by season’s end.
Rex Ryan, some of us remember your time as a defensive coach in Baltimore. Thank you for your service. But hey, maybe there’s a reason you’re on TV now instead of on a sideline as a head coach.
It’s strange that given how bad the Ravens pass-catchers were yesterday, I’m suddenly moved to defend them: Again, they were not good. But also, they didn’t have a drop through four weeks of football, many against tough defenses. I don’t know if practicing with a rugby ball is essential to that. I don’t know if catching a rugby ball is a big part of what these guys do anyway.
They also practice with regular footballs, obviously. It’s a little disingenuous to suggest that the reason the Ravens had a bad day at the office was about an unconventional practice technique, especially when they had not had one drop in four prior weeks.
The description given about the routine by ESPN prior to the game was that the ball is wider and harder to grasp unless you use two hands, seemingly forcing a mental habit for the Ravens receivers and that they’ve been doing it “for a couple of years now.”
Seems like Ryan found a detail that would make an entertaining sound bite (he quipped about how someone wanted to be “a guru”) and kept hammering it, and letting Ravens coaches (like receivers coach Greg Lewis, who has two Super Bowl rings!) take some crossfire for a small warmup detail that he probably doesn’t know much about. Sure, it’s catchy to talk about on TV, but I doubt it was at the heart of the underwhelming performance.
Ryan’s record as a head coach was under .500. Maybe he should have tried a few unconventional coaching methods himself.