In 2017, the Baltimore Ravens faced many challenges obstructing their path to their perennial goal, the postseason. Despite fighting through adversity all season long, the Ravens ultimately fell short of appearing in the postseason. This year was supposed to be the season Baltimore returned to the playoffs, for the first time since 2014. However, the expectations and reality did not match. The season ended the in the same fashion as the 2016 campaign. A decisive touchdown by a division rival tragically ended Baltimore’s season. To point to that one, haunting play, as the principle cause the Ravens missed the playoffs, is simply not true. In the immediate sense, Tyler Boyd’s touchdown did prevent Baltimore from playing in January, however, there is much more to the story. In this Ravens Season Review, we examine what went wrong, and prevented Baltimore from competing for a Super Bowl.
Ravens Season Review
In the offseason, the Baltimore Ravens attempted to address the issues that plagued the team of the previous year. General Manager Ozzie Newsome was very aggressive in pursuing players that he believed would solidify the Ravens defense. Baltimore’s front office was able to recruit safety Tony Jefferson, cornerback Brandon Carr, and re-signed Brandon Williams. Baltimore also heavily favored the defense in the draft. The Ravens drafted four straight defensive players in the first three rounds. Of all the defenders drafted, however, only cornerback Marlon Humphrey became a starter. Linebacker Tyus Bowser and safety Chuck Clark (7th rounder) found their way into the lineup on occasion. Bowser was a rotational pass rusher, and Clark was a special teams player. Defensive end Chris Wormley and linebacker Tim Williams saw little action and were not always active throughout the season. Although these players have yet to develop, Baltimore’s defense was mostly successful.
The defense started the year in the best way possible. The unit shut out the Bengals in the first game and held Cleveland to just 10 points in the second contest of the year. The defensive unit hit a brick wall in Week Three, however. Brandon Williams, Baltimore’s main run-stuffing defensive tackle, was out of the lineup with an injury. As a result, the Jacksonville Jaguars were able to exhaust Baltimore’s defense on the ground. After wearing down Baltimore’s defense, Jacksonville also was able to open up the air attack. Baltimore lost the game by 37 points, and the defense sputtered until Williams returned in Week Seven. In Week Eight, the defense shutout the then 4-2 Miami Dolphins. Two games later, the defense pitched it’s the third shutout of the season, this time against the Packers in Green Bay.
Baltimore seemed to be clicking on all cylinders by the second half of the season. The Ravens were on a three-game winning streak, where they held all of their opponents to 20 points or less. The offense started to consistently score points, and it looked like the defense would do their part to push the Ravens into the postseason. This was not the case. In two of the most crucial games late in the season, the defense failed to deliver. Against the Steelers, the Baltimore Ravens scored 38 points, but the defense allowed Pittsburgh to score one more point than Baltimore. In hindsight, a win would have put the Ravens in the playoffs with a 10-6 record. Instead of further improving their playoff prospects, the defense allowed Ben Roethlisberger to throw for 500 yards, and Pittsburgh to score a late game-winning field goal.
A similar situation occurred late in the season, in the final game of the 2017 campaign. Joe Flacco and the Ravens offense failed to produce many points in the first half, but rallied in the second half, giving Baltimore the lead. With less than a minute left, the defense backed the Bengals up to a 4th and 12 play from midfield. It looked like the Ravens’ playoff party was about to start, but Andy Dalton had other plans. The Bengals’ quarterback launched a deep ball to Tyler Boyd, who caught it and ran for the game-winning touchdown, effectively ending Baltimore’s season. The constant theme of the Ravens’ defense for the past two seasons has been failure in the most important of situations. When the playoffs were on the line, the defense was unable to deliver. Whether it was the Antonio Brown “immaculate extension”, or the fourth down breakdown, Baltimore’s defense has yet to come up clutch.
Returning to the offense, Baltimore’s front office also tried to improve it from last season. Ozzie Newsome brought back wide receiver Mike Wallace while adding running back Danny Woodhead, and two late round offensive linemen. Newsome also made a flashy free agent signing late in the process, that seemed it would change the entire landscape of the offense. Wide receiver Jeremy Maclin was cut from the Chiefs after the free agent frenzy had subsided, and Baltimore was able to snatch him up. Most thought that Maclin would become Flacco’s favorite target, and lead the Ravens in receptions and yards. However, this vision never came to fruition, and Baltimore’s biggest offensive addition would not come until after the season began.
Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco missed all of training camp and all of the preseason games with a back injury. As a result, he was obviously not his usual self for the first part of the season. To be fair to Flacco, the wide receivers didn’t help him much either. Breshad Perriman who was supposed to transform into the first round worthy receiver he was drafted to be, completely flopped. Jeremy Maclin failed to break 500 yards on the season, and only caught 40 of his 72 targets. Mike Wallace started the season very poorly as well. His only exceptional performance of the first half of the season came against Oakland, where he caught three passes for 133 yards. Because of the inability to move the ball through the air, Baltimore would have to rely on the ground game to generate the bulk of the yardage they needed.
Going into the season, it was assumed that Terrance West would again be Baltimore’s leading rusher. However, he only led the team in the rushing column in just one game of the season, the first. West’s production drastically fell in the next few weeks, and Baltimore would turn to Javorius “Buck” Allen, and a new addition to take the helm of the running attack. That new addition was Alex Collins, who was added to the roster after running back Danny Woodhead sustained an injury against the Bengals in the first game of the season. Collins originally had some fumbling issues, but he overcame them and quickly became Baltimore’s star rusher. His quick-moving style, along with a generally potent offensive line, allowed the Ravens to make up for yardage absent in the passing attack, on the ground. He and Buck Allen would revitalize Baltimore’s offense in its darkest hour.
The Ravens’ offense started the year very poorly but ended the season in the best way the unit could. By the second half of the season, it was apparent that Joe Flacco was back to being elite, Mike Wallace was back to being explosive, and the ground attack was constantly giving the offense much-needed production on the ground. Baltimore was among the NFL’s top scoring teams in the second half of the season, and the team almost made the playoffs because of it.
Baltimore’s 2017 season can best be examined as a tale of two halves. In the first half of the season, the defense carried the team to victory, while the offense sputtered behind. The script flipped in the second half of the season when the offense had to bail out the defense in several instances. Like last year, the team ultimately fell short of the playoffs. If the Ravens had just forced an incompletion on that fateful fourth down, the team would have been invited to the big dance. If Baltimore had prevented a late Steelers’ field goal or had beaten the Bears in overtime, the team would have made the playoffs. Overall, the Ravens fell just short of their goal, but the season was not a total failure. The 2017 season proved that Baltimore has many pieces in the right place, and just needs a few adjustments. If Baltimore can add a couple of playmakers on offense, and tighten up the defense in crucial situations, this team will return to the postseason in 2018.