This is not the way the season is supposed to end.
The magical 2019 season, the most impressive in franchise history, filled with broken records and awards, ended in what can only be described as a trainwreck. Fans were heartbroken as their beloved Ravens fell victim to Derrick Henry and the Tennessee Titans. The utter defeat brought visions of last year’s playoff catastrophe, which in retrospect seems only like a premonition of this past weekends’ events.
This was supposed to be the Ravens’ year. Baltimore was on a 12-game winning streak, and it felt as if no team could beat them. That feeling, of course, proved unmerited, as the Tennessee Titans destroyed the Ravens in one of the most gut-wrenching ill-fated contests in franchise history.
There must be an explanation, some reason why the Ravens floundered when it mattered most.
There is, of course, a reason – the coaching staff. The Ravens deviated from their tried and true method of winning, which was the biggest reason for the loss. Thanks to @Yoshi2052 on Twitter (who I highly recommend you follow), we can visualize the Ravens’ flawed gameplan with data. According to the data, the Ravens had 92 offensive snaps (yes, you read that right, 92), but of those 92 snaps, the Ravens only called 21 designed run plays (these do not include the eleven times Lamar Jackson scrambled on a pass play). The gameplan was balanced in the first quarter, and it followed Baltimore’s typical offensive strategy. The Ravens established the run game early, as offensive coordinator Greg Roman called seven rushes to five dropbacks, one of which resulted in a Lamar Jackson scramble.
As if the original gameplan meant nothing though, Greg Roman immediately cut out the running game in the second quarter. Only six designed runs were called, while Roman dialed up 22 dropbacks. This trend continued throughout the game. In the third quarter, Roman called 16 dropbacks and just 6 runs. In the fourth quarter, 27 passes to 2 rushes. 58% of first-quarter plays were designed runs. From quarters 2-4, only 17.5% of plays were designed runs. Establishing the ground game has been essential to setting up Baltimore’s explosive offense all season long, so why was it that Roman deviated from the gameplan in the second quarter?
Baltimore trailed 14-0 before the Ravens got the ball back early in the second quarter. 45 minutes is plenty of time to overcome a 14 point deficit, so there was no need to drastically speed up the pace. The Ravens were successful on the ground too. A semi-injured Mark Ingram rushed six times for 22 yards, and Gus Edwards rushed three times for 20 yards. The Ravens placed too much of a burden on Lamar Jackson though. Not only was he tasked with passing 59 times for 365 yards, and rushing 20 times for 143 yards.
The numbers don’t lie – the Ravens coaching staff panicked. According to Ian Schultz, a writer at Charm City Bird Watch and the Ebony Bird, the Baltimore Ravens only trailed for 49 combined minutes during the 12-game win streak. That is a very impressive note, but it left the Ravens vulnerable to a challenge from a more-than-worthy opponent in the Titans. Some expressed concern about what would happen if the Ravens trailed the Titans for an extended period of time. What would they do? Well, as I stated above, they panicked. Instead of doubling down on what the Ravens offense does best in spreading out the rushing attack and balancing it with the passing attack, Roman put all his chips on Lamar Jackson to carry the entire load, on the ground and through the air. This is no shade at Lamar Jackson, all things considered, he actually played fairly well. Lamar Jackson was simply unable to handle the load though, but this should have been obvious to Roman, because placing the fate of an entire team on a freshly turned 23-year-old player, regardless of his MVP-caliber season, should never be a real option. It would be acceptable for the Ravens to place all the trust in Jackson on a final drive to win the game, but for three consecutive quarters? The decision was just asinine.
There were other issues at play in the debacle known as the divisional round game. Patrick Mekari was demolished by the Titans pass rush, and the Ravens defense was ridiculously inept at tackling Derrick Henry. However, the Ravens could have won with these issues. Blocking schemes can be adjusted, and the defense only let up 28 points (all of which came off of offensive turnovers). If the Ravens offense was simply functional, Baltimore would have won. Instead, it put up garbage time numbers throughout the entire game, because even though they were moving the ball, they ditched their bread and butter, preventing them from finishing drives and converting field goals into touchdowns. Baltimore’s adjusted gameplan was horrendous, and this game, this loss, this heartbreak, is squarely on the coaches that engineered it.