AFC Wild Card – Ravens Recap & Grades
Bengals 24, Ravens 17 : AFC Wild Card Recap & Grades :
Offense – Better than expected. This group brought their A Game & battled all night long until 1 crucial mistake cost them a game they could of actually won. The play calling which had been so questionable for most of the season looked way better under the Prime Time lights of the Playoffs. OC Greg Roman stuck w/ the run for most of the night & RB J.K. Dobbins feasted to the tune of 62 yards on 13 carries, an average of 4.8 yards per carry w/ a long of 15 yards while RB Gus Edwards runs for 39 yards on 12 carries, an average of 3.3 yards per carry w/ a long of 9 yards. They run for 155 as a team & out rush the Bengals by over 100 yards, while dominating the T.O.P. 32:26 to 27:34. The pass protection was good but not great against a ferocious Bengals front 7 but they hold up for most of the game, allowing 2 sacks on Huntley for a loss 17 yards total. They fought to keep their QB clean for most of the night, although his legs also helped him out as well, as he was running from pressure on numerous occasions. The run blocking was as good as usual, plowing the way for the backs to run through the gaping holes they opened & mauling in the trenches w/ LT Ronnie Stanley leading the way. Things were going according to planned as the running game scratched & clawed while QB Tyler Huntley led long, time consuming drives. He goes 17-29 on the night for 226 yards, an average of 7.8 yards per pass w/ 2 TD’s & 1 crucial INT into double coverage on the game’s first drive but rebounds nicely after things look like they could of gotten out of hand for him. He also adds to the running game w/ 54 yards on the ground on 9 carries, an average of 6.0 yards per carry, including a huge 35-yard RPO run up the left sideline on the would be go-ahead drive. TE Mark Andrews hauls in 5 passes for 73 yards, an average of 14.6 yards per catch w/ a long of 29 & even lines up as an X WR on numerous occasions because of the lack of depth at the WR position that this team was left w/ by the start of the Playoffs. WR Demarcus Robinson catches 2 passes for 49 yards, an average of 24.5 yards per catch, including the game-tying, 41-yard TD pass from Huntley w/ 2:13 left in the 3rd, capping off a 5-play, 81-yard drive that takes only 2:49 for this unit to respond after the Bengals had taken the lead on the previous drive. Huntley also leads a 17-play, 75-yard drive that takes up 10:03 in the 2nd quarter that ends w/ a 2-yard pass from Snoop to Dobbins, who reaches over the goal line for the score after Cincinnati had gone ahead by 2 scores. There were gashing runs & long, established drives., there were timely passes that went for huge chunks & penalties by Cincinnati that extended drives. They even got the benefit of a turnover by the defense which leads to a FG by Tucker just before the half & you started to get the feeling that things were going just the way they had to go in order for this team to pull off the upset. This group gains 23 1st downs in balanced fashion w/ 11 coming through the air & 10 on the ground. 2 come via Cincinnati penalties & they go 3-11 on 3rd down & 2-3 on 4th down while running 66 plays & totaling 364 yards but the red zone troubles continue, as they go just 1-4 inside the 20. They have 9 drives & average 5.5 yards per play as they out gain Cincinnati in almost every offensive category but lose the turnover battle 2 to 1, while scoring more than 2 offensive TD’s for the first time since November 27th. Then, in the 3rd quarter w/ the offense on the move, the very thing that Ravens fans feared showed up after remaining dormant for most of the evening. The game was tied early in the 4th w/ the offense on the move & this group had held the ball for 80 yards on 8 plays & faced a 3rd & Goal at the 1 w/ a chance to take the lead when Greg Roman decided to get cute & call a QB sneak from the 1. But Huntley started his dive from the 2 & Bengals LB Logan Wilson knocks the ball out of his hands, it rolls into the hands of DE Sam Hubbard who then makes history by returning it 98 yards for the go-ahead score as well as the longest fumble return of a TD in a Playoff Game in NFL history. The 14 point swing is an absolute back breaker, it comes w/ 11:39 left in the game & puts the Ravens suddenly on their heels. 2 punts later, this unit gets the ball back w/ a chance to tie the game but goes just 19 yards on 10 plays after handing off to Justice Hill w/ :29 on 2nd & 10 w/ 2 timeouts left, which results in a hold by RG Kevin Zeitler & backs them up 10 yards. They burn both timeouts & are left w/ a 4th & 20 at the Bengals 37 w/ :08 left & Huntley nearly slips before his desperate Hail Mary heave falls to the ground after WR James Proche II makes a diving effort & the season ends. Dobbins barely saw the ball after running so well all night & neither him or Edwards got it on the goal line when they should of. The mismanagement of the clock, the timeouts & the play calling is what ultimately decided this one. This was a great effort by an undermanned group & they gave it every ounce of what they had in them, they even could of won. The play calling & bad coaching did this team in as it all unraveled for them in the final 15 minutes. Hopefully this spells the end for OC Greg Roman & if it doesn’t spell the end for John Harbaugh, it needs to put him back on the hot seat. Lots of questions to be answered & many things remain to be seen for this group going forward, a change is definitely necessary offensively, that is for certain. As for who will fill the roles of the departed, that remains to be seen.
Grade : B+
Defense – This group seemed bend but not break all night. They allow a scoring drive of 14-plays, 54-yards that takes up the first 6:38 of the game but hold the Bengals to a FG & you had to consider that a win given the way Cincy moved the ball to start the game, especially through the air. RB Joe Mixon is held to just 39 yards on 11 carries, an average of 3.5 yards per rush & the stout front 7 holds the Bengals to just 51 yards rushing as a team on 18 carries, an average of 2.8 yards per carry & 1 rushing TD. That comes courtesy of Burrow, who collects 9 yards on 5 carries as well, an average of 1.8 yards per carry. They do allow Joe to go 23-32 for 209 yards, an average of 6.5 yards per pass & 1 TD pass to WR Ja’Maar Chase but keep the pressure on all night, as they get to him 4 times for a loss of 26 yards & take advantage of a banged Bengals offensive line. The edge rushers were all over the place as OLB’s Justin Houston, Tyus Bowser & Odafe Oweh all register a sack of Burrow, while DT Broderick Washington combines w/ OLB Jason Pierre-Paul on the other & this pass rush is able harrass him enough to keep him on his toes & out of the pocket for most of game. The Cincinnati WR’s were the main issue for this unit as they account for 147 of the 209 passing yards & seemed to constantly win their match ups on the outside no matter who the Raven DB was. Even Pro-Bowlers like Marlon Humphrey & Marcus Peters had no answer, especially in the 1st half as Burrow carved up DC Mike McDonald’s zone scheme w/ ease. Chase hauls in 9 passes for 84 yards, an average of 9.3 yards per catch & 1 TD w/ a long of 19 yards on 12 targets. WR Tee Higgins catches 4 passes for 37 yards, also an average of 9.3 yards per reception as the tandem nearly average a 1st down per catch. As if those 2 weren’t hard enough to stop, WR Tyler Boyd also has 3 receptions for 26 yards, an average of 8.7 yards per catch & Former Raven TE Hayden Hurst catches 4 passes for 45 yards, an average of 11.3 yards per catch but loses a crucial fumble as Rookie S Kyle Hamilton forces the fumble at the Bengals 39 & recovers it at the 45 which leads to a go-ahead FG by Tucker just before the half. Burrow leads a 12-play, 53 yard drive on the Bengals first drive of the 3rd quarter & caps it off w/ a 1-yard rushing TD, then hits Higgins on the 2-point conversion to make a 7 point game as the Bengals re-take the lead. This group would buckle down & force 3 straight punts after that, including 2 3 & outs & 1 drive of 6 plays, making some big stops when they needed to, keeping the Ravens in the game. They allow 18 first downs, 11 coming through the air & 6 coming on the ground w/ 2 coming on penalties & the Bengals go 7-13 on 3rd down, while never attempting a 4th down play. Cincinnati runs 54 plays on 8 drives, an average 4.3 yards per play & goes 2 for 2 in the red zone while holding the ball for 27:34. Mike MacDonald made adjustments in the 2nd half & that’s been something this group hasn’t done well all season, somehow, some way he got his defense to respond & get some stops when they needed to & he had also the pass rush dialed up all night. It was a valiant effort by a group that knew they would be leaned on heavily to carry the weight & when the time came to do so, they met the challenge head on. Facing an opponent who they knew very well for the 3rd time, they never shied away from the challenge & really believed in themselves when no one else did. Hamilton leads the way w/ 9 tackles, 5 of them solo & ILB Roquan Smith has 8 tackles, 3 of them solo as this unit gave everything they had all night. They will have some questions to answer in the off-season as well, DT Calais Campbell, OLB’s Justin Houston, Jason Pierre-Paul & CB Marcus Peters may not be back next year so filling their positions will be instrumental to how well this group bounces back next season. They have lots of young pieces already in place & their MLB locked in for years to come. MacDonald appears to be the right guy going forward, he’s young, talented & has this group primed to be great, another year under his belt & some Playoff experience added to his resume will only make him & this entire unit better going forward. CB, Edge & DT will be the only things this unit needs to improve on what was already a much improved group compared to season’s past. Overall, this defense will be better in the long run after this painful loss, the entire team will as a whole, but mostly this young defense, who grew up before our eyes & will now look to take the next step towards greatness.
Grade : A-
Special Teams – About as solid as they could be in the clutch, on Prime Time, in the Playoffs but a bad roughing the kicker call almost changes things late. They are solid in all areas though & they too gave it all they had to keep this team alive, the return game, kicking game & punting game all contributed to the way this game went & nearly made the difference late. Justin Tucker connects on his only FG attempt, hitting a 22-yarder w/ :07 left in the 1st half & hitting on both extra points, while drilling 2 touchbacks on 5 kickoffs & collecting 5 points on the night. Rookie P Jordan Stout punts it away 3 times for 142 yards, an average of 47.3 yards per punt, including 2 inside the 20 & a long of 53 as he finishes up a very solid Rookie season as the first punter drafted by this team in over 15 years. RB Justice Hill returns 3 kicks for 65 yards, an average of 21.7 yards per return w/ a long of 29 & James Proche II returns 2 punts for 26 yards, an average of 13.0 yards per return as they help set up the offense in pretty decent field position all night. The coverage is also solid as RB Trayveon Williams returns 1 Tucker kickoff for 26 yards, while WR Trent Taylor returns 1 for 16 yards & 2 punts for 9 yards for Cincinnati. ILB’s Kristian Welch & Del’Shawn Phillips contribute w/ tackles on each return as well as Hill, who adds a tackle of his own on one of Taylor’s punt returns which forces a fumble but it goes out of bounds before the either team could recover it. Then, they nearly block back to back punts by Bengals P Dane Chrisman late in the game as ST Coach Chris Horton has his guys coming full speed trying to make a play & they nearly get there the first time but it results in a roughing the kicker on S Geno Stone. That would extend the Bengals drive w/ 8:55 left but the defense bails them out w/ stops on 3 consecutive plays to force another punt in which they almost get to again & Proche II is able to return it for 10 yards to the Cincinnati 19. Chrisman ends up kicking it away 3 times for 151 yards, an average of 50.3 yards per punt w/ 1 inside the 20 & 1 inside the 20 w/ a long of 53 & all 3 were felt w/ pressure as a group that hasn’t blocked a punt all season almost got one a few times. This group played their hearts out, just as they have all season – they were & always have been the backbone of this team. 1 play here or there may have resulted in a different outcome, they were close to a game-changing blocked punt & had there not been a wild fumble return by the Bengals defense, they more than likely would of been called upon to tie it or possibly even put the game away on a kick late. Tucker was never needed on 4th down because of the distance & situations of the downs so there were no Harbaugh analytics used by the offense, just only one chance for Tucker who you know wanted the game in his hands if need be. There were many bright spots w/ this group all season & the future is also bright in this phase. They have a Hall of Fame, current All-Pro kicker who hasn’t missed a beat, a young punter who will only get better, an All-Pro return man in Devin Duvernay when he returns next season & another All-Pro in LS Nick Moore. This group should continue to stay consistent for many years to come, regardless of who stays & who goes, who the Coaches are or how the team proceeds moving forward. ST Chris Horton is another one, along w/ DC Mike MacDonald who seems to have control over his unit & will continue to help them improve. Whatever changes are to be made to this staff, Horton shouldn’t be one of them & most likely won’t, he has had his ST unit near the top of the league in every category despite losing some of his key pieces but they never missed a beat or lost a step. Overall, an effective, solid outing again for a group who rarely has a bad one. It was just another day at the office, Playoff style.
Grade : A-
Coaching – In a game that you didn’t know what to expect from this staff, it ended up looking good early & unraveling late, just like the Ravens season. This team looked focused early after struggling right out of the gate, they took some early shots but weathered the storm. Coach Harbaugh had this team looking like the vintage Ravens of January in the 1st half as they took the lead into halftime & controlled most of the 2nd half as well. The preparation was clearly there & the team was absolutely ready to go from the jump despite falling behind early – they showed some resilience to keep fighting. That’s never going to be an issue w/ a John Harbaugh led team, they will always fight, it’s the analytics & allowing of bad play calls that have done this team in. He is known for holding on to his OC’s for too long without making a change but he seems to be able to still lead, the message seems to be there still as well but the lack of execution & emphasis on attention to detail are not. The look on his face seems to tell the story of a Coach who is almost at the end of his rope, from the ongoing situation w/ his QB to holding his coordinators accountable, to trying to keep his team focused & ready at the same time, as well as the injuries he has had to deal w/ in recent years have definitely taken a toll. He will have to get rid of OC Greg Roman, especially after this game – his antics have gone on for too long & he has no choice but to cut the cord or lose his job. There was also terrible clock management late in the game that more than likely sealed Roman’s fate. He sat on his last 2 timeouts while letting the clock run w/ under 2 minutes while not calling his 2nd timeout until there was :08 left on the clock & then a holding penalty had wiped out any progress they could of made. There were 8 plays which resulted in 2 penalties (1 on each team) & a run-off of 1:52 which makes absolutely no sense that they ended up not using their 3rd timeout at all. He called a run w/ Justice Hill which resulted in 4-yards, ran off :07 seconds after the hold on Zeitler. Just a disastrous final 2 minutes & even 4th quarter at that, after dominating for 3.5 quarters, things completely unraveled & it started w/ the QB dive from the 1 which resulted in the 14-point, game-changing swing in momentum. Not giving the ball to 1 of your 2 RB’s who have been running well all night & instead calling a QB sneak on 3rd & Goal leaves you scratching your head. DC Mike MacDonald had his unit ready as well as ST Coach Chris Horton & you’re thinking there was no way that after the mess of the regular season & the rumors of Roman & Harbaugh being on the hot seat, they wouldn’t bring their A Game because they were aware of how big the stage was. It played out well before falling apart late which was the way the season was as well -the defense blew leads or the offense failed to score points in the 2nd half to close teams out. It turns out the theme of the season was always looking good early & falling apart when it was time to close a team out. Now that the season is over, it’s time to do what has been long overdue, make the necessary changes that this team needs to be successful going forward. John Harbaugh has some very tough decisions to make as well as GM Eric DeCosta & owner Steve Bisciotti. This training staff has been terrible under the watch of S&C coach Steve Saunders & that also falls on Harbaugh for not getting rid of him earlier just like many coaches that he has held on to for way too long. The injuries have piled up under Saunders & the play calling has gotten worse under Roman, there is no secret who needs to go, it’s up to Harbaugh to make it happen. Bengals HC Zach Taylor makes another HC who has out coached Harbaugh & whether or not his team was outplayed or not, they won & the Ravens lost for the first time on the road in the Wild Card round after coming into this game 6-0 in their history. This staff has to improve, however that happens remains to be seen, but it is evident that this team is constantly underachieving & has for almost a decade. The writing is on the wall for this to be one of the most important & significant off-seasons in the history of this Franchise. As for this game, they almost gave the fan base hope, however once again, they found a way to let it slip right through their fingers.
Grade : C-
Overall Grade : B-