Five things we learned from the Ravens’ 13-3 loss to the Cleveland Browns – The Denver Post


The Ravens played their ugliest game of the season, piling up turnovers, special teams mishaps and unfinished drives as they managed just a field goal in a 13-3 loss to the thoroughly unremarkable Cleveland Browns. Their running game was the only thing that worked, and they even went away from that in the fourth quarter.

The Ravens should pretend this game never happened.

We have all dragged through days when nothing worked.

What else can we say about a game in which the Ravens ended four consecutive drives with a missed field goal, an interception in the red zone, a fumble in their own half of the field and a blocked field goal? Even in their lesser stretches of this season, they won the turnover and special teams battles. Not on Saturday in Cleveland. Their bread and butter became bread and turpentine.

Their running game — 198 yards on 28 carries — was the only beacon shining through the Cleveland snow, but offensive coordinator Greg Roman largely went away from it once the Browns pushed the margin to 10. With victory still theoretically in reach — the Browns kept missing field goals as well — the Ravens attempted six straight passes on their first meaningful drive of the fourth quarter. The last three of those fell incomplete when they needed just four yards to keep moving.

Nothing about it was fun to watch. So why dwell on the details?

When Lamar Jackson trudged to the locker room two weeks ago, with his head down and his knee wounded, we knew the Ravens would travel a rugged road until his return. Backup Tyler Huntley mustered a game-winning drive that day, and the Ravens bludgeoned their way to another close victory last weekend in Pittsburgh. A gritty win in Cleveland would have been satisfying, but they did not absolutely need it.

Of course, they were angry in the aftermath. No team wants to deliver so much futility, certainly not a team that aspires to a deep playoff run. But how much can they really learn from this stink bomb? Jackson could be back for their Christmas Eve date with the Atlanta Falcons, so they’re better off looking ahead.

“You know, weirdly we are in a good spot, I think,” cornerback Marlon Humphrey said. “Everything is kind of still in front of us. I felt we had a strong week of preparation coming into this game. I think we all felt like we left one out there. Someone just said in the locker room that you can’t let this one beat you twice. Even though we are in a good spot right now, it just feels like we are like a wounded dog. I think [we should] let 24 hours go by, come back to reality and then come back to whatever day we are in this week and get back to work on Atlanta.”

The passing game is so anemic that they have no margin for error.

Coach John Harbaugh cut right to the chase in his postgame news conference: “It’s not a good enough passing game right now.”

Do the Ravens have the coaching minds and pass-catching talent to make quick fixes? It’s hard to say yes given the trajectory of their air attack over the second half of the season. We can pick on Huntley for his limits as a downfield passer, but these troubles began when Jackson was still at the helm. We’ve all had this statistic crammed down our throats, but it really is incredible that the Ravens have not completed a touchdown pass to a wide receiver since Week 3. Pro Bowl tight end Mark Andrews hasn’t caught one since Week 6, also the last time he posted a 100-yard game. They’ve thrown for 232 yards total over the last two games and have scored two touchdowns over their last three.

Remember, this was a high-powered offense over the first three weeks of the season!

The Ravens’ most productive wide receiver, Demarcus Robinson, would be a No. 3 or No. 4 on the league’s better passing teams. The same could be said for Devin Duvernay. DeSean Jackson is 36 years old.

We can debate the lack of spacing in Roman’s route designs or general manager Eric DeCosta’s roster-building priorities, but an autopsy is only so useful at this juncture. The Ravens have a championship-caliber defense and running game. Neither will be enough if their passing game remains a dead limb for the rest of the season.

Will Jackson revive it when he returns? That’s the next big question facing this team. We know he’s a more dynamic runner and thrower than Huntley. Stagnant as the Ravens were at times, they scored at least 20 points in nine of the 11 games their franchise quarterback started and finished. Twenty points felt like a distant fantasy Saturday.

Harbaugh refused to blame Huntley or speak of Jackson as a potential savior. “This guy knows what he’s doing,” he said, nodding to his backup quarterback. “He plays with his heart. He’s very much capable of doing all the things that we need to do in the passing game. It’s not that; it’s everything else.”

The Ravens cannot afford to play without Marcus Peters for long.

For all the Ravens’ offensive foibles, the calf injury that sent Peters to the locker room could be more harmful to their big-picture aspirations.

Harbaugh did not offer an immediate update on the severity, so we cannot get ahead of ourselves. The Ravens have been lucky this year in escaping season-ending injuries to their key stars, and perhaps they will be again with Peters and defensive end Calais Campbell, who left Saturday’s game with a knee injury.

But they do not have a cornerback ready to step in for Peters or Humphrey. Both have played almost every defensive snap because they’ve had to. If the Ravens trusted Brandon Stephens or Kevon Seymour or Damarion “Pepe” Williams on the outside, they would have given them more work in recent weeks. They have used safety Kyle Hamilton as their nickel back in part because they don’t have a cornerback (other than Humphrey) they like in the role. It’s the thinnest unit for a defensive overflowing with talent everywhere else. If we had to bet on a position the Ravens will target in the first round next April, cornerback would be at the top of the list.

Peters has not played near his peak level this season. His coverage grade, per Pro Football Focus, is good but not great, and he has just two forced fumbles and one interception. He has been more careful to rest up for games after he lost all of last season to a knee injury and has acknowledged second-guessing his instincts at times.

Nonetheless, the coaches trust him like they do few other players on the defense. “He knows what to do, I can assure you, and then some,” defensive coordinator Mike Macdonald said recently. There would be no cavalry for them to call upon if Peters cannot go.

At least the running game still works.

Even in this bleakest of performances, the Ravens could hang their hats on a few traits that will carry them through the rest of the season: They don’t give up a lot of points, and they chew up big chunks of ground when J.K. Dobbins and Gus Edwards carry the ball.

Dobbins again seemed annoyed that he could not accelerate away from the defense at the end of his 37-yard burst in the third quarter. He has vowed to regain his vintage speed as he rebuilds his conditioning. “We would score touchdowns if I just score from deep,” he said. “I am going to put that on me because that is what the team drafted me for is to make plays like that.”

But the man has rushed for 245 yards on 28 carries in two games since he returned from a cleanup surgery on his knee. His vision, his balance, his fury when finishing off runs are all revelatory when we compare him to replacement-level players at his position.

Edwards, too, has regained much of his old punch, with 121 yards on 20 carries over the last two games. He and Dobbins combined for six carries of 10 or more yards against the Browns, giving the Ravens’ offense its only explosive component. Their ceiling will be higher still when Jackson’s designed carries are reintroduced to the mix.

Devin Duvernay has looked off as a returner for weeks.

Duvernay was an All-Pro in 2021 and picked up where he left off in the first half of this season, with a 103-yard kickoff return and a 46-yard punt return the highlights of his impressive work. But we’ve seen some odd judgments and no mitigating big plays from him in recent weeks.

Over the last six games, Duvernay has totaled 24 yards on five punt returns and 128 yards on seven kickoff returns. His averages of 4.8 yards on punts and 18.3 on kickoffs are down from career marks of 13.1 and 25.7, respectively.

The first punt of Saturday’s game bounced off him, and he had to scoop the ball off the ground just to salvage seven yards. When the Browns kicked off early in the second quarter, Duvernay chose to return it from two yards inside the end zone instead of taking a touchback. He only made it to the Ravens’ 18-yard line. He returned another from the end zone just before halftime and made it to the 20-yard line. His struggles on special teams have corresponded with diminishing production on offense.

Duvernay launched like a cruise missile to start his third NFL season, combining special teams excellence with tough catches in the end zone and a significant role in the Ravens’ running game. For a while, we wondered why the Ravens stopped targeting him. Now, we have to ask: what happened to that terrific all-around player? The Ravens even turned to Justice Hill to return a pair of kickoffs in their Week 14 win over the Pittsburgh Steelers.

“‘Duv’ is playing a lot on offense,” special teams coordinator Chris Horton explained. “I’ve said that before, we have a lot of guys who we can put back there to return kicks for us. So, I think it’s just throughout the flow of the game, the course of the game, we just kind of work with our guys to make sure that we’re taking care of everybody.”

Week 16

Falcons at Ravens

Saturday, 1 p.m.

TV: Ch. 45

Radio: 97.9 FM, 101.5 FM, 1090 AM



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