The more John Harbaugh watched of the Ravens’ 24-20 loss Sunday to the New York Giants, the more he said he understood his team and what it can be this season.
Their shortcomings? “Very, very correctable,” the coach said Monday. But also very, very real.
“Half of it makes you feel better about it, because you know you can get it cleaned up, and half of it makes you feel worse about it, because it’s like, ‘Why didn’t we have it already cleaned up?’” Harbaugh said. “We’re in a place in our development right now as a team where there are a number of moving parts, and there are growing pains that we’re just having.”
The Ravens are only a handful of plays away from a 6-0 start. Instead, they’re 3-3 entering their Week 7 home game against the Cleveland Browns, and Sunday’s collapse inside MetLife Stadium offered another reminder why. From questionable play-calling to poor execution to inopportune penalties, here’s a look at what went wrong in key spots against the Giants.
Over the first half, the Ravens averaged 8.1 yards per carry. On their first drive of the second half, they ran twice for a combined 32 yards.
But when the Ravens got to the Giants’ 5-yard line, looking to extend a 10-7 lead, offensive coordinator Greg Roman went against tendency. He called three straight passes, all of which fell incomplete. The Ravens had to settle for a 23-yard field goal from kicker Justin Tucker instead.
The offense had run into crowded boxes all afternoon — running back Kenyan Drake faced eight or more defenders in the box on seven of his 10 carries, according to the NFL’s Next Gen Stats — and Harbaugh said Monday that near the goal line, “that box starts to stack up a little bit.”
Still, the Ravens’ three red-zone drop-backs left much to be desired. On their first, the crossing routes took too long to develop; quarterback Lamar Jackson short-armed a throw to wide receiver Devin Duvernay under heavy pressure. On his second drop-back, Jackson stared down tight end Mark Andrews and had his pass to the back of the end zone nearly intercepted — twice. And on Jackson’s third and final try, he missed tight end Isaiah Likely on a likely touchdown pass over the middle, instead looking left, where wide receiver Demarcus Robinson’s route never developed into anything substantive.
“You can still run it, and you can still try to run it and smash it up in there, and you might pop it, you might get it, or you might say, ‘You know what? I can throw against this, and I’m going to set them up and throw,’” Harbaugh said. “We’ve gone down to the 1-yard line and run it down there and not gotten it in, as you know — and why didn’t we throw it? So I just think that, yes, you accept that, and you look at it, and you say, ‘Well, maybe we could’ve done something different,’ but also, we could’ve executed the pass game a little better and scored, and we wouldn’t be having this conversation.”
The Ravens finished with 24 carries for 211 yards in their loss. Since 2019, when Jackson became the full-time starter in Baltimore, they are 15-4 when rushing for 200-plus yards.
The Giants’ most impressive drive of the game came at the most important juncture of the game. Andrews’ 12-yard score had given the Ravens a 20-10 lead with just under 13 minutes remaining in the fourth quarter. The Giants answered with a 12-play, 75-yard drive of their own, this one also ending with a tight end’s end-zone grab.
But while Andrews’ catch was contested, Daniel Bellinger’s was relatively simple. On the Giants’ second-and-7 play from the Ravens’ 8, the rookie had lined up next to right tackle Evan Neal. He bluffed a run block before running a shallow right-to-left crossing pattern along with wideout David Sills V, who’d lined up as an outside receiver. Tight end Tanner Hudson, who’d lined up next to left tackle Andrew Thomas, released to the middle of the field before bending his route back toward the left.
The Ravens, dropping into zone coverage after quarterback Daniel Jones’ fake handoff, had the numbers to handle the flood of routes, but not the organization. Safety Geno Stone picked up Hudson as he headed to the back corner of the end zone. Cornerback Marcus Peters passed off Sills’ route to inside linebacker Josh Bynes. But when Bynes passed off Bellinger to cut off Sills, no one picked him up. Safety Chuck Clark was too deep to crash down, and cornerback Marlon Humphrey, who’d lined up opposite Peters, seemed to lose sight of Bellinger amid the wave of bodies headed to his half of the field.
When Jones set his feet to throw at the Ravens’ 17, Bellinger was still more than 5 yards clear of Humphrey. Jones aimed the pass high enough for the 6-foot-5 Bellinger to render Humphrey’s recovery speed a nonfactor.
“We just didn’t play the coverage right,” Harbaugh said. “The coverage was misplayed underneath. … The way we play it, it wasn’t matched correctly. It’s just something that we practice all the time; we should be better at it. It was a mistake. We can get that cleaned up and fixed.
“There are going to be things in the game on both sides, there are mistakes that get made that get taken advantage of. Football’s not perfect. Guys match with the wrong guy sometimes, their eyes are in the wrong spot sometimes, sometimes they overplay something and something else comes in behind them. … That’s the nature of the game. Sometimes you pay for it, and sometimes you don’t; sometimes they pay for it, and sometimes they don’t.”
With just over three minutes remaining, the Ravens led 20-17 and faced a third-and-1 at their own 44. Really, they needed less than that; a simple quarterback sneak would suffice. But as Jackson plunged ahead from under center for the first down, an official threw a flag. The Ravens were called for an illegal-formation penalty. On the subsequent third-and-6, center Tyler Linderbaum’s too-early snap to Jackson kicked off a chain of events that led to a Giants interception and the go-ahead touchdown.
In the locker room afterward, left tackle Ronnie Stanley was asked about the Ravens’ illegal formation; referee Clay Martin had cited his number in explaining the call. “I guess someone has to cover me up on the line of scrimmage,” Stanley said, “and no one was covering me up.”
Under NFL rules, the offensive team must have at least seven players on the line of scrimmage at the snap. The Ravens had only six: their five offensive linemen and tight end Josh Oliver. Fullback Patrick Ricard, lined up beside Stanley, was off the line of scrimmage. As the only eligible receiver on the left side of the line, he needed to be on the line of scrimmage.
After the flag was thrown, Andrews appeared to gesture angrily to Ricard. The Ravens finished with 10 penalties for 74 yards, both season highs.
“A head coach looks at it and says, ‘How can that happen on a basic offensive play?’” said Harbaugh, who did not specify which player or players were responsible. “That’s still the one that I’m really reeling over; that’s the one that’s really churning me up. We get that done, there’s a high chance we go win that football game. So it’s not acceptable.
“It is explainable when you dig in and you see the chain of events that happened, in terms of how we lined up, and then someone tries to make up for how someone else lines up. A mistake gets made, someone tries to correct it, that’s really another mistake, and then we don’t finally fix it in the simple way that it’s taught to be fixed when something like that happens, and you have a terrible error. There’s no way that should happen; that’s one that I’m not probably going to get over, but ultimately, it’s my responsibility.”
Sunday, 1 p.m.
TV: Chs. 13, 9
Radio: 97.9 FM, 101.5 FM, 1090 AM
Line: Ravens by 6 1/2