At this time a year ago, the Ravens were five games into what would become a 12-game winning streak. In November 2019, Baltimore played four games and put up 37 points, 49 points, 41 points, and 45 points. This was the high point of Lamar Jackson’s MVP campaign, and the point when Baltimore effectively claimed the crown as the NFL’s best and most entertaining team.
This season, November is going quite differently for the Ravens. It began with a 28-24 loss to the Steelers on November 1, which put Baltimore firmly behind Pittsburgh in the race for the AFC North. On Sunday night, the rough stretch continued with a 23-17 loss to the Patriots, and the offense’s performance in that game leads to all kinds of questions.
The Ravens never scored fewer than 20 points in the regular season in 2019. They did just that against a New England squad that came into the game with a 3-5 record and the league’s 31st-ranked defense by DVOA. It’s the type of performance that should raise alarm bells for the Ravens—especially since this team has looked nothing like the 2019 team that tore through the NFL and propelled Jackson to the league’s MVP trophy.
Jackson went 24-of-34 for 249 yards, two touchdowns, and one interception against the Patriots, adding 55 yards rushing. But the Ravens found the end zone just twice, and beyond the stat sheet, everything looked sluggish and grueling for this offense. Just look at this play, one of the biggest highlights of the game for Jackson. It’s a clutch third-down conversion late in the fourth quarter, but it’s also a complete mess for the offense. Everything just looks so difficult for the Ravens now.
To be fair to the Ravens, this game was played in monsoon conditions (and the rain certainly excuses the bad snaps that plagued them throughout the game). The wind whipping through Foxborough was easily heard on NBC’s Sunday Night Football broadcast, the rain rarely let up, and an intense fog rolled in near the close of the game that made the final few plays nearly unwatchable. But Baltimore’s stagnation is a season-long trend that can’t be explained away by one night of inclement weather. In 2019, the Ravens had the no. 1 offense in both passing DVOA and rushing DVOA. Prior to Week 10 this season, they were no. 23 in passing and no. 5 in rushing—and 23rd overall. In 2019, they ranked second in yards gained; this season, they’re 23rd. Last season, they averaged 33.2 points per game; this season, they’ve eclipsed that number just once.
Jackson’s regression has been sharp. Entering Sunday, his passing yards per game dropped from 208.5 in 2019 to 189.1. His rushing yards had declined from 80.4 yards per game to 58.6. And all of his efficiency numbers are down—Jackson is on pace to throw many fewer touchdowns, more interceptions, and take more sacks. He ranked 19th among quarterbacks in Pro Football Focus’s offensive grades after notching the no. 3 mark a year ago. He’s made some bizarre mistakes this season too, including throwing a pick at the end of the half in this game that robbed the Ravens of a chance to put points on the board.
We all knew regression was coming for the Ravens this season—but no one thought it would be this severe. The worst part, though, is that there is not one obvious problem for the team to fix. Typically, when an elite offense craters from one year to the next, it’s because of injuries, roster turnover, a coach leaving, a dramatic decline in offensive line play, or some other obvious culprit. But this Ravens team has no such excuse—this offense is just bland and ineffective. Worst of all, it’s predictable. This week, Jackson said that defenses are “calling out our plays.”
Baltimore retained offensive coordinator Greg Roman this offseason, despite Roman being a hot name in head-coaching rumors after his work with the offense last season, especially with Jackson. Roman has an immaculate record coordinating run-heavy offenses with mobile QBs, having previously coached Colin Kaepernick in San Francisco and Tyrod Taylor in Buffalo. But if current trends hold, this will be one of the most lackluster units he’s coached.
The Ravens fall to 6-3 with the loss. They are still in the hunt for a playoff spot, especially with the NFL having expanded the field to seven teams from each conference before the season (and with the possibility it will expand to eight teams if regular-season games are canceled because of COVID-19). But it’s looking unlikely that they can steal the divisional crown away from the 9-0 Steelers, and virtually impossible that they’ll find a way to get the only bye up for grabs in the conference. That means that even if the Ravens can right the ship on offense, they’ve put themselves in a hole. Not only is this team no longer one of the NFL’s top contenders, it’s staring down an away game on wild-card weekend, and an increasingly narrow path to the Super Bowl. Crucially, there is still a path, and the Ravens have many of the pieces that made their 2019 run so special. But Week 10 showed that Baltimore isn’t just off to a slow start—this sluggish offense appears here to stay, and as long as it does, the Ravens won’t go far.