The Ravens suffered their first loss of the season on Sunday, falling to the Oakland Raiders 28-27. Baltimore is now 3-1 following the loss.
Harbaugh’s decision to accept penalty was a bad one
Perhaps the person that had the biggest impact on the Ravens’ loss was head coach John Harbaugh. On the second play of an early fourth quarter drive, Joe Flacco fumbled the ball when he was hit from behind by linebacker Bruce Irvin. The Raiders recovered the fumble, and had the ball at the Baltimore 29-yard line with a 14-12 lead. On a third and one play, Oakland running back Latavious Murray was tackled by safety Eric Weddle and linebacker Zachary Orr for a five-yard loss. On the play, Raiders guard Gabe Jackson was flagged for unnecessary roughness.
If the penalty was declined, the Raiders would have been in a fourth and one situation and most likely would have kicked a field goal. Harbaugh decided to accept the penalty, giving the Raiders a third and 17 play at the Ravens’ 36-yard line. Raiders quarterback Derek Carr completed a pass to receiver Amari Cooper, who fell down just before the first down mark. The Raiders stayed on the field for fourth and one play, and were able to make Ravens defensive tackle Brandon Williams jump off-sides. Terrell Suggs jumped as well. This gave the Raiders a first down, and they scored a touchdown three plays later.
If the Raiders would have kicked the field goal, they would have had a 17-12 lead. Instead, they led 21-12 due to a bad decision by the Ravens’ coaching staff.
The Ravens lost this game by one point. If this particular Oakland series ended in a field goal, that’s four less points the Raiders would have had. Who knows what would have happened if this situation occurred, but this decision by Harbaugh had a big impact on the final score.
The offensive line is a concern
Coming into Sunday’s game, the Ravens knew they were going to be without starting left tackle Ronnie Stanley, who is dealing with a foot injury. In his place, backup tackle James Hurst got the start. Rookie guard Alex Lewis, who started the first three games of the season, was active for the game but did not play. Lewis suffered a concussion at the end of last week’s game against the Jaguars. Guard John Urschel was also active, but also never got on the field. Ryan Jensen ended up starting at left guard for Baltimore.
To say that the offensive line struggled would be putting it nicely. Flacco was harassed the entire game, as he was sacked twice and knocked down six times. When he did have time to throw, it was not much, and he ended up on the ground often.
Penalties were also an issue for Baltimore’s offensive line. Both teams had trouble keeping the refs from throwing their flags, as 25 combined penalties were committed in the game. Hurst was flagged for holding twice, Jensen committed a false start and holding penalty, and center Jeremy Zuttah was also flagged twice for holding.
The offensive line has been shaky so far in 2016, but this game was the worst showing the unit has had. If the Ravens are going to contend this season (and keep Flacco healthy for that matter), the offensive line needs to remain healthy and play more physical.
The run game finally came alive
Coming into Sunday’s game, the Ravens were ranked 27th in the NFL with just 247 rushing yards. That trend changed today, as running Terrance West rushed for 113 yards on 21 carries with a touchdown. West had not rushed for 100 yards since his first NFL game in 2014. West got the start on Sunday, as the Ravens listed Justin Forsett inactive as a healthy scratch.
The Ravens’ run game probably would have been even better if Stanley and Lewis had played. However, Baltimore had only scored four touchdowns in their first three games, and the offense scored three on Sunday. Having a successful run game is going to help Joe Flacco out immensely, and it was good to see the Ravens finally see some success with their run game.
Slow start hurts Ravens
Once again, the Ravens offense had trouble getting things going in their first few series. In fact, six of the first eight drives for Baltimore ended in punts, the other two in field goals. The Ravens scored one touchdown in the first half, and then went quiet again until the fourth quarter when they scored two touchdowns in just under three minutes. The offense unfortunately stalled on the final drive of the game when the Ravens were trying to get into field goal range.
In order to be successful, Baltimore’s offense is going to need to get off to faster starts, and convert plays in crunch time. The Ravens’ schedule is going to get tougher in the coming weeks, with opponents like Washington, Pittsburgh and Cincinnati. These teams are going to score quickly and often. The Ravens cannot always count on their defense to bail them out of trouble. It was known that the Ravens’ offense would need time to find their own, but its been four weeks and the Ravens simply need to get off to faster starts.
A loss is still disappointing, but going 4-0 is extremely hard to do in the NFL. The Ravens have not accomplished that since the 2006 season. 3-1 is certainly better than being 1-3, and maybe a loss is something this Ravens team needed to experience in order to get better. Next week’s game against the Redskins is certainly winnable. Hopefully the Ravens make improvements in certain areas, and the coaching staff learns from their bad decisions that they made against Oakland.