After 2 weeks of showing a much-improved passing attack, the Ravens-Chiefs matchup was the marque game in the 1 o’clock slot on Sunday. Billed as a playoff preview between 2 of the best young QBs in the game, it would be both teams’ biggest test early in the season. With both clubs entering 2-0, the stakes were about as high as they could be for a non-divisional week 3 game, and obviously 1 team would be leaving Arrow Head Stadium with their first defeat. I’ve been ruing this day since the start of the season, but the Ravens took their first loss, and I’m here to breakdown the play I think contributed the most.
For the first time all season, Lamar Jackson looked inconsistent with his accuracy. Throws that were completed throughout the first 2 weeks soared far out of his receivers’ reach on Sunday, and opportunities were ultimately missed on offense. One throw, in particular, stood out when Hayden Hurst got open up the seam and Jackson flat out missed him. He also airmailed a handful of deep shots to Hollywood Brown, who was able to get a step on his defender more often than not. The silver lining here is that our receivers are still getting open on a regular basis, but none of that will matter if Lamar can’t deliver them the football.
Also, for the first time all season, Lamar Jackson was facing some heavy pressure. Bradley Bozeman couldn’t contain Chris Jones, which shouldn’t have been a surprise at all, and the Chiefs’ defensive line was beating the Ravens’ offensive line for the majority of the day. Of course, Jackson has great mobility and was often able to buy time on his own, but there were moments where he was clearly uncomfortable in the pocket, and that may have affected his confidence throwing the ball.
Combine our struggles in the passing game with the fact that the Chiefs’ offense is seemingly impossible to stop and you have the recipe for a long day as a Ravens fan. We played a much better second half than we did a first, and gave ourselves a chance to win in the end, but this game didn’t feel as close as the score would indicate. The defense gave up chunk plays with regularity and couldn’t keep containment on screen passes. They even had problems stopping the run, and couldn’t find a way to create the game-changing play we desperately needed (Well, they did, but that pass interference call on Brandon Carr’s interception deserves its own article). Truth be told, there are about a dozen plays that’ll stick in my memory from this game; but one, in particular, stands out from the rest.
A first possession stop by the defense led to a first possession score from the offense. John Harbaugh was aggressive early, and though the 2-point conversion failed the gameplan seemed to be working early. At the end of the 1st quarter, the Ravens were nursing a 6-0 lead. The 2nd quarter, however, wouldn’t be so kind.
Back to back touchdown drives put Kansas City up a score late into the 2nd, and the Ravens offense stalled once again. A mixture of balls batted at the line, missed throws, and overall bad flow kept the Ravens’ offense stagnant throughout the entire quarter. A good punt from Sam Koch pinned the Chiefs deep, which gave us hope to get the game back on track. The defense had a chance to make a stop and give the offense the ball back in good field position. They did not.
Instead, they surrendered a wide-open catch and run to Mecole Hardman, who scored the easiest 83-yard touchdown you’ll see in the NFL. This play was by far the most alarming of the week, and was another instance of the busted coverages that plagued the team against Arizona a week ago. Simply put, this can not happen. Mecole Hardman runs a legit 4.3 40, he’s one of the fastest players in the league and can easily take a mile when you give him an inch. With that said, it’s pretty obvious what happens when you give the guy 15 yards to himself.
This breakdown in coverage is simply inexcusable. Before this play, the Ravens were about 2 stops away from getting right back into the game; but in the blink of an eye, it became a 2 score game and they looked completely outmatched. The Chiefs would go on to score a FG to make it a 23-0 run in the 2nd and make it a 3 score game going into the half.
I wasn’t in the defensive huddle, so I can’t say exactly what the play call was, but there appears to be plenty of blame to go around. The play starts with Canaday (26, long hair) covering Hardman (17) in the slot. At the snap, Hardman makes a B-line towards the endzone, but Canaday falls off pursuit about 10 yards deep as if he’s playing an out-route. I’d have to assume Canaday is playing a shallow outside zone, because if he’s not this is one of the worst decisions I’ve seen a CB ever make.
In the screenshot above you can see Averett (34) defending his man perfectly, so Canaday being underneath would neutralize any curl or comeback route. This looks like designed bracket coverage executed well, and while I have my personal complaints with both of them, I think they did their job this play. What really stands out in the screenshot, is the 3 defenders in the area of the short route. My gut instinct tells me this is where the play broke down. Tony Jefferson (who I’ll show later) took credit for the busted coverage, but it looks like a mistake on Earl Thomas’ part here.
Peanut (48) has the underneath zone on this play and gets beat, leaving Thomas (29) between 2 open receivers. Hardman breaks open over top, and it appears that Earl plays on instinct in an attempt to break on the underneath throw. IF Earl is to blame, he should have stayed deep with Hardman and trusted the defense to make the tackle on the after the short catch. However…
Tony Jefferson did claim to be at fault. It’s my belief that he’s just saying that to the media to take the hit for the team, but if he’s being truthful he was out of position pretty bad here. There’s not really a situation where I want Jefferson as the single-high safety, and if anything he and Thomas should’ve swapped places on this play. If this is the true play design, Jefferson cheated to the wrong side and got burned badly.
At the top of the screen, you can see a defender in 1-on-1 coverage with Travis Kelce, who’s a huge threat in his own right. More often than not it’s a good idea to double team him, but when you have a guy as fast as Hardman running deep out of the slot he’s got to be the priority. Jefferson saw his mistake as the ball was thrown and it was much too late. The speed difference was apparent and Hardman easily took this ball to the house.
Regardless of who was at fault, we’ve seen coverage breakdowns and guys getting open far too often this year. Granted, we’ve played offenses that scheme around creating confusion like this the last 2 weeks; but this was supposed to be one of the better defenses in the league, and definitely a top tier secondary. To this point, they’re looking like more of a liability, and they’ll need to get the kinks worked out fast or opposing offenses will shred them all year.
With Cleveland coming to town we have a chance to distance ourselves as the clear-cut #1 team in the AFC North, but the team will need to clean these mistakes up and execute if they want to reach their potential going forward.