Confounded by blitz, Ravens’ offense wilted against Miami

The Baltimore Ravens weren’t climbing out of this hole. Not the way their offense was sputtering, completely unable to counter what Miami was doing.

“This falls squarely on me as the head coach,” Baltimore’s John Harbaugh said. “We were not prepared the way we need to be prepared.”

The best the Ravens can hope for is that Harbaugh is right — that Thursday night’s 22-10 loss at Miami was an aberration, a result of uncharacteristically poor preparation in a short week, and not some larger flaw that other teams will now begin exploiting.

Baltimore was held under 14 points for the first time in 52 games. Lamar Jackson and the offense weren’t able to deal with Miami’s blitzing. After Justin Tucker’s field goal on the opening possession, the Ravens didn’t score again until the latter part of the fourth quarter.

Tucker even missed a field goal on the team’s second drive, perhaps the first sign that something was amiss. Then the Ravens (6-3) punted seven straight times, not counting an abbreviated possession at the end of the half. Over and over, the Dolphins sent unblocked pass rushers after Jackson, and Baltimore couldn’t take advantage of Miami’s aggressiveness with big gains.

“(Cover) Zero is like one of those things where you have to make them pay, you know?” tight end Mark Andrews said. “I don’t think early on we did that enough. That’s one of the things, you make them pay early on, they kind of get out of there.”

The loss certainly raised questions whether the AFC North-leading Ravens are as good as their record. Three of their victories came in games they trailed by double digits in the second half, and they couldn’t pull off a similar comeback after Miami went ahead 15-3.

WHAT’S WORKING

Red-zone defense. This helped keep the Ravens within striking distance for a while. Miami had first-and-goal from the 5-yard line in the second quarter, but a holding penalty knocked the Dolphins back and they settled for a field goal. Miami had first-and-goal from the 4 in the final seconds of the half, but the Dolphins mismanaged the clock a bit and ended up kicking a field goal on third down. In the fourth quarter, Miami had first-and-goal from the 1, but Baltimore again forced a field goal, with the help of a false-start penalty.

WHAT NEEDS HELP

According to Next Gen Stats, Miami’s Jevon Holland blitzed 21 times and fellow safety Brandon Jones blitzed 17 times. Those two blitzed more times than any defensive back in a game in the Next Gen Stats era, dating back to 2016.

The Ravens couldn’t do much of anything against it until the very end of the game, when Jackson completed enough quick, short passes to drive 99 yards for a touchdown that made it 15-10. Even that drive was aided significantly by Miami penalties.

Baltimore will likely see similar defensive strategies until the Ravens show they can beat that pressure.

“There was a guy free every time I was dropping back,” Jackson said.

STOCK UP

Rookie Rashod Bateman continues to impress. He caught six passes for 80 yards.

STOCK DOWN

Marquise Brown caught only six passes for 37 yards on 13 targets. Miami’s strategy of crowding the line of scrimmage created an opportunity for Baltimore’s receivers, and aside from Bateman nobody took much advantage. Sammy Watkins returned after missing three games with injury issues. His only catch of the night ended in a fumble that the Dolphins ran back for a touchdown.

INJURIES

CB Tavon Young injured his foot in the second half. Harbaugh didn’t have an update after the game.

KEY NUMBER

3 — The number of first-quarter touchdowns by the Ravens this season, and two of them were in the first two weeks. This wasn’t the first time Baltimore appeared a bit flat offensively at the start of a game.

“Every week. It’s ridiculous. I don’t understand it either,” Jackson said. “We just have to do a better job at that. You know, hit the ground running, like we’re supposed to do. And that starts by staying calm and just doing us. Don’t put nothing extra on our minds.”

NEXT STEPS

The Ravens will have a lot more time to prepare for their next game, although it’s on the road again Nov. 21 against the Chicago Bears.

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Follow Noah Trister at https://twitter.com/noahtrister

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