OWINGS MILLS, Md. -- When Baltimore plays host to Tennessee on Sunday, it’s a rematch of one of the Ravens’ most painful postseason losses.
It’s also the moment when Lamar Jackson and the Ravens offense went from being unstoppable to unraveling.
Heading into the playoffs last season, Baltimore was shredding defenses, averaging the most offensive points (30.4) and the second-most yards (407.6) per game. After getting shut down by the Titans in a 28-12 playoff defeat, the Ravens haven’t been the same electric offense, ranking No. 16 in offensive points scored (24.0) and No. 22 in yards (348.1) a little over halfway through this season.
Baltimore (6-3) remains in position for a third straight trip to the playoffs, but its inconsistencies on offense place a question mark over this one-time popular Super Bowl pick. In last Sunday’s loss in New England, the Ravens were held to 17 points, their fewest in Jackson’s 31 regular-season starts.
Injuries, lack of execution and discipline as well as personnel decisions have all led to a sudden and unexpected decline, which has now become part of a national discussion in the football world.
"They don’t do anything well,” former NFL quarterback and current ESPN analyst Dan Orlovsky said on the Mike Greenberg podcast. "They don’t even run the ball that well anymore. Their pass game has absolutely zero rhyme or reason to it. The wild thing is last year, I remember going, ‘Every defensive coordinator and defense goes into that game scared to death to play the Ravens because they have no idea what to do.’ This year, no defensive coordinator is scared to play them because they’re simple.”
Some of the problems have been out of Baltimore's control. Since the end of last season, the Ravens lost their best offensive lineman (guard Marshal Yanda retired), their best pass protector (All-Pro left tackle Ronnie Stanley suffered a season-ending ankle injury earlier this month) and a top run blocker (tight end Nick Boyle sustained a season-ending knee injury Sunday). The offensive line, which had two different starting lineups all of last season, is set to start its fifth combination of the season Sunday.
Other struggles have been over the most fundamental aspects of the game. Snapping the ball and lining up correctly can't be taken for granted. Baltimore has been flagged for illegal formation six times because of not having enough players at the line of scrimmage. Overall the Ravens have committed 22 offensive penalties since Week 4 (six games), the second-most in the NFL.
Much of the offensive troubles have fallen on offensive coordinator Greg Roman. Last week, Jackson made headlines when he told the "Rich Eisen Show" that defenders were calling out the Ravens' plays at the line of scrimmage.
Ravens coach John Harbaugh defended Roman when asked how much of the blame falls on the offensive playcaller.
"Greg Roman is a proven coach, as all of our coaches are, and they’re working hard," Harbaugh said. "They’re working hard, just like the players are, to get it right and put as many points up as they can. So, [we’ll] continue to keep doing that. The outside, the criticism, whatever, it’s just part of it; we understand that, and you just have to put your head down, and do your job, and try to improve. It’s a long season in this league. So, opinions come and go; everybody has them, and that’s really how you have to categorize it, and just leave it at that."
The Ravens' difficulties on offense go beyond coaching and the players. The front office focused most of its biggest moves on the defense, trading for defensive end Calais Campbell and pass-rusher Yannick Ngakoue and using its first-round pick on middle linebacker Patrick Queen. Meanwhile, other young quarterbacks landed No. 1 wide receivers this offseason. The Arizona Cardinals acquired DeAndre Hopkins for Kyler Murray and the Buffalo Bills got Stefon Diggs for Josh Allen.
For the Baltimore offense to evolve, ESPN analyst Steve Young believes the Ravens have to allow Jackson to take the next step as a passer.
"A fundamental change has to happen in this offense," ESPN analyst Steve Young said. "Look at the Cardinals. Look at what they’re doing offensively. Just copy that. The explosiveness of the passing game and rushing. They’ve won a lot of games. They’ve won MVPs. But they will not win Super Bowls with this offense. And Lamar is not going to progress. He’s so much more talented than even he’s showing today. But they’re not asking him to do it. To me, they got to switch."
The Ravens' toughest remaining games of the season occur in a five-day span. Baltimore plays host to the Titans (6-3) on Sunday and travel to play the Steelers (9-0) on Thanksgiving night.
In Jackson's last meetings against those defenses, he has committed a total of seven turnovers (four interceptions and three fumbles).
Can this banged-up Baltimore offense get back on track to where it was last season?
"It’s not a simple type of a process, that’s why it’s not easy," Harbaugh said. "I think that’s what makes it so interesting. The process will remain the same as it always has. We’ll work through that, decide what plays and decide what players based on who we’re playing and what we’re able to do well. So, we’ll keep practicing those things to try to become proficient at executing those things, especially under pressure. It takes a lot of work and a lot of time. If you look around the league, you see that. So, that’s what we’ll be doing."