12/04/2024

Ravens and blown leads: Three reasons Baltimore has had historic late-game collapses

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Ravens and blown leads: Three reasons Baltimore has had historic late-game collapses

The Ravens lost on Sunday after leading by 14 points in the final 10 minutes, part of a troubling trend in Baltimore

The Ravens lost on Sunday after leading by 14 points in the final 10 minutes, part of a troubling trend in Baltimore

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USATSI

A week ago the Ravens were being talked about as maybe the most dominant team in the league. A week later, and we have a sobering reminder that like most teams, they have flaws. 

Baltimore blew yet another lead in Week 10, this time to the Browns, who were down 14 points in the fourth quarter. It was Baltimore's ninth loss in the last three years with a lead of at least seven points in the fourth quarter. That's the most losses in those situations in a three-season span in NFL history.

At this point, I imagine Ravens fans reacting in similar fashion to Jerry Seinfeld in the episode with the rental car reservation. 

"See, you know how to take the lead. You just don't know how to hold the lead."

Indeed. If the Ravens have Super Bowl aspirations, they should be measured against the best. They have more losses in those situations in the last three years (nine) than the Chiefs, Eagles, 49ers, Bengals, Bills and Cowboys combined (eight).

The stats coming out on the Ravens failure to close games are astonishing.

They've started 7-3 for a second straight season despite historic domination.

The 2023 Ravens are the 10th team since 2000 to lead in the final two minutes in each of their first 10 games. The other nine teams were 89-1. Again, this team is 7-3.

The 2022 Ravens were the sixth team in NFL history to lead by double-digits in each of their first 10 games. The other five teams were 49-1. 

Baltimore's recent failures to maintain leads might be the biggest thing keeping them from a Super Bowl (outside of a Lamar Jackson injury). On the surface, it doesn't make much sense either. The Ravens have one of the league best run games and defenses, a formula built for protecting leads. So what's going on here?

I watched all the plays from their biggest fourth-quarter blown leads over the last several years and came to these three conclusions:

1. Lamar Jackson turnovers

For better or worse, it starts with the quarterback, who will always take too much of the blame and likewise get more credit than deserved.

Lamar Jackson has made too many ill-advised throws or mistakes late in these games. He has 13 total touchdowns and 13 turnovers in the fourth quarter over the last three years. Not the ratio you would expect from one of the NFL's best quarterbacks. It's also not in the same league as the other greats, such as Josh Allen (29-11), Joe Burrow (25-11), Patrick Mahomes (21-10) and Jalen Hurts (20-4). 

He has five touchdowns and an NFL-high eight turnovers in that span when playing with a lead in the fourth quarter. He ranks last in passer rating (60.7) in those situations, and 23rd in EPA per play, an efficiency metric that takes into account all plays (passes, scrambles, sacks etc…) and situations. 

His pick-six against the Browns on Sunday definitely swung the result of the game, but was also a bit fluky on a batted pass. Still, he was fortunate to have an interception thrown into the end zone earlier in the fourth quarter nullified by penalty.

He wasn't so lucky when Baltimore blew a lead to the Steelers in Week 5. He threw this interception into the end zone with a chance to put the game on ice. Instead, Pittsburgh came back to win.

There was also this ill-advised throw against the Giants in Week 6 last year that came back to bite the Ravens. 

Simply put, Jackson needs to make better decisions with the football. Turning the ball over in the fourth quarter, especially with the lead, is a killer and has come back to bite the Ravens several times. 

2. Worst defense in NFL with a lead in fourth quarter

The Ravens have one of the best (if not the best) defense in the NFL this season, so it was surprising to see them allow Deshaun Watson to go 14 of 14 passing in the second half on Sunday. Keep in mind, Watson suffered a high-ankle sprain and broken throwing shoulder earlier in the game. 

Baltimore's defense has been a no-show in late, close situations. They rank dead last in EPA per play on defense with a fourth-quarter lead in the last three seasons. I repeat. The Ravens rank last. Like last among all 32 teams. Not something I thought I'd say about their defense in anything. They rank second-best in all other situations. 

Maybe the Ravens take their foot off the gas and lose their edge in these spots, because they have the most missed tackles (89) and fourth-worst missed tackle rate (14%) with a fourth-quarter lead in the last three seasons. David Njoku burned Baltimore for about 20 yards after catch on this play Sunday. Roquan Smith took a bad angle and missed the tackle, then Njoku carried safety Geno Stone about 10 yards. Cleveland broke tackles, pushed the pile and manhandled Baltimore in several spots late in the game. It did not look like the Ravens defense. 

There were several plays in their blown lead against the Steelers where Jaylen Warren shrugged off would-be tacklers, too. Baltimore has also given up too many deep balls at the end of the game, allowing the highest completion rate (58%) on throws 15-plus air yards with a fourth-quarter lead in the last three seasons. Kenny Pickett connected with George Pickens for the game winner in Week 5. 

There's a certain amount of credit due to the offense for flat out making plays like this, and that's also been a theme throughout these blown leads. But, considering Baltimore's defense is usually stout, that's where I place most of the blame.

3. No closer on defense

The biggest reason Baltimore is getting shredded when they should be closing games is the lack of a closer. A superstar edge rusher that can get critical pressure to lock a game down. It's been a while since the Ravens had a game changer off the edge. 

Jadeveon Clowney is quietly having a productive season in Baltimore, but they probably haven't had a force off the edge since Matthew Judon or even Terrell Suggs. Suggs is the last Ravens player with double-digit sacks in a season (2017). 

Time-and-time again during these comebacks the opposing QB has made great plays, but also had too much time to throw. It was Watson in the second half Sunday, Trevor Lawrence in last year's crazy finish in Jacksonville, and Tua Tagovailoa in the Dolphins' 21-point fourth-quarter comeback in Week 2 last year.

The Ravens are 22nd in pressure rate with a fourth-quarter lead in the last three seasons. It drops to 26th in those situations on third down. Baltimore allows opponents to convert on nearly half of its third downs with a fourth-quarter lead in the last three years. 

Without a reliable four-man pass rush, the Ravens blitz has been carved up to the tune of 8.7 yards per attempt in these spots. 

It's one reason I would be concerned about Baltimore in the postseason when they could have to win the game with a late stop against Patrick Mahomes, Joe Burrow, Tua Tagovailoa, Josh Allen or any of the uber-talented QBs in the AFC. 

We might not even have to wait until January for a preview. We could be spoiled with a clutch moment tonight when Baltimore hosts Burrow and the Bengals.

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