So Close, Yet So Far Away – Ten Takeaways from Ravens 30, Eagles 28

Oct 18, 2020; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA; Baltimore Ravens Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

Is the glass half empty or half full after a performance like that?

The pessimist would say that the Eagles are 1-4-1 and lost Miles Sanders, Zach Ertz, and Jack Driscoll in this game. At one point they were down to their 3rd-string right tackle, 2nd-string left guard, 4th-string right guard, and 3rd-string right tackle and now have an injury list longer than Herman Melville’s Moby Dick, which is 575 pages.

The optimist would point out that the Birds gave Baltimore and Pittsburgh, a pair of top-five NFL teams, a really good run in consecutive weeks, and since the Eagles play in the stinky NFC East, they’re hardly out of it yet. Travis Fulgham looks like a stud and Carson Wentz is beginning to play better, so maybe there’s a flickering light at the end of this dark and claustrophobic tunnel.

I don’t think any of us expected the Eagles to win this game, but they could have very easily rolled over and quit after going down 17-0. Instead they scratched and clawed their way back, which has to be commended, considering the fact that they’re rolling out guys we didn’t even know were active, like Jason Croom.

1. Carson Wentz is trying

Please don’t blame Carson Wentz for this loss. I am begging you. He’s not the reason they lost.

It looked ominous when he took a sack on the first play of the game, and you thought it might be one of those days, but Carson took an absolute beating and buckled down and brought his team back into the game, again without most of his starting line and no DeSean Jackson, Alshon Jeffery, Jalen Reagor, or Dallas Goedert.

Look at this:

It’s insanity.

At one point in this game he was 7-13 for 53 yards, and if you add together the Miles Sanders and John Hightower drops, he would have been 9-13 for about 135 yards and a touchdown (maybe two actually if the rookie receiver caught that ball and kept running).

Later in the game he had a pretty back foot throw for Richard Rodgers, a lovely end zone heave for Fulgham, and that huge run for 40 yards.

I continue to stick with the Wentz stance I’ve had for at least two years now, which comes from the school of “more than one thing can be true” –

  1. He needs to help himself by securing the football, improving his accuracy, and throwing it away if nothing is there.
  2. He’s getting his assed kicked while playing with dudes pulled off the scrap heap.

 

It is what it is. He does not ‘stink,’ nor is he a world beater. He’s an average NFL quarterback in 2020 who shows occasional glimpses of the MVP-caliber dude we saw three years ago.

2. The two point conversion

Ugly.

The Birds fought all the way back to 30-28, then Doug Pederson called the Carson Wentz zone read and it got squashed in the backfield.

I had to watch this a couple of times, and originally thought the line blew it, but Baltimore just blitzed L.J. Fort and smoked the play entirely.

What happens is that Jordan Mailata and Nate Herbig crash down and leave the defensive end unblocked, and then Wentz is supposed to read the unblocked end. If the end holds position, Boston Scott gets the ball. If the end goes with Scott, Wentz pulls it instead.

The problem is that Fort looked like he was blitzing the entire time, before Richard Rodgers even motioned:

Chuck Clark is the safety lined up on Rodgers there, so he’s following the pre-snap motion across the formation. When Rodgers finishes his movement, Fort comes off the edge anyway, and then when Mailata and Herbig block down, Wentz is trying to make his read, but there are two unblocked guys instead of one:

This was a straight zone read, not an RPO. There’s no passing option and Herbig and Mailata are run blocking and close to being illegally downfield here.

Doug didn’t talk about it after the game, but Wentz said this:

“We probably did get a little later out of the huddle than we wanted, I think it’s a 20-second play clock, seems like it goes pretty quick on a two-point play, and so we have to be more urgent to get up to line and get our calls and get our checks. We had a scouted look there that we felt confident in. They made a good play, made life tough on us. It’s frustrating to come up short, but hats off to them.”

Nice call by the Ravens, who likely saw that on film and knew it was coming.

3. Hurts so good

Great stuff with Jalen Hurts in this game, who ended up with two carries for 23 yards and would have had more than three yards on his reception if not for a nice play by Baltimore’s Pernell McPhee.

They put him in for a package of plays in the second quarter, when the Eagles were down 17-0 and had gone five straight series with four three-and-outs and a fumble. His insertion just opened things up a bit and gave Baltimore something else to think about, which got the offense “unstuck” and moving.

On this one, Wentz threw a really nice downfield block. Look at the top of your screen where they had him split out wide:

There’s just more going on. Another dimension. Defenses have to think.

I was vehemently against the Hurts pick back in April and did not want to see gimmicky Taysom Hill bullshit, because I think it’s an insult to Hurts, but at this point you might as well use those types of packages because everybody else is injured anyway.

4. Giving credit where it’s due

Jason Croom, Travis Fulgham, and J.J Arcega-Whiteside all scored touchdowns Sunday. Just like they drew it up.

But seriously, on the Sanders fumble and recovery, we were all laughing about JJAW falling on the ball, and did our “that’s the only way he’ll ever score” jokes, but the reason he was in position to fall on the ball is because he busted his ass to get down the field and block for his teammate, which helped move the play to that point in the first place:

That’s a “blue collar” Philadelphia hustle play right there. We love to crap on the guy, and maybe JJAW is a bust, but twice this year on big Sanders runs he’s been great blocking downfield and deserves credit for bringing this play to completion.

5. Nate Gerry – to blame or not to blame?

On the Lamar Jackson TD run, we watched the much-maligned Nathan Gerry trailing from behind with no hope of catching up.

There’s pre-snap motion and a quarterback read on this play, and when you watch it again it looks like Gerry gets lost in the crowd when following a couple of opposite-pulling Ravens linemen, who are moving to their right:

I was listening to Seth Joyner after the game and he put some blame on Alex Singleton for this play. If you watch it again, Singleton goes with J.K. Dobbins, maybe thinking he’s headed out into the flat as a receiver, and he’s nowhere in position to do anything. Josh Sweat is out there, too. Gerry goes left with the pullers to plug that gap, with Rodney McLeod also moving down into the same space. Jackson then just goes right up the middle.

The Ravens’ QB was the only one who spoke specifically about this play after the game, saying:

“I made a read. The line did a great job. When my line was pulled, kicked the guy out, and I just had to do the rest and score. It was a success for us.”

We’d have to ask Jim Schwartz here, because I don’t know who gets the blame for this. Nice play design though, because you’ve got lateral motion going in both directions, and they separate the two linebackers with it and part the Red Sea, figuratively.

6. Mistakes and breaks

The list isn’t long, but the mistakes were backbreakers:

mistakes:

  • John Hightower inexplicable 3rd and 22 drop.
  • Jamon Brown lovely false start after giving up the early sack.
  • Wentz fumble.
  • Miles Sanders dropped touchdown pass.
  • Jake Elliott missed 52-yard field goal.
  • Zach Ertz dropping a pass thrown slightly behind him.
  • Greg Ward late drop.

 

Later, Hightower finally caught the deep ball and looked it in, so good for him. He just alligator armed that first ball. Hit him right in the hands. It reminded me of the alligator from the Geico commercials who tries to reach for the check at the dinner table:

breaks:

  • J.K. Dobbins 3rd and 7 drop on the same play Baltimore lined up with an illegal formation.
  • Ravens illegal formation and illegal block in the back on consecutive plays, leading to a 1st and 35.
  • Ravens dropped interception right before halftime.
  • Calais Campbell roughing the passer penalty, gifting the Eagles with a field goal attempt.
  • Mark Ingram leaving the game.
  • A ton of Ravens’ false start penalties.
  • Another roughing the passer in the red zone.
  • Ravens not able to secure Wentz interception.
  • Marcus Peters pass interference on Fulgham.

 

Baltimore got away with two DPIs on that 4th quarter red zone trip. There was a judo chop in there on one of ’em. They absolutely packed it in and kicked it down to 2nd gear after taking that big lead, which almost bit them in the butt.

7. Ancillary wins and losses

Let’s take a look:

  • lost time of possession 36:30 to 23:20
  • -1 turnover margin
  • 3-12 on third down (25%)
  • 1-3  on fourth down
  • allowed Ravens to go 6-16 on third down (37.5%)
  • lost 43 yards on six sacks
  • 3-3 success rate in the red zone
  • 3 penalties for 20 yards
  • 19 first downs, 17 for Baltimore
  • ran 64 total plays, Baltimore 67

 

Pretty poor across the board, but the Ravens basically sleepwalked through the second half and their outrageous 12 penalties for 132 yards is what made this game closer than it should have been.

8. Doug’s best call?

The Hurts package was probably the best stuff he called all day, regardless of the fact that it was installed in practice and then just utilized in the game. I’d keep expanding that package and get Hurts into the 8-10 snaps per game range. Why not? With all of the injuries, he’s one of the few healthy and talented guys remaining.

On the Croom touchdown, the play was actually that Greg Ward slot post to the back corner of the end zone, but it wasn’t there so Wentz kept moving to his right instead. Baltimore sniffed out the play but nice job by Wentz of evading a tackler and finding another option.

How about the 4th and 5 decision to go for it? With 9:25 left on the clock? Might as well. The defense was tired and you needed try to keep the offense on the field to hold momentum, and it ultimately didn’t kill them, because they found a way to come back and almost tie it up.

9. Doug’s worst call?

On the Wentz fumble, my only issue with the zone read is running it in that portion of the field. They’ve had success with that inside the opponent’s 30, which is where Carson scored the TD the other week, but when you put Wentz in the open field in your own half, it just seems like a high-risk, low-reward type of play.

Also, after the JJAW touchdown, kick the extra point Doug. Just kick the extra point. Because he didn’t do that, he had to try for a two-point conversion later in the game, which they failed.

His explanation of why they went for two down 17-6:

“At that time, it just gives you the best probability to win the game. In that situation, you go for two and then you’re down a touchdown and a field goal wins the game; obviously if things stay status quo. Just gave us the best probability at that point to win.”

Yeah but things aren’t gonna stay “status quo.” You can’t possibly think Baltimore isn’t going to score again. Put the advanced analytics on the side burner and just take the easy point and leave the difficult two-point conversion for the 4th quarter if necessary. If they had kicked the extra point earlier, they wouldn’t have needed it later.

Edit –

To clarify, I’m saying they would have only had to convert two conversions instead of three, because if they kicked the XP after their first two touchdowns, they wouldn’t have required that 2 pt attempt after the Croom TD. Make sense? They forced themselves into an extra conversion.

10. Not an award-winning broadcast

It was nice to hear the fans again, if nothing else to get rid of the fake noise piped in through the broadcast. It felt organic once again, though I could have done without the air horn. Who snuck that thing into the game? Total violation on their part.

We had Ian Eagle and Charles Davis on the broadcast, and their explanation of the Ward sideline catch and review was a head scratcher. Not sure if Davis couldn’t see the video clearly, but he was talking about “alternating feet” and was all over the place. They botched that one.

Eagle also kept calling Nate Gerry “Gary” for some reason, and then said “Wentz on the quarterback keeper,” which was not a quarterback keeper. If it’s a “keeper” it traditionally means the QB is always running the ball, and there’s no other option on the play. On the zone reads, the QB can hand it off or run it himself, so it’s not a “keeper.” I’m not sure why this bothers me so much; I think it’s a lack of attention to detail among media members and broadcasters who don’t know the difference between zone read, RPO, and non-option QB runs. There was another local media member who called the Hurts play a “wildcat,” which was also incorrect, because Hurts is literally a quarterback.

Finally, we don’t want a Colts/Bengals update. Give us a replay of the almost-interception instead. I had to rewind that three times to see if McLeod had a play on the ball, since CBS was giving us a score in a game nobody cares about.

We need to form a broadcast replay task force and get ourselves in front of CBS and FOX executives, because it’s bad. I’ll be the president, and I need a council of supporters with me. Together we will lobby these corporate suits for proper replay, since the current product ain’t cutting it!

Good morning.

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