Beat the Kansas City Chiefs.
Okay, article’s done.
Wait… the article’s not done? Fine.
In all seriousness, the Ravens won’t be able to hit any major playoff benchmarks if they can’t get through the Chiefs, who have played in the conference championship game in each of the last three seasons. The Ravens have yet to make it there in the Lamar Jackson era—we’ll get to that later—but they’ve also yet to beat the Chiefs in the same era. They were closest in 2018 when Jackson had just recently taken over for Joe Flacco; 2019 was pretty close, 2020 was a two-score loss.
2020 kinda felt like the one—at least in the lead-up to the game. Baltimore had two dominant wins over the Cleveland Browns and Houston Texans; Kansas City was coming off of an overtime win over the Los Angeles Chargers in Justin Herbert’s first career start. But the Ravens’ aggressive man blitzing defense gave up far too many explosive passes, while the Ravens’ pass-catchers dropped five total passes, failing to score an offensive touchdown until early in the fourth quarter.
It was the first crack in the ice for Baltimore: a clear demonstration of the limits on their drop-back passing game given Jackson’s inconsistency, Greg Roman’s lack of ingenuity, and the weak receiving corps. They’ve clearly addressed the biggest issue, adding Sammy Watkins, Rashod Bateman, and Tylan Wallace all to a room in desperate need of such talent. However, Roman remains the offensive coordinator without any assistance from a new passing game coordinator and Jackson remains Jackson: clearly a quality NFL passer, but not the most dangerous quarterback in the league when down and distance removes the threat of play-action.
If the Ravens’ passing game didn’t get better, they simply won’t be able to hang with Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs—such has been the case for the last few years, and I’m not sure they did enough to change course. Similar issues are present against all playoff teams.
Jackson and the Ravens are 1-3 in the playoffs over the last three years—of course, that means they’ve made it three consecutive years, which is inarguably a win. But across those four games, their top offensive output was a mere 20 points against the Tennessee Titans this past season. Jackson is a 56% passer, averaging 6.6 yards/attempt and a stunning 4.0 adjusted net yards/attempt. He’s thrown more picks (5) than touchdowns (3) and taken 19 total sacks—he took just 29 total in a 15-game regular season last year. In last year’s postseason, he didn’t have a passing touchdown at all.
The Ravens simply must make a deep playoff run in 2021. They arguably underachieved in 2018, certainly underachieved in 2019, and after finally securing the first playoff win of the Jackson era, the offense delivered an absolute stinker in a 17-3 loss to the Buffalo Bills in the divisional round. For all of their talent, quality coaching, and defensive prowess, it feels like the Ravens disappoint every time the calendar cycles back to January.
Three consecutive playoff berths are awesome. Only the Chiefs, New Orleans Saints, and Seattle Seahawks have similar or greater streaks. But playoff berths are quickly becoming old hat in Baltimore, where Jackson’s rookie contract is expiring and the shine of their trend-bucking, world-breaking offense has certainly worn off. John Harbaugh and the Ravens need to win something this year in order to avoid significant changes along the coaching staff, and likely with the personnel on the field as well.