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Armando Salguero’s OutKick NFL Monday Perspectives: Ravens Haven’t Figured Out Zero Blitz; Herbert outduels Burrow; George Kittle’s Great Performance In Loss

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Baltimore Ravens coach John Harbaugh, down 20-19 with 12 seconds to play against Pittsburgh Sunday, passed up an extra point attempt that would have tied the game in favor of a 2-point conversion to take the lead and likely win.

And Steelers coach Mike Tomlin spoke of this being a sound decision based on analytics, so it was one he expected from the Ravens, who often use analytics for such calls.

But it actually wasn’t about analytics at all.

It was about something much more worrisome for Baltimore.

“Trying to win the game right there,” Harbaugh said. “We were pretty much out of corners at that point in time. It was an opportunity to try to win the game right there.”

The Ravens had lost cornerback Marlon Humphrey to an injury (reportedly a shoulder, but perhaps something else too) that is expected to be season-ending. So there’s that.

Beyond that, it’s hard to believe Harbaugh trusted an offense that struggled this game and has been struggling for a month with an overtime drive as opposed to making one play from the 2 yard line.

The truth about the Baltimore offense, you see, is teams have decided pressuring quarterback Lamar Jackson, often with zero blitzes that bring more rushers than Baltimore can block, is a great way to derail the Ravens.

And it’s worked since the Miami Dolphins used it in a victory against the Ravens in mid November. Starting with that 22-10 loss to the Dolphins, the Ravens have failed to score more the 20 points in four consecutive games.

The Steelers used a combination of blitzes, including zero blitzes, to sack Jackson seven times.

And it’s not just about the sacks. Zero blitzes force Jackson to make good decisions quickly and then execute good throws. He’s been unable to do this and actually threw an interception to Minkah Fitzpatrick in the end zone in one such situation Sunday.

“I was hot,” Jackson said, meaning he had to beat the extra rusher with his throw. “That’s my guy dropping back. I wish I’d had more power behind it to throw the ball behind Minkah’s head so Mark [Andrews] could make a play on it. Hopefully would have gotten three
out of that, but it just got turned over.”

The Ravens dropped from the top seed in the AFC with Sunday’s loss. They are 2-2 in their last four games since the zero blitz became a thing against them.

They must figure out how to beat it consistently or the season is going to crash under the pressure of what is normally a desperation call by the defense.

Justin Herbert outduels Joe Burrow

If the game between the Los Angeles Chargers and Cincinnati Bengals was a duel between the two best quarterbacks in the 2020 draft — first overall selection Joe Burrow and sixth overall selection Justin Herbert — then the game offered a clear winner.

Herbert threw three TD passes and one interception and riddled the Bengals’ defense for 317 yards. Burrow had one TD and two interceptions, and his offense was shut out in the second half.

In a game in which the Chargers’ game plan was to attack the deep part of the field, Herbert completed passes of 47 yards, 44 yards, 41 yards and 33 yards.

“I really felt like Justin controlled the game today,” Chargers coach Brandon Staley said. “Made a lot of big plays in the passing game.”

This was Herbert’s 11th career game in which he threw three TD passes. Only Dan Marino, who had 13 such games his first two seasons, has more than Herbert in his first two seasons.

And a reminder: Herbert has five more games before his second season is over.

Herbert also reached the 700 completion mark in his 27th NFL game and that is the fastest in NFL history, surpassing Matthew Stafford and Patrick Mahomes who did it in 30 games.

George Kittle has great game but he’s not happy

The look on George Kittle’s face when he came in to speak with reporters Sunday suggested he’d had a terrible day. And he did. Sort of.

His team lost to the Seahawks and that was a blow to the 49ers’ playoff chances.

But this came on a day Kittle caught 9 passes for 181 yards with two touchdowns.

No matter. Kittle felt terrible.

“It’s brutal,” the tight end said. “Losing sucks. Had all the opportunities, but turnovers, fake punts for touchdowns, and then when you give Russell Wilson a chance, he’s going to take advantage of that opportunity.”

The 49ers held a 23-21 lead at halftime and then, well, nothing happened for them in the second half. No points.

Oh, Kittle continued to perform. He had four of his catches for 60 yards in the second half. But the San Francisco offense was shut out.

“We didn’t really do anything in the second half, and it’s hard to win in Seattle if you don’t really do anything in the second half,” a disappointed Kittle said.

This and that …

— Not much has been said of Ja’Marr Chase’s hands since the preseason when he dropped five passes. It could have something to do with the fact he’s caught 55 passes for 958 yards and eight TDs. But the truth is Chase still has work to do because he has six drops this season, and two of those resulted in a touchdown for the opposing team.

— Running back Adrian Peterson, now playing for the Seattle Seahawks, scored his 126th rushing touchdown on Sunday. That ties him for 10th all-time with Jim Brown.

Follow on Twitter: @ArmandoSalguero

Written by Armando Salguero

Armando Salguero has covered the NFL since 1990 for the Palm Beach Post, Miami Herald and ESPN. He was a 2016 Associated Press Sports Editors Top 10 columnist. He is a Pro Football Hall of Fame selector and AP All-Pro team voter.

8 Comments

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  1. Oh please, Herbert didn’t outduel Burrow. 4 turnovers, including what should have been a sure touchdown to Chase and a Joe Mixon brain fart did in the Bengals (not to mention Burrow’s pinky injury). Here’s the actual PFF grading from yesterday (courtesy of Willie Lutz):
    Justin Herbert: 71.9 offensive grade, 66.0 passing grade
    Joe Burrow: 76.7 offensive grade, 73.0 passing grade
    They’re both very good QBs but I’m happy my team has Joe.

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