The bye week is a time for healing, resting, reflecting on the season up to the break. It’s a time for self scouting and looking for ways to improve individually and collectively to help guide a team to the pinnacle of all sports – Super Bowl Champions.
In retrospect guided by a splash of reality (and borrowing from Denny Green) the Ravens are who we thought they were – a team that can challenge for the title but one certainly not without flaws.
But that can be said for any team in the NFL. There is not a single team without flaws, nor one that can stand up and say, “We are the league’s best.” If Pete Rozelle was still alive, the league’s balance and its parity would be a dream-come-true for him.
So as we marinate in a 5-2 start, a good one by most counts but one with an asterisk for sure as we decompress after squeaking by the winless Buffalo Bills, let’s take a look back at the surprises and disappointments along with a few suggestions on how to reach the bright horizon and that promised land…
Surprise: Dating back to the days of the OTA’s in May and June there were lingering worries about the Ravens’ offensive line given the health (or lack thereof) of Jared Gaither. The prevailing thought was (and in some cases still is) that by moving Marshal Yanda to right tackle it would represent a downgrade from Gaither or Michael Oher and to make matters worse, replacement right guard Chris Chester would be a downgrade from Yanda. While it’s still hard not to support such an argument you can’t play a man who is unavailable. In Gaither’s absence Yanda has stepped up. Yanda’s relative physical shortcomings for the position aside, he makes up for with sound technique, football IQ and attention to detail.
Disappointment: When the Ravens parted ways with Mark Clayton to make way for TJ Houshmandzadeh most believed that the team upgraded the wide receiver corps. But Houshmandzadeh has hardly been an upgrade thus far and despite limited action he leads the team in drops as well as crossing the middle phobia. Let’s hope after the bye his walk matches his talk.
The Promised Land: The Ravens defense is no longer what it once was and that will mean that the offense can no longer expect Ray Lewis & Co. to consistently bail them out. They will need to step up in the second half and it all starts with Joe Flacco who needs to get better with his progressions and be more patient and productive against zone defenses.
Surprise: His lackluster performance against the Bills aside, Lardarius Webb has contributed as a nickel. Many expected him to be unavailable to the team until week 7 due to his late season ACL injury in 2009 but his determination has propelled a fairly productive season thus far despite seemingly insurmountable odds. It would surprise no one to see him emerge as a starting corner some time after the bye.
Disappointment: There are a few…Jarret Johnson proclaimed himself fit and recovered from offseason shoulder surgery, an injury that slowed him in 2009. Despite that through 7 games JJ has only 1 sack and recently he’s failed to hold down the point of attack on the edges in rushing defense; Terrell Suggs has four sacks, clearly ahead of last year’s pace but he’s failed to be the impact player he’s paid to be and despite his offseason conditioning to recapture that initial burst we’ve yet to see it; judging from his preseason performances Terrence Cody looked like a player who would make an impact this campaign. Given his very limited playing time (4 games, 1 assisted tackle) his lack of production puts him on this list; Paul Kruger for doing his best Dan Cody impersonation.
The Promised Land: The Ravens need to borrow a chapter from Rex Ryan and figure out ways to dial up pressure despite a lack of a dominant pass rusher. Yes we get that Greg Mattison doesn’t have a corner like Darrelle Revis (but then again, Rex Ryan doesn’t have one like Revis either this year) but he can’t afford to let marginal QB’s sit back and pick his team apart (see Ryan Fitzpatrick).
Surprise: Not even close – Billy Cundiff. He’s 10 of 12 on field goals and his kickoff depth has been nothing short of spectacular. He leads the league in percentage of kickoffs for touchback (18 of 32) and he has already eclipsed the total of touchbacks the Ravens had as a team in 2008 and 2009 COMBINED. Prior to 2010 Cundiff had only 11 touchbacks in 6 seasons. Hey, is Barry Bonds his neighbor?
Disappointment: Despite the return candidates of Messrs. Carr, Zbikowski, Wilson, Parmele, Stallworth, D. Reed and Miller, the Ravens have struggled mightily to find any rhythm whatsoever in the return game; punt or kick. As a team the Ravens are 23rd in the league on kick returns and second-to-last in punt returns.
The Promised Land: The Ravens don’t need to be the best return team in the league but they need to be in the top half in order to win the battle for field position. The defensive shortcomings suggest that they’ll need to be supported by a long field. Without improvement in the return game that can’t happen.
Surprise: Despite having three new starters on the offensive line and a quarterback who doesn’t slide to either side effectively to avoid a rush and one who is guilty of holding on to the ball too long, the Ravens have only allowed 10 QB sacks through 7 games. Only 3 other teams have done better. Credit has to go to O-Line Coach John Matsko.
Disappointment: The Ravens hired Ted Monachino who had established a reputation in Jacksonville for teaching pass rushing technique. Judging from severe shortcomings in that area as evidenced by limited to no development in JJ or Suggs, his hiring up to the bye can’t be what John Harbaugh bargained for when Monachino was added to the staff.
The Promised Land: As a staff the Ravens need to coach to win as opposed to coaching not to lose. (See New England game)
Surprise: Ozzie Newsome’s decision to go and get Marc Bulger served as a statement that the Ravens meant business in 2010 and they would not concede a season if their franchise quarterback went down. Turning the offense over to Troy Smith would have been a frightening proposition.
Disappointment: None of the Ravens 2010 draft picks has made much of an impact. In 2009 Oher and Webb made an impact; in 2008 it was Flacco and Rice; 2007, Ben Grubbs and Yanda. Who will it be in ’10?