It’s hard to believe that we are already at the quarter pole of the Ravens 2012 season. Four games in 18 days certainly helps to get you there faster but that said, it seems like only yesterday when we were introduced to the Ravens fast break, high octane, no huddle offense and here we are, waiting on Week 5.
This weekend the Ravens get a well-deserved quasi-bye-week. They will get away like a Southwest TV ad, decompress a bit and get ready to tackle the next quarter of the season. Until then, let’s revisit what we’ve learned so far…
Heading into the 2012 campaign the questions surrounding Cam Cameron’s unit had a common theme – the offensive line. Could they protect Joe Flacco? Can Matt Birk hold up for a full season? How will the Ravens adjust after the loss of Pro Bowler Ben Grubbs?
At this point O-Line coach Andy Moeller’s quarter grades have to read “Incomplete.” The offensive front is clearly a work in progress that benefits greatly from the team’s no huddle approach.
And speaking of the no huddle, it is quite obvious that the approach fits Joe Flacco’s game to a tee! After four games the Ravens are among the offensive leaders in: Overall offense (4); Points per game (4); Yards per game (3); Rushing yards per game (11); Average yards per rush attempt (7).
Flacco is in command, he’s distributing the ball to the most talented group of skill position players Ozzie Newsome has ever assembled and he’s more rhythmic. The fifth-year signal caller’s challenge will be to maintain that rhythm on the road. He didn’t during his only road contest so far in Philadelphia. Three of the next four games will be played away from the comfy confines of M&T Bank Stadium.
Without question the biggest challenge for defensive coordinator Dean Pees heading into the season was and still is how to account for the losses of Terrell Suggs (Achilles injury) and Jarret Johnson (free agency). After four games those answers have not been addressed and if you want proof, look to the numbers. They don’t lie.
Also working against Pees is the loss of Cory Redding who provided quality snaps consistently throughout the 2011 season. This year the Ravens thought that newcomer Ryan McBean might assume those supportive reins from Redding but he went down during the preseason with a season-ending ankle injury.
Seemingly with those losses the Ravens have lost their defensive identity and if anything (and unfortunately) they are far closer to the passive Greg Mattison style than they are the aggressive, no holds barred approach of Chuck Pagano. Paul Kruger sheds blocks like he’s wearing a Velcro jersey; the interior linebackers are too far downfield in run support and they cover the intermediate zones rather poorly. Terrence Cody has to be considered a big disappointment while Maake Kemoeatu in his second tour of duty with the team has been largely MIA.
Corners Cary Williams and Jimmy Smith have struggled and the fact that a No. 1 pick can’t push the struggling Williams from the starting line-up suggests that the former Colorado Buffalo is on the slow track in his development. Many questioned his character coming out of Colorado and while that hasn’t been an issue, given his vast physical skills, you have to question his commitment.
Add it all up and it’s no surprise that Pees’ boys are the 28th ranked defense overall, in large part because they no longer strike fear in the hearts of quarterbacks who drop back on average 41 times per game yet go down only twice per contest.
On the plus side Haloti Ngata has been a beast; Lardarius Webb is playing like a man trying to earn his next contract instead of one who just cashed in on a big pay day; Ed Reed has turned it up a few notches and apparently he IS playing for his next contract; sidekick Bernard Pollard is a perfect fit for the team and has picked up where he left off in ’11; Courtney Upshaw after a slow start is coming on strong; while UDFA Albert McClellan has been a pleasant surprise.
Save a 47-yard miss in the rain against the Browns on Thursday night, Justin Tucker has been outstanding. He’s 8 of 9 in FGA’s, 4 of 5 from 40+ and he’s connected on both of his 50+ yard attempts, the longest of which was from 56 out. He also leads the NFL in touchbacks.
Deonte Thompson has shown some promise as a kick returner although indecisiveness haunted him against the Browns. He’s averaged 25.9 yards, good for 16th best in the league. Sam Koch has had an off year averaging only 36.6 net yards, a surprising rank of 23. Corey Graham, Sean Considine and Brendon Ayanbadejo have all been solid, leading the way to the team’s kick coverage effectiveness – 20.4 yards on average, 9th best in the league.
OUTLOOK AND Q2 PREDICTIONS
The Ravens came through the first quarter in an ideal spot, first in the division, undefeated in the AFCN and 3-0 in the conference. They held serve at home winning all three and they were able to buy time to allow some of the young defenders to develop while being carried by the offense. At this time it looks like it will have to be more of the same during the second quarter of the season, after which Terrell Suggs could be back on the field. Perhaps then the defense can hold its weight.
- October 7 @ Kansas City: Ravens 31, Chiefs 27
- October 14 v. Dallas: Ravens 23, Cowboys 20
- October 21 @ Houston: Texans 34, Ravens 24
- October 28: BYE
- November 4 @ Cleveland: Ravens 27, Browns 17