It wouldn’t be a true Ravens’ season without losing to a team they should have beaten. Last season it was losing to a Charlie Batch-led Pittsburgh Steelers team in Baltimore. In 2011 it was losing to the Jacksonville Jaguars. In fact, other than the final score, the 2011 Jacksonville loss closely resembles today’s loss to Buffalo.
Both Buffalo and the Jaguars were underdogs. Both of their defenses came to play and completely shut down the running game and held the Ravens’ receivers to minimal gains. Also, in both losses, the offensive line was completely overwhelmed by a defensive unit that was considered to be lacking in talent. Finally, in both games the Ravens’ coaching staff was completely out-classed and had no answers for an impeccable game plan by their opponents.
I hate that I have to say that, but unfortunately it is true.
My hat is off to the Buffalo Bills. They were down 3 starters on the defensive side of the ball, including both of their starting cornerbacks, and one of those players was arguably their best defensive player; Jairus Byrd. Last week that same depleted secondary gave up 100+ yard performances to both Stephen Hill and Santonio Holmes of the Jets. For whatever reason, John Harbaugh and company must have missed that game because the Bills’ defensive game plan was executed perfectly and a secondary that was torched the week before looked like a top tiered defense today.
Overall, I thought the offense was really quite bad. For the fourth consecutive game, the Ravens were unable to effectively run the ball. In fact, in the second half only two running plays were called. The bottom line is this has to be fixed if the offense wants to be consistent. They have a lot of money invested in Ray Rice, so the fact that he is averaging less than 3 yards per carry is an indictment against the offensive line and its consistently poor performances.
The offense doesn’t have outstanding talent at receiver, so they have to be able to run the ball. The Green Bay Packers are a team that can get away with having an anemic running game because they’ve got James Jones, Randall Cobb and Jordy Nelson who are all top flight receivers in the NFL. The same can be said for Denver who has three different receivers that produced over 1,000 yards in 2012. The last Baltimore receiver to go over 1,000 yards was Derrick Mason. The Ravens need Ray Rice and Bernard Pierce to be effective if they want to win games moving forward.
• Joe Flacco, 25 of 50, 347 yards, 2 touchdowns, 5 interceptions. GRADE: D. I know Flacco is being lambasted by a ton of fans right now and I agree with those sentiments to a certain degree. The fact of the matter is that the Ravens’ game plan was hot garbage. There is no balance on the offensive side of the ball and the deficiencies at receiver and tight end are not helping matters whatsoever. In fact, one could argue that three of Flacco’s five interceptions were more of the fault of the receiver. One interception bounced squarely off of Ed Dickson’s hands. Another interception was Flacco throwing to single coverage in the end zone to Torrey Smith who fell backwards and made no play on the ball, which left Aaron Williams with a gift-wrapped pick. Finally, another interception hit Dallas Clark in the hands and bounced up when Kiko Alonso made an outstanding diving grab that would have fell incomplete 99% of the time. Couple this with players continuing to drop catchable passes – namely Ed Dickson and Tandon Doss – and a game plan that is either run-run-pass or NO runs at all and you have an inconsistent offensive performance.
I do think that Flacco needs to make better decisions with his passes though. One interception in particular came when he tried to force the ball to Tandon Doss in double coverage. That was an easy interception for Buffalo. Another head-scratcher came when the Ravens were attempting to score to take the lead and Flacco throws a pass to the back of the end zone to the 5’8” Ray Rice. Correct me if I’m wrong, but don’t the Ravens have a 6’5” receiver? Seems to me that would be the more logical person to throw the ball to on those situations…
• Torrey Smith, 5 receptions, 166 yards and 1 touchdown. GRADE: B+. Torrey had a great game and was really the only reason the offense was able to move the ball at all, but he could have helped out Flacco a bit more on one of his passes that was intercepted by Aaron Williams. Another thing I’d like to see from Torrey as the season goes on is better awareness when he is running down the field with the ball in his hands. A man that fast should not be caught from behind.
• Offensive Line, 4 sacks given up, 2.66 yards per carry. GRADE: F. The offensive line issues continue to persist. Gino Gradkowski may have had his worst game as a professional today. Michael Oher watched as Flacco got sacked, Marshall Yanda didn’t play that well, Kelechi Osemele was out of position a few times, and even Bryant McKinnie had troubles against the Bills. There were more free-rushers coming after Flacco than I have seen in quite some time. The fact that the Ravens only called 2 running plays in the second half is a testament to how bad this offensive line is. It’s not the personnel because it is the same line that was outstanding in the playoffs and Super Bowl other than Gino at center. The problems stem from a blocking scheme change, which is directly reflected on John Harbaugh and Jim Caldwell.
• Notable Mentions: Marlon Brown had another solid day with an outstanding touchdown grab in heavy traffic. That play was very “Boldin-esque”. Dallas Clark continues to develop a rapport with Flacco. Ed Dickson should not be on the field. He provides no value at all. How many passes does this guy have to drop before the coaching staff does the right thing and promote Matt Furstenburg from the practice squad? Or better yet, why not get Kyle Juszczyk involved? I hear he has a resume of being a pretty reliable receiver.
The defense didn’t look as good as they did last week and I think they missed having Arthur Brown on passing downs. EJ Manuel went to the middle of the field quite a bit. To make matters worse, Lardarius Webb left the game early with a thigh injury. Hopefully it isn’t serious because there is a major lack of depth at corner. The second half performance was much better overall, but the Bills were able to successfully control the line of scrimmage and CJ Spiller and Fred Jackson combined for 164 yards and 1 rushing touchdown. Jackson actually averaged nearly 5.5 yards per carry.
• Front 7, 39 rushes for 164 yards at 4.25 yards per carry, 2 sacks, 2 forced fumbles. GRADE: C+. The Bills’ offensive line did a great job neutralizing Haloti Ngata most of the game. Additionally, Buffalo’s offensive line is a lot better than many give them credit for. Cordy Glenn has done admirably at left tackle and Eric Wood is one of the best young centers in the NFL. Buffalo had a great game plan and they stuck to it. EJ Manuel didn’t light the world on fire, but he didn’t make many mistakes and he connected with his receivers, who were getting open most of the game. The front-7 was much more effective in the second half. Terrell Suggs continued to play really well and picked up a sack. Chris Canty returned to action today and was very good. It was nice to see Brandon Williams out there as well. There is a lot to like about this front-7, but I’d really like to see them dominate an offense for an entire 4 quarters, not just 1 half.
• Jimmy Smith, 1 forced fumble and 4 tackles. GRADE: A. Jimmy Smith lined up on Stevie Johnson for most of the game and Johnson’s stats were 1 reception for -1 yard. Just think about that for a few minutes. He’s playing fantastic football right now and is making a case that he is the best corner out there, even when Webb is on the field.
• Josh Bynes, 4 tackles. GRADE: C-. Bynes looked a little lost out there today. At one point he bit on a hard count from EJ Manuel and jumped over the offensive line. Teams are running at him and unless he has a clear lane to the ball carrier, he gets caught up in the bodies surrounding him. I’m not sure what Albert McClellan has done to not get any playing time, but I don’t think Bynes is good enough to be a 3-down linebacker. Arthur Brown was sorely missed on passing downs.
The game plan was not working today and the issues on the offensive line can now be considered a pattern and not just growing pains. I don’t care how John Harbaugh spins it, there are some major issues on the offensive side of the ball and it isn’t something that will be magically “fixed” when the team “gels”. There is a sincere lack of depth at far too many positions on both sides of the ball and there seems to be stubbornness with the coaching staff that keeps guys like Ed Dickson on the field.
• John Harbaugh, GRADE: D. The conservative approach only works when you can control the clock offensively and win the time of possession battle. That works when you can run the ball effectively. Right now, the only way this team could run the ball effectively would be if they had Adrian Peterson and even then, he might have a tough time. The run-run-pass approach to the offensive game plan needs to be addressed and the buck stops with Harbaugh. Additionally, the Ravens were down at the end of the second quarter and rather than trying to score, Harbaugh makes the decision to let the clock run down and take a time out with 2 seconds left. What’s the point? Clearly Harbaugh doesn’t have much faith in the offense.
• Jim Caldwell, GRADE: F. The offensive game plan today was garbage. Absolute garbage. Just last week the Buffalo Bills gave up over 500 yards to the New York Jets. Both Santonio Holmes and Stephen Hill went over 100 yards receiving. Furthermore, Bilal Powell had 149 yards on 27 touches, which is roughly 5.51 yards per carry. What’s worse is only calling 2 running plays in the second half. However, I understand why only 2 plays were called. The Ravens can’t run the ball, so might as well let Joe throw it, right? This offense is eerily similar to the lackluster, uncreative play calling from the Cam Cameron era. Jim Caldwell needs to figure this out and get things going; otherwise the Ravens are looking at a season of mediocrity.
Folks, I’m not really sure how this season is going to go. Luckily, they are 2-2 in a division where the Steelers, Bengals and Browns all have issues as well. The problem is I just don’t know how this team is going to respond. The coaching staff need to check their egos at the door, address the issues right the ship.
GIF c/o Gordon Dixon