What a difference a week makes. Last week the Ravens whipped the previously unbeaten Houston Texans to advance to (2-1) and this week they lay yet another road egg, seemingly an annual ritual for John Harbaugh’s teams, dropping “one” to the great EJ Manuel and the Buffalo Bills. Now they sit at (2-2) at the season’s quarter pole tied for first in the average at best AFC North.
We knew entering the season that the Ravens would be a work in progress. We knew that the defense would take time to gel and that eventually they’d be a better defense than the one that won Super Bowl XLVII. We knew that it would take time for Joe Flacco to develop chemistry with the members of his receiving corps, both old and new.
What we didn’t know is that now with 25% of the regular season in the rear view mirror, the same questions remain and new ones have surfaced, the most glaring of which is, “What has happened to the running game?”
The Ravens hired Juan Castillo and gave him what they thought was a way cool title – Run Game Coordinator. Now by definition a coordinator is a person who organizes or integrates (diverse elements) in a harmonious operation. Marinate in that for a moment…
Last season the Ravens had the 11th ranked rushing attack averaging 118.8 ypg and 4.3 ypc. In the postseason the Ravens committed even more to the run racking up 134.8 ypg despite a falloff in per carry production to 3.9 yards, keeping in mind those numbers were against the best teams in the league.
This season, the running game has struggled from jump-street, averaging 3.0 ypc in the preseason and today the Ravens sport the league’s 28th ranked rushing “attack” with 64.0 ypg and 2.6 ypc. That average is better than only the 32nd ranked Jaguars who average 2.3 ypc.
Last week Jim Caldwell told us that the running game was getting close – that they were just missing on some big plays. Now that painted rosy picture just sounds like coaches’ speak, perhaps to protect his struggling colleague Castillo.
If you need evidence that even Caldwell has no confidence in the running game, just look to a first and 5 situation yesterday at the end of the third quarter trailing by 9. Caldwell who had not called for a run the entire third quarter even bailed on the run when facing a first and 5 against the 30th ranked rushing defense. Flacco threw 3 straight incompletions and the Ravens were forced to punt.
What does this tell you?
The Ravens offense is an absolute mess. Four games is a decent body of work to help gauge where these guys are and where they are is the 28th ranked offense – an offense that has the league’s second highest paid quarterback and running back and a fullback and right guard who are also among the league’s highest paid at their respective positions.
Naturally the inability to run puts more pressure on an already challenged passing attack. The Ravens don’t have many receivers who can read zones and know where to sit down in the soft spots. Therefore, Flacco can’t trust them to be there and he is limited in his ability to throw to desired spots.
He needs to wait for his receivers to clear. By the time the ball arrives, even with Flacco’s rocket, those windows can close leading to more interceptions. And that’s exactly what we’ve seen during camp, preseason and now the regular season.
Some might say that Flacco isn’t getting ample time to set and throw. The evidence doesn’t support that. Despite the team’s obvious abandonment of the running game in Buffalo and facing a formidable pass rush, according to Pro Football Focus, Flacco was not under pressure on 32 of his 50 throws. On those throws Flacco was intercepted four times, completing 19, one for a score all adding up to a QB Rating of 57.7.
The lack of offensive balance yesterday was alarming. Here’s an interesting stat tweeted out by ESPN’s John Buccigross that you should clip and file away. Since 2008, teams that don’t rush on more than 20% of plays are 1-56.
Ray Rice is anxious and wants to get untracked but his patience is getting the best of him. He’s not allowing plays to develop in front of him and now he’s even getting flagged for false starts. Vonta Leach has been rendered meaningless and Bernard Pierce has to be wondering if he’ll ever see the field again.
The Ravens front office was horrified last year while witnessing the Dallas Cowboys dismantle them on the ground. Despite all of the additions to repair such atrocities, yesterday was nearly a carbon copy and the Bills don’t have Tony Romo, Dez Bryant and Jason Witten to loosen things up for the tailbacks.
Communication breakdowns plague the secondary, particularly at safety and the Ravens’ depth is razor thin at cornerback with just 4 on the roster, one of which (Webb) is on the mend.
But with all that said, the Ravens are right about where many thought they’d be record wise – (2-2). But it’s how they’ve arrived here coupled with their most recent effort that is a major cause for concern.
Looking ahead, the next 5 weeks will take the Ravens to the halfway point. Three of their next four games are on the road (Dolphins, Steelers, Browns), the home game being against the Green Bay Packers. The way the Ravens are playing at this point, a split should be considered a moral victory.
But as in any season, the first thing that the Ravens need to do is take care of business within their division. If they can do that, maybe during the second half of the season they’ll find that traction that so far has eluded them and make a late season push. At this point, even if they can wrestle away the AFC North, they will be traveling in the postseason.
Here’s a look at the next quarter for the AFC North. Home games are in CAPS and projected wins are shown in the team colors.