Four losses by a total of 14 points.
Despite the horrific play of the offensive line.
Despite the worst rushing attack in modern NFL history.
Despite the losses of Anquan Boldin and Dennis Pitta.
Despite the alleged loss of leadership with the departures of Ray Lewis and Ed Reed.
Despite this ugly first half of the season as defending Super Bowl Champions.
Despite it all, just one bounce of the ball in the right direction in any of those four losses and Ravens fans would be celebrating a (7-1). Just four plays!
Some might even argue that if the Ravens had challenged an obviously incomplete pass from Peyton Manning to Wes Welker in the season opener that THAT game may have had a different outcome too.
You get the picture…
What if the second half is more fortuitous?
It’s possible but here’s what needs to happen.
The most obvious area for improvement is the running game and the wretched performance of the offensive line. It kills the team’s ability to score points and stay on the field while wearing out their own defense. The Ravens have had more three-and-outs (30.1% of possessions) than every NFL team except the winless Jacksonville Jaguars.
So how does this happen 8 games into the season?
How about going back to basics? We are all painfully aware that the Ravens are struggling with the zone blocking schemes. It’s akin to having Joe Flacco run the pistol offense (I know…). You don’t make players conform to a system. You conform your system to the skill sets of the players.
When the running game opens – and that may require more throws on first down, it will set in motion a sequence of positive events which will add up to more wins.
The Ravens need to find that swagger. They’ve performed decently particularly when considering all of the changes, but they lack a personality and they strike little fear in the hearts of opponents. And the culprit is Dean Pees.
He’s passive, predictable and fails miserably when it comes to placing his athletes in position to affect the outcome of plays. Prior to Pees and save the temporary complacency of the Greg Mattison led defenses, the Ravens defense has forever been like sharks in blood-invested waters when it comes to attacking opponents and creating turnovers.
Pees’ schemes employ the bend-but-don’t-break approach and that goes against the DNA of defenders that wear purple and black. It’s time to bring back the swagger and rediscover that missing identity.
This is a part of the game that demands commitment and effort. Players on “teams” have an opportunity to show up on film in a positive way. Effectiveness here is oftentimes the prelude to playing more on offense or defense paving the way to bigger paychecks on Fridays.
According to Football Outsiders the Ravens have the 12th best special teams unit so if you put stock in their measurements, Jerry Rosburg’s squad is above average. Where they could improve is in the kick return game where they’ve lacked the punch that characterized the 2012 season. Kyle Juszczyk and others have failed to do what Anthony Allen once did as a lead blocker for Jacoby Jones.
Sam Koch has also fallen markedly, particularly when pinning opponents in clutch situations, a rather proud trademark of his prior to this season.
John Harbaugh needs to remove emotion from his decision-making. Perhaps feeling pressed and frustrated by the team’s inability to make things happen offensively, Harbaugh has made some questionable decisions fueled by machismo and that needs to stop. Cooler heads prevail and his hasn’t been among them.
Moreover he needs to ditch the teams’ blasé approach on both sides of the ball. Maybe he could take a page from Maximus Decimus Meridius.
Attack offensively! Attack on defense! Restore the team’s swagger and identity.
You’ve got to stand for something or you’ll fall for anything.
The Ravens have their backs to the wall and today we’ll find out if desperate times inspire a better and more emotionally-charge effort while playing before the hometown fans. It’s been 49 days since the Ravens last won at M&T Bank Stadium.
The good guys will face a nicked up Cincinnati Bengals defense that will be missing key starters like Geno Atkins, Leon Hall and Ray Maualuga. Look for Joe Flacco & Co. to attack the Bengals much like they did during the 2012 season opener, a game the Ravens won going away by the score of 44-13. Then they used the passing game to set up the run.
Defensively the Ravens are strong at M&T, particularly in the red zone and they’ve shown an ability to contain AJ Green. In 3 career games against the Ravens Green has yet to score and has produced just 122 yards of offense on 9 catches. TE Jermaine Gresham is not at 100% but the Bengals have a number of other weapons including the dynamic rookie RB Giovani Bernard and TE Tyler Eifert as well as wide receivers Mohamed Sanu and Marvin Jones.
Today’s game is much like a playoff game for the Ravens. There is little to no margin for error from this point of the season forward. Though they have failed to do so thus far in 2013, look for the Ravens to start fast and do something they’ve rarely done this season – play with a lead.
That lead will place pressure exactly where the Ravens want it – on the shoulders of Andy Dalton who has shown a propensity for error as the pressure mounts.
Fading hopes will be somewhat restored as the home team prevails to start the season’s second half.
Last Game: 0-1 v. Winner, 0-1 v. Spread
Season Total: 3-5 v. Winner, 4-4 v. Spread
RAVENS 26 BENGALS 20