As the Ravens enter the bye week at 3-4, there are far more questions about the team’s outlook than answers.
The difference in this year’s team and those of the past are that internally, the team is asking just as many, if not more questions than even its fans. I think the biggest question about a team like this and how it got to be just 3-4 has a simple answer. This team is not nearly as good as some originally thought.
The makeup of this team is clearly different than the one that hoisted the Lombardi Trophy in February. The loss of almost a dozen players that saw significant time on the field is having a crucial impact on this year’s squad. I’m not talking about from a leadership aspect of things either. Losing veterans like Ray Lewis, Ed Reed and Matt Birk is impactful, but players like Joe Flacco, Ray Rice, Terrell Suggs and Haloti Ngata are more than capable of fulfilling a leader’s role on a 53-man roster. When it comes to actual on-the-field play, the Ravens are lacking enough skilled players to get the job done right now.
The most glaring issue has been the offensive line. The five men up front can’t seem to block well enough for the running backs to find holes or for Joe Flacco to deliver a pass. The Ravens lost a number of very good players last season, but one thing that breeds optimism going forward is that none of them are actually irreplaceable. It takes time for a team to gel after losing so much. That’s exactly what you are seeing through the first seven games of this year.
There are also a few things working in the Ravens’ favor right now. The path to a sixth straight playoff berth goes through a fairly week division and conference the rest of the way. It’s officially time to start looking ahead at the postseason picture seven games to the season.
The AFC North as a whole is simply not that strong of a division. It’s perhaps one of the worst in the NFL right now in terms of quality teams (with the NFC East doing its best to keep up). Are the Bengals at 5-2 really that good of a team?
Every team has its flaws, but the bruises on the four teams in this division are glaring. A two-game deficit at this point is nothing that can’t be overcome. Things are a little difficult when you look towards the AFC Wild Card picture, only because one of the two spots is virtually locked up from the AFC West. The Chiefs and Broncos are a combined 13-1, making it almost a sure thing that each will make the postseason. But of the second, or even third place teams in the other divisions, are there any that really scare you?
The Jets, Dolphins, Bills, Titans, Texans and Chargers are a collective group of teams just like the Ravens. They are all fairly mediocre. All of them have strong points, but none of them jump off the page as a team that you’d fear.
The bye week comes at the perfect time for the Ravens. They need this moment to regroup and recover. I think the front office is finally realizing that this isn’t last year. If you really take a good look back at last season’s Super Bowl run, it’s amazing that it’s taken us seven games into this year to realize that this would happen. The Ravens might have won it all last year, but they were far from the NFL’s best team throughout the season.
That distinction probably goes to the Patriots, Broncos or Falcons. Baltimore was in shambles in December and got into the playoffs based on its merits from earlier in the season. Things broke perfectly during January with Joe Flacco playing out of his mind, the defense doing just enough and the team eventually doing snow angels in purple and gold confetti on the field at the Superdome.
The chemistry of that team is gone.
It will forever live in the record books and memories of fans.
But the reality is, it isn’t coming back either.
This year’s Ravens aren’t last year’s Ravens, so it’s time to stop expecting them to be. The coaching staff needs to realize this as much as the fans do. Some of the questionable decisions that John Harbaugh has made this season aren’t working because this team doesn’t have the skill or camaraderie to overcome the adversity when things go wrong. Some of these risky or aggressive moves are being attempted because Harbaugh doesn’t feel like he has the players on the field to get the job done. It’s called overcompensation, and so far it’s not working.
Expectation is a funny thing. It can leave you brokenhearted or elated depending on where you stand. If everyone took a step back and saw things through clear, non-purple colored glasses, there would be no doubt that this was about a .500 team.
That’s admittedly hard to do, but there are some benefits to thinking rationally. I only hope that the front office and coaching staff is doing the same during this bye week. It’s time to make some changes to improve this week and find some answers.
And I can’t wait to see what they are.