Here the Baltimore Ravens sit at their Week 8 bye with an underwhelming 3-4 record, two games behind the Cincinnati Bengals. Terrell Suggs has declared a State of Emergency. John Harbaugh opined that the team would “do whatever it takes……to find a way to get better”. The blogosphere and the talk shows are full of finger pointing, rationalizations, and name-calling. It’s a measure of the passion for Ravens football in this area that the teeth gnashing has reached screeching proportions.
Well, winning a Super Bowl will do that to your fan base. We want more.
Last year, at this very point in the season, the Ravens were sitting at 5-2 and leading the division. In fact, the team was coming off a 43-13 sand blasting by the Houston Texans and some of the very same concerns we’re hearing now were raised one year ago.
Most fans expected to see the Ravens, at the same point in this season, to have the same record. And, with the exception of the Denver debacle (and let’s remember we were winning 17-14 at half time, and it should have been more), it’s fair to argue that the Ravens could be 6-1. But…..
Five Joe Flacco interceptions and a leaky run defense doomed the Ravens in the Buffalo game. Extremely slow starts and some questionable play calling and coaching decisions by John Harbaugh contributed to Baltimore losses to Green Bay at home and Pittsburgh on the road.
All three losses have been by a total of 8 points.
And because other writers on this web site here have already dissected these issues, I’m just going to mention in passing the poor run-blocking that directly leads to an in absentia running game, the disappearance of the long (+20 yards) passing game, wide receiver largely by committee, no tight ends to speak of, a surprisingly leaky run defense, and bad special teams play.
Did I cover all the bases?
Let’s look at last year. How did we get to 5-2 at the 2012 bye week?
Well, it took a 27-yard Justin Tucker field goal that barely stayed inside the right upright to give the Ravens a thrilling 31-30 comeback victory over the Patriots on a September 30th Sunday night game at M&T Bank.
The following Thursday night, all that separated the Ravens and the Browns was a 63-yard interception return for a touchdown by Cary Williams.
In the fifth game of the 2012 season, it took a truly wretched performance by then-Chiefs quarterback Matt Cassel (turning the ball over four times, including a fumble at the Ravens goal line), and three Justin Tucker field goals to help the Ravens escape Kansas City with a 9-6 win.
Then, next week at M&T Bank, it was a dropped two-point conversion attempt by Dez Bryant and a missed 51-yard field goal by Dan Bailey that allowed the Ravens to eke out a 31-29 win over the Cowboys.
Four wins by the Ravens by a total of 13 points, and three won by the Ravens by a total of six points.
Sound familiar? This year, the little breaks are going the wrong way, mistakes are turning into enemy points, and the Ravens are paying dearly for them.
Let’s also note that, at this point last year, Terrell Suggs was still rehabbing his Achilles tendon tear and Lardarius Webb and Ray Lewis went out of the Cowboys game with season-ending injuries. So we had our injury issues. Only the injured reserved – return designation saved Ray’s season, just as we hope it will this year with Dennis Pitta
Like last year, the Ravens have two weeks to make things right. In 2012 the Ravens quickly ran off four straight wins to pretty much sock away a playoff berth. It will be much harder to do this year as we might have to climb over the Bengals to get to the post season. But it’s not Mission Impossible. Last year John Harbaugh and his staff effectively used the bye week very to refocus the team. The same can happen this year. Without getting into the play calling weeds, here are some big picture fixes:
- Correct the Special Teams errors. Protect the punter and stay in your pursuit lanes on punts and kickoffs. This isn’t rocket science…..all of the mistakes to this point are correctable.
- Score points in the first half for a change. Earlier this week a caller on a local radio show noted that, absent the Daryl Smith interception and Tandon Doss punt return in the Texans game, the Ravens are averaging less than three points a game in the first half this year. You won’t win games against the Bengals, Lions, Bears, and Patriots by waiting until the second half for the offense to wake up. That means the Ravens also have to…
- Show some innovation on the play calling. I’d never thought I’d write this, but is Jim Caldwell channeling Cam Cameron? I’m tired of watching Ravens receivers catch five-yard passes when it’s 3rd and 8. I thought we were done with that. How many times this year have the Ravens been three-and-out on their opening possession?
- Stuff the run. When defending a pass, turn around. This is embarrassing. Ozzie Newsome’s stated rationale for letting Anquan Boldin walk out of the building was to spend his money on upgrading his 17th ranked defense. The money, to this point, has not been well spent. The Ravens are ranked 16th against the run and 15th against the pass this year and are giving up Pro Bowl yardage to no-name running backs. We’re not expecting Super Bowl XXXV numbers, but a significant improvement was promised.
Let’s see what Ravens team takes the field in Cleveland a week from Sunday. It’s not too late. The season is still before them. They have to execute and cut down the mistakes. If we see more of the same, then this season is truly lost.