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Yesterday was a “must win” game against Cleveland. The coaching staff said so. The players said so. The media pundits said so and almost every fan out there said so.

Being a “must win” game must not have been enough incentive because the entire team and the entire coaching staff mailed it in big time. This was Cleveland’s “regular season Super Bowl,” much like when Baltimore throttled Pittsburgh 35-7 in the opening game of the 2011 season.

I’m not going to grade this team.

I’m just giving one grade this week.

John Harbaugh, GRADE: F.

This is the 6th game where the offense got off to a dreary start in the game and failed to put substantial points on the board early in the game.

  • Game 2 against Cleveland: 0 first half points.
  • Game 4 against Buffalo: 7 first half points.
  • Game 5 against Miami: 6 first half points.
  • Game 6 against Green Bay: 0 first half points.
  • Game 7 against Pittsburgh: 6 first half points.
  • Game 8 against Cleveland: 10 first half points.

The frustrating pattern in all of this is that in every single loss, the Ravens have never really been out of any of these games. However, I question whether they were really ever in it. Other than the Houston game in week 3, the Ravens have just let teams stick around until late in the game and in the past they would win the close ones. This year, they’re just not.

The one aspect of this team that is just so pathetic is the fact that this defense cannot get off the field when the game is on the line. I’m not absolving the offense of anything; there is plenty of blame on that side of the football.

However, John Harbaugh and Ozzie Newsome made it a point of making this defense better than they were last year. With the way that John and Ozzie were talking, you’d think that the Ravens didn’t just win the Super Bowl. Sure, the defense wasn’t that great last year. They were pretty average overall and in some areas, they were downright bad. They couldn’t stop the run, they had a hard time getting off the field and they gave up a lot of splash plays in the secondary.

Sound familiar?

The defense is bad and they really shouldn’t be. They added Chris Canty, Michael Huff, Marcus Spears, Daryl Smith, and Elvis Dumervil. They drafted Matt Elam, Arthur Brown, Brandon Williams, John Simon, Kapron Lewis-Moore and Marc Anthony.

Conversely, they traded Anquan Boldin, re-signed (reluctantly) Bryant McKinnie, drafted Ricky Wagner, Kyle Juszczyk, Ryan Jensen and Aaron Mellette. In addition, they signed Marlon Brown as an undrafted free agent. Numerically, it seems fairly balanced. However, from a talent perspective it is a very strange way to do business.

You pay your franchise quarterback all of that money because he and the offense propelled the team to a Super Bowl victory and then you don’t invest in the offense? That’s like buying a Corvette Z06 and then leaving it parked outside and never driving it. What’s the point?

I know, I know. The defense lost a lot of guys. I get that. However, I look at a draft pick like John Simon and I see other guys right around him like Kenny Stills and Zac Stacy. I loved the John Simon pick, but he is practically the same type of player as Courtney Upshaw. Simon didn’t even dress yesterday against Cleveland. Kenny Stills is averaging 25 yards per reception and has 3 touchdowns on a team where he isn’t even in the top-3 of the receptions pecking order.

When the season started, I was a believer in this defense. I really thought this defensive unit would be strong enough and talented enough to carry the offense while Flacco and his new surroundings attempted to gel. I reasoned that now, Dean Pees had someone like Dumervil opposite a healthy Terrell Suggs and a defensive line of Haloti Ngata and Chris Canty would give Pees the tools he needed to turn in a defensive unit for the ages.

Yet, today I saw Elvis Dumervil dropping 10-15 yards into zone coverage. He was brought here to replace Paul Kruger and get after the quarterback…and he is being used as a zone-coverage linebacker. The secondary is young and inexperienced. One of the best ways to mask that is by generating effective pressure on the opposing team’s quarterback. From what I could tell there were few blitz packages, no stunts, no delayed blitzes…pretty much just a standard 4-man rush every snap with the occasional safety blitz from James Ihedigbo which everyone could clearly see what was coming.

This defense (which they invested so much into) let Jason Campbell throw for 262 yards and 3 touchdowns against them. Jason Campbell! Let that sink in. This was a guy who couldn’t beat out Brandon Weeden earlier in the year.

After Chuck Pagano left for the Colts, I wasn’t excited about Dean Pees as a defensive coordinator because I didn’t think he was creative enough to use the talent they had properly. After two seasons of his defensive schemes, I feel the same way. Dean Pees needs to go after this season and John Harbaugh needs to find someone who can come in here and get more out of this defense because there is far too much talent there to be turning in an average defense week in and week out.

Offensively, it is the same old story. John Harbaugh can sit there and tell us each week that they are going to do whatever it takes to get better and get the running game going and give Flacco better protection.

The joke is on us fans though.

They had two weeks to prepare for Cleveland and that is the best they could do?

According to Harbaugh, they were going to re-examine the blocking schemes and offensive schemes to figure out where they could get better. I still saw Gino Gradkowski looking lost as ever, AQ Shipley looks like he is running in molasses, Marshall Yanda is just watching guys blow right by him and Michael Oher stands around while Flacco is getting hit.

What changed?

Rice – who claimed he was 100% now…yeah right… – averaged 1.7 yards per carry today. Bernard Pierce – who also claimed his hamstring, was a lot better – averaged less than 2 yards per carry. Flacco actually led the team in rushing yards today with 25.

To make matters worse, Flacco was completely off target on almost every throw in the first half and when he starts scrambling not one receiver makes their way back to him as an outlet. Dallas Clark was the only guy who worked his way back to Flacco when the pocket broke down and (wouldn’t you know?) that was Clark’s only reception on the day.

So, how about those “changes” John?

Everyone likes to blast Flacco for his contract extension and the issues on the offensive side of the ball, but what about the contract extension John just got and the multitude of issues throughout the roster and coaching staff? This is not a playoff caliber team.

I’ll still root for them until the season is over, but I just don’t even know if they are capable of winning another game.

I guess a consolation prize is the Ravens will have their pick of the litter for some pretty prestigious NFL talent when they are on the clock during April’s NFL Draft.

The Chiefs went from the #1 overall pick to being undefeated.

Maybe it is time for Baltimore to have a top pick?

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Paul Lukoskie

About Paul Lukoskie

Paul – a Charm City native – has been an avid football fan since he was a little kid. As former player he has a ton of experience in the locker room, on the field, and in the film room. Paul geeks out on the draft process and maintains an active big board throughout the season. He regularly contributes analytical pieces on the RSR forum and is constantly providing Ravens fans with collegiate players to check out.

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