The term “winning ugly” has been one that Ravens fans have come to know and embrace over the years in Baltimore. The franchise’s foundation has always been built around defense. It’s a recipe that’s often worked and was an integral part in both championship seasons, especially 2000. While this year’s defense has had stretches of that type of defensive dominance, things have felt much different in respect to the direction and expectations of this team. After ugly wins, the spotlight has been more on the shortcomings of the offense than the impressive performance of the defense – as it should be.
After the Ravens squeaked out another ugly win on Monday because of their dominant defense and superior special teams, Joe Flacco acknowledged what the team’s current formula is for success in his post game press conference.
“In order for us to take the next step for real, we’re going to have to let it loose a little bit and see where it takes us,” Flacco said. “I’ve been in this league long enough to know, if you don’t win the game, it doesn’t mean anything. If we believe we can win the Super Bowl with how we’re playing right now, I’m all for it. I really am. We can all take a look at that and say it’s probably not super-realistic. We need to go out there, and we need to go get it, and we need to be better on our side of the ball.”
That sounds like a lukewarm endorsement from Flacco, and it should be. If the Ravens coaching staff and front office truly believe that this is a formula that can carry them to a playoff berth, let alone make a realistic run at another Super Bowl, then the franchise has more in common with teams that annually pick in the Top-5 on draft day than they do with perennial contenders.
Here’s the bottom line: the Ravens are justifying their poor performances on offense by saying this is the formula that gives them the best chance to win. They say that they are playing conservative football, but what they are actually doing is playing not to lose games. Even if they do manage to get a lead in a game, they then protect that lead rather than delivering the knockout blow. That a flawed approach and it won’t work for a couple of important reasons.
First, it will not be successful even in the short term. The Ravens face two legitimate tests over the next two weeks against teams with winning records. It’s highly unlikely they can beat a respectable Lions team with a legitimate franchise quarterback in Matthew Stafford by scoring somewhere in the neighborhood of 20 points. And it certainly won’t get the job done in Week 13 when the Ravens travel to Heinz Field to take on a red hot Steelers team. By dropping both of those games the Ravens could finish at best 9-7, and that’s if they win their final three games. That seems like a tall task regardless of their opponents over the final stretch.
Secondly, even though the Ravens have gained an early buzz for a team that “no one will want to see in January,” that’s not the type of team the Ravens are this year. Yes, the defense can frustrate and smother even good opposing offenses for long stretches of games, but the offense is so inept that eventually any good team will wear the Ravens down. The only reason the Ravens might sniff the playoffs is because the AFC is so watered down this season. The Ravens have been that dangerous unit in the past. They’ve been that sixth seed that made teams like the Patriots or Steelers nervous in January.
The 2017 Ravens are not that team.
Saying this is the formula for the Ravens’ success is a poor excuse for an offense that simply never improves. It’s an excuse for a weak coaching staff that lacks creativity and can’t keep up with halftime adjustments made by their more skilled opposing counterparts. It’s an excuse for a quarterback who can’t make plays despite being surrounded with adequate – not great, but certainly adequate – weapons.
The next two weeks will serve as a rude awakening for the Ravens unless something drastically changes. Based on the progress that we’ve seen over the first twelve weeks of the season, don’t count on it.