Happy Holidays from the Ebony Bird Staff

Ravens Lose, Make Playoffs…Flacco Sends Thank You Note to Big Ben

 

Dec 16, 2012; Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco fumbles the ball and it is recovered by the Denver Broncos

Ben,

Tough break with that interception in OT.  I know how it feels…at least yours wasn’t returned 98-yards for a touchdown. 

BTW, thanks for the playoff bid.  See you next year.

Joe

 

I was one of those who expected to see the Ravens’ offense make a few sparks in their first Caldwell-led outing against the Broncos.  I was obviously wrong.  Any hope of the theorized spark was seriously diminished when Flacco coughed up the rock on the 3rd-and-1 sneak during the first offensive series.  And, while I desperately clung to hope, the fire department showed up to completely douse the embers at the end of the 1st half when Joe served one up to the Bronco’s Chris Harris for a 98-yard pick-6.

As Ed Reed has already stated, it was truly an embarrassing outing for the men in purple and black.

That said, the Ravens (with a lot of help from the Steelers) managed to turn the loss into an NFL-leading 5th straight playoff berth.  While a playoff bye is out of the question, the Ravens can secure the AFC North title and a home field playoff game with a single win out of the remaining two contests.

So, what must the Ravens do to have any chance of mounting a successful bid for the Lombardi Trophy?  To be honest, the prognosis is not good, but that does not mean that all hope is lost.  Here are a few broad (and obvious) areas for improvement.

Get healthy (on defense and offense)

It’s no surprise that injuries have severely impacted the Ravens this year.  As they come down the stretch, however, getting healthy bodies on both sides of the ball is a priority.  On defense it was nice to see T-Sizzle and Jimmy Smith back on the field again, but the Ravens should put a priority on getting them back to 100% for the playoffs.  Also, it was probably wise to keep Ray Lewis off the field and preserve his health for the post-season.   Hopefully a week off has helped Pollard and Ellerbe, but again the team should rank the longer term playoff benefits of additional recuperation over the possible short term benefits of rushing them back into action.

Offensively, the list of walking wounded is shorter but no less impactful.  Marshal Yanda, a critical cog in the offensive line, is still nursing an ankle injury and remains questionable for this week’s game.  Additionally, Torrey Smith and Bernard Pierce suffered concussions against the Broncos.  According to the latest reports it appears that Smith will return for the Giants game, but Pierce’s status is still unknown.

Score more points than the other teams

I realize this is an overly simplistic statement, but when faced with complicated problems it is often important to return to first principles.  And no first principle is more important in competitive sports than scoring more than the opponent.  To achieve this goal the Ravens must start with the offensive line.  The loss of Yanda has been significant, but the team absolutely must adjust to provide better run blocking and pass protection.  I am not privy to internal coaching debates, but I sincerely hope that someone is making a case for giving Bryant McKinnie a shot of drilling holes for Ray Rice and protecting Flacco’s blind side – he can scarcely do worse.

The offensive line is a serious problem, but Flacco bears much of the blame.  I’m not quite ready to put my #5 jersey on Craig’s List, but it is time for Joe to wake up and lead this offense.  I know he possesses the physical skills to put points on the board, but the mental skills have been lacking of late.  Of particular concern are his pocket awareness and recent penchant for turnovers.

Finally, the Ravens need to find a way – even when run blocking breaks down – to get the ball to Ray Rice.  I’m not advocating for 3 rushes up the gut every series followed by a punt, but establishing the run and giving little Ray an opportunity to break one is the key to unlocking all the other weapons this offense possesses.  Not only can an effective running game mitigate a harassing pass rush, but keeping the linebackers up opens up the middle for Boldin and Pitta, which opens up the outs, etc…

Prevent the other teams from scoring more points than us

More simplicity here, but unquestionably the Ravens defense must get better in stopping the run.  Regardless of the pre- and post-game Peyton-mania, Denver beat the Ravens last week with the running game.  Moreno’s 118-yards were big, but the real ice-pick to the Ravens’ heart was the time of possession battle.  Indeed, when the Ravens’ offense finally started showing some signs of life, the Broncos’ mounted a 9-minute drive almost solely conducted on the ground.  Even the best offense in the league can’t score if it’s sitting on the sidelines.

It’s been stated numerous times, but the Ravens also need to generate a more effective pass rush.  There have been moments of brilliance for this squad, but far too often, opposing quarterbacks have been able to remain relatively unhurried as they wait for their receivers to gain separation.  Williams (other than giving up on that one long pass to Decker) and Graham have been improving, but even the best defensive backs can’t cover NFL receivers for too long – especially against Super-Bowl caliber quarterbacks.

Channel the negative energy into better performance

I argue that this area is the most important of the four.  All of the players and coaches have been justifiably frustrated (and vocal) about their disappointment over the last few games.  So much so, in fact, that Cam Cameron was sent packing last week.  Now, however, is not the time to point fingers, hang heads low, or throw in the towel.  This has not emerged as a chronic problem yet, but the seeds are there.  Coach Harbaugh and the team’s leaders need to ensure that it doesn’t spread.  As stated in numerous press statements, all of the team’s stated goals are still achievable.  To have any chance of effecting positive change in the areas listed above, the team needs to reassert their professionalism by seriously critiquing their performances, learning from their mistakes, and avoiding those mistakes in the remaining games.

All of this starts next week.  Regardless of their lackluster performance against the Falcons, the Giants are an excellent football team.  This contest will provide the Ravens an opportunity to prove to the fans, the rest of the league, and most importantly themselves, that they are contenders.  Yes, there will be a final regular season opportunity on the road in Cincinnati, but what happens in M&T next week will set the tone for (and determine the length of) the remainder of the Ravens’ 2012 season.  Let’s hope that is a positive tone.

I still believe.

Happy Holidays and Go Ravens.

 

Tags: AFC North Baltimore Ravens Bryant McKinney Cam Cameron Ebony Bird Ed Reed Featured Jim Caldwell Jimmy Smith Joe Flacco John Harbaugh Marshal Yanda NFL Popular Ravens Ravens News Ray Lewis Ray Rice Terrell Suggs Torrey Smith