Ravens Head to Cleveland – Can They Keep Harb’s Post-Bye Win Streak Alive?
Will Coach Harbaugh be smiling after next Sunday? Jason Bridge-USA TODAY Sports
The last few weeks have been frustrating for Ravens fans. I know from firsthand experience. The most recent manifestation was the pit that grew in my stomach during the Steeler’s last drive and the disappointment (or was it disgust?) that descended upon me as I watched Suisam’s kick split the uprights as time expired last weekend. Alas, the Super Bowl Champion Ravens walked out of Pittsburgh with a 3-4 record.
Thankfully, the NFL scheduling gods are kind to the teams and fans alike. The bye week gave me a chance to put the Ravens’ latest loss into perspective, and more importantly gave the players and coaches an opportunity to rest, convalesce, and critically review their performance to date.
I have no insider knowledge of how the Ravens faired with their part of the bargain, but during the off week I have come to the following conclusions:
- The Ravens still possess an excellent defense. This statement might appear heretical to the Ravens faithful, but even without Ray Lewis and Ed Reed this squad is going places. Dean Pees still has some work to do, notably at the safety and nickel positions, but in toto the group is sound. Minus an abysmal performance during week 1 in Denver (and almost no one has found a way to stop Peyton yet), the defense has held its opponents to 20 or fewer points in 4 of 6 contests. Fans can say what they will about that final drive in Pittsburgh, but holding another NFL team to fewer than 20 points should create a “W” in the scorebook. Which brings me to my second point.
- It’s probably not a surprise to even the casual observer, but the Ravens have serious work to do on offense. Many analysts point to the decline of the running game as the chief culprit of the Ravens’ offensive anemia. The poor run blocking and weak performance of both Rice and Pierce lend credence to this theory, but I argue that a mostly new receiving corps and Caldwell’s fascination with the long ball are the primary causes. To be sure, a healthy running game can enable the passing attack by effectively freezing linebackers and changing the defensive backfield’s calculus. But, an effective short passing game can accomplish the same goal. Additionally, it seems odd to put a struggling offensive line consistently in the position of extended pass protection for slow developing deep pass plays. This is not to say that Flacco shouldn’t take advantage of his arm and the incredible speed of Smith and Jones, but the low probability of long completions (even when relatively open) should make him consider the other options. Wouldn’t it be odd if that famous bomb to Jacoby Jones to tie the game in Denver last year came back to haunt the Ravens in the form of a quarterback too confident in his long game.
- And finally, to the fans ready to create voodoo dolls in my image, the Ravens can still turn the season around. Both the Steelers and the Browns graciously created space for the Ravens to maintain second place in the division by losing to the Raiders and Chiefs respectively. Additionally, Coach Harbaugh made good on his promise to make changes with the acquisition of Bernard Scott from Cincinnati. If the speedster and has recovered from last year’s injury, he could be just the spark the Ravens’ banged up backfield needs. Additionally, if Ed Dickson continues to progress (or Dennis Pitta returns) the short passing game stands to gain immensely. Similarly, Flacco continues to gain confidence in Tandon Doss and Marlon Brown which can only be a good thing. And, finally, other than the impending Cincinnati game, the Ravens face the most difficult of their remaining opponents in Baltimore. While M&T is no longer the safe haven it used to be, it is still an advantage the Ravens will appreciate.
The Ravens have yet to lose a post-bye week game in the Harbaugh era. The Browns are a legitimate threat this year, but the Baltimore Ravens are up for the challenge. Look for Baltimore to even up their record to 4-4 this week. Let’s hope that vector remains positive for the last eight games.