The Baltimore Ravens might be 4-1, but they have still underperformed this season.
Against the Philadelphia Eagles, Cleveland Browns and Kansas City Chiefs, the Ravens played poorly. The offense averaged only 18.3 points a game in these games, while the defense gave up big performances through the air and on the ground.
The Ravens do not have to be doomed to mediocrity against mediocre teams. They can improve, and here are three changes they could make to do just that.
Seemingly all season, quarterback Joe Flacco has been forced to operate under intense pressure. That pressure is a direct result of the poor play of the Ravens' two offensive tackles, Kelechi Osemele and Michael Oher.
Osemele is not ready to be a starter in the NFL. He lacks the agility and awareness to handle speed rushers, as he has shown throughout the season.
Against the Chiefs, Osemele gave up a two sacks to Justin Houston, as well as numerous pressures. Flacco never had more than a second or two to throw, as Osemele simply couldn't handle Houston.
Michael Oher did not hold up much better on the opposite side. Tamba Hali had his way with Oher, racking up two sacks. Further, Oher proved that he doesn't know how to handle defensive stunts, as he struggled to handle the Chiefs' motion.
On the season, the Ravens have given up 13 sacks, and nearly all of them are a result of poor tackle play.
The solution to this is clear: switch Oher back to right tackle and let Bryant McKinnie back in the starting lineup.
No, McKinnie is not perfect, but Oher is a much better right tackle than he is a left tackle. McKinnie is definitely an upgrade over Osemele, as well. At the very least, the Ravens know what they have in McKinnie, while Osemele has been incredibly inconsistent. McKinnie is also much less prone to penalty than the Ravens' current two starters are.
Osemele is simply not ready for the big time. Giving him time to develop behind McKinnie and Oher would be better for the offense now and down the road.
Against the Chiefs Sunday, the Ravens ran a successful screen to Torrey Smith that provided a big gain. The play was called back on a penalty, but the Chiefs' were definitely susceptible to this kind of play.
Naturally, the Ravens didn't run another wide receiver screen the rest of the day. Cam Cameron seemingly loathes screens, as he mostly calls pass plays deep down the field.
The Ravens have a more successful deep passing game than most teams, but it could be even better if they developed a complimentary short passing game.
The Ravens short passing game consists mostly of slant and flat routes, which opposing defenses have completely figured out.
Against the Eagles in particularly, the Ravens fell into a rut of throwing constant flat routes, which the Eagles completely shut down. Dennis Pitta was targeted a team high 15 times, but only caught eight of them, as the Eagles knew what was coming.
If the Ravens developed a screen game, though, they'd have a more reliable and diverse way to pick up quick yardage on first down.
With players like Torrey Smith and Jacoby Jones who excel after the catch, the Ravens have the personnel to run effective screens.
Unfortunately, neither player gets many opportunities to run after the catch due to the nature of the Ravens offense. The team averages just 4.6 yards after the catch, a number that is inflated by Ray Rice's impressive 8.2 YAC average.
Why they have yet to establish the screen as a major part of their offense is a mystery, but it would help Joe Flacco get in a rhythm early in games while also improving the Ravens' first-down performance.
Maligning the Ravens' secondary is easy to do, but they are not being helped by a defensive scheme that intensifies their weaknesses.
Cary Williams and Jimmy Smith are essentially the same player. They are big, physical and fast, but they lack change-of-direction ability and ball skills.
Press coverage would play to their strengths, but the Ravens are hesitant to do it. Instead, Williams and Smith often line up far off the ball, essentially giving up on the short pass.
This has resulted in opposing quarterbacks having their way with the Ravens. The Ravens are giving up 7.6 yards per pass, most of which is coming from short passes that take advantage of Williams and Smith.
Specifically, the comeback route has been a particular threat to the Ravens' defense this year, as it preys on Williams' stiff hips.
Williams and Smith would excel closer to the line, however. They have the strength to throw receivers off their routes and the speed to make up ground.
This is an area where the Ravens have been making improvements in recent weeks. They are using Smith and Williams more and more in press coverage, but they need to do it even more often.