The Baltimore Ravens notched their first win of the 2013 season with a 14-6 home defeat of the Cleveland Browns. The ugly win comes on the heels of an even uglier 49-27 loss to the Denver Broncos last week. And as of yet, it's hard to say exactly what kind of team the defending Super Bowl champions will be this year.
The Ravens had a terrible first half against the Browns, with no points and just one third-down conversion on their seven tries. They rushed for only 27 yards on their nine first-half attempts, and completions to wide receiver Torrey Smith made up 62 of quarterback Joe Flacco's 109 yards.
A mixture of bad Flacco passes, drops by his receiving targets and good Cleveland defense prevented the Ravens from making any significant headway down the field. Their two drives that put them into scoring position resulted in two uncharacteristic missed field goals by kicker Justin Tucker. Nothing seemed to be going Baltimore's way offensively.
Lucky for the Ravens, the Browns offense struggled just as much—they only happened to convert on their two field-goal tries, which gave them a 6-0 first-half lead. Baltimore's defense also had better luck this week than they did against the Broncos in the week previous; against a far less explosive offense, they didn't give up many big gains.
In the second half, Baltimore's offense picked up. Flacco threw a touchdown to rookie receiver Marlon Brown—his second score in as many weeks—and ended the day with 22 completions on 33 attempts for 211 yards.
The run game also improved, despite Ray Rice leaving with what head coach John Harbaugh, via Aaron Wilson of The Baltimore Sun, called a strained hip flexor. Baltimore had a total of 99 rushing yards, with five of those coming on a Bernard Pierce touchdown.
Ray Rice strained his hip flexor, no MRI scheduled as of now, per John Harbaugh— Aaron Wilson (@RavensInsider) September 15, 2013
Flacco was better able to move the ball around in the second half, connecting with eight of his nine targets.
Smith led the way with seven catches for 85 yards. Brown had four catches for 45 yards and the score that put the game out of reach for Cleveland. Brandon Stokley also moved the chains, catching four of the five passes thrown his way for 36 yards.
Baltimore's defense also stiffened with time, allowing only 259 yards in the game, including just 65 rushing yards on 20 total Browns carries. The Ravens sacked Browns quarterback Brandon Weeden five times and pressured him effectively, taking advantage of the weak right side of Cleveland's offensive line.
In total, it was a similar performance to Week 1, albeit with a better outcome. It was a sloppy, inconsistent affair that required time for Flacco to build a rhythm with his mostly cobbled-together receiving corps, while the defense again showed signs of both jelling as a unit and having a long way to go before it's at the caliber the Ravens are used to.
That's the Ravens of 2013—at least for the first part of the season. With so many changes on defense at key positions, including both safeties and both outside linebackers, becoming a consistent and high-performing unit requires time and patience. The same can be said about the offense.
The Ravens are still trying to find a solution at the tight end position. After two key drops last week, tight end Ed Dickson had one target—another drop—and was left alone for the rest of the game. Billy Bajema, their other tight end, also had just one target, which he caught for an 18-yard gain. Another tight end, Dallas Clark, also got one target, resulting in an eight-yard catch.
Until they can find a reliable fill-in for the injured Dennis Pitta, the Ravens will continue to shuffle their tight ends or just throw passes to different players altogether. Stokley has proven invaluable—although he has only 70 receiving yards through two games—and the presence of the tall and fast Brown has at least given them a workable option while Jacoby Jones recovers from his MCL sprain.
Situations have forced the Ravens to improvise with their roster. This shaky team we've seen in the first two weeks is not their true identity, and it won't likely reveal itself until the first half of the season has wrapped. This team is a work in progress; Baltimore would have benefited from a training camp and preseason period that was twice as long, but it could only work with the five weeks it had.
When the season wraps, whether the Ravens reach the playoffs or not, they'll still likely be a much-improved team over the one we've seen through Week 2.
Their defense handled the Browns much better than it did the Broncos. In Week 1, the offense put up 27 points, usually enough to beat most teams. Flacco's side of the ball made plays in the second half against Cleveland and didn't let first-half struggles get into their heads.
All of this is a sign that the ugliness will wash off with time. The Ravens may not be the same team they were last year when they won the Super Bowl, but as of now, they aren't any worse or any better either.
Who are the 2013 Ravens? We haven't seen them yet.