Defending the Lombardi Trophy is a tough task in today’s NFL. And it doesn’t get any easier when the captain of your defense is hosting Monday Night Football and your best defensive back is now an opponent.
Yet the Ravens are still in the hunt and have had some early season developments that will surely impact their chances of reaching the playoffs.
I’ve taken the liberty of ranking these developments in terms of importance to the Ravens' postseason chances. While other developments are important, such as draft rumors, they are not prevalent to this season. News that affects other teams is also prevalent to the Ravens chances and is included in the rankings, but the spot reflects how it directly relates to Baltimore. For example, it’s not very relative that Von Miller returns to the Broncos because the Ravens have already played Denver.
Before we start, here’s a few that just missed the cut:
Partying with Bryant McKinnie: It wasn’t the best idea for the injured Jacoby Jones to partake in McKinnie’s birthday celebration, but it won’t have much impact on the Ravens postseason hopes via Alex Kay, Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report.
Matt Elam at starting safety: While it will make an impact in the development of the Ravens’ first round pick, Elam won’t be the reason the Ravens do or do not reach the playoffs. He is a nice asset in run support as he's shown above taking down CJ Spiller.
Haloti Ngata’s Hip: Ngata was bothered by a hip injury in Week 5, but the damage seems to be minor via Aaron Wilson, The Baltimore Sun.
Baltimore already has one in the win column courtesy of the Browns, but after that, something happened. The Browns traded Trent Richardson and started Brian Hoyer. Then they rattled off three straight wins and are tied for the division lead.
The Browns don’t boast the NFL’s most feared roster, but something has happened in Cleveland—they’re starting to believe.
“We went out, and people were excited. You can tell this town is just lit up, excited, and rightfully so. We’ve won a few games in a row here, and it’s fun,” now starting Quarterback Brandon Weeden told Matt Florjancic, ClevelandBrowns.com.
Now the Ravens game at Cleveland on Nov. 3rd might not be business as usual.
The loss of Dennis Pitta has been rather crucial as Ed Dickson has had trouble catching passes. Dallas Clark has been a nice replacement, but nothing like the sure-handed Pitta.
While Flacco has Torrey Smith in the deep passing game, the intermediate and red zone passing games have suffered with Pitta’s absence. Clark and Dickson have both neglected to find the endzone in 2013. Pitta and Flacco have a chemistry that hasn't been replicated by his replacements. The same chemistry that lead to the leaping catch pictured above against Denver in last year's Divisional Round.
Pitta’s recovery is progressing well and the earliest he could return is Nov. 3rd as Jeff Zrebiec of The Baltimore Sun reports. While the effect of Pitta’s absence is a first half development the return of Pitta could be a second half development that pushes the Ravens into the postseason.
The Ravens and Steelers used to meet twice each year in games that would decide division supremacy. They’ll still meet twice in 2013, but the Steelers aren’t in a position to fight for the division. While it’s never safe to count your wins, it is clear that the Steelers are in a down year.
The Ravens aren’t necessarily going to win both games, but it doesn’t hurt their playoff chances that their most feared rival is slumping at 0-4.
At 6’ 5” and 306 lbs, Eugene Monroe might be the largest development for the Ravens. It is, however, tough to say how grand his impact will be on the Ravens offensive line. Aaron Wilson has reported that Monroe has shown enough to earn the starting spot over Bryant McKinnie in Week 6, which means that John Harbaugh sees him as an upgrade.
Matt Vensel of The Baltimore Sun speculates that Monroe could be an impressive upgrade and provide more consistency in the run game. An element that has certainly been missing so far in 2013.
Lloyd Fox-Baltimore Sun
Replacing Ray Lewis is impossible, but Daryl Smith has filled in quite nicely for the Ravens. He’s been an anchor in the middle of the defense while Terrell Suggs and Elvis Dumervil rush the edges. Even better than his play is the respect he’s garnered from teammates.
"Daryl is playing great ball. Who else would I rather have than Daryl replacing Ray Lewis?'' cornerback Lardarius Webb said via Jim Corbett, USA Today, "He is a Pro Bowl type of guy. He's making plays like no other."
Making plays like the 37-yard pick six he had against Houston where he’s pictured celebrating above.
When the Ravens unloaded Anquan Boldin, many questioned where receiving production would come from. Torrey Smith graciously accepted more targets and it’s paid off. He’s racked up 556 receiving yards at a 20.6 yards per reception clip, which is good for third and second best in the NFL respectively. There’s no doubt that Smith is Joe Flacco’s new favorite target.
"I think toward the last quarter of the season last year, last half of the season—he’s become a guy that you can throw the ball to, and you know he’s going to come down with the ball," Flacco said of Smith via Jamison Hensley, ESPN.com, who also points out that Smith is the only receiver in the league with at least 40 targets and no drops, which is particularly impressive given the tough catches he's made, one of which is pictured above.
Baltimore had the third best turnover ratio in the AFC last season, which was a big part of their success. This year the Ravens are sitting just ahead of Jacksonville with a -4 margin. Thanks in large part to Flacco’s eight interceptions.
Ray Rice has failed to make the big play this year. Rice has been one of the worst backs at breaking tackles and racked up just 1.6 average yards after contact this season as Jamison Hensley of ESPN.com points out.
While Rice was hobbled with a hip injury, Bernard Pierce took the reigns and the running game didn’t improve. Pierce is averaging just 2.9 yards per carry.
The Ravens did show some improvement in their win over the Dolphins last week. Rice recorded 74 yards and found the endzone twice, but the yards per carry were still low. At least there should be a little confidence of which to build off. “Jim [Caldwell] didn’t let his foot off the pedal. No matter how it looked, we were going to run the ball. That’s a good feeling.” said Rice via Jeff Zrebiec, The Baltimore Sun.
Terrell Suggs was out most of last season, but he’s making up for it with seven sacks this year, one of which is pictured above with Arthur Jones (No. 97). New additions, Elvis Dumervil and Chris Canty, have added three and two sacks, respectively. In fact, the Ravens' 19 sacks at this point in the season are the most the franchise has ever recorded via Garrett Downing, staff writer, BaltimoreRavens.com.
Last year, Paul Kruger lead the team with nine sacks and the entire defense tallied a modest 37. At this rate Suggs will challenge Michael Strahan’s record of 22.5 sacks and the defense will record about 60.
Flacco was undoubtedly the reason the Ravens were able to make their Super Bowl run last season. His postseason stats were phenomenal. He’s never had regular season numbers that jump off the page, but he’s on pace to have the lowest quarterback rating of his career. He’s also on pace to throw more interceptions than his two highest totals combined.
Flacco showed that he can be a clutch QB when it’s crunch time, but this year it might need to come sooner rather than later.