The Baltimore Ravens head into the bye week after a disappointing loss Sunday to the Pittsburgh Steelers 19-16. The Ravens once again were unable to establish the run game and are now below .500 for the first time under head coach John Harbaugh. Baltimore will need to make some serious adjustments in order to right the ship.
Terrell Suggs said after Sunday’s loss that the Ravens are in a state of emergency. Harbaugh and the rest of the coaching staff must get back to the drawing board and figure out a more productive way to get running back Ray Rice involved while also making stopping the run a priority.
Let’s take a look at the biggest adjustments the Ravens must make heading into their bye week.
Find a Solution for the Running Game
The Ravens are currently ranked 28th in the NFL in rushing yards with 74 yards per game. With Pro Bowler Ray Rice and last year’s rookie sensation Bernard Pierce, the Ravens’ run game heading into the season was expected to be the cornerstone of their offensive attack.
Both Rice and Pierce are averaging 2.8 yards per carry, which has forced the Ravens to become one-dimensional. Against the Steelers, the Ravens were only able to muster up 82 yards on the ground while the Steelers racked up 141. Quarterback Joe Flacco has thrown the ball more than 50 times twice this year; the Ravens lost both games.
Baltimore will use the bye week effectively to work on the running game as well as the offensive line play. All of the blame can’t be placed on the running backs, and with newly acquired left tackle Eugene Monroe, the Ravens will need to improve in the trenches.
The Ravens travel to Cleveland after the bye, and expect them to come out and dominate the line of scrimmage asserting themselves on the ground. Rice will have a season-high 30 carries for over 125 yards and two scores.
Stop the Rush
The Baltimore run defense has been average at best this year. Against the run they are ranked 16th in the league giving up just under 105 yards per game. In the offseason, general manager Ozzie Newsome made it a priority to rebuild the defense. There have been flashes of greatness on the defensive side this year, but against the run, they have struggled.
Suggs is the best run-stopping rush linebacker in the NFL, and Courtney Upshaw has proven he is more than capable of setting the edge on the opposite side. The issue is up the middle. The Ravens haven’t received great play from defensive tackle Haloti Ngata. Ngata only has 21 tackles in 2013 and has been pushed around up front. Fellow DT’s Chris Canty, Arthur Jones and Brandon Williams must improve their play against the run if the Ravens want to have a top-10 run defense this season.
The defensive line has plenty of room for improvement, which is a good thing for the Ravens. The line hasn’t played well at all, but Baltimore is still very much in the hunt for the AFC North title. Look for the Ravens to come out and stop the Browns giving up only 40 yards rushing, forcing Brandon Weeden to beat them.
Special Teams Play Must Improve
The special teams this year must be the most frustrating for John Harbaugh, given his background in the area. The Ravens haven’t been awful on special teams, but they certainly haven’t been great. Against the Steelers, the Ravens gave up a costly kick return at the end of the game and also failed to recover a surprise onside kick.
Last season the Ravens had one of the best special teams units in the NFL; 2013 has been a different story. Harbaugh said Monday the Ravens need to find players who want to play special teams. During the bye week, expect Harbaugh to shake things up in order to send a message and to get better results.
Against the Browns, the Ravens will play their best special teams game all year because of their bye week adjustments. The Ravens are undefeated following a bye under Harbaugh, and that will hold true again against the Browns.