Baltimore Ravens: What You Need to Know Heading into Week 9

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Baltimore Ravens: What You Need to Know Heading into Week 9
The Ravens have an important divisional game up next.

With their bye week behind them, the Baltimore Ravens start the long grind to fight their way back into the playoff picture. It starts with a trip to Ohio to face the Cleveland Browns in Week 9.

Here is the crucial information you need to know for this week.

Division Standings

AFC North Standings
Team Record Next Game
Cincinnati Bengals 6-2 At Miami Dolphins
Baltimore Ravens 3-4 At Cleveland Browns
Cleveland Browns 3-5 Vs. Baltimore Ravens
Pittsburgh Steelers 2-5 At New England Patriots

Unfortunately for the Ravens, the Cincinnati Bengals gained a bigger lead in the division after trouncing the New York Jets in Week 8. The more pressing concern for Baltimore is that Andy Dalton seems to be heating up; he's thrown for over 300 yards and three touchdowns in each of the last three weeks.

If Dalton continues to play this well, Cincinnati will run away with the AFC North crown.

The Bengals face the Miami Dolphins on Thursday night with short rest. The Dolphins have cooled off since their 3-0 start and have lost their last four in a row. They still have the weapons to pose problems for Cincinnati, but the Bengals are the favorites.

The good news for the Ravens is that both the Cleveland Browns and Pittsburgh Steelers lost in Week 8, leaving Baltimore alone in second place in the division. That position could be solidified in Week 9, as the Steelers travel to Foxboro for a tough matchup against the New England Patriots.

Elsewhere, the Browns started their third-string quarterback (Jason Campbell) last week, and the magic from their revival seems to have died. They face the Ravens this week in a critical division game. Baltimore will be looking to right the ship after the bye.

Wild Card Race
Standings Team Record Conference Record
Wild Card 1 Denver Broncos 7-1 3-1
Wild Card 2 San Diego Chargers 4-3 2-3
3 New York Jets 4-4 2-4
4 Tennessee Titans 3-4 3-2
5 Baltimore Ravens 3-4 3-3
6 Miami Dolphins 3-4 2-3

The last piece of good news from the bye week is that some of the other Wild Card contenders lost games. The Dolphins and Jets both lost, which is a good thing for the Ravens, who might need a Wild Card spot to get into the playoffs.

Injury Report

Injury Report
Player Injury
Josh Bynes Finger infection
Terrence Cody Knee sprain
Ryan Jensen Broken foot
Bernard Pierce Hamstring
Brandon Stokley Groin

Bernard Pierce wasn't listed on the injury report, but he aggravated a hamstring injury and his status is uncertain. The Ravens signed running back Bernard Scott as insurance in case Pierce is unable to go on Sunday. Both reports are from Aaron Wilson of the Baltimore Sun.

Also from Wilson, Josh Bynes expects to play against the Browns and is recovering well from surgery on his finger.

The other question marks are Brandon Stokley, Terrence Cody and Ryan Jensen, but all of them would be backups anyway and have fallen behind on the depth chart.

What Must Improve

Run Game

/Getty Images
Ray Rice hasn't looked like himself this season.

Ray Rice and Bernard Pierce are too talented to be ineffective. Mike Preston of the Baltimore Sun reported that some of the players called for a shift back to the blocking scheme of last season, and head coach John Harbaugh took their opinions into consideration.

There was less zone-blocking against Pittsburgh in Week 7, and the bye week would have been a perfect time to implement broader changes to the blocking scheme. We'll find out whether those changes were made on Sunday.

But the success the O-line had against the Steelers is a reason for optimism.

The total run-blocking grade for the offensive line in every week.

It was by far the most productive run-blocking game of the year, according to Pro Football Focus (subscription required). If it is indeed the scheme that was holding them back, they may be able to roll out a competent ground game after changes have been made.

Run Defense

/Getty Images
Le'Veon Bell had the best game of his career against the Ravens.

The struggles of the rushing offense have been frequently discussed, but the rushing defense has slowly fallen apart. As a result, opposing offenses have been able to unleash balanced attacks, pick up easy first downs and construct time-consuming drives.

A bad run defense also negates the biggest strength of this Baltimore team: the pass rush. When the run is shut down, offenses are put in obvious passing situations and Terrell Suggs and Elvis Dumervil can get after the quarterback.

Opposition 3rd Downs
Opponent Opponent Rushing Yardage Third-Down Conversion Percentage
Denver Broncos 65 53.3%
Cleveland Browns 65 26.7%
Houston Texans 94 25.0%
Buffalo Bills 203 27.8%
Miami Dolphins 22 18.8%
Green Bay Packers 140 35.3%
Pittsburgh Steelers 141 58.3%
Average <100 yards <100 30.9%
Average >100 yards >100 40.5%

Stopping the run appeared to be a strong suit for the revamped defense, but that trait has all but left the Ravens in recent weeks. The last two losses came as a result of opposing offenses driving down the field, draining the clock and kicking a game-winning field goal as the clock expired.

With the Ravens struggling to run the ball, the rushing defense has to be better to allow Baltimore to have some control over the clock and implement their pass rush.

Deep Passing

/Getty Images
Joe Flacco hasn't been able to make big plays downfield.

Joe Flacco's greatest asset is his powerful arm, and the combination of his arm strength and the speed of the receivers on the roster should form a potent big-play threat.

But it hasn't.

Joe Flacco Deep Passing (20+ yards)
Year Percentage of Pass Attempts (Rank) Yards Percentage of Total Yards TDs INTs Completion Percentage
2012 17.3% (1) 1100 28.8% 11 0 40.2%
2013 (through Week 7) 13.8% (10) 383 20.0% 0 2 29.7%

They haven't been able to connect for deep passes, or big plays in general, and it's put a lot of pressure on the offense to build long drivessomething they have struggled to do with any kind of consistency.

If the switch to a spread offense (resembling what we saw against the Steelers) is maintained for the rest of the year, then perhaps the big plays will start to come again. If it doesn't happen, this offense will continue to have problems moving the football.

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