Many fans were hoping that the Baltimore Ravens would come out of their bye week looking rejuvenated. Instead, they were the same old Ravens team that played questionable defense, made a number of silly mistakes and couldn't move the ball on offense due to poor offensive line play.
With the Cincinnati Bengals losing on Thursday Night Football, Baltimore had a chance to gain some ground and improve its playoff chances.
Unfortunately, they played a terrible game, and it was the Cleveland Browns that gained ground on the Bengals.
While there is still a lot of football left to be played, their Week 10 game against Cincinnati is a must-win affair for the Ravens to have any chance of making the playoffs. Entering a week that will make or break the season, here is the most important information that you need to know.
|AFC North Standings|
|Cincinnati Bengals||6-3||At Baltimore Ravens|
|Baltimore Ravens||3-5||Vs. Cincinnati Bengals|
|Pittsburgh Steelers||2-6||Vs. Buffalo Bills|
Baltimore couldn't capitalize on a Cincinnati loss, and it now finds itself two-and-a-half games back of the Bengals.
Cleveland's victory over the Ravens catapulted them into second place in the AFC North, and the Pittsburgh Steelers lost another game—this time to the New England Patriots—and they're looking ahead to next season.
More bad news for the Ravens came in the form of who beat the Bengals. Any Cincinnati loss is important for Baltimore's chance of winning the division, but it also has to think about the last wild-card spot.
|Wild Card Standings|
|Wild Card 1||Denver Broncos||7-1|
|Wild Card 2||New York Jets||5-4|
|5||San Diego Chargers||4-4|
With the win, the Miami Dolphins moved ahead of Baltimore in the wild-card standings. The Ravens are once again sixth in line for the second wild-card seed.
|Ryan Jensen||Broken foot|
|Kelechi Osemele||Back (Injured Reserve)|
|Jimmy Smith||Groin strain|
The biggest injury concern is the status of Jimmy Smith. Smith has been the most reliable cornerback on the roster, and while Corey Graham is capable of stepping into a starting role, it would be a big blow to the defense if Smith is unable to suit up on Sunday.
Kelechi Osemele is in the process of being moved to injured reserve and undergoing surgery to fix a troublesome back that has given him problems all year.
What Must Improve
How Baltimore Starts Games
Baltimore is playing terrible football at the moment, losing four of its past five games. Despite the losing record, however, the Ravens are somehow still in these games.
Their past five contests have been decided by an average of 3.4 points. Think about that.
As poorly as the Ravens have played (to be clear, they haven't deserved to win any of those games), they could very easily be sitting atop the AFC North if they'd been able to make some clutch plays at the end of games.
What if I told you (cue the 30 for 30 voice) that the Ravens didn't need to be clawing their way back from early deficits and coming up empty?
Baltimore has been unable to start any games well. ESPN's Jamison Hensley dug up some numbers to show the extent of the slow starts:
It's not just a matter of who scores first, but the Ravens have dug themselves into deep holes early on in games. If they can keep themselves afloat in the first half, they will leave themselves with manageable comeback scenarios.
Joe Flacco's Performance On the Road
This isn't a new trend, but Joe Flacco needs to be much more consistent on the road to earn his gargantuan paycheck.
He is getting more responsibility in terms of the play-calling and making adjustments at the line of scrimmage, and his team is quite frankly not good enough to survive if Flacco doesn't play well.
He needs to cut down on his turnovers and improve his accuracy for the Ravens to win some road games.
The Number of Costly Mistakes
Penalties, missed tackles, more penalties, inaccurate passes, even more penalties and special teams miscues. These are the types of unnecessary mistakes that the Ravens are making, and they can't get out of their own way.
As was discussed in the slow starts section, Baltimore has played abysmal football, but the Ravens have still had every chance to come away with victories in most of their games.
If they had been able to avoid costly mistakes, they would have won at least three more games.
There is no more margin for error if they have any hope of making the postseason, so the errors need to stop. Now.