Where Exactly Did It Go Wrong for the Baltimore Ravens?

Shehan PeirisCorrespondent IIIJanuary 1, 2014

CINCINNATI, OH - DECEMBER 29:  Joe Flacco #5 of the Baltimore Ravens leaves the field in defeat during the game against the Cincinnati Bengals at Paul Brown Stadium on December 29, 2013 in Cincinnati, Ohio.  The Bengals defeated the Ravens 34-17. (Photo by John Grieshop/Getty Images)
John Grieshop/Getty Images

Manning eviscerated the Ravens defense, tying the record with seven TD passes.
Manning eviscerated the Ravens defense, tying the record with seven TD passes.Dustin Bradford/Getty Images

This season wasn’t exactly the Super Bowl defense that the Baltimore Ravens had in mind for 2013. After an offseason of tumultuous change, all the new parts were never on the same page and the 8-8 record shows that. In many cases there is a singular turning point where it “all went wrong” for a team, but this year’s Ravens are different.

For them, it was more a case of things never going well.

Week 4 Rushing Attack

The season opener went terribly, as Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos started their record-breaking seasons by scoring seven touchdowns against Baltimore. The Ravens were actually hanging with the high-octane Broncos to start, taking a three-point lead into halftime, but it all went south in the third quarter.

Suffice it to say, it wasn’t the best start for a retooled Ravens defense.

Baltimore rebounded by winning its next two games, but Week 4 turned out to be a tremendous blow to the Ravens' playoff chances. Dropping that game to the lowly Buffalo Bills put Baltimore in a tough spot considering its tough schedule for the rest of the season.

Moreover, that game emphasized how serious the shortcomings of the running game were.

Against a Bills defense that finished the year ranked as the fifth-worst rushing defense in the league (giving up 129 yards per game), the Ravens had absolutely zero success and completely abandoned the ground game in the second half.

Justin Tucker's excellence was a bright spot, but the Ravens relied on him too much.
Justin Tucker's excellence was a bright spot, but the Ravens relied on him too much.Patrick Smith/Getty Images

As a result, Joe Flacco threw the ball 50 times and was picked off on five occasions. It was just one extreme example, but that Week 4 game was a microcosm of the entire Ravens season. The inability to run the ball erased any hopes of a balanced offense and placed a great deal of pressure on Flacco.

Flacco isn’t the type of quarterback who can drop back and heave 50 passes in a game, as he showed against Buffalo. That’s neither a criticism nor a problem; it’s just his identity as a quarterback.

He (and so many other quarterbacks) needs a running game to lean on, and the Ravens didn’t have a ground game for 15 of their 16 games—the Chicago Bears defense was Baltimore’s lone benefactor in that regard.

As the season went on, losses to the Green Bay Packers and Pittsburgh Steelers revealed more fatal flaws: the inability to get critical stops and the failure to convert red-zone trips into touchdowns.

In both games, the offense had chances to score touchdowns but couldn’t capitalize and had to settle for field goals. Those games were decided by two and three points respectively, and Baltimore’s red-zone ineptitude cost it crucial victories.

Additionally, both of those games were lost because the opposition constructed time-consuming drives to kill the clock at the end of regulation. The defense that was actually excellent overall struggled late in games, and it became an Achilles’ heel for the Ravens as the year came to an end.

Even during Baltimore's four-game winning streak which revived its playoff aspirations, those problems remained at the forefront of Ravens football.

Pass Rush Inconsistency

Some areas improved as the season progressed. For example, special teams and the play of the secondary became the strengths of the team by Week 17, but Baltimore could never get anything clicking at the same time.

The pass rush that was dominant to start the season completely dried up to end the year as the Ravens failed to bring down quarterbacks.

The Ravens played just one complete game (against the New York Jets) all year, and that inconsistency plagued them in 2013.

It was just one of those years for Baltimore. It didn’t all go wrong; it just never went right.