The Baltimore Ravens loss last week to the Tennessee Titans may have been one of the most disappointing losses in team history, and it’s not necessarily because of the ramifications of that single loss but because it brought Ravens fans back down to earth.
After the 35-7 beatdown of their division rival, the Pittsburgh Steelers, many Ravens fans were buying Super Bowl tickets. Sure, it was only one win, but the Ravens looked like they had very few questions and all their off-season issues had been answered.
The offensive line, perhaps the biggest offseason question mark, played better than anyone could have dreamed. They only allowed a single sack and paved the way for 170 rushing yards versus Pittsburgh’s elite defense.
The most amazing performance was by quarterback Joe Flacco, who had been criticized and questioned all offseason for his supposed inability to beat the Steelers. Flacco threw three touchdowns in what was considered by most Ravens fans as his best game as a professional. Even new wide receiver Lee Evans’ catchless day was viewed as a positive since he kept the Steelers best corner, Ike Taylor, occupied for the entire game.
It was a great time to be a Ravens fan, but unfortunately, it didn’t last long. The Ravens came crashing back down to earth versus the Titans. All the supposed positives and strengths that they showed versus the Steelers seemed to disappear versus the Titans.
The offensive line allowed three sacks, and the Ravens were only able to rush for 45 yards. Flacco played one of his worst games as a professional and threw two costly interceptions, and Lee Evans disappeared in coverage. In fact, all of the Ravens receivers disappeared in coverage, and ultimately forced Flacco to hold the ball, waiting for receivers to get open.
Against the Steelers, the Ravens secondary played lights-out and forced three interceptions, but against the Titans, they were constantly burned. They had no answer for the quick, short passes of the west-coast offense or the size and strength of wide receiver Kenny Britt.
The Ravens played worse than anyone could have predicted. Most experts picked the Ravens to decimate the Titans based on their dominant performance. Obviously, nothing could have been further from the truth, and that leaves Ravens fans asking the question—What can we expect from the Ravens this season?
If the team plays like they did versus the Steelers all season, they would likely win every game, but if they play like they did versus the Titans, one must wonder if they’d win any games at all. It’s such a huge dichotomy that most fans can see the obvious answer to their question.
The Ravens probably won’t play much better than they did on opening day and probably won’t play much worse than they did last week. That’s the most obvious answer and is also the most rational when you consider all the facts.
The Ravens were caught unprepared with only four active corners, one of which was a practice squad player, versus a west-coast passing attack with a big, physical receiver and a veteran quarterback. They also were facing a defense that matched up well versus their offense and surprised them with excellent coverage. The Ravens certainly played poorly, but these factors on offense and defense made any type of rally during the game nearly impossible. The Titans had the Ravens number in the game, and they knew it.
As the season goes on, the Ravens will be less likely to fall into these sorts of trap games. That being said, we still don’t know exactly what to expect from the Ravens this season.
There’s a gigantic difference between how they played in Week 1 versus Week 2, and since we said that they would perform somewhere in between what we saw in those two games, does that mean they will barely have a winning record this season?
That’s hard to say. The Ravens still have a great team and are made up of the same players that dominated the Steelers in Week 1. Of course, they still have the weaknesses that they showed in Week 2. The only way they can be consistently successful this season is if they can play to their strengths.
That means that they cannot allow teams to simply pass over the heads of their elite front-seven on defense, which is the strength of the team. Allowing teams to simply bypass their strength is the fastest way to lose games and frustrate the players.
The Ravens need to find a way to force teams to face their strengths on the defensive side of the ball—which include run defense and pass rush. This means that they need good or at least decent coverage in the secondary. They also need more depth in the secondary, or teams will simply spread the defense out with four and fiver receiver sets in every game to avoid having to face the Ravens pass rush or run defense.
On offense, the Ravens problems are more serious. More than anything, they need to find a way to stretch the field and force teams to defend the deep area of the field. The Ravens offensive problem isn’t the offensive line...it’s the fact that defenses are stacking the line of scrimmage because they don’t respect the Ravens ability to throw deep. That kills the running game, and if the Ravens cannot make the defense pay for overplaying the run and short passing game, it kills the whole offense.
On defense, the Ravens will get better. That’s almost a sure thing. Most of their problems on defense were because of depth issues in the secondary that the Titans were able to exploit. Depth issues are to be expected when the team is without two of their best corners, Jimmy Smith and Chris Carr. Both players are expected to be back this season, with Carr expecting to play in the next game versus the St. Louis Rams.
The offense is the bigger question, on the other hand, and fans may not like the answer to that question. Until the Ravens can make teams respect their ability to throw deep, opposing defenses will continue to stack the box with impunity.
Against bad defenses, it shouldn’t matter all that much. They should still be able to impose their will since the offensive line is still very talented. However, they will struggle versus good teams—particularly well coached defenses. This is a serious problem for a potential playoff team since most other playoff teams are well coached and can play good defense.
Luckily, the Ravens have the perfect bounce-back candidate this week in the St. Louis Rams. The Rams have a young quarterback and don’t have the receiving talent that the Titans have, and on defense, they are not nearly as talented. The Ravens shouldn’t underestimate the Rams because they are well coached, and Rams quarterback Sam Bradford is better than his statistics have indicated so far this season.
Having said that, the Ravens really have no excuse not to win this game. They should be getting Carr back from injury, the Rams don’t have the personnel on defense to stop the Ravens and more importantly, the Ravens should respond to their wake-up call from last week. They should play well enough to come away with a victory this week, but how they play for the rest of the season is the bigger question.