The Baltimore Ravens stand as big winners as we enter the quarter pole of the NFL Season. Three blowout wins outshine their one upset loss (though the Tennessee Titans now look like one of the NFL’s better teams at 3-1) as they stand alone atop the AFC North.
The Ravens have some people to thank for their quick start, as well as some players who need to step up if they want to hoist the Lombardi Trophy in February.
While the Pittsburgh Steelers said goodbye to a couple of their Super Bowl linemen, the Baltimore Ravens brought in a two all-pro veterans in left tackle Bryant McKinnie and center Andre Gurode. The moves may have shifted the balance of power in the AFC North.
While Ben Roethlisberger is getting bruised and beaten (and is questionable to play Sunday against the Tennessee Titans), Joe Flacco has enjoyed a pocket comfortable enough in which to sleep.
Andre Gurode and Bryant McKinnie have opened up the running game as the Ravens are eighth in the NFL with 124 yards per game.
Fullback Vonta Leach deserves a mention as well, as he is another devastating blocker helping to open things up. Ray Rice and Ricky Williams are both averaging over 4.5 yards per carry, while Rice has over 500 yards of total offense and four touchdowns.
The Baltimore Ravens rank in the top 10 in three out of four major offensive statistical categories. The weak link has been Joe Flacco and the passing offense, ranked 18th in the NFL.
Flacco has progressed with every season and after his breakthrough performance against the Pittsburgh Steelers in Week 1 (224 yards, 3 touchdowns, zero interceptions), it looked like this would be the year the Ravens’ quarterback took the next step.
As it stands, Flacco is on pace to have the worst year of his career. His quarterback rating is 79.9, while his completion percentage is an embarrassing 49.3.
Flacco has just one more touchdown (seven) then he does turnovers (six). The rest of the team may be covering the quarterback’s mistakes for now, but as the season progresses Flacco has to pick it up.
When Chuck Pagano was promoted from the secondary to defensive coordinator, he had a simple task: re-establish Baltimore Ravens football.
For a team that prides itself on defensive intimidation and pressuring the quarterback, the Ravens were a dreadful 27th in the NFL with 27 sacks last year. The scheme had become too predictable, as Terrell Suggs and Haloti Ngata accounted for 16.5 of those sacks.
In his first season, Pagano has brought the heat: the team is back in the top 10 with 11 sacks, on pace for 44.
The pressure is coming from all over the field, as nine players have brought down opposing quarterbacks. The Ravens lead the NFL with 14 total turnovers and a lot of the credit has to go to Pagano’s chaotic scheme.
Is Joe Flacco having an awful season because he has no one to throw to, or are the Baltimore Ravens’ receivers performing terribly because Flacco has forgotten how to throw the ball?
For Ravens’ fans, it is a chicken-or-the egg scenario they would rather not contemplate.
When the team brought in Lee Evans to team with Anquan Boldin, Joe Flacco had the best receiving duo of his career, at least in theory.
The theory has not become the practice, as the team’s leading wide receiver, Anquan Boldin, is 53rd in the NFL with 15 receptions. Lee Evans has been a non-factor with two catches for nine yards.
Rookie Torrey Smith had five of his six catches and all of his touchdowns in one blowout win over the winless St. Louis Rams. Tight end Ed Dickson and Ray Rice have been better options than the receivers with 16 catches apiece.
To become a complete team Flacco and the receivers need to have a Rod Tidwell-approved, “help me help you” therapy session.
Like every team in the NFL, the Ravens have some issues to iron out. However, Baltimore has the benefit of a pillow-soft schedule to do so. The team faces the NFC West (home to three teams with two combined wins) and the AFC South.
In their remaining 12 games, the Ravens are clear favorites in every one with the exception of maybe the Houston Texans, the Pittsburgh Steelers (if they can get things turned around) and the San Diego Chargers.
After going on the road to win at least one playoff game in each of the last three seasons, a first round bye and home field advantage is not out of the question for these perennial contenders.
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