The Baltimore Ravens have had a nice start to the season, and besides the let-down against the Tennessee Titans in Week 2, they have won every other game in a dominating fashion. The Ravens appear to be one of the top teams in the NFL, but that certainly does not mean that they are without issues and problems that need addressing.
For the most part, the Ravens have been solid on both sides of the ball. Against the Steelers in Week 1, the Ravens played a nearly flawless game. The new look offensive line was able to push the older Steelers defensive line around all game, and Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco played the best game of his young career. He was accurate and on-time with his throws. Overall, the offense was extremely balanced as they ran seventeen pass plays and seventeen run plays.
On defense, the Ravens simply dominated the Steelers in every aspect. The defensive line, especially defensive tackle Haloti Ngata, was unblockable and completely shut down the Steelers running game. The linebackers were able to generate pressure and the secondary was solid. It was a team effort and one of the best wins in franchise history.
Following the dominating win, most Ravens fans were buying into the hype, and even many experts were saying that the Ravens were an early Super Bowl favorite. Everything came crashing down in their Week 2 game versus the Tennessee Titans.
As exciting as the Steelers game was, the Titans game was disappointing, and after playing one of the finest games of his career versus the Steelers, Flacco played one of the worst against the Titans. It was an unexplainable performance on the surface because the Titans were supposed to be a bad team, but after four weeks and three more victories, the loss to the 3-1 Titans doesn’t seem so shameful.
The fact is that the Titans match up very well with the Ravens on nearly every level. Their defense is able to generate pressure with their base four defensive linemen and keep quarterbacks bottled up while collapsing the pocket. This matches up well against the Ravens offensive line which is not manned with great pass blockers.
The Titans secondary is capable of playing tight coverage with their safeties playing cover two, and the Ravens receivers were not able to get open when covered one-on-one. This not only prevents the quick throws and short passing game but also effectively shuts down the deep throws as well, and by playing solid coverage with four defensive linemen, the Titans defense effectively shut down the entire Ravens offense.
On defense, the loss to the Titans was easier to explain. The Ravens were without two of their top five corners, and considering that cornerback Domonique Foxworth hasn’t been active since his horrible performance versus the Titans and was recently sent to injured reserve, it’s safe to say that the Ravens were without three of their top five corners even with him on the field. The only real corners they could count on were Cary Williams and Lardarius Webb.
The Ravens front seven was elite even in the Titans game. They completely shut down the Titans running game and were able to generate pressure on a few plays. The problem was that the Titans didn’t give the Ravens the opportunity to rush the passer. They used quick passes and spread out the defense with multiple receiver sets.
The Ravens defense was so concerned with covering the Titans four and five wide receivers with linebackers and safeties that they got away from playing solid defense. If the Ravens had suited up even one more healthy corner for the Titans game, the outcome probably would have been much different.
After the Titans game, the Ravens needed to rebound in a big way, and the St. Louis Rams provided them with that opportunity. They completely dominated the Rams on both sides of the ball. On offense, the Ravens came out throwing and had a surprising amount of success. Rookie wide receiver Torrey Smith had a breakout game to say the least, with three touchdown catches in the first quarter.
Those three scores forced the Rams to play from behind, and once the Ravens knew that the Rams had to throw the ball, the game was essentially over. The Ravens defense harassed and sacked Rams quarterback Sam Bradford, and besides a deep touchdown throw, Bradford wasn’t able to get anything going all game.
The Ravens certainly played better against the Rams than they did against the Titans, but there were still a few slightly alarming aspects in the game—mostly on offense. Offensive tackles Bryant McKinnie and Michael Oher both allowed seven pressures on Flacco, and left guard Andre Gurode had a rough day trying to block Rams defensive tackle Justin Bannan.
On top of that, Flacco was inaccurate with many of his throws despite having one of the best statistical days of his career. He threw 21 incompletions versus the Rams, and many of those were the result of overthrowing receivers. It’s possible that Flacco was trying to play it safe after throwing two interceptions versus the Titans. It’s a good thing that Torrey Smith played so well and the Rams secondary played so poorly, because Flacco was not sharp despite his gaudy statistics.
After rebounding versus the lowly Rams, the Ravens had a true challenge coming to Baltimore in the New York Jets, led by the Ravens ex-defensive coordinator Rex Ryan. The Jets have one of the best defenses in the league but were reeling after surrendering 171 rushing yards to Oakland Raiders running back Darren McFadden the week before.
The Ravens defense started the game out hot by forcing a fumble on Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez and returning it for a touchdown. They didn’t look back, and the defense put on one of the finest and most spectacular defensive performances in franchise history.
The defense had three defensive touchdowns in the game. Haloti Ngata played one of the best games of his career, and the secondary was solid despite all the injuries. Every player on the defense played with reckless abandon, and the Jets had no answer. They couldn’t run the ball, and every time Sanchez dropped back to pass, he seemed scared.
The Ravens offense, on the other hand, did not play a dominating game. Flacco was again inaccurate with his throws and could rarely find open receivers even when he had time to throw. Part of that was because the Jets have a great secondary, but there’s no question that Flacco was not playing well. He allowed two turnovers in the game—one fumble and one interception which was returned for a touchdown. Luckily, the defense had his back and immediately scored on a pick-six after Flacco’s fumble.
After four weeks, it’s clear that this team is special. The defense is one of the most talented in Ravens history, and that’s saying a lot. Haloti Ngata and Terrell Suggs are both playing at defensive player of the year levels, but what makes the Ravens defense truly great are the players that are stepping up around the super-stars.
Terrence Cody has played extremely well and has been dominant at times playing next to Ngata. Lardarius Webb has really stepped up as a starter, and Cory Redding has been fantastic as both a run defender and pass rusher. Obviously, the defense would not be the same without Ray Lewis, Ed Reed, Ngata and Suggs, but it’s the players that step up unexpectedly that take the defense to the next level.
That’s really what the offense needs. Flacco has played well enough to win most of the games so far but is not really stepping up as the leader of the offense. That starts with his play on the field. The only true playmaker that the offense has right now is Ray Rice. Sure, Flacco has all the ability and talent in the world but will not be the player and leader he is capable of being until he can play with more consistency.
Flacco’s inconsistency isn’t entirely his fault. The young inexperienced receivers and the lack of identity on offense are two of the biggest problems. Finding an identity on offense is one thing that could help Flacco greatly. Flacco played his best game of the year versus the Steelers when the offense was completely balanced between the running and passing game, and that’s what the Ravens need to work on.
Offensive coordinator Cam Cameron denies that the offense lacks identity, but the results on the field tell a different story. The problem is that there are so many new pieces on the offense that the Ravens have really spent the first few games figuring themselves out. Luckily for them, the defense has played well enough for them to win despite the identity crisis.
All in all, the Ravens are definitely one of the most talented teams in the league this year. Their defense has the chance to be truly special but how far they go this season will depend on how quickly Joe Flacco and Cam Cameron can find balance on offense.