The Baltimore Ravens pulled off a close victory against the Arizona Cardinals in a game that was a tale of two halves. Much like last week’s game against the Jacksonville Jaguars, the Ravens came into the game heavily favored and despite losing terribly to the lowly Jaguars, were still ranked in the top ten of most power rankings.
Once again, football analysts and Ravens fans were expecting the Ravens to dominate the Cardinals much like the Ravens’ division rival, the Pittsburgh Steelers, did just last week. The Ravens were able to pull out the victory, but after one half of football, no one would have picked the Ravens to win the game.
Not only were they playing poorly, but everything seemed to be going against them as well. In the second quarter alone, the Cardinals were able to score three consecutive, unanswered touchdowns—all of them off of mistakes by the offense or special teams.
The defense was spectacular once again, but that didn’t seem to matter since the Ravens’ offense gave the Cardinals the ball inside the red zone twice and the special teams allowed a kickoff to be returned for a touchdown. Those three, quick scores put the Ravens on their heels.
Everything seemed to go wrong for the Ravens in the first half, but they came out and turned the game around with strong defensive play and surprisingly consistent play by the offense. The offense turned to the quick passing game, and Flacco was able to have success throwing the ball out of the no huddle offense.
After allowing three unanswered touchdowns, the Ravens’ offense scored 24 unanswered points to take the lead in the game 27-24. The Cardinals managed to tie the game with a 12 play, 53 yard drive that ended in a field goal and was extended by a phantom pass interference call on Ravens’ cornerback Lardarius Webb.
With the score tied up, Flacco led the offense 37 yards down the field for a game-winning field goal by kicker Billy Cundiff. The Ravens final drive was setup by Ravens’ punter Sam Koch, who pinned the Cardinals inside their own 5-yard line on their previous possession, and finished with an excellent catch by Ravens’ receiver Torrey Smith that put the offense in field goal range.
This definitely wasn’t a pretty game, but for the Ravens, a win is a win. Even though many people will still downgrade them for a poor performance in the first half against a 1-5 team, this was actually a positive game for the Ravens. Not because they looked great, obviously, but because they learned a lot about themselves as a team. Let’s take a look at what we learned about the Ravens in this game.
It’s clear that the Ravens are still figuring themselves out—not only as an offense but as a team. It’s fair to say that the offense has the most to figure out, but as we’ve talked about before, games cannot be won by defenses alone anymore in the NFL.
Last week against Jacksonville, we saw what happens when the offense gets dominated despite great defense. The Ravens can and will lose to any team in the league if the offense cannot do anything positive.
The Ravens are a team that plays up—or down—to their level of competition, so even though fans will get embarrassed that the team lost to the Jaguars and struggled against the Cardinals, they should realize that they’re unlikely to get blown out by any team in the league. That’s just a side effect of having a great defense with a struggling offense.
The defense will keep the Ravens in every game, but until the offense can stop giving opposing offenses short fields, the Ravens will be on the losing end of most games…particularly against quality opponents. Unfortunately, even the most mediocre defenses are capable of slowing or stopping the Ravens’ offense right now. That needs to change if the Ravens are going to win any meaningful games this season.
Joe Flacco has been a great quarterback for the Ravens since he was drafted in 2008. Despite his struggles over the years, he has taken them to the playoffs every year. His critics like to say that the defense has carried the team throughout that period, and unfortunately, there is some truth to that.
It’s time that the Ravens—and the fans—started to be honest with themselves about Flacco. There’s nothing wrong with thinking he’s a good quarterback, because in reality, he is. Flacco is better than over half of the starting quarterbacks in the league, but he is not an elite quarterback right now. To make that argument at this point is silly.
Flacco can make every throw. There’s no question about that. He has one of the best arms in the NFL. The problem is that he lacks timing with his throws and pocket awareness. Some of the timing issues are the receivers fault and the fact that he’s been under constant pressure, but he will also hold balls that he should throw, throw late or early or just miss his reads altogether.
The underlying problem is Flacco’s lack of awareness. He doesn’t have great pocket awareness right now and doesn’t have great field awareness either. Those two issues are why Flacco is rarely consistent but will still show flashes. He has all the ability, but can never seem to put everything together.
Obviously, he could still improve, but we need to be honest about who he is right now. The coaches need to be honest with themselves as well. Flacco is more than capable of running an offense, but he’s not a quarterback that’s going to take over a game. He needs to have his strengths and weaknesses game-planned. In other words, the Ravens need to play to Flacco’s strengths on offense.
The most perplexing part of the Ravens offense is the offensive line. They have talent and have even flashed the ability to dominate this season. The problem is that they cannot seem to consistently protect Flacco.
As each week goes by, teams are adding more and more complex blitzes to their playbook against the Ravens and are not only blitzing on passing downs but also on running downs as well. The Ravens’ offensive line has struggled to make adjustments since Week 2 against the Tennessee Titans.
The Cardinals were consistently getting free runners on Flacco and causing sacks, hurries, incompletions and turnovers. This is a serious problem for the offense and a hard one to figure out. Some of the problem is the personnel. Left guard Andre Gurode is doing his best filling in for an injured Ben Grubbs. It’s clear that the Ravens miss Grubbs, but that isn’t their biggest problem.
Their biggest problem has been the play-calling. Cam Cameron has not helped out his struggling offensive line.
Against the Cardinals, Cameron was calling plays with an empty backfield. There’s nothing unusual about that, but the problem was that the routes that the receivers were running were taking too long to develop. The offensive line simply couldn’t hold off the blitz long enough. Sometimes it was the offensive line getting beat or failing to adjust, but a good play-call plays to the strengths of the players and puts them into the best position to have success.
That’s the problem with Cameron’s play-calling. He’s actually a brilliant offensive mind, but is not the best judge of ability. His failing this season is that he doesn’t put his players in the best positions for them to display their strengths. There has no bigger victim of this drawback than the offensive line and consequently…Joe Flacco.
The Ravens’ offense has been holding back the team for years. Even in 2006 when the team had Steve McNair, it was the offense that let the team down in the playoffs against the Indianapolis Colts. It’s something that Baltimore fans are use to seeing, but this Sunday, even the fans at M&T Bank Stadium had enough as they started to boo the offense at the end of the second quarter as the Ravens trailed the Cardinals by three scores.
There really was no excuse for the extremely bad showing against the Jaguars or the first half against the Cardinals, and the fans were right to boo. We can talk all we want about how the offense needs time for the line to gel, needs to give Flacco time to throw, needs the receivers to get open or needs to run the ball more. All those things are obviously important, but what the offense really needs to do is simply find a way to move the ball.
That sounds easy enough for an analyst or fan to say, but it’s the most legitimate complaint that anyone can make about the Ravens’ offense. Sure, there are things they need to iron out. Everyone knew that going into the season, but the offense still needs to find a way to move the ball with what they have.
There are no big changes that can be made in the middle of the season. There is no excuse for the Ravens to go into a game like they did in Jacksonville and the in the first half of the Cardinals game and get shut out. The coaches should know their strengths and weaknesses at this point and need to be game-planning around those. Even if they struggle, there should be no surprises.
The Ravens need to do whatever it takes to win games. There’s nothing cheap about that. In fact, it’s foolish and arrogant to insist on a flashy game plan that isn’t working. The ugliest, most boring plays in the world are great if they move the ball, and with the defense that the Ravens have, they really have no excuse for not playing to that strength.