Five Hard Truths
Last night’s game against the Houston Texans have left many fans with a bitter taste in their mouths. Sure it was a win in front of a national audience, but when your defense gives up not one but TWO 21 point leads, you have to wonder exactly what’s wrong out at the Castle.
The win over the Texans has showed the world exactly what this team is, and as fans, we learned a lot and must face the harsh realities. I’m not going to sugar coat things here. That’s not the point. Good teams know what they do well, and what they do poorly. As a fan screaming from the bleachers, this is what I feel I learned last night about my beloved Baltimore Ravens.
1.) The offensive line is mediocre at best
With all due respect to Mike Oher, Matt Birk, Marshall Yanda, and Ben Grubbs, the offensive line currently protecting Joe Flacco just isn’t very good.
I’m not by any means saying that those four men aren’t good players (they’re four of the best in the league), but as a unit, it’s just not there. Mike Oher has demonstrated very dramatically that he is not well suited to be a left tackle. He takes way to many jump penalties, his footwork is slow, and for the most part he’s getting beaten by the better teams consistently. I never would have thought that the loss of Jared Gaither would be so devastating to this unit, but man alive, they haven’t been the same without him. The offseason focus for the Ravens needs to be on getting another natural left tackle so Mike can move back to the right side. Additionally, it is apparent that the Ravens should start thinking about the future after Matt Birk. He’s an amazing all pro center, but he’s getting up there in years and is really struggling of late. I will say in his defense, that the Ravens are running their best when they run straight up the middle behind his blocking. Marshall Yanda has been out of his natural element all year, so that’s hard to fault, and Ben Grubbs has been helping out with Mike a lot which has left him exposed at times. The unit doesn’t have cohesion and is getting manhandled, especially late in games.
2.) The coaching staff needs a shake up
I love John Harbaugh as a head coach, I think Cam Cameron is one of the most talented coordinators in the league, and above all else, I think the Ravens have a great staff surrounding the club, but honestly, a shake up is needed. Greg Mattison’s scheme is so ill tailored to the personnel on the field that at times it’s difficult to watch. With half the game left to play the Ravens inexplicably stopped getting after the ball and dropped into zone coverage. This allowed Matt Schaub to pick apart the defense and get his team into the game, and eventually into overtime.
Coaches aren’t solely to blame by miles, but the decisions they make are often times baffling. There’s a good reason why the Ravens have dropped so many fourth quarter leads, they get complacent and they play not to lose. On Cam’s side of the ball, it’s amazing how much better Joe Flacco plays out of the shotgun and in the no huddle offense, but it’s rarely if ever used. This doesn’t even point out that Ray Rice runs mile better on the delayed handoff than he does when Joe is under center. Cam’s hubris in failing to make adjustments when adjustments are due is a big part of the reason the offense stalls at times and flat out breaks down at others.
3.) Joe Flacco’s development is likely a five year plan.
For all of the talk about Joe’s talents (and he has many), he is still making the same mistakes, over, and over, and over. He’s holding the ball too long when there’s nothing there, he’s struggling to feel the pressure on his blind side, and he’s still forcing throws into plays that are clearly sniffed out and broken down. I know that there’s a big concern that Joe goes through his progressions to slowly, but I tend to believe that he’s so desperate to win that he’s holding the ball waiting for something to develop. He’s never willing to give up on something if he feels that it could be there. Unfortunately, this is the NFL and you need to understand that an incomplete pass can be made up later. A sack, a fumble, or an interception hurts your team’s ability to make plays and win.
That being said, I don’t believe that Joe Flacco will ever be a truly great quarterback. He will be a very good quarterback, probably for a very long time, but he’ll never ascend to the Brady/Manning level and it’s unfair of us to assume he will. Good quarterbacks can lead teams to Superbowls too. Just ask Eli Manning, Steve McNair, Ben Roethlisberger, Kurt Warner, etc., etc., etc. Joe isn’t going to be legendary, and he shouldn’t be shouldered with that burden.
4.) This team is not a world beater
Let me preface this with saying that the Ravens are a very good football team. They’re 9-4 with 3 weeks left to go, and are in prime position to make the playoffs for a third consecutive year. That being said, the expectations were so high for the Ravens coming into this season that there is no way they could ever legitimately live up to the hype. The bottom line is that this team is good but not great, does a lot of things well but nothing really spectacular, is largely balanced but struggles to put teams away. In short this is a team that is tailored made to never be dominant, but be capable of staying in games and beating anyone. I’m not being a homer when I say this, but if there is one team that is capable of beating the New England Patriots right now, it’s the Baltimore Ravens. The Ravens are so soundly built across the board that there’s no team that can truly blow them out. The Ravens can beat you so many ways that they’ll be in it till the end no matter who they play, no matter the stage of the season, no matter the venue. If you’re looking for Baltimore to start rolling people over left and right, well you’re in for a world of disappointment. Get used to your team walking the razors edge between feast and famine in ever game between now and February. They’re going to win or they’re going to lose, but I guarantee that in either scenario, the margin of victory or loss will be seven points or fewer.
Your team is what it is. There’s nothing wrong with that, but it’s the cold hard truth.
5.) Our heroes are fallible.
With the exception of Haloti Ngata and Terrell Suggs (of late), the defense is old, is creaky, and is officially showing its age.
Ed Reed was at least partly responsible for three of the Houston touchdowns last night. Either he was out of position or a step too slow on each play. It was the first time that he has legitimately showed the wear and tear his body has taken the past few years. The Ravens have got to start planning for the future and start working in Zibo and Ruki if they are indeed going to be your heir apparent. Ed Reed is a hall of famer, and probably one of the best free safeties to ever play the game, but last night he dramatically hurt his team’s chances of winning. The same can roughly be argued of Ray Lewis. Ray is invaluable to this team both on and off the field, but perhaps the time has come to reassess his game plan and start rotating him in and out as necessary. More and more teams have begun targeting him in the middle of the field, a thought that would have been unthinkable not three seasons ago. The old war horse still has miles to go in the tank before his eventual enshrinement in the lore and legends of Baltimore, but in the mean time, he has to realize that he has to play smarter football and maybe turn some of his plays over to the younger players