With the Ravens Defense Shredded, Can Flacco and Rice Push the Offense to Stay Atop AFC North?

By Lucas McMillan

The Baltimore Ravens’ defense, once the focal point of the team, has been absolutely devastated by injuries this season. Ladarius Webb, the team’s best defensive back, tore his ACL and is out for the season. Ray Lewis, the defense’s heart and soul (not to mention the team’s leading tackler at the time of his injury) tore his tricep and is out for the year. Haloti Ngata, the team’s best run-stuffing defender, is not at 100 percent and Terrell Suggs, the reigning NFL defensive MVP, just returned several months after a serious Achilles injury. In short, the Ravens defense is banged up, and it’s showing on the field.

Baltimore is ranked second to last in the league against the run, giving up a horrid 142.9 yards per game on the ground. They’re better against the pass, but not by much: they are ranked 24th in the league in that category, giving up 257.1 yards through the air per game.

Even though the Ravens lead the AFC North and sit at 5-2, there are red flags everywhere. In their last game, Baltimore was positively rolled by the Houston Texans, losing 43-13. The week before that, they narrowly beat the Cowboys 31-29, and the week before that they barely beat the lowly Kansas City Chiefs, squeaking out a win by the awful score of 9-6. No team could have used a bye this past weekend as badly as the Ravens did, and that’s exactly what they got. However, what is the team’s outlook going forward?

The dirty little secret that isn’t really a secret anymore is that the Ravens defense has not been the team’s strength for several years now. Their greatest asset is running back Ray Rice, a multi-talented back who averaged 4.7 yards per carry last season and is averaging 4.9 yards a pop this year. He is one of the most dynamic offensive players in the league, but somehow, in offensive coordinator Cam Cameron’s game planning, Rice is criminally underused. Instead, the Ravens have gotten a more-than-healthy dose of Joe Flacco.

Ravens QB Joe Flacco is, somehow, one of the most controversial players in the league. Discussions about if he is “elite” or not can turn heated quickly. Flacco and Baltimore fans believe he is, while the rest of the country is decidedly more skeptical. What can’t be disputed is that Flacco has been epically terrible on the road this season. He has completed only 50.1 percent of his passes with two touchdowns and three interceptions, while garnering a 14.3 QBR, second-worst in the league for road ratings.

To be fair, Flacco is second best in this category while playing at home. He has also simply thrown the ball way too much; against the Texans, Flacco threw the ball 43 times. Against Cleveland several weeks ago, he threw the ball 46 times. When you have Ray Rice on the roster, why are you throwing so much? It doesn’t make any sense, and a strong running game is one of the only effective offensive ways to cope with a struggling defense. It eats up the clock, keeps the defense on the sideline and helps keep the game’s score low.

In wins this season, Rice has averaged 19.3 rushes. In losses, he has averaged 13.9. Some of this owes to the fact that a team has to throw the ball more when it falls behind, but the evidence is pretty stark. If Baltimore wants to win and compensate for their injury-ravaged defense, Ray Rice simply must touch the ball more. Flacco is a fine quarterback, but why ask him to shoulder so much of the load if he doesn’t have to?

Lucas McMillan is a writer for FootballSchedule.me. To checkout the week-by-week Baltimore Ravens schedule as well as the latest NFL and college football news, visit Football Schedule. Follow Football Schedule on Facebook and Twitter @FBSchedule.


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