Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Hey Ravens fans...curb the enthusiasm

The Ravens offense has scored exactly zero offensive touchdowns in the first half over the course of their last five consecutive games, including a game against the lowly Cleveland Browns whose defense ranks dead last in the league. That is substantive enough data to sound the alarms.

Ravens fans should heed the call.

This week the Ravens will take on the Indianapolis Colts, a team that has taken 6 straight from the good guys. Clearly they have the Ravens’ number and there’s little evidence that exists to suggest the Colts won’t make it seven in a row.

The Ravens have struggled mightily against good quarterbacks and on Sunday they will face arguably the league’s very best in Peyton Manning. The primary culprit for the Ravens failure against the upper echelon signal callers is directly tied to their inability, unwillingness or some combination thereof to place pressure on opposing quarterbacks.

Face Kyle Orton and the Ravens unleash the dogs and then convincingly knock off a previously unbeaten team. Go up against Brady Quinn and the Ravens suffocate the Browns and force them to spend the entire game in their own territory en route to a shutout victory. But face Philip Rivers, Brett Favre, Tom Brady or Carson Palmer and the Ravens go conservative, play soft and allow these relative NFL surgeons to carve up their soft white underbelly, aka their secondary.

It’s then that the Ravens are forced to play catch up and that is a daunting task for an offense that looks like the cast of The Living Dead moments after the opening kick cuts through the stadium air.

Playing from behind pushes the Ravens away from balance in their offense and it forces them to throw. Growing increasingly one-dimensional as the games unfold makes speed rushers like Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis even more dangerous. It doesn’t take a visionary to picture such contests quickly getting away from the Ravens who lack the explosive players to get them back within striking distance.

To add insult to injury the Ravens will be without the services of their best pass rusher Terrell Suggs for a month or more after absorbing a cheap and unnecessary shot from Brady Quinn.

Where will the pass rush come from?

After Peyton Manning and the Colts (who are remarkably a very slight underdog this week against the Ravens) John Harbaugh’s troops will take on Ben Roethlisberger and the Steelers twice within a matter of five weeks. Can you see them jumping out to a quick lead and then turning Messrs. Harrison, Woodley and Timmons loose? That’s about as predictable as an ear to ear grin from Hines Ward after absorbing a big hit.
The post season is clearly in jeopardy.

To get there conventional wisdom suggests that it will take ten wins. That said you may recall that the Patriots were on the outside looking in during the 2008 post season and they finished with 11 wins.

Ten wins for the Ravens is an uphill climb on a slippery slope. Assuming that they can take care of business against the NFC North contingent of the Packers, Lions and Bears plus the dysfunctional Raiders, they will need at least one win during those three contests against the Colts and Steelers.

I just don’t think it’s in the cards. Even if the defense can step up to the challenges presented by Manning and Roethlisberger, Flacco & Co.’s inability to establish any offensive consistency or an identity offers little hope. The uninspired play, the inability to throw the ball between the hash marks and the lack of explosiveness leaves them at risk.

Whatever happened to spreading the ball around, something they did quite successfully early in the season? Did they abandon that or was that early success simply a reflection of the weak defenses they took on during the first three weeks?
The offensive line is now beginning to show weaknesses and they are breaking down regularly. How long before Flacco breaks down – literally?

Some may object to this picture of gloom and doom for a season that once held such high expectations. But for me those high hopes came crashing down after the team’s second loss to the Bengals. That was a brutal and cruel reality check that sent my expectations crumbling. And in a strange way, it had helped me to see this team for what it is – a flawed team that needs another explosive player on both sides of the ball.

A flawed team that at best is only slightly above average.

The epiphany of sorts has helped me to keep my disappointments in check. It helped me to watch the ugliness in Cleveland unfold with no noticeable signs of change in my pulse or blood pressure.

A self-professed lunatic who suffers from football Tourette’s when watching the Ravens is now suddenly a voice of reason.

Go figure…

Maybe you should consider the same.


Jerry B said...

As noted elsewhere, the offense that started with a "bang" has been reduced to a "whimper" and it began to unravel when Gaither got hurt. Mike Preston talks this morning of returning to the "three-headed-monster", but that option disappeared with the release of Lorenzo Neal, who led those three tailbacks to glory last year. With no big time receivers, outside of "clutch" Mason and a running game that is marginal at best, we're looking at performances that will be reminiscent of years past on offense and, without the dominant defense of those years, the immediate future is looking.....bleak!

rakeback said...

Tom Brady clearly outplayed Manning in this matchup and a questionable 4th down spot and terrible call and strategy by Bellicheck handed the game to the Colts.