Monday, October 31, 2011

The Good, The Bad, The Ravens

I guess it’s time to say something. I’ve been pondering what to write about them for a couple of weeks now. Even when I was in Hawaii I was thinking about them, well in a distant “I wonder what they’re up to right now while I sip this Mai Tai” kind of way. Baseball is over, hockey is settling into it’s regular season and despite Nike’s claim, basketball is still stopped. So it’s time. Time to say something about the Baltimore Ravens.

I could point out the good. They have a gaudy 5-2 record and the largest point differential in the league at 75 ( 185 points scored vs. 110 points allowed). They’ve knocked off the Steelers and the Jets. Their quarterback has more wins than anyone else since 2008. They rolled off a 21 point, second-half comeback on Sunday.

Or I could point out the bad. They are 5-2, but four other teams in the AFC have two losses as well. That makes for quite a crowd come playoff time. Those big wins against the Steelers and Jets are off-set by losses to the Titans and Jaguars. Flacco may win games but he also spent 6 straight quarters missing receivers like he was a Dr. Pepper “Million Dollar Throw” contestant. The fact that they needed to come back from 21 down at home against the Cardinals is pathetic in itself.

Normally, I don’t condone booing a home team. However, if there was ever a team that deserved some hometown derision it was the squad that walked into the locker rooms at halftime on Sunday. They had spent a game and a half looking as inept as any of the “Suck for Luck” contenders this season. It wasn’t Joe Flacco’s fault, or Cam Cameron’s fault, or the offensive line’s fault, or Edgar, Allen and Poe’s fault. It was everyone’s fault.

In my preseason preview I pegged them as a 10-6 team. I was trying to be pessimistic, with their schedule I could have been talked into them as a 14-2 or 13-3 team. Heck, even now 12-4 isn’t out of the question. Unfortunately neither is 8-8. I’ve never watched a team that is as unpredictable as this year’s Raven’s squad.

After dropping a bomb in Jacksonville, conventional internet wisdom had them taking out their frustration on a hapless Cardinals team. Instead, the Ravens spent the first half fumbling around the field incoherently. Despite the fact that they turned it around in the second half I have no confidence in them winning going into their rivalry week with Pittsburgh. Of course, that means they’ll beat the Steelers by 25.

Highlighting their inconsistency brilliantly is their quarterback Joe Flacco. Through 7 games he’s been as unpredictable as spring weather in Baltimore. Twice he’s tossed three touchdowns in a game, and three times he’s thrown for zero scores. He’s completed less than half of his passes in 2 games, he’s also completed more than sixty percent of his passes in two games. He threw for 137 yards in the Jacksonville game, in the games before and after he threw for more than 300 in each. So good luck figuring out what he’s going to do on a week-to-week basis.

Whether a team struggles or succeeds, an inordinate amount of the focus is on the quarterback. In Baltimore that goes even more so for Joe Flacco. The Charm City is quietly a cruel place to play for quarterbacks. Even though he hasn’t thrown a pass in 40 years Johnny Unitas looms large in the town. Every quarterback that laces them up for the Ravens has been compared to him (normally along the lines of “He’s no Jaaawwwwwnnnhheee U!”.

When a team struggles for consistency from week to week, the struggles are usually caused by the offensive line. The Ravens, as would any NFL team, would love to run the ball 25-30 times a game and succeed. The problem is, with their patched together line, they aren’t able to get enough push to make that successful. Nor are they able to keep away the blitzing hordes on third down situations.
Flacco has a lot of strengths as a quarterback, reading through his progressions is not one of them.

He tends to look for his primary, glance at a secondary receiver and if both options are covered immediately look for his safety blanket - the check down to Ray Rice. Unfortunately, as of late his line hasn’t even given him time to make those reads. Moving to a shotgun offense seemed to give him that extra second or two to find his open receivers and regain his confidence. It will be interesting to see if that becomes more of an option in the season as it progresses.

The Ravens need to find a way to make him feel comfortable in the offense. He is no longer a rookie learning the game, rather he is the quarterback that he is destined to be. If the organization believes that he is the long term answer it is time to develop the game plan around his strengths, not force him to change to accommodate their plays.

Settling down their quarterback will help steady the team. The defense is proving to be the best the organization has had since the Super Bowl year. Even the secondary, which I had doubts about, has proven to be good enough to shut most teams down. With the exception of the pass happy Patriots, the Ravens actually match up pretty well to the other teams that look to be playoff bound this season.

With just over half of their season remaining, and a stretch of winnable games looming after Pittsburgh, the Ravens need to find the consistency that has been lacking so far in order to remain with those front runners. It’s hard to imagine any 5-2 team facing must win games, but should they fall to the Steelers next week, Baltimore could face that exact possibility.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

You said it!