The Baltimore Ravens that won the Super Bowl last season are not the same team this year. Missing is retired defensive phenom Ray Lewis who was a stabilizing and driving force for 17 years. Also missing is the Ravens other 2012 defensive threat Ed Reed, who is now playing in Houston with the Texans. Quarterback Joe Flacco and outside linebacker Terrell Suggs are still there as well as rushing specialist Ray Rice, but the team as a whole is just not clicking like it did last year. To put it simply, the Ravens are falling far short of last season’s glory.
At 3-4, the Ravens may have no choice but to try for a wild card spot in this years’ playoff picture. The AFC North is led by the Cincinnati Bengals at the current time at 6-2, and the Ravens are in second (Browns 3-5, Steelers 2-5). They have the talent and the ability to go the distance. Wide receiver Marlon Brown has 21 catches for 243 yards, averaging 11.5 yards per catch and scored three touchdowns. Rising star Torrey Smith has 31 catches for 629 yards and averages 20.3 yards per reception. He also has one touchdown going into Week 9.
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The passing game that was instrumental in their success last season is still alive, but Flacco is not using the deep threat as often as he perhaps could. Smith has broadened his repertoire to include just about any passing route called for, and many of their successful drives are driven by Smith’s good hands and speed. Their offensive monster Ray Rice has 86 carries for 242 yards but only averages 2.8 yards per carry. The running game is suffering and also falling short.
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Baltimore is quite aware that something is not quite right in the Ravens’ war machine, but finding the flaws is much easier than fixing them. Steps have been taken to tighten things up at the safety position. Ravens released 30-year-old vets Michael Huff and Marcus Spears today and signed Omar Brown and Brynden Trawick from the practice squad. Doing away with the old in favor of the new may not be the nicest way to get things turned around in Baltimore, but it has shown results in other franchises in the past and present.
Huff was instrumental in allowing a 44-yard kickoff return by the Steelers that set up their game-winning field goal. He got out of his lane and failed to seal the sideline. Coach John Harbaugh called the error “unforgivable” and Huff took responsibility for the mistake that cost the Ravens the game. “We’ve got our lanes…I should have cleaned it up.”
Many in the Ravens’ club house are using words like “critical” and “must-win” in reference to the upcoming contest with the Cleveland Browns. They are a much changed team since Week 2 with six-year vet Jason Campbell now at quarterback. The defense and offense have been shifted around as well, so the Ravens have got to look alive if they want to win this game and turn the corner for the second half of the season.
Outside linebacker Elvis Dumervil calls this game “crucial.” Harbaugh echoes that sentiment, “Every one of these games is critical,” when speaking about the remaining nine games of the regular season.
The Ravens are on a two-game losing streak that they hope to break when they face the Browns. Then, they have to sweep their remaining division games by balancing the offensive game plan between effective rushing and yard-eating passing.
On their side is history. The Ravens are coming off a bye and have not yet lost after a bye under Harbaugh. This game is pivotal to the rest of the year, but Suggs points out, “They all count…these (games) decide whether or not you get a chance at greatness.”
Baltimore cannot rely upon their post-bye charm for the next nine games. They have not yet found themselves this season. They have lost that rhythm that worked so well last year. To correct whatever is wrong, they need to focus on protecting the ball, locking down the offensive line, and pay attention to assignments to prevent the shortfalls that are costing them wins. Missed tackles, errors in routes and dropped or missed catches are hindering their attempt to go back to the big dance and cut a rug.
By Brandi Tasby