The good news? At 2-2, the Ravens are alive and well in what might be a watered-down AFC North.
The bad news? The Ravens are staring 2-4 in the face if they don’t get their act together in the next two weeks, with a trip to Miami next Sunday and a licking-his-chops Aaron Rodgers coming to Baltimore fourteen days from now.
Sunday’s loss at Buffalo might not qualify as a shocker, but anytime a John Harbaugh-led team loses to an inferior club, it’s worth noting. It doesn’t happen often.
The Ravens are 2-2 because they’re just an OK team right now. Nothing more.
Even Joe Flacco admitted as much in the aftermath of the 23-20 loss to the Bills when he said, “Right now, we’re not good enough.”
For starters, the Ravens have ZERO running game. In fact, it might be less than zero. And Sunday wasn’t a one-time thing — Baltimore hasn’t been able to run the ball in games 1, 2, 3 and 4. It was just more graphic than usual on Sunday in Buffalo because they went the entire third quarter without running the football once.
The white elephant in the room all season has been the team’s offensive pass protection. At its best, it’s been “decent”, but more times than not, it’s been woeful.
The biggest culprits have been Gino Gradkowski and Kelechi Osemele, neither of whom have been good enough through four weeks of the season. Gradkowski, at least, is still effectively in his rookie season, so for him this qualifies as real, live on-the-job-training. It’s not easy being a center in the NFL. It’s much, much more than just snapping the football to the quarterback, and Gradkowski is quickly showing folks in Baltimore just how good Matt Birk was during his run in Baltimore. The Ravens have been concerned about Gradkowski’s smaller stature, but thought his athleticism might make up for what he lacked in size. Thus far, it hasn’t worked out. His play has been so sub-standard that the Ravens are going to seriously have to consider giving A.Q. Shipley a chance in another week or two if Gradkowski’s performance doesn’t improve. Osemele just hasn’t done it. He was good a year ago, but hasn’t been able to follow that up in 2013. It’s still early, and Jah Reid is likely not going to press him for playing time, but Osemele’s pass blocking woes are quickly causing Joe Flacco problems in the pocket.
On the rare occasion when the pass protection does hold up, no one on the team except Torrey Smith is reliable enough to catch and hold the ball more than twice in succession. Smith, while not necessarily an “elite” receiver, is good enough to be the Ravens’ go-to-guy on any given situation. After that, it’s a coin toss. Rookie Marlon Brown looks handy in a lot of situations, but his route running leaves a lot to be desired on anything other than the deep ball. Once he gets that straightened out, Brown could really be a force. In fairness, it should be noted that late in Sunday’s loss at Buffalo, Brown stood wide open in the end zone but Flacco had already locked in on the more reliable Torrey Smith and didn’t see the rookie for what would have been a sure touchdown. Ed Dickson is clearly struggling with his hands and would be playing his way to the bench if not for the injury to Dennis Pitta. Dallas Clark gives a game effort every Sunday, but his best days are clearly behind him. Deonte Thompson and Tandon Doss are just there to fill in a role. Neither of them are reliable enough to ask any more than that.
Flacco clearly had a stunner of a bad game on Sunday in Buffalo, but it’s not easy to carve up the other team’s defense when they know you’re going to throw the ball every single time you take a snap. He’s the least of the Ravens’ worries. He was bad on Sunday, for sure, but you can count his nightmare games like that on one hand over the last six seasons.
The Baltimore secondary isn’t all that good, as Peyton Manning showed on opening night and rookie E.J. Manuel reinforced on Sunday in Buffalo. A pedestrian pass rush was to blame against the Bills, and once Lardarius Webb went out, the only true “cover corner” employed by John Harbaugh’s team was on the bench. Within a minute of entering the game, Corey Graham was burned for a TD and if not for a blessed booth review later on in the game, Jimmy Smith would have also allowed his man to score. Even the normally reliable James Ihedigbo misplayed a coverage scheme on Sunday that led to a touchdown, as he bit on an over-the-middle route that led to the aforementioned Corey Graham-connected touchdown.
It hasn’t been all that good so far, but four games does not a season make.
Without much offense, though, this Ravens team might really need a defensive miracle in 2013 in order to stay within striking distance of the top spot in the AFC North.