With the Ravens enjoying a day off before returning to work to prepare for a big AFC North showdown with the Cincinnati Bengals on Sunday, here are five thoughts to ponder …
1. Has anyone seen Ed Reed lately? The future Hall of Fame safety started the season with a bang by collecting two interceptions of Ben Roethlisberger in the Ravens’ Week 1 dismantling of the Steelers. A few weeks later, Reed followed it up with a sack and strip of Mark Sanchez on the first defensive play from scrimmage that led to a Baltimore touchdown. The 33-year-old Reed has been quiet ever since, getting burned by Jacoby Jones for a long touchdown in the win over Houston and recording just one pass breakup in the Ravens’ last five games. Reed’s current eight-game span without an interception matches the second-longest of his career (2008) and ranks behind a nine-game stretch in 2005 in which Reed missed six games due to an ankle injury in the middle of that drought. Given Reed’s health issues over the last few seasons — he suffered a shoulder stinger in the loss at Jacksonville last month — some will question whether Father Time is beginning to catch up with the 2004 AP Defensive Player of the Year. However, the aforementioned eight-game interception drought in 2008 was followed by a six-week stretch in which Reed intercepted eight passes and scored two defensive touchdowns in arguable the greatest stretch by a defensive player in NFL history. In other words, just because the ball-hawking safety may be lying in the weeds doesn’t mean he won’t be ready to pounce in the final two months of the season.
2. Joe Flacco has the third-most passing attempts in the entire NFL. The fourth-year quarterback only trails Drew Brees and Matthew Stafford in that category and has thrown more passes than Tom Brady, Ben Roethlisberger, Philip Rivers, and MVP frontrunner Aaron Rodgers. It’s clear the Ravens have handed the keys to the offense to Flacco, even if it means Ray Rice has become less of a factor as a result. The problem is Flacco’s 6.39 yards per attempt ranks 27th in the league in a clear sign the Ravens are not getting the return on the commitment they’re making to the passing game. An inexperienced group of wide receivers and an inconsistent offensive line haven’t helped matters, and the Ravens would much prefer to get back to a more balanced attack if they can get an early lead in games, something they’ve been unable to do in road losses to Tennessee, Jacksonville, and Seattle. If the Ravens are to play deep into January, they need to find more offensive balance and more consistency from Flacco, whose 75.6 quarterback rating would be a career low.
3. Not only have the Ravens struggled to take care of the football, but the defense hasn’t been taking it away from the opponent of late, either. Baltimore played a near-flawless game against the Steelers to open the season, forcing seven turnovers without giving the ball away in return. However, the Ravens have managed to turn the ball over at least once in their eight games since, with six of those games having two or more turnovers. Not surprisingly, the Ravens lost the turnover battle in all three of their losses this season. While the Ravens offense has failed to take care of the football, the defense has not been as opportunistic since their bye on Oct. 9. After forcing 14 turnovers in the first four games of the season, the Baltimore defense has just four takeaways in their last five games. As a result, the Ravens turnover differential that was plus-7 after Week 1 has been minus-6 over the last eight games (plus-1 for the season). If the offense continues to be careless with the football, the Ravens need more takeaways to make up for the miscues.