Let’s get this out of the way right away – the Baltimore Ravens are 6-2 and any complaining about Sunday’s 25-15 win over the Cleveland Browns won’t change their slim lead in the AFC North or color the obvious breakdowns and weaknesses that are apparent to anyone who has watched their choppy work.
But as a Ray Rice told me at the podium on the shores of Lake Erie after another win: “There are no bad wins in the NFL.”
We can deal with the offensive inconsistencies later but my concerns center around a defense that will continue to take the field with a squad of patchwork underachievers and glaring fundamental issues.
The four deadly sins of defense continue to haunt the Ravens, if only for the first 80 yards of the field in Cleveland on Sunday. Rushing the passer. Stopping the run. Covering in the secondary. And tackling in general.
Let us count and assess the issues one by one…
The Ravens have no pass rush. Despite having the return of a seemingly spry Terrell Suggs in Houston two weeks ago, he was no factor in Cleveland. Joe Thomas ate him up and most teams will simply get some help on No. 55 if he becomes a pest and the Ravens lack a backup quarterback chaser with any push. Paul Kruger hasn’t been effective. Pernell McPhee, who flashed some visions of a pass rush specialist last season, has been mostly invisible this year and was an injury scratch on Sunday. Haloti Ngata continues to struggle physically and the leaks continue all around him on the defense.
Of course, no pass rush leads to trouble in the secondary with any quarterback and wide receiver tandem that has is given ample time to make a play. This will be an especially daunting issue when the Ravens see the Steelers in two weeks as Ben Roethlisberger has made a Hall of Fame career by making positive plays happen after the play breaks down.
With the injuries to Lardarius Webb, the Ravens secondary has been stressed tremendously because Cary Williams is now carrying the weight of marking every team’s No. 1 receiver. Aside from the obvious with Sergio Kindle being unable to play after his brutal fall and head injury, Jimmy Smith has been the Ravens’ most disappointing first-round draft pick since Travis Taylor. He’s the most penalized defensive player on the team and is consistently getting beat by top-notch receivers on a weekly basis. To my eyes, they’re simply targeting him and the likes of Roethlisberger, Philip Rivers and the Manning brothers will literally be frothing at the mouth awaiting a chance to throw the ball into this secondary.
After more than a decade of dominance against the run – and a source of massive pride of a local fan base that would routinely chant “you can’t run” from my seats up in Sect. 513 – the Ravens’ run defense has been porous as it’s been four straight weeks of allowing running backs to gash the front seven and get deeper down the field where the secondary becomes a de facto part of the tackling corps.
And all over the field tackling has been a consistent source of frustration. You can blame not-so-new-anymore defensive coordinator Dean Pees. You can talk about the loss of personnel like Ray Lewis via injury or Jarret Johnson, Cory Redding, etc. to free agency, but there have been leaks all over the field when it comes to second chances and fellows in purple flailing and missing.
Eight games into the season, the Ravens are 6-2 and there’s ample reason to be energized by their gaudy record and seat atop the AFC North.
The offense has certainly been capable as witnessed by their early-season success and it even managed 25 points yesterday on the road in Cleveland by managing to play about 20 minutes of decent football and still spending more than an hour without a first down. But there have been many times recently when Joe Flacco and the offensive crew have been stumbling their
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