The Ravens Have Flaws. So Does the Rest of the AFC.
A 5-2 football team looks a lot sexier than a 4-3 football team. A 5-2 team would sit atop the AFC North, not in third at 4-3 with tie breakers as the Ravens currently stand. The buzz around the Ravens changes week to week, win to loss. When they went on the road and demoralized the Steelers, fans thought this team was for real. A ‘Super Bowl Contender?’ thread even started on our message board here.
Discuss this topic, and more, on our message board.
A week later, we pumped the brakes when they got embarrassed by the Browns in a game the Browns did all the Browns like things and tried to give the Ravens the win a number of times. The Ravens didn’t take advantage. Cleveland won, but all who watched are the real losers for having had to watch that “game” that set the NFL back about 60 years.
In their third straight road game, the Ravens made a statement against the Titans shutting them out and notching 11 sacks to go with it. Taking two out of three on the road in the NFL, that’s all you can ask for sometimes. Granted, the one loss to Cleveland is a deep cut. If they lost to Pittsburgh but took the other two, it’s almost okay because you expect to split with Pittsburgh anyway and we still get them at home.
The loss to Cleveland sucks but keep this in mind. The 2000 Ravens didn’t score a TD in five straight games. The 2012 Ravens lost at Houston in their most lopsided loss in franchise history. Not to mention finished the season 1-4, zero momentum going into the playoffs. A stretch that included losing at the Redskins where unknown Kirk Cousins would lead a game winning drive in electric Robert Griffin III’s absence. Losing at home to a Charlie Batch led Steelers team, and a loss in a rout at home to the class of the AFC at the time, Peyton Manning and his Denver Broncos. Like many other teams, Peyton owned the Ravens pretty much his whole career. Except that one time to come later that year.
Point is, every team has flaws. Super Bowl champion teams, all of them, have some hurdles to overcome through the season. No one looks back on their 16-game regular season and their two or three playoff games and says, “yep, perfect.” Last year, the Eagles lost their NFL MVP candidate QB, Carson Wentz, for the season in week 14, and still prevailed to win it all. Most teams are dead in the water if that happens.
Last Sunday’s Ravens/Saints game was the most anticipated home game in quite some time for Charm City. A true measuring stick of how the Ravens really measure up. I guarantee you the talk around town if the Ravens were 5-2 today is how they are Super Bowl contenders, they are so dominant on defense, they limited the most prolific offense of the last decade plus to just 24 points, Joe Flacco was cool under pressure, clutch in crunch time. The Ravens are back baby!
But…the unthinkable happened. Justin Tucker, 316 for 316 on extra points in college and the NFL, missed one. A gust of wind took his straight ball and snapped it to the right, like me trying to hit a 4-iron.
There is no way to predict what would happen in overtime, which this game would have 99.99% of the time this same situation presents itself with Tucker in line to tie it up. But the missed extra point led to doom and gloom around town.
“This team can’t get a stop on defense.” I don’t know how you can say that when they didn’t allow a second half touchdown until last Sunday.
“They don’t have the ability to close games out.” For the most part they have, which is why they have more wins than losses.
“They can’t win the close ones.” So we should discount the games where they win handily?
“They can’t get the ground game going.” Well they have to commit to it for one, but sure, it could be better.
[Insert automatic Flacco criticism here because he gets blamed all the damn time.] He should shoulder some blame for the Browns game. But his receivers, namely Michael Crabtree, have let him down numerous times. Flacco has been fantastic in four games this year, average Joe twice, and once a game we all want back, including I think Flacco.
“They are pretenders and not contenders.” We’ll see about that. Another measuring stick game coming up as the Ravens travel to the 4-2 Carolina Panthers on Sunday.
Why? Why does one missed kick change the predictive weekly narrative toward this team? If Tucker doesn’t have his first career “whoopsie” and the Ravens take it in OT, fans are opening that Super Bowl contender thread again. Instead, the season is over…until maybe next week when a possible 5-3 record is out there, putting them on pace for 10 wins.
Did you know that prior to last week’s game the Ravens had the third best odds among AFC teams to win Super Bowl LIII? (If you read my game preview you did). Fifth best odds in the NFL right behind the Saints, who they just went toe to with down to the last second. They didn’t get blown out at home. They went toe to toe with a hall of fame quarterback, a hall of fame coach, and came up short by a kick on a windy day. Standings will make it tougher to put the Ravens higher up the odds board as they sit third in the AFC North now. They are 25-1 to win it all and were 18-1 a week ago. But I don’t think the Ravens are a different team today than they were at 4:00pm prior to last Sunday’s kickoff.
So if the Ravens are this flawed a team, if they are pretenders for various reasons based on a missed kick, who are the contenders then, and are they perfect?
Kansas City – Obvious contender sitting at 6-1 with an explosive offense. But the defense leaves a lot to be desired. They allow the most yards in the league and rank 26th in defensive efficiency. When your splits are that wild, it takes just one key injury on offense, an off day by Patrick Mahomes maybe, and any team can topple them. The Ravens will have their chance to earn a marquee win on December 9th in KC.
New England – Here is a rare red flag from the perennial Super Bowl favorites. They are 1-2 in road games and their two road losses came at the hands of the Jaguars, who are not nearly as dominant as last year’s squad, and the Lions. That one stings for Pats fans like the Browns loss stings Ravens fans. As usual, they will get to beat up on their weak division and cake walk to another home playoff game. But if they don’t get the one seed and need to go on the road at some point, they are going to have trouble moving on. Especially if one of their stars such as Julian Edleman or Rob Gronkowski misses more time. Brady is at his best when his receiving group is a full go. But take a key piece out and Brady is noticeable weaker.
LA Chargers – If you think the Ravens don’t get it done against good teams like the Saints, check out the Chargers schedule to this point. Losses to the Chiefs and Rams. Wins against the Bills, 49ers, Raiders, Browns and Titans. Their five wins are against teams with a combined 9-24-1 record. The Ravens flaws have shown up in the running game, getting stuffed (stopped at the line of scrimmage or behind it) fouth most in the NFL. But they are fifth best in power running (gaining a first down or TD in 3rd and 4th and two or less). The Chargers Melvin Gordon and Austin Ekeler is a pretty good one-two punch. But they get stuffed sixth most in the league and are far worse than the Ravens in power running, second worst in the league. Where the Ravens are extending or finishing drives on the ground, the Chargers are not, and are ripe to be exploited once they play a real defense. The Ravens travel there for a Saturday night tilt in week 16.
Pittsburgh – Due to their silly tie with Cleveland they lead the AFC North, but they have been losing home games. Once to the Chiefs in which they competed, but also to the Ravens where they seemed disinterested by the end of third quarter. If not for the Ravens, they might have played to most inept defenses in the league, ranking 29th in average defensive efficiency teams faced. When they faced a real defense like the Ravens, at home mind you, they had little to no answers. Maybe with Le’Veon Bell it’s a different story, but that’s their problem. In two weeks the Ravens get to go for the season sweep when the Steelers come to Baltimore. If after this week you think the Ravens are still pretenders, and maybe the Ravens take two from Pittsburgh, what does that say about Pittsburgh?
Cincinnati – The Ravens can’t close out a game? The Bengals gave up a touchdown in the closing seconds to the Steelers that cost them a win, similar to how the Bengals did the same to the Ravens to close out the 2017 season. Because of a guy like Vontaze Burfict, the Bengals can’t get out of their own way at times as ill-timed penalties are always a possibility. Plus, they are about as bad defensively as the Chiefs are. Cincy is 31st in yards per game allowed and 28th in points per game allowed. Problem is they aren’t as explosive offensively as the Chiefs. Ranking 25th in yards and 11th in points. If the yards don’t pick up, the points are expected to go down. They already have a -19 in point differential compared to the Ravens +75, third best in the NFL. In four weeks the Ravens get the chance to even their head to head record with Cincy.
Houston – They rattled off their fifth straight win last night. But they have the same easy slate as the Chargers have. Teams they have beaten are 14-24. The New York Giants are 1-6 and that 1, is the Houston Texans. Plus their defense has faced some of the least efficient offenses. They are 30th in offensive efficiencies faced. When they did face a decent offense, it was the Patriots in week 1, where they lost their first of three games to start the season. Even though Deshaun Watson is getting hot, they are still 25th in offensive efficiency against some pretty poor teams. Will Fuller’s season ending injury won’t help them either. If you think the Ravens ground game is bad, check out Houston who is 25th in rushing efficiency while the Ravens rank 22nd.
The way I see it, the AFC has two teams you can call contenders today. Other teams it’s too early to tell but I wouldn’t call them pretenders either. But no one, not a single team, is flawless, or the overwhelming favorite against anyone of the top six or seven AFC teams.
The Rams though…they look good.
Mike was born on the Eastern Shore, raised in Finksburg, and currently resides in Parkville. In 2009, Mike graduated from the Broadcasting Institute of Maryland. Mike became a Baltimore City Fire Fighter in late 2010. Mike has appeared as a guest on Q1370, and FOX45. Now a Sr. Ravens Analyst for BSL, he can be reached at [email protected]