There are plenty of unanswered questions facing the Ravens

Ray Rice

Ravens running back Ray Rice is brought down by Broncos linebacker Keith Brooking on Sunday. (Gene Sweeney Jr., MCT / December 16, 2012)

The Ravens seemed confident after getting blown out by the Denver Broncos on Sunday, but you have to wonder if it was just for public consumption or if it wasreal.

After losing three straight, there are questions about the coaching staff and if they can regain momentum going into the postseason and if quarterback Joe Flacco can still lead this team.

When the Ravens fired offensive coordinator Cam Cameron nearly a week ago it didn't provide a spark for the team, and the Ravens showed no improvement against the Broncos.

The defense has been hit hard with injuries, but the Ravens showed little creativity against Denver, especially in post snap movement which is a key to possibly beating a great quarterback like Peyton Manning.

In his previous four seasons, Ravens coach John Harbaugh hasn't been through a three-game losing skid late in December, but now he has to balance showing he is still in control without stepping on the egos of the veterans who run his locker room like Ray Lewis, Ed Reed, Anquan Boldin, Terrell Suggs and Bernard Pollard.

And then there is Flacco.

He looked like a beaten quarterback after Sunday's game, and the pressure keeps building as he tries to earn a new contract, perform well in the playoffs and show that there is life in Baltimore without Cameron.

Before the Ravens go any further, here is some advice to Flacco: Don't ever stretch out on the turf like that again and lay there for 20 seconds. Those types of moments can define a player like former Ravens quarterback Elvis Grbac who got caught crying.

Few will ever forget that day.

Ngata struggles down the stretch

Quite a few of the Ravens starting and reserve defensive linemen have been criticized in recent weeks for subpar performances, but star tackle Haloti Ngata hasn't been dominant either.

Ngata had only one assisted tackle against Denver which ran for 163 yards on 45 carries. On one drive in the fourth quarter, the Broncos ran 13 straight times and controlled the ball for nearly 9 minutes.

A year ago, Ngata played poorly in the final stretch of the season. He vowed it would be different this year, but so far it hasn't.

Flacco may want to rethink one throw

When Flacco threw the interception which was returned 98 yards for a touchdown at the end of the half, wouldn't it have been better to run the play to the wide side of the field?

That would have given the Ravens more space and time for development. Instead, it was a bang, bang play and Flacco is not always good on the fly.

Where were the fans?

Granted, I didn't think the Ravens were coming back after the Broncos had a 31-3 lead at the end of the third quarter, but it was disappointing to see a half empty stadium midway in the fourth quarter.

Baltimore has a reputation for not supporting a loser or a team when things go rough, and those who left early only added to it.

It's been a while since I've heard fans boo a quarterback, but I have to admit that Flacco's last three performances have been Kyle Bolleresque even though he hasn't tripped over any lines.

Flacco had no hard feelings about being booed or the empty stadium.

"I think this crowd is incredible ever since I've been here," Flacco said. "I assume before I got here. So yeah, you want to go out there and give your best performance to these guys every week,homeor away. And then when you come out and get beat like this, it's tough on you because you want to give them that performance, and obviously it's tough on those guys.

"They want to see us win. They're entitled to do it the way they see, and we're going to do our best from here on out to make sure that we can come give you guys a good show and put wins on the board."

Too soon for change

Few could seriously expect much change in the offense with new coordinator Jim Caldwell only having three days to work with the unit.

After the game, though, reporters bombed the Ravens about the play calling and adjustments.

"The plays were the same," Rice said. "The playbook was the same. Same play calls, we just didn't execute."

Not getting easier for offensive line

If the Ravens offensive line thought it had a tough time handling the Broncos, it won't get any easier Sunday. The New York Giants will play here, and the defensive line will be a little angry after New York lost to Atlanta, 34-0.

The Ravens struggling offensive line has to go against ends Jason Pierre-Paul, Osi Umenyiora, Justin Tuck and tackles Chris Canty and Linval Joseph. The Ravens allowed three sacks and Flacco was hurried nine times by Denver.

 

With Ravens safety Ed Reed, always expect the unexpected.

So when Broncos running back Knowshon Moreno hurdled Reed last game, the second time a player had done so this season, his reaction was a little shaky.

"I was not expecting him to jump, honestly," Reed said. "I couldn't react because I was just dealing with a lot of sickness early in the game. I just wasn't all the way into it, honestly. I was dealing with flu symptoms and everything. I just kind of watched him jump over me. I wasn't expecting that at all. I thought he was ready to put his head down. I saw him gathering himself, so I was like, 'There's no way he's going to jump.' "

He did.

Points matter

When Ravens tight end Dennis Pitta scored his second touchdown with 4:08 left in the game to pull the Ravens within 34-16, the Ravens went for one point instead of two, which if converted, might have made it a two-possession game.

When asked if there was a thought about going for two points, Harbaugh said, "no."

My old recreation coaches use to tell me to get my head into the game when I had answers like that.

But then again, it appeared that the Ravens and Broncos had a gentlemen's agreement about not playing hard late in the game once the outcome had been decided.

mike.preston@baltsun.com

 
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