6:39 PM EDT, September 9, 2013
The Ravens were beaten soundly by the Denver Broncos last Thursday night, but it was no big deal. If they lose that convincingly to the Cleveland Browns at home Sunday, then it is time for concern.
The 2013 season is a year of transition for the Ravens and the current theme in Baltimore should be about patience. With six or seven starters rotating in regularly on defense and the team having to reconstruct its passing game, it is going to take some time before anyone can determine where the team is headed.
That's why the Denver game isn't significant yet. In the preseason, that was easily the most predictable loss to choose of the eight road games on the schedule.
Besides beating the Broncos in the AFC divisional round last season, Sports Authority Field is one of the most difficult places to play in the NFL because of the rabid fans and altitude. Plus, if you have to play against quarterback Peyton Manning, it is better to face him in the winter when his old body and arm might be tired.
Sure, it was surprising to see him light up the Ravens secondary for 462 yards and seven touchdowns, but he has ravaged many defenses through the years which is why he is arguably the best to ever play.
Cleveland quarterback Brandon Weeden can't do that, and Manning probably won't either if the Broncos play the Ravens again in the postseason.
There are high expectations for the Ravens because they are the defending Super Bowl champions, but the expectations aren't realistic. Not yet anyway. To put it in perspective, the Ravens will probably have a lot of ups and downs in the first half of the season before there is any consistency.
Let's flashback to last year:
The offense seemed to be stuck in neutral until head coach John Harbaugh replaced coordinator Cam Cameron with Jim Caldwell after the loss to the Washington Redskins in Game 13.
The defense struggled early last season and there was a lot of criticism for first-year coordinator Dean Pees. By the end of 2012, the Ravens weren't spectacular but solid after Pees had time to learn the strengths and weaknesses of his personnel.
So, what did you expect in 2013?
Against Denver, which was expected to have one of the most highly explosive offenses in the NFL, the Ravens played regularly with seven new players including linebackers Daryl Smith, Josh Bynes and Elvis Dumervil, linemen Chris Canty and Marcus Spears and safeties Michael Huff and James Ihedigbo.
In addition, starting cornerback Lardarius Webb was playing his first game after missing the last 14 with a knee injury.
It was a clear mismatch and at times the Ravens looked like the Keystone Cops in the second half.
On offense, the Ravens never found a rhythm after halftime. Quarterback Joe Flacco had his usual split personality performance with "Good Joe" showing up for two quarters and "Bad Joe" showing up for the other two.
When he was on target neither of the tight ends, Ed Dickson nor Dallas Clark, could hold onto the ball.
Since the loss, there have been a lot of excuses. Most of it has centered on Harbaugh not asking for a review of the 10-yard catch made by receiver Wes Welker on Denver's first drive of the third quarter which led to an eventual touchdown. Replays showed that Welker dropped the ball.
But that's so petty, down right stupid.
One play never causes a team to lose. It's more like eight to 10, and Denver won because they made more plays than the Ravens. Clark dropped a touchdown pass. Dickson dropped several substantial gainers over the middle. The Ravens also had a punt blocked for the first time since 2009. The Broncos converted on eight of 15 third down situations and the Ravens cornerbacks were stiff and played as if they were in neck braces.
If you want to point out one thing, point to this team's lack of playing together and chemistry. Training camp used to be a time to work on these things but because of injuries, the preseason is more centered around camaraderie than playing time.
The Denver game showed how valuable Jacoby Jones is to this team as a return specialist and No. 2 receiver. It also showed the Ravens lack of depth on the offensive line once a starter goes down with injury. The Ravens might need to change their focus when evaluating cornerbacks putting more emphasis on ball awareness skills and less on athleticism.
Some of the other things will get better with time and a few adjustments. Flacco might want to release the ball sooner, throwing over the middle and allowing less time for safeties and corners to zero in on his receivers. The Ravens have to find a way to get center Gino Gradkowski more help. Instead of passing so much at this time Caldwell might want to run Ray Rice and Bernard Pierce more to take some of the pressure off young receivers like Marlon Brown and Aaron Mellette.
How about Clark and Dickson?
There are no easy solutions. They just have to focus more.
Defensively, the Ravens front seven played well against Denver shutting down the run. They got a lot of pressure on Manning and bounced him around often. On the backend, the Ravens have problems, but that's nothing new here in Baltimore.
Questions, questions, questions ...
Right now, there are a lot of them, but few answers. They didn't come against Denver, but some will get answered against Cleveland.
Others will come in the next seven weeks, one way or another.
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