As far as Terrell Suggs was concerned, the Ravens' 26-13 loss to the Tennessee Titans at LP Field Sunday was neither humbling nor groundbreaking. In fact, the outspoken linebacker didn't feel that it revealed anything that shouldn't have already been obvious.
"This team never had delusions of grandeur. We knew we were going to have to work," said Suggs. "The only thing this game has confirmed is something we already knew. We knew we weren't going to go 16-0. I don't think it's any reason to hit the panic button."
Suggs and fellow linebacker Ray Lewis, who reiterated similar comments moments later, delivered messages that you'd expect to hear from veteran leaders of a football team accustomed to winning.
And if the Ravens have proven one thing already this year, it's that it's probably wise not to overreact to one game, whether it was a dominating four touchdown win over the rival Pittsburgh Steelers in the season opener, or a discouraging 13-point defeat Sunday to a team that had lost nine of its past 10 games dating back to last year.
But the team's performance versus Tennessee has to produce at least some concern. After playing a near flawless game against Pittsburgh, several of the Ravens' preseason question marks came to the surface as they were outplayed in every facet by a hungry Titans' team.
Quarterback Joe Flacco followed up one of the best games of his career with one of his worst, throwing two interceptions, completing just 15-of-32 passes, and struggling to find his wide receivers down the field. The offensive line, without mainstay Ben Grubbs, who sat out with a toe injury, struggled to protect Flacco or open up holes for running back Ray Rice.
Defensively, the Ravens got very little pressure and no sacks on Matt Hasselbeck, and a banged up secondary wasn't able to handle the Titans receiving duo of Kenny Britt and Nate Washington.
"As good as we felt about our team last week, we don't feel so good right now," Ravens coach John Harbaugh said Monday. "But you can't let that affect how you see your guys and how you see your team and overreact … because I really believe everybody in the National Football League, especially this year, is a work in progress. There have probably been more surprises this year than any year as far as whose winning and who's not winning and some of these scores. Our job is to do the best job of anybody in the first four of five weeks to establish what kind of team we're going to be going forward."
In order to do that, the Ravens have a couple of issues that they'll need to figure out, starting this Sunday when they head to St. Louis to face the Rams.
• Getting a third receiver to emerge and give Flacco another reliable target.
Through two games, Flacco has completed only nine passes to his receivers, and Anquan Boldin has hauled in seven of them. Lee Evans has the other two.
Not only does rookie second-round pick Torrey Smith (Maryland) not have a catch, but he's been targeted just once. Fellow rookie Tandon Doss has been inactive for the first two games. David Reed, who was suspended for Week One, was held without a catch Sunday and now he's expected to miss several weeks with a left shoulder injury. It's not impossible that Evans also could be looking as some time on the sidelines as Harbaugh said today that the veteran's left ankle isn't getting any better and the Ravens are going to have to make a decision on whether they keep sending playing him.
Flacco acknowledged after Sunday's game that he'd like to get his playmakers the ball earlier in games — Boldin and Evans had just two combined touches in the first half — but it certainly would help if another receiver emerged as a reliable target in the passing game.
"He's out there to contribute," Harbaugh said of Smith. "Joe hasn't gotten to him in the read progression for whatever reason. Every play's a little bit different. It's not like we're not throwing him the ball because we don't think he's ready. If we didn't think he was ready to catch the ball and run with it, we certainly wouldn't put him on the field. I want to see him make catches as much as anybody, especially downfield, because that's what we brought him here to do. We just haven't gotten to him yet with it. That's something that's really important. We need to do that."
•The Ravens must also find a more consistent pass rush.
This certainly wasn't a topic of discussion after Week One when the Ravens sacked Ben Roethlisberger four times, and forced a franchise-record seven turnovers. But they had no answers for Hasselbeck Sunday.
Suggs was his active self and Haloti Ngata applied some pressure up the middle, but the Ravens were never able to mount a consistent pass rush. And when they did, Hasselbeck neutralized it by getting rid of the ball early and connecting with his receivers on a variety of short routes.
"I'm sure everybody … is saying, 'We got so much pressure last week and we hit Roethlisberger.' Roethlisberger is a different animal. He's going to stand there like a man and throw it," said Ravens linebacker Jarret Johnson. "I'm not saying that Hasselbeck is not, but he's a West Coast rhythm guy and he's throwing that football. There's no sense in sending seven or eight guys and putting pressure on the back-end guys. You might as well leave the extra guys in coverage."
The Ravens faced a similar approach before, and they will again. When they do, Harbaugh said that any success will start with getting better coverage from the secondary.
"The bottom line is, you cover them and you mix up coverages and you change up coverages," Harbaugh said. "We can do a better job of disguising coverages, I think, although a guy like [Hasselbeck] is pretty good at reading them. You have to cover their receivers. We hit them a lot, and we'll continue to. It's like last year when we got the three-step stuff. You'll go get the guy, but the ball is probably going to be out. You get some batted balls. That's important, but you have to cover their receivers."
•Finally, the Ravens need to work at solidifying the cornerback position, which has been decimated by injuries.
Jimmy Smith remains out with a high left ankle sprain and Chris Carr missed Sunday's game with a hamstring injury. Domonique Foxworth is a little over a year removed from knee surgery and Harbaugh acknowledged Saturday that it's clear that he's not 100 percent.
Of the two starters, Cary Williams had started one game in his career before this season and Lardarius Webb only four. Their inexperience showed Sunday as they struggled to keep up with Washington and Britt.
"When we play good technique in the back end, especially on the outside, we cover them just fine. When we played bad technique, we didn't cover them," Harbaugh said. "Maybe it's a function of being young out there a little bit, but that's going to get better real fast."
Carr would certainly help and he said Sunday that he'll be back in time for the next game, against the Rams.
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