Mike Preston: Hope starting to diminish with Ravens

It ain’t over until it’s over, but it’s getting close.

Usually when the Ravens have struggled in the past or gone on a losing streak there is some strength to draw on, one thing that might bring hope of a possible turnaround.

There is nothing at this point.

There has always been a strong defense or some veterans such as Ray Lewis or Ed Reed who could provide motivation or even a weak schedule to produce some optimism. But everything keeps slipping away.

The past two weeks the Ravens were supposed to be playing teams on their level even though they had advantage at the quarterback position, but they lost to Chicago and rookie Mitch Trubisky last week and then to the Minnesota Vikings and backup Case Keenum on Sunday.

Case Keenum. Oh, my. Maybe this is rock bottom. If they lose to Miami Dolphins on Thursday night, at least they’d lose to Jay Cutler, a quarterback who has been around for 12 years. But he left Sunday’s game with an injury and backup Matt Moore took over. So they might lose again to a backup.

After Sunday’s loss there was no joy in the Ravens’ locker room.

No player was even repeating those famous John Harbaugh expressions the Ravens coach likes to throw around after tough losses.

“We just have to stop the losing streak and start winning again,” Ravens cornerback Jimmy Smith said. “To do that we have to stop the run, score more points and force more turnovers.”

When asked whether that was realistic, Smith responded: “Whatever. It really is so simple but we have to make some adjustments and find ways to win.”

Harbaugh was more optimistic. In fact he was more subdued after this loss than any other during his 10-year tenure as Ravens coach. Maybe reality has set in or he was just putting on a different face in public.

“We have a lot of good players,” Harbaugh said. “We have guys that can make plays defensively. If all of our guys can get healthy, a little bit our offensive line is playing pretty well, the run game is good. I think we need to tighten up the run defense and our pass defense is solid. We’ll try to find a way to win the game.”

The run defense isn’t solid, and that’s been the strength of this team since 2000. The Ravens allowed the Bears to run for 231 yards last week and Minnesota rushed for 169 Sunday, averaging 5.1 yards per carry.

The Ravens were ranked No. 30 in the NFL against the run and things have gotten so bad that the Ravens are trying to find moral victories such as defensive tackle Brandon Williams saying the run defense improved from a week ago.

He wasn’t kidding.

“I take more of the blame for that than anything because I know how we are supposed to play,” Ravens outside linebacker Terrell Suggs said. “I know how it is supposed to look. Like I said, I am just extremely frustrated and disappointed.”

If he was confused, imagine what it is like on offense. The Ravens went almost 11 full quarters without scoring a touchdown until receiver Chris Moore scored on the last play of the game.

Afterward, some of the Ravens were quick to point out that they were without starting receivers Jeremy Maclin and Mike Wallace because of injuries. Maclin was a pregame scratch and Wallace left the game early in the first quarter because of a possible concussion.

But let’s be honest. With Wallace and Maclin, the Ravens had the No. 31-ranked passing offense in the NFL. Before Sunday’s game, Wallace had only 16 catches for 239 yards and one touchdown.

He wasn’t going to be that big of a difference-maker Sunday. The Ravens were outplayed by a far superior defense that dominated and controlled the flow of the game the way the Ravens once did years ago.

Once the Ravens trail, it’s hard for them to come back, especially if they can’t run because they don’t pass-block well. They have a good running back in Alex Collins but no big-play receiver. Quarterback Joe Flacco was sacked five times Sunday and he looks beaten both mentally and physically.

But he still has faith.

“Alex Collins has given us a spark and we’re running the ball well,” Flacco said. “When we’re doing it we can’t have a 3-yard loss in the middle of the drive and put us in a situation where we have to convert a second-and-14, second-and-13 and therefore third-and-1. I think we have to hit some crossing routes and get our guys that have some speed the ball. I think we can easily improve our screen game a bit.”

There are just too many holes to patch. On defense the Ravens are getting exposed. The play at cornerback has improved significantly from a year ago, but all three safeties — Eric Weddle, Tony Jefferson and Lardarius Webb — have missed numerous tackles in recent weeks and Webb is getting picked on in a lot of passing situations.

NFL teams are like sharks. Once they find a weakness, they feed on it. That why the hope is diminishing fast. It’s not as if this is major league baseball, where the Ravens can bring players up from the minor leagues to plug holes.

In 2000, then-Ravens coach Brian Billick stumbled on “The Dark Side” and hitched a ride on running back Jamal Lewis to the Super Bowl. In 2012, Flacco got hot and the alpha male veterans such as Lewis, Reed, Anquan Boldin and Bernard Pollard helped drive that team to a Super Bowl title.

Last week defensive coordinator Dean Pees was trying to find something to build on after the loss to the Bears. He pointed to all kinds of statistics and then said he would refuse to say the sky is falling.

Maybe it isn’t but it’s closing in. It was dark after Sunday’s loss.

mike.preston@baltsun.com

twitter.com/MikePrestonSun

Become a subscriber today to support sports commentary like this. Start getting full access to our signature journalism for just 99 cents for the first four weeks.

Copyright © 2017, The Baltimore Sun, a Baltimore Sun Media Group publication | Place an Ad
32°