Five Things We Learned from the Ravens’ 24-16 loss to the Minnesota Vikings

1) Watching the Ravens’ offense against a very good defense was just sad.

With Jeremy Maclin again sidelined by a shoulder injury and Mike Wallace knocked out of the game early by a vicious head shot, the Ravens were left with one of the least talented NFL offenses in recent memory.

The fact that they were matched with one of the best defenses in the league — stocked with skilled, speedy linebackers and safeties — only highlighted that pitiful state of affairs.

The Ravens’ collection of possession receivers, tight ends and running backs had no shot to create space against Pro Bowl-caliber players such as linebacker Anthony Barr and safety Harrison Smith.

Quarterback Joe Flacco appeared uncomfortable in the pocket from the first series and rushed throws even when he wasn’t facing immediate pressure.

In the first half, it was rare to see him attempt a pass even 10 yards down the field. With Wallace out, he simply had no one to look for on intermediate routes, much less deep shots.

Flacco came in averaging 5.42 yards per attempt, third-worst in the league ahead of only overmatched rookie DeShone Kizer and the widely derided Jay Cutler. His yards per attempt somehow sank to 4.9 against the Vikings, and that was skewed upward by a meaningless final drive.

On short routes, Flacco couldn’t find his timing with any of the team’s remaining receivers. That combined with the lack of big-play talent on the field left the offense toothless.

You can spend the next four days calling for offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg to be fired or bemoaning the ongoing Flacco era. But they’re not magicians.

Bad luck and poor drafting have left the Ravens without enough talented offensive players to compete. No short-term move will change that.

2) Though the lack of skill players was the focus, the Ravens’ offensive line played a clunker as well.

The line received a lot of deserved praise for its performance in a 30-17 road win over the Oakland Raiders on Oct. 8.

But the blockers looked nearly as overmatched as the skill players against a better-balanced Minnesota defense.

Their troubles began on the first drive, when right tackle Austin Howard couldn’t handle a straight speed rush from Vikings defensive end Danielle Hunter. Flacco was sacked on that play and would go down four more times over the course of the day.

Left tackle Ronnie Stanley had been excellent for three consecutive weeks but struggled against the quickness of Minnesota’s other defensive end, Everson Griffen.

Speed wasn’t the only problem. The Vikings also overpowered the Ravens at the line of scrimmage, holding their rushing attack to 3.2 yards per carry.

The problems elsewhere are severe enough that we haven’t talked much about the offensive line in recent weeks. But the trip to Minnesota offered a reminder that Stanley might be the only long-term starter on the current unit.

3) The NFL has no effective penalty to dissuade head shots.

As I watched Wallace struggle to sit up after Vikings safety Andrew Sendejo drilled him in the head, I was again struck by how inconsequential the ensuing 15-yard penalty felt.

Fifteen yards and perhaps a $40,000 fine stacked against a hit that could alter a man’s future and, much less significantly, sink his team’s chances for the season? It’s just not an even exchange.

I’m not even picking on Sendejo. NFL defenders have been taught to play aggressively since they were in elementary school. The game moves so quickly that they’ll never be 100 percent successful avoiding an opponent’s head.

And I’m not saying the calculus would be a whole lot different if the penalty were 30 yards and the fine $100,000.

I believe players are being taught to avoid the head. And I believe that might have a cumulative positive effect as it becomes the norm in youth and high school football over several generations.

But the hit to Wallace was another reminder that no matter how much emphasis we put on this problem, there’s no way to legislate it out of existence, no way to make it OK for a person to take that kind of blow.

Players understand the equation better than anyone else. When you talk to them, few try to pretty up what they do. They speak of football as a high risk, high reward proposition they’ve chosen with eyes wide open.

As consumers, we either accept the ugliness of the sport, as we have for generations, or at some point, we don’t.

4) The return of Brandon Williams did not fix the run defense.

I thought the Ravens took too much heat for their run defense against the Chicago Bears, which was pretty good save for one horribly timed missed tackle by Eric Weddle.

But it’s hard to defend their performance against the Vikings, especially given that Williams, the ultimate interior run stuffer, was back in the lineup. The Minnesota offensive line was banged up to boot.

Not only did the Ravens allow 169 total rushing yards (5.1 per carry), they could not get off the field in the fourth quarter, when the Vikings were clearly going to run the ball to eat clock.

Williams made a few excellent plays. And the weird thing is the Ravens have plenty of good individual run defenders, from C.J. Mosley to Michael Pierce to Tony Jefferson. The sum has just been less than the quality of the parts.

It’s hard to pinpoint a solution, but this is not the dominant defense the Ravens envisioned coming into the season.

5) If you’re seeking a bright spot, look to the cornerbacks.

Brandon Carr was probably the team’s fourth-most-hyped offseason signing, behind Williams, Jefferson and Maclin.

Well, hype isn’t everything, because Carr has been a godsend for a secondary so frequently depleted by injuries in recent seasons.

Though he’s known for his durability, Carr is also a better playmaker than he got credit for, as we saw with his interception on a contested ball early in the game against Minnesota.

He lacks the world-class physical skills of Jimmy Smith and Marlon Humphrey, but he’s a good athlete, a reliable cover man and a respected personality in the locker room.

In addition to Carr’s strong game, Jaylen Hill played well in his NFL debut against the Vikings. Lardarius Webb is a useful utility guy, especially as a playmaker near the line of scrimmage. But if I’m defensive coordinator Dean Pees, the younger, quicker Hill would be my primary slot defender going forward.

childs.walker@baltsun.com

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