Carroll County Times

Time running out for Ravens to get on track

OWINGS MILLS - Even at just 3-5, the Ravens are still in contention for both a playoff spot and a division title.
They are just 2 ½ games back of the Bengals for first place in the AFC North and play Cincinnati twice during the final eight weeks of the regular season. They are also just 1 ½ games back of the Jets for the second AFC Wild Card spot.
"There's half the season left to play, and there's going to be a lot of football played," coach John Harbaugh said Monday. "And there are a lot of games out there for us to win. We need to go stack some wins."
But whether Baltimore is good enough to do that is questionable.
Yes, there have been several teams during the last decade or so that have looked bad around this point of the season but improved, got hot and went on to win the Super Bowl - the 2006 Steelers, the 2010 Packers and the Giants of 2008 and 2011.
Even the Ravens last year had glaring issues as late as the latter part of December and lost three straight games during that month.
But this team just isn't very good right now.
Baltimore won two of its first three games but has lost three in a row. One of the losses came to the NFC North leading Packers, but the other two came to two teams - the Steelers and the Browns - that have a combined record of just 4-11 not including their wins against the Ravens.
"We haven't been good enough the last three weeks to win," Harbaugh said.
But one of the most frustrating and baffling parts of all of this for Baltimore is that this is not a team devoid of talent.
Far from it.
Less than a year ago, Joe Flacco had one of the best postseason runs of any quarterback in NFL history. Yet on Sunday, he was outplayed by journeyman Browns quarterback Jason Campbell.
Big plays down the field have been such a big part of Flacco's success during his career and were during the playoff run last season. Flacco still ranks among the best in the NFL in passes that have gone for gains of 20 yards or longer this year, but he hasn't had the same success throwing the ball down the field as he has throughout his career.
According to Yahoo Sports, Flacco was 50 of 123 with 16 touchdowns and no interceptions on passes of 20 yards or longer last year, including the playoffs. This year, he's just 10 of 44 with no touchdowns and three interceptions.
But it's not just Flacco.
At running back, Ray Rice has made the Pro Bowl each of the previous two seasons and is still just 26 years old, but he's averaging 2.7 yards per carry and doesn't have one run that has gone for longer than 14 yards.
Rice ranked no worse than 11th in the in rushing yards the previous four years. But so far this year, he has fewer rushing yards (259) than 40 other players, including five quarterbacks.
Rice may have been limited some by the hip injury he suffered in Week 2. But he said he was back healthy prior to the bye week two weeks ago. And even healthy, he managed just 17 yards on 11 carries against the Browns Sunday. Ten yards came on his first two carries.
Meanwhile, the offensive line continues to be as ineffective as any in the NFL despite having proven viable options like right guard Marshal Yanda, right tackle Michael Oher and left tackle Eugene Monroe.
Flacco has been sacked 25 times, and Baltimore is averaging a league-low 2.8 yards per carry largely because of the line's inability to create running lanes for Rice and Bernard Pierce.
And then defensively, Ravens players and coaches felt during the summer like the new-look defense had the potential to be one of the best in the league. But the revamped front seven that was so supposed to be strong against the run has struggled at times in that area. And the secondary just isn't very good right now.
Cornerback Lardarius Webb hasn't been the same player that he was prior to injuring his knee last year. Fellow cornerback Corey Graham looked like a viable starter last year but has been subpar this season. First-round pick Matt Elam has experienced growing pains at free safety. And strong safety James Ihedigbo has graded out poorly in pass coverage the last month or so, according to Pro Football Focus.
"As it stands, we're in a tough spot," Harbaugh said. "But I believe in our guys - coaches and players. And I know we have what it takes to be a very good football team the second half of the season. So, we are where we stand with the record, [but] what we do in the first half does not determine what we do in the second half.
"We have opportunities to accomplish everything that we want to accomplish. ... Momentum is a crazy thing. You've got to stop theirs and build yours. You've got to make a play. You've got to win a game. And once you do that, you have a chance to build on that."