It's midseason, and it's at this point when the good teams start separating themselves from the bad ones. The Ravens are in no-man's land. They aren't good. They aren't bad. They're average, and no one can tell where they're heading.
It's still too early to write the Ravens (4-4) off as a playoff team with eight games remaining. It's an uphill challenge, but the NFL is unpredictable.
Unfortunately, what we've seen with the Ravens is something we're going to see the rest of the season. If they somehow make it into the postseason, it will likely be a one-and-done venture.
It's no longer a debate about the talent of defensive coordinator Greg Mattison. The Ravens can't cover because they lack several good players in the secondary, and even when they blitz they can't get pressure on the quarterback.
Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco has had a good season, but he is not at the point in his young career at which he can carry an offense, nor does he have the receivers to win shootouts.
In a way, the Ravens have become predictable. They'll lose against any team that has a good quarterback and offense, and they'll stay with most teams that don't.
With that said, it's still hard to figure out whether they will make the playoffs, so at least the season is still interesting, despite Cincinnati's smack-down of the Ravens on Sunday.
During the offseason, the Ravens and Pro Bowl safety Ed Reed have to make some decisions. It's apparent that Reed is bothered by a neck, shoulder or arm injury. He missed at least four tackles Sunday against the Bengals.
There might be some type of surgery needed to correct the problem, but the Ravens can't keep playing with a one-armed free safety. You feel sorry for Reed because he has always played so hard for so long.
Up to his old tricks
Bengals coach Marvin Lewis always makes it look easy to shut down the Ravens' offense.
First, he eliminates wide receiver Derrick Mason as a weapon by turning the coverage toward him. Then, he eliminates those comeback and slant-in routes that the Ravens like to run.
You didn't even know Kelley Washington was in the game until the second half.
Look at the tape
One reason that left offensive tackle Jared Gaither holds so much is that he has sloppy technique. Even before the snap out of his pass-protection set, he is often overextended.
He might want to look at old film of Jonathan Ogden and notice how Ogden's back was always straight so he could deliver the punch.
Also, the Ravens need to do a better job of picking up blitzes. They are unsure of who to block when pressure comes up the middle.
Heal fast, Haloti
The Ravens will struggle against the run as long as defensive tackle Haloti Ngata is out of the lineup with a sprained ankle. Ngata missed the Bengals game, and Cincinnati running back Cedric Benson rushed for 117 yards on 34 carries.
Justin Bannan is a capable backup to Ngata, but Kelly Gregg, the other starting tackle, probably won't return to full strength until next season.
Gregg returned this season after missing last year because of knee surgery. His injury is basically regarded as one that takes two years for full recovery.
Talk to someone
When a kicker starts to talk to himself, then you know he has problems.
After the Ravens' Steven Hauschka missed a 38-yarder midway in the fourth quarter that would have cut the Bengals' lead to 17-10, he sat on the bench by himself, and you could read the word "wow" coming from his lips.
I would print the words that came out of coach John Harbaugh's mouth when he missed, but this is a family newspaper.
The Ravens against the Browns on "Monday Night Football" next week is so appealing, I can't wait.
I can't figure why they ever wanted to put this game on in the first place.
Penalties started long ago
It's amazing how Harbaugh downplayed the penalties during training camp, but infractions continue to hurt this team.
Let's not blame the penalties on the officials or create another conspiracy theory. The lack of discipline started back in late July when the Ravens opened training camp, and the same penalties keep getting called basically on the same knuckleheads.
This hasn't been a banner year for Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome and free agents.
He hit the bull's-eye with center Matt Birk, and Washington has been a solid addition as the third wide receiver, but Newsome has struck out big time with cornerbacks Domonique Foxworth and Chris Carr.
And now he is paying for the Mother of All Sins: allowing kicker Matt Stover to leave and hit the free-agent market.
Speaking of cornerbacks, the Ravens' play with terrible technique.
Instead of holding ground and backpedaling 10 to 12 yards, Ravens cornerbacks have already turned their hips and are running beside receivers 5 or 6 yards downfield.
It drives former defensive backs like Rod Woodson and Bruce Laird absolutely crazy.
Mike Preston's midseason report card for the Ravens Quarterback: B
Running backs: B
Offensive line: C
Defensive line: C+
Special teams: C