Here's the scary thing about the Ravens' offensive struggles: they haven't played a really good defense. None of their eight games was against a team that currently has a top-10 defense. The closest thing to that was the Jacksonville Jaguars, ranked 11th in yards allowed per game but 25th in points allowed per game.
Here are the current rankings of the other defenses the Ravens have faced...
- 13th- Buffalo Bills
- 14th- New York Jets
- 22nd- Washington Redskins
- 23rd- New York Giants
- 24th- Pittsburgh Steelers
- 27th- Oakland Raiders
- 31st Cleveland Browns
Those rankings all take in account solid (in most cases) performances against Baltimore. Ravens players and coaches insist they're close to an offensive breakthrough, but if they can't put together a good performance tonight against the Browns, it's fair to wonder if it will ever come.
The Browns rank 31st against the run, 23rd against the pass, 31st in points per game, 32nd in third-down defense and 31st in red zone defense.
Free agent hits: For all the criticism of the Ravens' front office – and much of it is certainly deserved – it should be pointed out that the team's best player on each side of the ball this year was an offseason free-agent signing. Where would the Ravens be without wide receiver Mike Wallace, who has caught four of Joe Flacco's six touchdown passes? And Eric Weddle has done wonders in stabilizing the Ravens' secondary.
Still, it had to be tough for Ravens fans to watch former Raven offensive lineman Kelechi Osemele mauling Denver Broncos on nearly every play in the Raiders' prime-time victory Sunday. I still don't think it would have been the best use of salary cap space for the Ravens to tie up so much money in the two guard spots. But man, do the Ravens miss Osemele and the physicality and nastiness that he plays with at all times. Alex Lewis might morph into a similar-type of player but as of now the offensive line is struggling to push anybody off the ball.
Another tight end in the fold: Second-year tight end Nick Boyle is eligible to return to action following next Sunday's game against the Dallas Cowboys and there's no longer a question of whether the Ravens will have a spot for him. The question now is, "How long will it take before he's game ready?"
The hamstring injury that will sideline Crockett Gillmore for a second straight game tonight has exposed the Ravens' need for a blocking tight end. Along with having reliable hands, Boyle is the team's best blocker at that position. He'll return to a spot where the Ravens have had a hard time getting consistent production.
Remember when the big summer concern was about how the Ravens were going to be able to keep all of their tight ends? Dennis Pitta, who played in seven combined games over the previous three seasons because of a twice-fractured and dislocated hip, was considered by some to be a potential odd man out. Instead, he's been the last man standing. Benjamin Watson went on injured reserve with a torn Achilles in late August. Boyle and Darren Waller, who has since returned, both started the season on the suspended list. Maxx Williams went on injured reserve with a knee injury on Oct. 7. Daniel Brown was lost on a waiver claim by the Chicago Bears roughly two weeks ago. Gillmore pulled a hamstring during the bye week practices. Suddenly, Boyle could become an important player.
Dumervil worth the wait: As long as strong-side linebacker Elvis Dumervil keeps making progress in his rehab – and there's been no indication that he isn't – and the team remains in the AFC North race, it makes sense for the Ravens to wait on him. A healthy and fresh Dumervil returning in late November could be a boon to a solid defense. If the Ravens get in a roster jam and they badly need a spot, my feelings might be different. But the reality is they still have some roster flexibility and Dumervil taking a 53-man spot while not playing hasn't cost them anybody they were desperate to keep.
Campanaro could be active soon: The plan is not to keep wide receiver/kick returner Michael Campanaro (River Hill) on the practice squad for long. Campanaro re-signed Monday and the Ravens want to monitor how he does physically and how quickly he gets re-acclimated to the offense before bringing him up to the active roster. Assuming there are no physical setbacks, that process should move rather quickly. It certainly would help Devin Hester's cause if he has a productive game at returner tonight, but it's not out of the question that he remains on the roster if Campanaro is added. Campanaro can make plays in the slot and win in the middle of the field. His value goes beyond the return role.
What's it take to win the North?: With the struggles of the AFC North, the consensus from football pundits is that 9-7 should probably be enough to win the division. I'm not buying that yet. After their matchup with the Cowboys on Sunday, the Steelers only play one of their final seven games against a team that currently has a winning record, and that's a home game against a beatable Giants team. Even if they are beaten by the Cowboys and fall to 4-5 – and I'm not banking on that, because the game is in Pittsburgh – the Steelers could rattle off six of their final seven and I wouldn't be the least bit surprised. The Cincinnati Bengals, now 3-4-1, aren't exactly playing a fearsome schedule in the second half, either.
Scary situation: Speaking of former Ravens, Carolina Panthers offensive tackle Michael Oher has been in the concussion protocol for more than 40 days, according to the Charlotte Observer's Joe Person. That's scary stuff for Oher who didn't miss a single game in six of his first seven NFL seasons.