Preston: Two victories against the pits of the NFL does not mean the pendulum has swung for the Ravens

Watching the Ravens play Sunday was like viewing an old movie or television rerun where you already know the ending.

They beat the Oakland Raiders, 34-17, and seem to be headed in the same direction we’ve seen in recent seasons.

The Ravens are good enough to beat average or below-average teams but don’t appear good enough to get into the playoffs or, if they do, go deep into the postseason.

After last week Ravens fans breathed a sigh of relief because their playoff hopes were kept alive with a 24-21 win against the Cincinnati Bengals, but Sunday was different. Before Cincinnati the Ravens had lost three straight and four of their past five. Another loss would have been devastating.

The scenario was the same against Oakland, but this week you wanted to see improvement. You wanted to see something that you could hang your hat on, but there wasn’t anything.

The Ravens beat the Raiders. Yippee.

The win wasn’t as dominant as the 17-point margin indicates. In fact, the Ravens didn’t take control of the game until outside linebacker Terrell Suggs returned a fumble 43 yards for a touchdown with 5:55 left in the game.

There would certainly be more optimism if the Ravens had won in a blowout, but they always just do enough to survive, stay in contention and then blow it at the end of the season.

We’ve seen this before.

They’ve won two in a row now, but those wins were against two of the worst teams in the NFL. You would feel better if rookie quarterback Lamar Jackson had played better and given this offense some hope, but the Ravens are still a mess.

On Sunday in the first half the Ravens tried to turn Jackson into a pocket passer. In the second half they turned into the old Oklahoma Sooners with Jackson running the wishbone again.

The one thing I’ve learned from the past two weeks with Jackson as the starter is that he is the perfect stopgap replacement. He is what you want when the starters go down, the opposite of Joe Flacco. Jackson is athletic, is versatile and can make plays outside the pocket, but he can’t take a team far. Not yet.

Hurry back, Flacco.

But once Flacco returns, the Ravens need the confident, accurate Flacco who played earlier in the season and not the gun-shy, befuddled one who had slumped before the injury.

If the Ravens had someone like the New Orleans SaintsSean Payton or Los Angeles Rams’ Sean McVay calling plays, I’d feel better because the Ravens could fuse the styles of both quarterbacks and have an effective offense.

But they can’t do that. They can’t even make it through one game without an identity crisis.

The Ravens have a running game now. Rookie Gus Edwards has rushed for more than 100 yards in each of the past two games, including 118 on Sunday, but Oakland has the No. 31-ranked rushing defense in the league. Cincinnati is at No. 32.

Go ahead, jump up and down, I’m still in a wait-and-see mode.

The situation is the same with the defense. The Ravens have the top ranking, but when it came to playing against top quarterbacks, such as Drew Brees, Cam Newton and Ben Roethlisberger, they struggled.

The Ravens defense didn’t blow away the Raiders, and that’s a team with a vanilla offense and no star receivers. Basically, Oakland is an expansion team. Throughout this season the Ravens have been a defense that doesn’t get consistent pressure or force turnovers, and their inside linebackers and safeties struggle in pass coverage. They just bottom-feed to build statistics, which are misleading.

There is still time for the Ravens to get it together. They need to get Flacco back onto the field and become somewhat balanced again. They have to hide their weaknesses on defense and hopefully catch enough breaks in games to get by.

They can beat the highly dysfunctional Falcons next week in Atlanta, but it’s going to take a more complete effort than what we’ve seen the past two weeks. The Ravens are on a semi-roll, but they need to get better.

In the past when the New England Patriots struggled, they always got better. Ditto for the Pittsburgh Steelers. The Ravens make improvement but not significant progress. This has to change.

 “You can, you can,” Ravens coach John Harbaugh said of building momentum. “That’s what you want to do, you want to get on a roll at some point in time in the season. We always say it’s a .500 league, and at some point in time, you have to get on a roll to get out of the .500 thing. It’s hard to win a game in the National Football League. You ask any coach or any player in this league. It’s not like you’re going to go on a 10-0 run; it’s just too competitive.

“It’s a .500 league, and it’s built to be a .500 league. Then you have to find a way to make a run somewhere; to win three, four, five, even six games in a row, and to separate yourself. You can do it at any point in time throughout the season —  no one says you can’t do it at the end of the year. So, it’s what we’re shooting for, but our focus is one game at a time.”

That’s fine, but let’s see if there is a different result at the end of the season.

mike.preston@baltsun.com

twitter.com/MikePrestonSun

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