The Ravens will head their separate ways for a long bye weekend after Wednesday’s practice and continue working on specific areas that John Harbaugh and his coaching staff feel need to be improved. Not having to prepare and game plan for an imminent opponent gives them that luxury.
In losing five of their past seven games, the Ravens obviously have plenty to focus on during the bye week. These are a few areas that figure to draw the most attention:
HEALTH: The Ravens have been one of the most banged-up teams in the league since the start of training camp. However, Harbaugh said Monday that there’s a good chance that everybody eligible to still play this year could return in time for the Nov. 19 game against the Green Bay Packers. That bodes well for running backs Danny Woodhead and Terrance West, wide receiver Michael Campanaro and tight end Nick Boyle. The break could be just as important to Joe Flacco, Jeremy Maclin, Ronnie Stanley and Jimmy Smith, who have all been dealing with injuries for much, if not all, of the first half.
DOWNFIELD PASSING GAME: Until they can hit on a couple of big plays downfield every game, the Ravens won’t consistently threaten anybody offensively. Every drive, every first down will continue to be a grind that takes much out of the entire team and leaves it with little margin for error. Flacco needs to start connecting on some big plays. It would lift the entire team. There’s enough talent in place on offense to do it.
OFFENSIVE PLAY CALLING: Offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg and Flacco continue to absorb much of the criticism for the offense’s struggles. In Mornhinweg’s case, it’s probably long overdue to start adding a few wrinkles and trying some different things. The Ravens’ passing game is much too easy to game plan for and to play against. Mornhinweg needs to break some tendencies and find different ways to get the offense going.
PASS RUSH: The Ravens have seemingly fixed their run defense. The next order of business defensively is trying to develop a more consistent pass rush. They are 12th in the league with 22 sacks, which isn’t terrible, but the pass rush needs to wreak more havoc and add to the team’s caused-turnover total. It’s been a bit inconsistent.
Kubiak coming back?
CBS Sports insider Jason La Canfora has Ravens’ fans in a tizzy after his report earlier this week that the team’s former offensive coordinator, Gary Kubiak, who retired from his job as the Denver Broncos head coach because of health concerns following last season, was open to returning to coaching as an offensive coordinator for the 2018 season.
Look, unless things change awfully quickly and drastically with the Ravens, they could be headed for another change at offensive coordinator this offseason. If Kubiak is interested in returning to a play-calling role — and the current senior personnel adviser for the Broncos hasn’t said publicly if he is or isn’t — the Ravens would be crazy to not give him a call. Flacco had probably his best regular season under Kubiak in 2014.
By all accounts, Kubiak loved the year he spent in Baltimore and he said many times that the Broncos head coaching job and an opportunity to work with his close friend, John Elway, was the only opportunity he would’ve left Baltimore for. It’s believed that Kubiak and Harbaugh still have a good relationship. But let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves here.
If he wants to get back into coaching, Kubiak will garner plenty of interest. Who knows whether the Ravens, who could be headed for a shake-up if they continue to falter, would even be an attractive situation to him at this point? Flacco, after all, will be three years older and has dealt with two significant injuries since Kubiak departed. The entire Ravens’ coaching staff could be different this offseason. A Kubiak return to Baltimore would be a nice story, but it’s quite premature at the moment.
Hard to justify
Though they may appear to be, the disciplinary fines the league hands out each week aren’t just arbitrary numbers. More significant penalties carry set fines, depending on whether it’s the player’s first or second infraction. That’s why Ravens outside linebacker Matthew Judon was docked $18,231 for a horse collar tackle on Kenyan Drake.
Fair or not, that’s the established rate for that penalty. However, at some point, doesn’t common sense have to prevail? How the league doled the rest of the fines from that chippy Ravens-Dolphins contest is hard to comprehend.
Dolphins linebacker Kiko Alonso was fined $9,115 for hitting a sliding Joe Flacco in the head with his shoulder/forearm. The league obviously took into account that Alonso was not a repeat offender and believed it was a bang-bang play rather than a malicious shot. Ravens fans probably disagree, but many people around the league believed that the hit was more unfortunate than dirty. Either way, it was the lowest possible fine from a league that’s constantly talking about the importance of protecting quarterbacks. It, however, was hardly the most head-scratching decision.
How does Dolphins defensive lineman Ndamukong Suh, whose has a reputation for such behavior, avoid a fine after he got two post-play unnecessary roughness penalties, including one for putting his hand around Ravens backup quarterback Ryan Mallett’s throat?
And how does Miami defensive lineman William Hayes go unscathed after he was caught on camera sticking his finger in Ravens right tackle Austin Howard’s facemask and poking him in the eye area? When you give out fines for uniform violations and throwing the football into the crowd after touchdowns and you don’t for extra-curricular activities like throat grabs and eye pokes, it makes the whole process look like a joke.
Ten quick thoughts
1. Assuming Tim Williams is completely over hamstring and groin injuries after the bye, it’s time to see what he could do as a situational pass rusher for 12 to 15 snaps a game.
2. I thought the unnecessary roughness call on Za’Darius Smith for his nudge of Titans quarterback Marcus Mariota was pretty weak, but Smith by now should know that it doesn’t take much to get flagged for making contact with a quarterback. He has four unnecessary roughness or roughing the passer penalties over the past two seasons, which is too many.
3. Safety Lardarius Webb played a season-low four defensive snaps against the Titans. With Maurice Canady and Jaylen Hill now healthy and the Ravens looking for ways to get Marlon Humphrey on the field more, it will be interesting to see how Webb gets snaps going forward.
4. I’m not sure Darren Waller was necessarily the answer before his suspension, but boy, the Ravens really need a fast tight end to stretch the field. That’s a must-add this offseason.
5. This sounds like piling on an easy target, but with Campanaro close to returning and Chris Moore becoming a very valuable special teams player, you wonder if Breshad Perriman could be a healthy scratch going forward if things don’t change quickly.
6. Buck Allen has really run hard and with great effort this year. Still, Alex Collins is the Ravens’ shiftiest and most elusive backs and I’d take my chances with him on fourth-and-short before anyone else on the roster.
7. I’m traditionally a boring “take the points” guy and I haven’t always agreed with Harbaugh deciding to go for it and eschew field-goal attempts in the past. However, do you really think a Ravens offense that couldn’t get a couple of inches when they were down 10 points on the Titans 17 was going to be able to drive the length of the field for a game-tying score in the final minutes if they were down only seven?
8. And enough with the “if they had just kicked a field goal instead of getting stopped on fourth down, they would have least gone to overtime.” Football doesn’t work that way. The Titans’ play calling on offense and defense the rest of the way would have been totally different if the Ravens would have kicked the field goal there rather than gone for it and they were protecting a seven-point lead rather than a 10-point one.
9. It’s been striking to see how dejected Ravens rush linebacker Terrell Suggs has been after the team’s last two losses. I’m not sure if that says more about where Suggs is at in his career and knowing he might only have one or two more chances left at a playoff run or it’s just a reflection of his disappointment with the team underachieving.
10. Much has been made about the team’s glut at running back, but how long can the Ravens afford to keep five tight ends on the 53-man roster?