Mike Preston: Ravens' holes will be hard to fill during bye week

Baltimore Sun columnist Mike Preston talks about the Ravens' 23-13 loss to the Tennessee Titans. (Kevin Richardson/Baltimore Sun video)

The Ravens said all the right things about what they need to improve during the bye week, but it is impossible to fix all the team’s problems within two weeks.

A lot of the problems can’t be addressed until the draft and free agency during the offseason. There are no quick fixes here.


“Anyone can make a run, it happens every year,” Ravens safety Eric Weddle said. “Why can’t it be us? We have seven games to go. I feel like we have to win out and that is the goal.

“Let the run happen and let the story be about us and the magical run that we had. Why can’t it be us? That’s our focus right now.”


That’s a great attitude. Go ahead and dream the dream. But after Sunday’s loss to the Tennessee Titans, there seemed to be a sense of reality in the locker room. It’s not like coach John Harbaugh had lost his players’ confidence, but they seemed to understand that they’re not a real good football team.

Or maybe they were just eagerly waiting to get away for a few days of relaxation.

Regardless, this is the NFL and not Major League Baseball. The Ravens can’t go to the farm system and find some hot-shot youngster who can immediately make an impact. They are stuck with this current roster.

The time off might allow some players to heal, like offensive tackles Ronnie Stanley and Austin Howard, tight end Benjamin Watson, running back Danny Woodhead and cornerback Maurice Canady. That won’t have a significant impact.

Now, if the Ravens were returning injured guards Marshal Yanda and Alex Lewis, that would be a different story. Instead, the offensive line includes a no-name cast of guards James Hurst, Matt Skura, Jermaine Eluemunor and Luke Bowanko, as well as center Ryan Jensen.

They play hard, but they are limited.

“We’re not doing two things. We’re not sustaining drives, so we’re not giving ourselves a chance to make plays, we’re not making plays downfield,” Harbaugh said.

The Ravens offensive game plan is already vanilla — playing “small ball” and throwing 2-yard passes to running backs and tight ends. It is also a necessity because quarterback Joe Flacco doesn’t have a lot of time to throw.

Running backs Terrance West and Danny Woodhead are expected to practice Tuesday and Wednesday.

When he does, it’s not like he has a group of consistent receivers. Jeremy Maclin and Mike Wallace occasionally make plays, Michael Campanaro can’t stay healthy and Breshad Perriman can’t catch.

Tennessee crowded the line of scrimmage to shut down running back Alex Collins and the Titans dared the Ravens to beat them with the vertical passing game. Unfortunately, there aren’t many options at wide receiver during the bye week.

The Ravens can work on execution, timing and cutting down on stupid mistakes, but it’s not like they are going to pull some big-time performers or playmakers out of a magic hat.

They already used up that trick by signing Collins early in the regular season.


QB coach needs to be a priority: During the offseason, the Ravens should invest in hiring Flacco a quarterback coach.

Craig Ver Steeg is listed as the team’s offensive assistant/quarterbacks coach, but the Ravens need someone with more experience. Flacco’s mechanics might be as poor as ever.

Flacco’s best overall season was in 2014 when Gary Kubiak was the offensive coordinator and Rick Dennison was his coach. One of the team’s top priorities was teaching Flacco the proper techniques and Kubiak was a stickler on fundamentals.

Of course, Kubiak also had the reputation of having coached Hall of Fame quarterbacks Steve Young and John Elway. Clearly, though, Flacco got the message.

The Ravens need a new messenger.

Just say no: Maybe before Harbaugh goes for it on another fourth-and-1 someone should pinch him and remind him about the Ravens.

The weakest unit on this team is the offensive line. It’s not like they can muscle up and knock the other team off the ball. Sometimes, you just have to take the points.

Also, why not run behind one of your better linemen, like Stanley, instead of just straight up the middle? One other thing: the Ravens need to get a legitimate hard-nosed fullback instead of a hybrid if they want to play smash-mouth football.

Nickel thoughts: The Ravens finally reduced safety Lardarius Webb’s role as the nickelback in passing situations while Marlon Humphrey, the rookie cornerback and top draft pick out of Alabama, continues to play well.

Humphrey gets picked on every week but he makes plays. He knocked down one pass and provided tight coverage on another attempt Sunday.

Going into their bye week at 4-5, the Ravens are exactly what their record says they are.

Where’s the pass rush? The Ravens’ defensive line has improved with nose guard Brandon Williams back in the starting lineup, but they still need to find a pass rusher.

No one had even a quarterback hurry against Tennessee and the Ravens could have used some pressure on Titans quarterback Marcus Mariota late in the fourth quarter.

More Moore: Since Perriman has problems holding onto the ball, maybe the Ravens should consider using receiver Chris Moore more often. He hustles on special teams, so they might as well give him a chance. He can drop a pass just as well as Perriman.

Rethink the onside kick: I say the Ravens drop the little dance Justin Tucker does before his onside kick out of the playbook. It hasn’t worked the last two times and on Sunday the kick didn’t travel the necessary 10 yards.

Recovering a conventional onside-kick attempt already is low percentage play, but when the ball fails to go 10 yards there is zero percent chance of regaining possession.

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