The Ravens have a long list of things they need to improve, but maybe the most significant is that they cut
The Ravens have a long list of things they need to improve, but maybe the most significant is that they cut down on penalties.
The Ravens are tied for second in the league in penalties with 84 accepted against them, including 12 for 136 yards in Sunday's 27-17 loss to the Dallas Cowboys. That's not to say if they cut those in half the Ravens would have beaten the Cowboys, but it sure would have helped.
Some of the Ravens problems won't be fixed until next season. It's not like they can go out and sign a big-time receiver or a shutdown cornerback tomorrow, but these penalties are putting them in precarious situations.
More talented teams such as the Cowboys, Seattle Seahawks or New England Patriots can overcome these challenges, but the Ravens simply aren't good enough. They are 0-3 when committing 100-plus yards of penalties in a game this season.
"Penalties are always an issue," Ravens tight end Dennis Pitta said. "You get a big first down and now you get moved all the way back. It happened to us a couple times. Hopefully, we can clean that up. That's part of the game, but you can't have those big penalties."
Penalties have been an ongoing problem for the Ravens. For weeks, the entire coaching staff has emphasized eliminating penalties, but it hasn't worked.
Is it a discipline problem? Certainly. The biggest question is what do the Ravens do about it? Head coach John Harbaugh can't fine players. He could make them run extra gassers, but this is the NFL, not high school.
It's a tough situation.
It's one thing if these penalties keep happening to rookies or first-year players, but they have come against veterans such as center Jeremy Zuttah and guard Marshal Yanda. According to the website The Football Database, the Ravens have been called for holding a league-high 22 times.
In Dallas on Sunday, there was a lot of "home cooking" at AT&T Stadium. The Cowboys' defensive backs were holding Ravens receivers, and the Cowboys' offensive line's reputation helped it get away with a lot of grabbing up front.
"You can look at the officiating all you want, you can look at the calls, you can ask yourself whether the calls are being made on both sides all you want," Harbaugh said. "That's not going to fix anything. We've just got to find a way to do it our way, playing in such a way we don't have penalties. It comes down to every coach and every player. I think it's a reflection of the coaches. It's what we have to do as coaches to make sure our guys play without flags flying."
Even when the Cowboys get penalized, they have enough star talent to rebound, like they did on their first touchdown drive of the second quarter, after facing at first-and-30 situation at their own 28-yard line.
If that's the Ravens, they might as well quick kick and regain felid position.
Ravens offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg took a lot of criticism for running the ball only three times in the second half against Dallas after rushing for 86 yards on 13 carries in the first two quarters.
But a lot of that was based on the Ravens putting themselves in positions where they had to pass. On the Ravens; second possession of the third quarter, a 9-yard reception by running back Kenneth Dixon put the Ravens at their own 45, but it was called back because Zuttah went airborne and was called for unnecessary roughness.
Instead of first-and-10, the Ravens faced second-and-16 at their own 30. You probably know what happened later. They punted.
By the time the Ravens touched the ball again, on their third possession of the second half, with 11:30 left in the game, they were down 24-10.
They had no choice but to throw.
Zuttah also had a holding penalty late in the second quarter that might have prevented a touchdown drive. Instead, the Ravens had to settle for a field goal, and Dallas got the ball back with enough time to answer with its own field goal.
"Jeremy had the three penalties. Each one is different. Each one you try to address specifically," Harbaugh said. "I think, in the end, the thing that he recognizes is that three is too many. Those were drive-killing penalties."
Some of these penalties are excusable. Others aren't. Matthew Judon was offside on the kickoff before Dallas's final possession, Anthony Levine Sr. got called for holding on a special teams play again. And then there was Steve Smith getting an unnecessary roughness penalty after a 7-yard catch on the Ravens' last drive.
Those are about discipline.
Harbaugh and his players need to be accountable. If these repeat offenders keep getting penalties, it's time to put them on the bench. There is no alternative.
After Harbaugh's Alpha male purge following the team's 2013 Super Bowl win, there was speculation that some of this stuff would be cleaned up because some of the knuckleheads and their influence were gone.
But that hasn't been the case. The personnel has changed but the results are still the same. This team can't absorb the penalties because the offense doesn't have enough discipline to put together three or four long offensive drives every game.
It's one thing for cornerback Tavon Young to get a pass interference call because he is trying to be aggressive in attacking the ball, and another for reckless plays such as Zuttah's or Smith's.