NFL teams don’t change their rosters much after the opening game of the season, so the Ravens aren’t expected to have a revolving door of personnel during their bye week.
This is the NFL, not Major League Baseball.
But three straight losses need to be put in perspective. The defeats came against marquee quarterbacks such as the New Orleans Saints’ Drew Brees, the Carolina Panthers’ Cam Newton and the Pittsburgh Steelers’ Ben Roethlisberger.
The Ravens could have won two of those games if quarterback Joe Flacco had been more accurate in finishing off potential touchdown drives instead of settling for field goals against the Steelers and if one of the football gods had not blown Justin Tucker’s extra-point attempt wide right versus New Orleans.
If, if, if …
The bye week is more about self-scouting, and the Ravens could use a few tweaks before the Cincinnati Bengals come to town Nov. 18.
It starts with defense and third-down efficiency. The Ravens have allowed first downs on 35.2 percent (44 of 125) of opponents’ third-down conversion attempts this season, the fifth-best mark in the league, but have allowed 52.3 percent (22 of 42) to be converted in the past three games against New Orleans, Carolina and Pittsburgh.
Here’s part of the problem: Against teams with top receivers, the Ravens still play press coverage, but they aren’t physical. They’ll push around receivers from the Buffalo Bills or Tennessee Titans, but don’t challenge receivers from Cincinnati or Pittsburgh because they don’t want to give up a big play.
“When you’re playing the type of coverages that we play, and people are throwing the ball short and intermediate routes, I equate it to, I’ll take the paper cut instead of somebody stabbing me in the heart, so I’m not trying to give up any big plays,” Ravens secondary coach Chris Hewitt said. “We’ll take those little short-to-intermediate routes. Now, going with that, obviously we have to get off the field on third down. That’s something that we haven’t done a very good job of over the last two weeks or so.
“We have to do better on third down, get ourselves off the field. But, on first and second down, we can’t give them third-and-short, either. We have to do a better job on first and second down. Now, we have third-and-long situations. Now, we can get a chance to go after the quarterback. We can play different zone coverages. Now, we get our eyes back on the quarterback, and now we can intercept some balls. But, as far as playing man coverages, sometimes you’re going to win some, sometimes you’re going to lose some. But, the ones that you lose, you want those to be five yards instead of 30 yards.”
That’s all great in theory, but the Ravens can’t beat the big boys with this approach. Pittsburgh ran a lot of slant-ins and hitches on the Ravens. Why not have the cornerbacks jam the receivers at the line of scrimmage to interrupt the timing, or at least have the cornerback line up on the receiver’s inside shoulder to take away those routes on third-and-short situations?
The Ravens have also had problems against the run during the past three weeks. It appeared teams were stopped from running inside, only to bounce off tackle or out on the perimeter for nice gains.
That’s because the Ravens outside linebackers have failed to hold the edge. It’s about discipline. The biggest culprit has been seven-time Pro Bowl selection Terrell Suggs, who likes to crash down the line of scrimmage. Few teams have punished him through the years more than the Bengals.
That’s correctable, too. Some problems might not be fixed for another year, such as finding an inside linebacker who can cover a running back or tight end.
But the biggest problem is that the Ravens have run into really good quarterbacks who can make plays inside or outside of the pocket. They have had no answer for them.
On offense, it will be interesting to see if the Ravens continue to start rookie Orlando Brown Jr. at right tackle. That was always the future plan, but maybe the time is now. With Brown at tackle, the Ravens could move James Hurst to left guard in place of Alex Lewis, who has struggled all season.
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There was talk at the beginning of the year of moving Lewis to center, but at 6-feet-6, he will have a tough time against stout, bulky nose guards. The moves could give a boost to the Ravens’ running game, which is one of the worst in the NFL.
But it’s just not the offensive line’s fault. The Ravens have a cut-back runner, Alex Collins, in a downhill running game. They also have a backup, Buck Allen, who isn’t very explosive, either as a runner or a pass catcher.
It will be interesting to see how the Ravens use newly acquired running back Ty Montgomery from the Green Bay Packers, and if he can became an every-down back. Montgomery might be a new way for coordinator Marty Mornhinweg to spice up his offense a little.
The Ravens have shown some creativity this season, but they also lack the consistency of running the basic plays other teams run regularly on Sundays, such as screen passes, draws, jet sweeps, rollouts and bootlegs. Against good teams, the Ravens offense, like the defense, appears to be quite conservative.
With seven games left, the Ravens still have a slim chance of making the playoffs. The percentage is small because they have to play top quarterbacks such as the Kansas City Chiefs’ Patrick Mahomes, the Atlanta Falcons’ Matt Ryan and the Los Angeles Chargers’ Philip Rivers on the road.
But nothing is impossible in the watered-down, mediocre NFL. A few tweaks, a couple of breaks and a lot of luck might still turn this into an interesting season.
Of course, the key word is luck. A lot of it.