Preston: Ravens must focus on the rebuilding Raiders, or they, too, might feel the pain of having to start over

Only a couple of weeks ago some critics were suggesting the Ravens clean house and begin to rebuild. That phrase is used often, but few understand the pain involved.

Just look at the Oakland Raiders (2-8), the Ravens’ opponent Sunday.

The Raiders are still one of the NFL’s most storied franchises, and they have a motto that is one of the best in pro sports: “Commitment to Excellence.”

They have won three Super Bowl titles and turned out Hall of Famers such as Art Shell, Gene Upshaw, Jim Otto, Ted Hendricks, Ronnie Lott and Willie Brown.

But it is hard to name 10 starters on the current 2018 roster. The team starts five rookies and cleared its roster of big-name talent like Khalil Mack and Amari Cooper so the Raiders could have salary cap room in preparation for the franchise’s move to Las Vegas for the start of the 2019 or 2020 season.

The Raiders are so bad that the Ravens are trying to stay focused for Sunday’s game. That tells you something right there.

One of the best things that came out of the bye week was the Ravens’ attention to detail on defense. Against the Bengals, they didn’t come up with a lot of fancy packages to try to confuse Cincinnati.

Before they beat the Cincinnati Bengals on Sunday, the Ravens had lost three straight and four of their past five. They can’t afford to overlook any team, but they know the Raiders are in dire straits, scoring only 17 points a game and allowing 29.

Next time, Baltimore fans might want to be careful before asking to rebuild. Regardless, if the Ravens can’t beat Oakland convincingly, then it’s a telling sign of what will happen if they do get to the playoffs.

“It’s one week at a time, but it’s on to the next, on to the Oakland Raiders now,” Ravens cornerback Brandon Carr said.

“We can’t. I mean, we know if we lose, it’s basically done,” Ravens safety Eric Weddle said when asked whether the team could overlook Oakland. “This team is too close-knit, too bound together. Next game up is the game of our lives, and we’ll treat it like that.”

Quarterback situation

Rookie quarterback Lamar Jackson won his first game as an NFL starter Sunday and now some people are ready to run veteran Joe Flacco out of town.

That is amusing.

Jackson deserves props for his effort against the Bengals. His running was superb. But the Ravens can’t go far with the Pop Warner-style offense that was on display Sunday. There will be more sophisticated plays this week for Jackson against the Raiders, but Flacco still gives the Ravens their best chance of winning, especially in the postseason.

Flacco should be reinserted into the lineup as soon as he is healthy enough to play. Coach John Harbaugh, though, went out of his way to defend Jackson and his passing ability Monday, even though the first-round draft pick out of Louisville passed for only 150 yards on 13-for-19 on Sunday.

Maybe it’s true. Maybe the kid can throw downfield, but I haven’t seen a team throw a pop pass over the middle since the 11-13 Stembridge Wolverines from Essex in 1971.

Yet on Sunday, Jackson was running the same play.

Receiver discontent

It was easy to tell that some of the Ravens receivers weren’t happy not getting the ball as Jackson rushed 27 times for 117 yards and the three starting receivers combined for seven catches for 81 yards. Harbaugh said the plan is to get them more involved in the offense.

If that doesn’t happen soon, members in this group will sulk. I won’t mention any names, but the hands-on favorite to complain first is No. 15.

Edwards emerges

Harbaugh was careful to praise all his running backs after the win Sunday, even though rookie Gus Edwards handled the bulk of the load with 115 yards on 17 carries.

Edwards’ north-south style is more geared for the Ravens’ downhill running game than that of Alex Collins, who is more of a shifty, cutback runner. But Collins’ ego might get hurt if Harbaugh singles out the rookie for praise. The Ravens can’t afford to have Collins check out mentally at this point in the season.

Harbaugh should also deliver this message to Edwards: Do it again, and again and again for the remainder of the season. One big game against the worst defense in the NFL isn’t enough.

Back to basic on ‘D’

They kept it basic. They lined up and said we’re going to do what we do best. Cornerbacks Jimmy Smith and Marlon Humphrey were aggressive, getting their hands on receivers in press coverage, and the Ravens won a lot of one-on-one battles with their outside linebackers to keep constant pressure on quarterback Andy Dalton.

Maybe the most dominant defensive players were tackles Brandon Williams and Michael Pierce, who cut off Cincinnati’s running game.

“The biggest things was getting the basics, getting the fundamentals down and doing what we do best up front,” Williams said. “We took double teams and allowed linebackers to fill. We got after it.”

Yanda-Burfict incident

A lot is being made about Ravens guard Marshal Yanda possibly spitting on Bengals linebacker Vontaze Burfict.

I don’t know what transpired between the two players and can’t tell whether Yanda spat on him intentionally. But I put Yanda in the class with former Ravens middle linebacker Ray Lewis when it comes to on-the-field fighting.

I haven’t seen those two get into many fights throughout their careers, and a lot of time they’ve been peacemakers in scuffles between other players. Now with that said, I wouldn’t want to get into an altercation with Lewis, Yanda or Burfict.

A lot of things happen in between plays and during pile-ups after contact. A lot of it isn’t pretty. Without being on the field, we’ll never know what really happened.

mike.preston@baltsun.com

twitter.com/MikePrestonSun

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