Baltimore Sun columnist Mike Preston talks about the Ravens' 26-9 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers. (Kevin Richardson/Baltimore Sun video)
Regardless of having two straight strong drafts, the Ravens still don't have enough playmakers on offense and defense to beat the top teams.
They have several players who can make big plays, but they don't do it consistently. There are no Le'Veon Bells, Antonio Browns or Ryan Shaziers on the Ravens' roster.
It was evident Sunday as the Ravens lost to Pittsburgh, 26-9, as the Steelers took over sole possession of first place in the AFC North. The Ravens have some good young players on the roster, but none of them can take over a game like Bell, Pittsburgh's fifth-year running back.
He rushed for 144 yards on 35 carries and had two touchdowns runs of 1 yard each. He also caught four passes for 42 yards, including one reception of 18 yards. He was the best player on the field and controlled the pace of the game.
"They're always going to establish the run, they're going to get him the ball," Ravens outside linebacker Terrell Suggs said. "Between No. 26 (Bell) and 84 (Brown), we knew they were going to run the ball a little bit."
"We have playmakers out there," Ravens coach John Harbaugh said, "and we can put the ball in people's hands. We can run the ball — we've shown that. We have to eliminate the mistakes and make more plays."
The Ravens are four games into the regular season and that still hasn't happened. The Ravens have speed in wide receivers Mike Wallace and Breshad Perriman, but neither has been holding onto the ball.
Joe Flacco has a Super Bowl ring and is one of the highest-paid quarterbacks, but he hasn't heated up consistently all season. He got hot in the third quarter Sunday, but cooled again in the fourth throwing two interceptions, the last one with nearly six minutes left and wide receiver Michael Campanaro surrounded by four Steelers.
Flacco finished with a QB rating of 64.6, significantly better than the 12.0 rating he had last Sunday against Jacksonville, another Ravens loss.
"I sucked. I mean, you know, it wasn't pretty," said Flacco.
Even when Flacco played well in the third quarter he didn't have a lot of time to throw as he was constantly harassed by Pittsburgh defenders. But the Ravens have similar problems on defense, just not as glaring.
Even with a healthy tackle Brandon Williams in the lineup, the Ravens don't have a game-changer like Shazier, who had 10 solo tackles and a big interception Sunday from his linebacker spot, or strong safety Sean Davis, who can make big plays against good teams. Williams is the same caliber as Pittsburgh end Cameron Heyward and Ravens linebacker C. J. Mosley is a good as Shazier against the run, but not as strong in pass coverage.
The Ravens' defense plays well enough to win even though their offense puts them in bad situations, but there is no dominant player . The two top names are Suggs and safety Eric Weddle, both in the twilight of their careers.
They have some good young talent in rookie linebackers Tyus Bowser and Tim Williams, who might develop the pass rush they lacked Sunday. They have a good rookie cornerback in Marlon Humphrey. All have potential but they aren't even in the class of Jacksonville's young players — running back Leonard Fournette, linebacker Myles Jack and cornerback Jalen Ramsey.
In all honesty, there is no one on the Ravens who puts fear in another team. Despite being in the league for 14 years, Roethlisberger still commands great respect. Brown had just four catches for 34 yards Sunday, but the Ravens knew where he lined up every play.
It won't get any better next Sunday when the Ravens travel to Oakland. The Raiders have quarterback Derek Carr and receiver Amari Cooper. Carr left Sunday's game with a back injury, but they also have running back Marshawn Lynch.
Once the Ravens fall behind they have a tough time trying to play catch up because they don't have big-play capability.
"It's always frustrating when you can't score points," Wallace said. "With the talent we have on offense, it's crazy. We have so many players and so many weapons — we're just not making plays.
"We just have to find a way. A quarter of the season is gone and our offense just hasn't found a way to make plays. I know that we will. I'm more than confident that we will. We've got to get it going."