Baltimore Ravens

To win, Ravens need to fix these five problems

The Ravens' 0-3 start has put the blame game in full effect, with fingers pointing in a variety of directions.

Why didn't general manager Ozzie Newsome sign or trade for another offensive playmaker? Where is the discipline coach John Harbaugh so often speaks about? Why can't Dean Pees' defense get off the field late in games? And what the heck happened to the Ravens' running game?


As the Ravens prepare to face the rival Pittsburgh Steelers Thursday night at Heinz Field, they are dealing with myriad issues that have resulted in a trendy preseason Super Bowl Pick being the AFC's lone winless team heading into October.

The Ravens have been stout against the run and their special teams has been solid, but beyond that, Harbaugh's team has suffered breakdowns in all facets, been inconsistent one quarter to the next and come up small, especially in the final 15 minutes.


There is plenty to fix, but finding their run game and a reliable receiving option aside from Steve Smith Sr., and improving the secondary, execution late in games and team discipline are good places to start.

Rev up the running game

It's not an answer to all of the Ravens' woes, but the return of last year's run game would presumably lead to longer possessions, improvement on third down, less time on the field for a beleaguered defense and better opportunities to close out games in the fourth quarter.

Last season, the Ravens finished eighth in the league in rushing (128 yards per game) and seventh in yards per carry (4.5). Through three games this season, they rank 27th in the NFL in rushing yards per game (72.7) and 28th in yards per carry (3.3). Their early issues running the ball have been the most surprising aspect of their struggles, and have affected the entire team.

Justin Forsett hasn't looked as elusive or decisive as he did last year, but Lorenzo Taliaferro and Buck Allen haven't found a lot of room in limited opportunities, either. The onus is largely on the offensive line to play better, to start opening up holes and to stop committing so many penalties.

Find help for Smith

Over the past two weeks, Flacco has thrown for 746 yards and four touchdowns, but 336 of those yards and two of those scores have been to Smith, the team's only proven receiving threat. As intense and competitive as Smith is, it's probably not a sustainable recipe for the Ravens offense.

Smith is 36 years old and future opponents will do all they can to take him away and force somebody else to beat them. The Denver Broncos did it in Week 1 and the Ravens' offense had no answers.


While Smith has been targeted 33 times by Flacco the past two weeks, the Ravens' four other wide receivers — Kamar Aiken, Marlon Brown, Michael Campanaro and Darren Waller — have been targeted a total of 21 times. Rookie Breshad Perriman's return from a knee injury suffered in training camp doesn't look imminent, so it's on Aiken and Brown to get open more and catch the ball when they do. It's on offensive coordinator Marc Trestman to get others more involved in the game plan and find a way to utilize Campanaro and Waller's skill sets. It's on Flacco to spread the ball around.

"Obviously, we want to get other guys involved, get their confidence going and all that stuff," Flacco said. "But when it comes down to Sunday afternoon, you have to do what you have to do to win a football game."

Cut down on the penalties

On their final possession against the Cincinnati Bengals, the Ravens thought that they had converted on fourth down when Flacco completed a pass to Smith. However, the play was called back because of a face mask penalty on left guard Kelechi Osemele. One play later, the Ravens turned the ball over on downs.

It was one of 13 penalties (for 116 yards) called on the Ravens and many of them either stalled offensive drives or prolonged Bengals possessions.

"The bottom line is that there's way too many of them, and they have to be cleaned up," Harbaugh said. "We've never been a highly-penalized team here recently, and we weren't in the preseason. It's something we have to do a much better job at."


Through three games, six teams have been called for more penalties than the Ravens, and four have been assessed more penalty yards. The Seattle Seahawks went to the Super Bowl last year despite leading the league in penalties, but the Ravens aren't good enough to overcome such issues.

Fix the secondary

The unit the Ravens front office spent the offseason and preseason trying to improve remains the team's biggest issue. The Ravens are allowing 291 passing yards a game, the third most in the NFL, and coverage breakdowns have figured prominently in late-game meltdowns the past two weeks.

This year, the Ravens can't use injuries as an excuse. Jimmy Smith, the team's top cornerback, has played two consecutive subpar games. Cornerback Rashaan Melvin had a nightmare 2015 debut and was benched after a half. Safety Kendrick Lewis hasn't been the stabilizing force that the Ravens had hoped for.

It's a passing league and teams are going to make plays. But what has to be so maddening to Pees is that the secondary, mostly a veteran group, continues to bust coverage, miss tackles and make fundamental mistakes.

The coaching staff has a few options. They can get second-year safety Terrence Brooks more involved. They can thrust recently-acquired cornerback Will Davis into a more prominent role or elevate a cornerback, like Asa Jackson or Charles James, from the practice squad. Ultimately, though, what they need most is for guys like Smith, Lewis, Melvin and Kyle Arrington to play better.


Finish the job

Baltimore Ravens Insider


Want the inside scoop on the Ravens? Become a Ravens Insider and you'll have access to news, notes and analysis from The Sun.

It sounds like a total copout to say that the Ravens are a couple of plays from being 3-0 instead of 0-3. After all, they've been mistake prone and wildly inconsistent thus far. However, they've had chances to overcome their issues if they could have just made some plays in the fourth quarter.

While the defense is a worthy target, nobody should be exempt from criticism in this area.

Even Smith, the team's best player so far, had a chance to catch two game-winning touchdown passes but he couldn't haul in tough throws. In fourth quarters this season, Flacco has thrown two interceptions, completed just 51 percent of his passes and posted a quarterback rating of 56.9.

And of course, the defense hasn't been able to get off the field. They have allowed late fourth-quarter scoring drives in all three games. Players and coaches like to say that football, at its essence, can be a simple game. At some point, one of the Ravens has to make a play late in the game to make the difference for their team.

"With this defense, we're supposed to get off the field," cornerback Lardarius Webb said. "We haven't been getting off the field this whole year, and that's what you get when you don't get off the field."