1. When the Ravens lose games like this, John Harbaugh often refers to the team's performance as a "lack of execution." With all due respect, that's coach-speak, and it doesn't really mean a whole lot. It's an explanation that's purposefully vague. When a team fails "execute" a play, there is a reason for it, so let's call it what it really is. This team lacks focus.
I don't really know how anyone on the Ravens -- player or coach -- could argue otherwise. It isn't just bad luck, that's for sure. There is a pattern here. All three of their losses were preceded by wins over a good team the Ravens were fired up and eager to play. Either they privately obsess too much over their own status and press, or they believe deep down they've worked through their inconsistencies after each big win, and are surprised by new wrinkles teams throw at them.
Yes, it's always difficult to win on the road in the NFL. And when a good team gets knocked off by a bad team, especially on the road, players tend to say things like this: "Those guys get paid too. They're NFL players too." But the main reason it's difficult to win on the road in the NFL is that it's harder to focus away from home. You're in an unfamiliar environment, you're often uncomfortable, and you can't rely on outside factors to give you an emotional boost.
Great teams overcome those factors one of two ways. Either they play with so much intensity and aggressiveness, they overwhelm bad teams by being that much better and faster. Their errors aren't amplified. The other way they overcome road woes is by not making mistakes. They show up, handle their business, and don't blow calls or assignments. They might not be juiced up to play against a bad team, but they put themselves in the right position enough times that talent eventually wins out.
The Ravens are a talented team, despite their flaws. They wouldn't have been able to win in Pittsburgh if they weren't one of the AFC's most talented teams. But they sure don't deal particularly well with high expectations. You can try to pin it on one area if it makes you feel better. (We'll get to Cam Cameron and the lack of a running game, David Reed's atrocious special teams performance, as well as the Swiss cheese 3rd-down defense in a second.) But it's really the entire team that lacks focus. Losing to Tennessee wasn't a big deal because the Titans have talent. Losing to Jacksonville was unpleasant, but every now and then you go on the road and lay an egg. And losing to Seattle, in theory, could be viewed as understandable because it's one of the hardest places to play in the NFL. There are always going to be week-to-week excuses and explanations. But when you view all three games together, you have to conclude there is a larger trend in play, and that the Ravens don't "execute" against bad teams because they're not good at blocking out external issues.
It's hard -- at least right now -- to imagine this team putting together the three or four great weeks it would require to win a Super Bowl. But you also have to wonder if a string of playoff games wouldn't unite this team in a way that nothing else could. They only seem to lose to bad teams, not good ones, so assuming they make the playoffs and don't have to play a bad team, in theory, they'll be fine.
I don't buy that theory though. I think if the inconsistency continues, it will be their undoing. It might be time the Ravens drag out the tired, but oh-so-useful cliche that "No one believes in us." Because right now, just when this team threatens to make you a believer, they have a knack for disappointing you.
2. At some point, we may have to concede that Cam Cameron's philosophies are a reflection of John Harbaugh's philosophies. Harbaugh is the head coach. He can tell his offensive coordinator he wants to run the ball more, and Cameron has to listen. No one disputes that. So maybe its time we stop blaming Cameron for Ray Rice's lack of rushes, and start asking a broader, more pointed question: Does Cameron abandon the run early in games because Harbaugh has no issue with abandoning the run early in games?
A lot of Ravens fans are angry about the fact that Rice carried the ball only five times against the Seahawks, and since Rice said he was too emotional to speak with reporters after the game, I'll bet you he's not thrilled about it either. David Reed's turnovers on special teams made it difficult to run the ball, but the turnovers didn't make it impossible. After the Ravens fell behind 10-0, they threw the ball 11 consecutive times before they called another running play. Cameron called for a handoff to Ricky Williams to end the streak, but he followed that up with five consecutive passes -- although to be fair, the last of those five was a pass by Ray Rice to Ed Dickson for a touchdown.
But here is why I'm not comfortable with blaming Cameron in full, and why I don't think anything will change unless Harbaugh demands a philosophical change. There were a number of throws that were wide open. Joe Flacco wasn't under a ton of duress. But they didn't work because Flacco made some poor throws, and even when he was on the mark, his receivers had a few glaring drops. If I were Cameron, I'd look at the film and say: You know, I called a lot of good plays. My quarterback just didn't throw the ball all that accurately, and when he did, the receivers didn't catch it particularly well.
And you know what? He'd be right.
But here is what's problematic: It isn't a surprise to see Joe Flacco make inaccurate throws this year. For whatever reason, this is kind of who he is right now. He's a streaky quarterback capable of greatness as well as mediocrity. I said last week it's impossible to predict how he's going to play, and I stand by that. His receivers only further complicate things by their inability to hold on to some of his best throws. But as far as the Ravens passing game is concerned, I don't see Flacco and Co. turning the proverbial corner, at least not this year.
This is who Flacco is right now. He's a pretty good quarterback. Some of the time. I sort of chuckle every time he plays a great game, because he inevitably gets a question from the media that I'll paraphrase, but it goes something like this: Got anything you want say to your haters, Joe?
Flacco tends to roll his eyes whenever this comes up, which I appreciate, because even he seems to understand it's an absurd premise. Speaking on behalf of the so called "haters," I guess I'll just say I'd like to see a little more consistency. I suspect Flacco would too.
Cameron actually has a lot more faith in Flacco than he gets credit for. It's funny that Cameron is so often accused by fans of holding Flacco back because then you watch games like this, where he puts the entire offense on Flacco's shoulders, and that couldn't be further from the truth. A lot of times, however, he has too much faith in his quarterback. He calls games like he has Aaron Rodgers back there.
And that's where Harbaugh needs to step in. Just because you have a match-up advantage on a play doesn't mean it's the right play to call every time. If there is one criticism of Cameron I think is legitimate, I think it's that he often out-thinks situations. He believes his players are capable of perfect execution, and the reality is often messy. Sometimes football needs to be about strength and brutality, not tactics. That's why play-calling is a delicate balancing act.
The Ravens aren't going to improve their running game unless they actually start running the ball more. It's obvious they have a hard time running against 4-3 defenses, but they need to find ways to keep trying, otherwise the problem is just going to get worse. I still think you can win a championship with Flacco as your quarterback and working with this receiving corps, especially if Lee Evans ever gets healthy. I really do. But you can't win relying on them alone.
3. Harbaugh and the Ravens look like they're going to be more forgiving of David Reed than most teams would be.
Before we debate whether or not David Reed should still be a member of the Baltimore Ravens, let's fully review his contributions of late.
He fumbled a kickoff against the Steelers that was recovered by Vonte Leach, narrowly avoiding a turnover probably would have put the Ravens down 10-0.
He fumbled a kickoff against Seattle that led to a first quarter field goal and put the Ravens in a 10-0 hole.
He was flagged for unsportsmanlike conduct on a kickoff return after he dropped the football on a Seahawk tackler, backing the Ravens up to the 10 yard line. Baltimore went 3-and-out and punted, and Seattle took over at the Ravens 42 yard line, then drove the ball 20 yards and kicked another field goal to make it 16-7.
On the very next kickoff, Reed fumbled yet again and Seattle advanced the ball exactly one yard before turning it into another field goal to make it 19-7.
"I didn’t fumble at all last year," Reed told reporters after the game. "It’s a little hump I’ve got to get over. It’s very frustrating. [I’ve] just got to bounce back. I let my teammates down. It was bad. I don’t feel good at all."
Normally, that's usually the kind of performance that gets a 4th string wide receiver cut on Monday, especially if he's frequently been injured during his career, has never caught a pass in 19 NFL games, and also managed to get himself suspended for violating the league's drug policy.
Harbaugh, however, seemed to make it clear Reed's job wasn't in danger, which was a bit of a surprise. I thought he might at least make Reed sweat it out on the plane ride home.
"You have to protect the football," Harbaugh said. "[Reed] knows that. He will stop that. David Reed is a tough guy. He is a competitive guy. He’s done that before. I have a lot of confidence in David, I have a lot of respect for David and he is one of our guys.”
I suppose Ozzie Newsome could still decide he's not interested in keeping Reed around anymore, and take the decision out of Harbaugh's hands. Either way, it hasn't been a very good year for special teams coach Jerry Rosburg. Kickoff coverage has been poor, kickoff returns have been awful, and the field goal kicking has been a little inconsistent.
I don't know why Laquan Williams hasn't gotten a shot to return kicks, especially since he looked so good in the pre-season. Maybe it's time to give him his shot now, since getting Torrey Smith hurt back there would be a disaster for the offense.
4. The Ravens defense can look good at times, but they also have a lot of holes, including a few they probably can't fix.
One of the reasons it would be silly to try and blame this loss entirely on one person -- like Cam Cameron, Joe Flacco or David Reed -- is because of how poorly the defense played in important moments. Two third downs, in particular, stick out.
In the second quarter, the Ravens had just scored a touchdown to pull to within 10-7. Baltimore's offense was showing signs of life, and Seattle was facing a 3rd-and-9 from their own 22 yard line. All the Ravens had to do was get the Seahawks off the field and they'd have not only great field position, but also a ton of momentum. It was one of those moments you could almost feel Seattle wobbling a bit. If this was a boxing match, that would have been the moment the Ravens had Seattle leaning back against the ropes.
But Tarvaris Jackson hit Baltimore's defense with a stunning haymaker. Pernell McPhee flushed him out of the pocket, Jackson rolled to his left, essentially jumped in the air, and threw an incredible pass to Daniel Baldwin for a 50-yard gain. It was clearly a blown coverage of some sort, since Baldwin got wide open before Bernard Pollard dragged him out of bounds, but the throw was remarkable. That one throw completely changed the dynamics of the second quarter. Suddenly, Seattle looked fearless.
The other troubling third down came late in the game, when the Ravens desperately needed the ball back, and Marshawn Lynch caught a pass and faked Ray Lewis and Jarret Johnson out of their socks. It could not have been pretty to watch as a Ravens fan. But there is really no fix in either situation. The Ravens coverage schemes are limited by Pollard's below-average cover skills. And the Ravens linebacker struggle in space because they're either aging (Lewis, Johnson) or imperfect (Jameel McClain).
Also, has anyone seen Ed Reed? He's been a non-factor lately. He has two interceptions and four passes defended in Week 1 against the Steelers. In the eight weeks since, he's had only one pass defensed. That's it. Time to start making some plays, playmaker.
That fact that the defense couldn't get off the field during the final six minutes of the game has to be a little embarrassing.
5. The Ravens really need Lee Evans to get healthy. Soon.
Look, Evans' injury has actually been great for Torrey Smith's development, but the Ravens wide receivers just aren't consistent enough to scare teams. Anquan Boldin looks like a fearless, ferocious leader one week, then has balls bouncing off his face mask when the Ravens need a crucial catch to move the chains.
The Ravens are getting around some of their wide receiver issues by using two tight ends, and that's worked well for the most part. Dickson had a great day on Sunday with 10 catches, and he was particularly good at getting open behind the linebackers, which opens up the rest of the field. But Evans would give the Ravens another reliable route runner with a good set of hands.
One of the reasons it's been difficult to get a read on Flacco this year is the remarkable number of dropped passes he's had. Between Torrey Smith and Boldin, if you added up all their drops and then turned them into catches, that would boost Flacco's completion percentage at least a few points. More importantly, it would also produce a few more first downs. One of the reasons Ray Rice isn't getting enough touches is the Ravens are wasting possessions. If it's 2nd-and-7 and you throw a pass that's dropped, you're not going to hand the ball off to Rice the next play.
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