Five Things We Learned from the Ravens’ 23-20 loss to the Tennessee Titans 

1) Going into their bye week, the Ravens are exactly what their record says they are.

The game-to-game swings have been wild, but are you the least bit surprised the Ravens are 4-5 and lingering on the fringe of wild-card contention going into their bye week?

Coming into the season, most thought the defense would be at least good and the offense would stumble along, hampered by a lack of premium skill players. Nine weeks in, that’s pretty much what we’re looking at, a reality reinforced by Sunday’s loss in Tennessee.

The Ravens played well enough to win on defense, controlling Tennessee’s running game, making five tackles for losses and picking off Marcus Mariota at a key moment. They lapsed in covering the middle of the field on a decisive fourth-quarter drive. But still, good enough.

On offense, Joe Flacco tried to seize the initiative with two deep throws early in the game. But as has been the case for most of the season, those plays didn’t connect. Flacco ended up averaging 5 yards an attempt. He also threw an ill-conceived interception that blunted the team’s hopes of building a drive to start the second half.

The Ravens were already facing a 10-point deficit by then, the result of an incredible string of special-teams errors and penalties late in the second quarter. And this is not a team built to dig itself out of holes.

The Ravens aren’t bad. They stifle top receivers, force turnovers and run the ball well when they’re trying to protect a lead. But their downfield passing attack is nonexistent most weeks, they can’t play from behind and their defense is good rather than overwhelming.

That all mixes up to a mediocre stew.

There are plenty of ripe targets on the Ravens’ remaining schedule. They get to play the Cleveland Browns again, and they’ll face the Green Bay Packers, Houston Texans and Indianapolis Colts without their star quarterbacks. Only a Dec. 10 trip to the Pittsburgh Steelers looks daunting on paper.

But they might need to go 6-1 to guarantee a wild-card spot, and that’s a daunting ask for a team with as many flaws as virtues.

2) The Ravens tried to give Breshad Perriman a star turn, and it didn’t work.

Every week now, we hear teammates and coaches say Perriman needs just one stellar game to unlock his vast potential. And the Ravens did their determined best to give him that confidence boost in Tennessee.

Flacco took a deep shot to Perriman on the first drive, but Perriman could not shake his defender and only got one hand on the ball. Flacco tried it again on the second drive and the ball bounced off Perriman’s hands, caromed and landed in the arms of Titans safety Kevin Byard.

Perriman was hit just as he was trying to make the play, and if this were a one-time thing, we could shrug it off. The trouble is he never seems to win those battles in traffic. He simply hasn’t translated his remarkable physical traits — teammates still marvel at Perriman’s practice feats — to brilliant plays Sunday afternoon.

It’s a shame because Perriman badly wants to live up to the first-round draft pick the Ravens used on him. As harshly as fans criticize him, he’s perhaps harder on himself.

At some point, and it might come after this season, the Ravens are going to stop giving him chances.

We’ve talked often this season about how they don’t consistently embrace their adventurous side on offense. Marty Mornhinweg acknowledged as much last week when asked to assess his team’s bi-polar performances.

The Ravens tried to be bold against the Titans, with Perriman as their avatar. But attitude and game plan aren’t enough. They need star power.

3) The Ravens don’t have enough margin for error to survive a string of gaffes.

All season long, we’ve seen how badly the Ravens struggle when they’re trying to make up a multi-touchdown deficit.

They put themselves in that position against the Titans with a sequence that defied belief.

It all started with an excellent punt by Sam Koch and a sharp special teams tackle by Chris Moore that stuck the Titans at their own 30-yard line. Nice, right?

Except rookie Tyus Bowser wiped the play out with an illegal-formation penalty.

Then Koch, one of the most reliable players on the team, shanked his follow-up punt off the side of his foot. The Titans suddenly had the ball at the Ravens’ 26-yard line, an incredible 44-yard swing.

The defense did its job, however, and the Ravens were all set to escape their nightmare sequence by holding Tennessee to a field goal. Instead, linebacker Za’Darius Smith just had to lay a hand on Mariota as the Titans quarterback was stumbling out of bounds.

The roughing call on Smith was questionable. He didn’t hit Mariota with any force. But he didn’t need to touch him at all, and that tiny lapse gave Tennessee an extra three points.

The 15-yard penalty set up a touchdown that put the Ravens down 10 going into halftime. They haven’t overcome such a deficit all season, and despite a spirited effort in the second half, they didn’t Sunday.

4) The Titans exploited the middle of the Ravens’ offensive line.

The line has not been the disaster some feared it might become when Marshal Yanda went down in Week 2.

Left tackle Ronnie Stanley reminded us of his understated toughness when he returned to the game after reinjuring his bad right shoulder against the Titans. Right tackle Austin Howard has delivered the sound play the Ravens coveted when they signed him. And center Ryan Jensen has exceeded expectations, becoming an above-average NFL starter.

The iffier blockers are guards Matt Skura and James Hurst and any tight end not named Nick Boyle (who was inactive Sunday with a toe injury).

The Titans, especially defensive tackle Jurrell Casey, exploited those weak spots, pressuring Flacco up the middle a few times and more importantly, holding the Ravens to 3.3 yards a carry on 22 rushing attempts.

Hurst actually played a decent game, but Skura struggled and Jensen didn’t perform up to his usual level.

It’s not as if the Ravens have a lot of choice here. They’d prefer to have Yanda and Alex Lewis at guard and use Hurst and Skura as versatile back-ups. But they won’t have that option until next season.

5) We saw the great and the not-so-great of C.J. Mosley.

Mosley has grown into one of the league’s best run defenders, a fact he reinforced with several thudding hits near or behind the line of scrimmage against the Titans.

Tackle numbers can be misleading, but Mosley hasn’t merely been wrapping up ball carriers five and six yards down the field. He’s derailing drives.

On the other hand, the Ravens have struggled against tight ends all season, and Tennessee’s Delanie Walker killed them with five catches on five targets, including a big one against Mosley on the Titans’ game-clinching drive.

Mosley isn’t solely to blame for this trend. The team’s other linebackers and safeties Tony Jefferson and Eric Weddle have also struggled to secure the middle of the field at times. But Mosley has been far less consistent in that part of his job than as a run stopper.

It’s interesting because he was often superb in coverage as a younger player, and he’s certainly smart enough and mobile enough to thrive there.

Mosley is already a very good linebacker, capable of making the Pro Bowl in any given season. But he needs to improve his play against tight ends to become of the NFL’s premium defenders.

childs.walker@baltsun.com

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