The first five weeks of the Baltimore Ravens‘ season were far from pretty, but at least they kept their heads above water with a 3-2 record. Now a game under .500 after two losses, Baltimore has to figure some things out, and quickly, if they’re Super Bowl defense is going to make it to the playoffs.
First and foremost, the offensive line has to be fixed. It does not matter what kind of playmakers you have on offense, if the quarterback doesn’t have time to throw it and the running backs are getting hit in the backfield, the production will not be there. Unfortunately, this has been all too evident. Despite their Super Bowl MVP Joe Flacco at quarterback, three-time pro bowl running back Ray Rice, and a plethora of young speedsters at wide receiver, they have the league’s 21st-ranked scoring offense.
The good news is that it seems that offensive lines, more than any other unit in football, can be fixed by sound coaching and chemistry. They got rid of big-time headache Bryant McKinnie (traded to the Miami Dolphins) and replaced him with a guy that should be thrilled to be part of a winning pedigree in Baltimore after rotting as a member of the Jacksonville Jaguars.
With an extra week of practice, the hope is that they can coach up Eugene Monroe to create a bookend of protection for Flacco with always-dependable Michael Oher. Then, the coaching will have to work a small miracle with the interior line in order to keep defenders from getting to Rice and Pierce in the backfield.
The coaches will also hope that the extra rest will be just what the doctor ordered for Rice, as he has not looked the like the same back since he suffered an early-season hip injury. Mired in the worst stretch of his career, the Ravens need Rice to get back to pro bowl form for this offense to fire on all cylinders.
The bright spot for the Ravens has been the receiving corps. In an interesting turn of events, this unit came into the season as the biggest question mark for Baltimore after the loss of Anquan Boldin and Dennis Pitta, but it has possibly been the team’s most consistent group, definitely on offense.
Torrey Smith‘s torrid pace has been slowed, as he is still the league’s leading receiver with 629 yards thus far. Week to week, it has been a different pass catcher who has stepped up to complement Smith, whether it has been youngsters Marlon Brown and Tandon Doss, or the ageless Dallas Clark. This unit will hope to get a boost, as Pitta has recently amped up his workouts, and should anticipate a return in mid to late November.
The defense has been solid, but not dominate. Daryl Smith has been a pleasant surprise in the middle, Terell Suggs has enjoyed a hot start to the year, and the secondary has performed admirably as well. The weak link, like the offense, has been in the trenches.
They have let rookie running backs go off for career days in successive weeks, a phenomena previously unheard of in B-More (see: Mendenhall, Rashard). Coach John Harbaugh believes the problem was caused by injuries to Haloti Ngata and Chris Canty, as the duo has played through some nagging blows, but have not been their bull-rushing selves.
The Ravens need to be patched up and ready to go when they come out of their bye. They absolutely cannot afford a loss to the tough but struggling Cleveland Browns in Week 9. After the Browns, Baltimore faces four strong opponents in the Cincinnati Bengals, Chicago Bears, New York Jets and Pittsburgh Steelers.
That five-game stretch will define their season. They have the opportunity to place themselves firmly in the playoff race, or, with three division games, get buried in the AFC North. How they fare will depend on the work they put in now, as film is studied and bones are healed.