The Baltimore Ravens enter the Bye Week with four losses in seven games, a disappointing figure for a team trying to become the league’s first back-to-back Super Bowl winners since the New England Patriots in 2003-04.
However, the Ravens are not as far from contenders as their record would show. Three of those losses have come by a combined eight points, as frustrating a statistic that can exist for coaches, players and fans alike. A mix of poor decision-making and execution is what separates the Ravens from the top of the AFC North and their current position, mired in a tie with the lowly Cleveland Browns.
The problems started with a Week 4 loss to the Buffalo Bills. After they rebounded from their Week 1 blowout with two straight wins, the Ravens traveled to Buffalo and promptly decided to throw the ball 50 times. Offensive coordinator Jim Caldwell made these calls in spite of the fact that Joe Flacco was in the midst of possibly his worst day as a pro, as he completed just 50 percent of his passes and threw a career-high five interceptions. In spite of the turnovers, Baltimore still only lost by a field goal, so it is hard not to think what would have happened if they executed a balanced offensive game plan and took the ball out of Flacco’s hands.
The Ravens rebounded from that loss with a win, as Caldwell appeared to learn from his mistakes and re-commit to the running game. Then came the Green Bay Packers. One could excuse this loss if Aaron Rodgers had gone off, but the defense actually contained the superstar quarterback. It was coach John Harbaugh‘s decisions that cost them this one.
The jury is still out on his fourth-and-one call to go for the touchdown that was subsequently denied by the Packers’ defense. That is a gut decision, but in a game where the defenses are dominant (the score was 3-0 at that point), I take the points every time. However, everyone seems to agree on the foolishness of having Flacco drop back to attempt basically a Hail Mary with 20 seconds to go in the half from Baltimore’s own 34-yard line. Flacco was consequently sacked and stripped, and the Packers kicked a field goal as time expired. Add three points from the goal line attempt and take three points from Green Bay with a kneel down, and the Ravens essentially turned a four-point win into a two-point loss.
Harbaugh’s decision came off as similarly desperate the following week against the rival Pittsburgh Steelers. In another defensive battle, Baltimore decided to go for an onside’s kick in a grudge match that historically comes down to a single possession. Harbaugh can at least split the blame with special teams coordinator Jerry Rosburg on this one, as Rosburg’s unit committed two fouls on the failed attempt. Again, Pittsburgh got three points on the misplay, which proved to be the difference as time expired.
Yes, it is impossible to determine the outcomes of these games had they developed differently, but the fact remains that the coaches did not give the Ravens their best chance to win with their decisions. Baltimore’s players certainly have a lot of work to do on their own performance during the Bye Week, but it couldn’t hurt if the staff started to bring its “A” game on Sundays as well.