A 30-9 victory over a quality opponent does not drastically change the concerns that have been apparent since training camp. But the victory does speak to the resolve and dedication of this team.
This week’s reality assessment will continue to assess perceptions, realities, and emerging trends within this young Raven season.
Through the first three games, Joe Flacco is putting up pedestrian statistics: a 60.5% completion percentage, 3 touchdowns, 2 interceptions, a QB rating of 80.0, and a QBR of 48.6. Yes, those statistics would indicate that Flacco has little to do with the season’s first two wins.
Reality: Some statistics don’t tell the whole story. Here is an interesting stat, per Pro Football Focus: yards in air of dropped passes. Joe Flacco has 122 yards, second only to Tom Brady, who has 129 yards. Colin Kaepernick is third with 96 yards.
The Ravens have little in terms of a running game, several new players at key skill positions, and an offensive line that is now struggling in all phases of the game. Yet one statistic that I believe is instrumental to the success of a quarterback is 3rd down conversion percentage. The Ravens are eighth in the league with a 44.4 percent conversion rate on third down. Flacco is putting the team in good positions to succeed, and he is, for the most part, keeping drives alive.
Obviously, the Ravens struggled at the start of the Houston game—consecutive three and outs. However, for most of the first half, they were pinned in their own territory with little breathing room and very little opportunity to sling around the ball. But the opening drive of the second half, when they had decent field position, Flacco got aggressive and started pushing the ball downfield.
Flacco is undoubtedly holding the offensive ship together, unlike few could. Like Tom Brady in New England (who is in a similar situation with new skill players), the stats aren’t pretty but the wins are all that matter. I love Flacco’s quote on Sunday, and I feel that he is right on the money. “We are a young team. We have a lot of new guys, and we were thin at the running back position today. We are going to have some growing pains throughout the first couple of weeks. I have said all along, the biggest thing will be can we win while we have those? So far, the last two weeks, we haven’t played great, but we’ve managed to win football games against two pretty good football teams.”
Run Offense is Still a Major Concern
For the third game in a row, the offensive line was pushed around and had a hard time establishing the run. The run game averaged a whopping 2.4 yards per carry.
Reality: I will be re-stating this until things change: the offensive line play is a major concern. Gino Gradkowski is struggling; he finds himself in the backfield quite a bit. While that was somewhat expected because he is a first-year starter, Kelechi Osemele’s struggles were quite unexpected. His feet look slow, causing him to lunge and lose his base. In his sophomore season, he has not taken the steps forward that most assumed he would.
On the season, the run game is averaging a paltry 2.6 yards per attempt—right there with the likes of the Jacksonville Jaguars. Bryant McKinnie and Michael Oher are major offenders; they both are rated extremely low according to Pro Football Focus. Even Marshall Yanda, a stalwart, is rated modestly.
How do the Ravens fix this problem? That is a major question moving forward this season. I am not sure if there is a quick fix, because there is little depth on the current roster. The personnel is what it is. The talent is there—the line played well together last year. In addition, they have closed out the last two games with impressive clock-managing drives. So, there is hope, albeit minor glimpses of it.
Defense is Championship Material
A resounding defensive performance against a balanced Houston Texan team puts the Ravens defense back on track and connects their lineage to other great Raven defenses of the past.
Reality: This was an impressively dominating performance, no doubt about it. I think we saw a glimpse of what many hope this defense will become. That being said, it is only week three, and just two weeks removed from being dismantled by Denver.
There are still many new parts being integrated into the defensive scheme. Coordinator Dean Pees is still identifying players’ strengths and weaknesses, and he is creating definitive roles for each of them to maximize the apparent depth. The team must overcome injuries (Arthur Brown, Chris Canty, and we haven’t even seen Brandon Williams), rebuild players’ confidence (Michael Huff, Corey Graham, and Chykie Brown), refine technique issues in the secondary, and tighten coordination between the linebackers and safeties so that the middle of the field can be properly patrolled.
Before we pop the champagne (emphasis on champagne—Sweet Pea!) and talk about another dominant Ravens defense, let’s keep it in perspective. The Ravens shut down an inept Browns squad, and a struggling (yet balanced) Texans squad that squeaked out two wins prior to last week (they could/should be 0-3). However, if the Ravens defense builds on this game and continues to jell, it may reach its goal of becoming a dominant defense. According to Terrell Suggs, "It's just Week 3, it's a long season. It's just another game."
Leadership Issues are Troubling (Incident: Sweet Pea)
The McKinnie birthday bash (emphasis on bash—Sweet Pea!) is an example of the Ravens lacking leadership now that Ray Lewis, Ed Reed, Matt Birk, and others have departed the team.
Reality: Hogwash. As I stated in July in my very first blog post, the Ravens have very strong leaders in Flacco, Torrey Smith, Vonta Leach, Suggs, Lardarius Webb (very underrated), and Haloti Ngata. James Ihedigbo has emerged. Not to mention newcomers in Daryl Smith, Dallas Clark, Brandon Stokley, and Chris Canty. There are leaders everywhere!
Did Ray and Ed coral Chris McAlister in his Raven days? Nope. Did a younger Suggs always report in shape and did he always stay out of trouble? Nope. How about David Reed and Sergio Kindle? Nope and nope. Mike Preston hit the nail on the head in this article—go read it.
People make stupid decisions, regardless if the so-called leaders are present. No “leader” can control everything and everyone. Furthermore, can leaders be omnipresent? McKinnie, Jones, and others made stupid decisions—plain and simple.
This leadership “issue” is lazy reporting by an uninformed national media. Meanwhile, it is another opportunity for Ray Lewis to shine the spotlight on himself. In his famous words, “The bottom line,” the Ravens have maturity and leadership where it counts.