Reality Assessment: at Chicago
Weekend at Bernie’s. Home Alone. Die Hard. Speed. Alvin and the Chipmunks (hey, I have kids). Most horror movies.
What do they all have in common? The sequel, and in some cases several sequels, follow the exact same script as the original.
Doesn’t this feel like each and every Ravens game this season?
Each week we see in some form or fashion: a forced pass by Joe Flacco, a terribly timed challenge by John Harbaugh, the defense wilting in crucial situations, a dropped pass by a receiver, aggressive tendencies when caution is more in order, questionable clock management, and a dumb penalty at the inopportune time, and now we can add a blown lead to the list.
Each week, we watch the same thing over and over again. “Look kids, there’s Big Ben and there’s Parliament!” (This movie and its sequels are not to be lumped with the others. Okay, Vegas Vacation doesn’t count.) The game against the Chicago Bears was no different.
Writing the Reality Assessment has been like writing a script to one of these sequels. Let’s see if we can examine a couple of elements that have been hot topics this week, and maybe a couple of angles that have not been overly discussed.
Coaching Quandaries Parts II, III, & IV and Flacco Miscues Parts VI, VII, & VIII
Just like the movies above, Harbaugh’s decision-making process is the same over and over again. How many times do we need to watch the Ravens misplace their aggressive nature? Is third and 16 from your own 22 yard line with a little over a minute left in the half a good time to be aggressive? A seam pass into double coverage? This was a poor decision all around. I don’t care if it was Harbaugh, Jim Caldwell, or Joe Flacco. Someone needs to intervene and put the brakes on plays like this. As a result, a 17-10 lead is cut to 17-13, and the Bears have momentum heading into the locker room.
We have seen the same questionable decisions in other games this year—Buffalo, Miami, and Green Bay come to mind. Now we can add Chicago to the list.
Harbaugh and Flacco haven’t quite learned the fine line of when to keep the foot on the gas and when to play it safe, and it has cost them three games this year.
Has the Run Game Turned the Corner?
In short, no, the run game cannot be declared fixed after one positive outing. That being said, Ray Rice seemed to have more of a burst. According to Pro Football Focus, Rice had 41 yards after contact. And yes, A.Q. Shipley and Gino Gradkowski probably had their best games of the season. In fact, the entire offensive line (outside of Michael Oher) had a stellar day in run blocking. The combination blocks were solid, and Gradkowski and Shipley were consistently getting to the second level.
But let’s keep things in perspective. This was achieved against the 30th-ranked run defense in the NFL. The Bears are atrocious against the run. Moreover, while Rice accumulated 41 yards after contact, he still only averaged 1.6 yards after contact per attempt. This ranks epically low against the league leaders in this category. In fact, this is only .2 yards per attempt better than what Rice has been averaging to date—and he ranks last in the league.
In this week’s game, if the Ravens can muster more than the 73 yards the New York Jets’ league-leading rush defense allows per game, then maybe we can say the run unit has turned the corner.
The Ravens Home Stand Will be Crucial for Their Playoff Chances
Much has been made of the upcoming three-game home stand against the Jets, Steelers, and Vikings. Obviously, a loss in any of these games would be the final nail in the coffin of the 2013 season.
Equally obvious, the Jets and Steelers games are imminently more important because they are the next two on the schedule as well as conference games, which is an important playoff tiebreaker. Plus, the Steelers game is a division game, which is a more important tiebreaker. The Ravens trail the Jets and are tied with the Steelers for the final AFC playoff spot. The Ravens currently have a better conference record than the Jets and the Steelers, but both the Ravens and the Steelers have a .500 record within the division.
While a home sweep would certainly thrust the Ravens back into playoff contention (and a sweep is well within the realm of possibilities), I have contended for most of the season that the Ravens’ playoff hopes hinge on the outcome of the last two games—home against the Patriots and away at the Bengals. Even with a home sweep over the next three games, the playoff quest is far from over.
Because this was a year of massive turnover for the Ravens’ roster, much was expected from the Ravens’ draft class of 2013—especially the picks from the first three rounds. As you will see below, this draft class has not lived up to expectations. Their performance has been another disappointment in the 2013 season.
Elam has been average at best. He has been very good against the run, but he has really struggled in coverage. Hopefully, Elam’s experience will serve him well as he continues to develop.
Brown has been a disappointment. Many expected that Brown would have taken over one of the inside linebacker positions, particularly the weak-side ‘backer position. Daryl Smith’s pleasant surprise season has solidified the strong-side position—Smith has only missed two defensive snaps all season. One would have thought that the rookie Brown could have snatched the weak-side spot, but Josh Bynes and a returning Jameel McClain have held Brown to a small percentage of snaps per game. Brown would rate as average or below average.
I had high hopes for Williams this season, but he may be the biggest rookie disappointment. His athletic ability was talked up greatly all off-season through training camp, but we haven’t seen it translate onto the field that much. I have a hunch that the coaching staff is not pleased with his effort in practice, as DeAngelo Tyson got the nod over Williams, making Williams a healthy scratch on the inactive list for week 10. Tyson’s effort in practice was signaled out as a reason for his promotion to the active list for week 10. Williams would receive a below-average grade.
Simon has only been active for four games, so I would declare this fourth round pick a bit of a bust. I didn’t think he was going to make much of an impact this season, but I had hoped he would prove some value on special teams. He has had limited success; he has an equal number of tackles as penalties on coverage units. Not good.
Umm, the Ravens signed Vonta Leach in late July. However, Juice has been a valuable asset on special teams. So he has that going for him, which is nice…
Active for eight games, Wagner has made his mark as an extra lineman in the Ravens’ jumbo package, mostly for running plays. He has been average.
This was an investment for the future, as Lewis-Moore was an injured draft pick. Let’s hope that he pans out similarly to Arthur Jones, who was drafted in a similar position in 2010. Jones was coming off an injury that caused his draft status to drop. Again, another incomplete grade.
A foot injury has kept Jensen inactive all season. Curiously, Jensen was not placed on IR, so the coaching staff sees the potential for him to make a contribution this season. Not really sure why. Incomplete.
Mellette gets an incomplete because a “phantom” injury caused him to land on IR. However, he showed some promise in training camp, and he will surely be in the mix in next year’s receiver competition.
“J-Lo” was a total bust; he is one of the few recent draft picks to not even make the team out of training camp, and the Ravens loathe giving up on draft picks.
Should Dennis Pitta Return This Year?
I think Pitta will return this year. The Ravens will probably be in contention for the playoffs right up until the end of the season, so they will want/need Pitta’s contributions to the offense. Pitta may want to return because this is his contract year. He may want to prove to the Ravens and to the rest of the league that he has made a successful return from the hip injury.
Of course, if Pitta is feeling any effects from the injury, he would be prudent to shut it down. However, the fact that he is practicing leads one to believe he is intent on making a return this season.
Will Pitta’s return this year have a similar effect to Ray Lewis’ surprise return last year? I doubt it. This team is too flawed at the moment. But, one can hope.
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An avid sports fan, and a passionate Ravens fan. However, I don't always wear the purple-shaded glasses.