I agree with Terrell Suggs, via the Baltimore Sun, “I don’t know. You will have to look at the tape. Actually, you could burn the tape. It’s not even worth looking at.” Yes, I agree. Burn the game tape.
What could be learned from this game that we haven’t already known about the Ravens? Their lackluster play and unpreparedness didn’t really change the fact that the team couldn’t run the ball, the pass rush was nonexistent, the quarterback couldn’t find open receivers (when they actually got separation), the middle of the field was a wide open canvass for the opposing team’s quarterback to work, and the offensive play-calling was unimaginative. Outside of the recent disappearing pass rush, these things have been true for the entire season.
What a disappointment that the Ravens chose to play their worst game of the season when the most was on the line. They controlled their own playoff destiny, were playing a team that was atrocious on defense, and should have matched up well against the Patriots’ offense. And what happened? They looked flat, confused, overmatched, and outwitted on the sidelines.
Now next week, the Ravens need to win in hostile Cincinnati (undefeated at home this year) and receive help from the Dolphins, Chargers, and/or Steelers.
Here is this week’s Reality Assessment, where we examine a hot topics stemming from the previous game, and explore a couple of angles that have not been overly discussed.
Joe Flacco has never been a highly accurate thrower, as he has posted completion percentages from 2012 through 2008 of 59.7 percent, 57.6 percent, 62.6 percent, 63.1 percent, and 59.9 percent, respectively. This year he has a 58.9% completion percentage, which ranks towards the bottom of the league. You can attribute a somewhat low percentage due to the fact that he takes many deep shots down the field which are low percentage throws to complete. But clearly, he is not the most accurate thrower in the NFL.
But, therein lies the problem. One reason the Ravens have been a disappointment on offense this year is because Flacco has struggled the most when he throws the deep ball. According to Pro Football Focus, he has a 27.7 accuracy percentage of his deep passes (PFF’s accuracy percentage metric analyzes passes that travel 20 or more yards, and factors in dropped passes, spikes, throw aways, batted passes, and passes thrown when being hit). This is a truly abysmal statistic and when juxtaposed against last year when he had a 40.2 accuracy percentage you can see why the offense is not what it was last year.
Other than his rookie year, Flacco has been one of the league leaders in attempts when attempting passes beyond 20 yards, but he has been mostly middle-of-the-pack with regards to PFF’s accuracy percentage. Below is a chart showing Flacco’s overall standard completion percentage and his accuracy percentage on deep passes, according to Pro Football Focus.
While Flacco’s knee injury certainly affected how he stepped into his throws against the Patriots (especially in the first half), the deep game has been a limitation of the Ravens’ offense all year. Until rhythm, timing, and accuracy improve, this part of the Ravens’ offense will be stuck in neutral.
The Ravens Were Belichick-ed, or Were They?
The coaching disparity in this game was vast, wide, and deep. The Ravens looked unprepared, stagnant, predictable, unimaginative, dazed and confused. No stone was unturned by the Patriots, as they whipped the Ravens in all three phases of the football game.
Running almost exclusively on first down? Check. Throwing almost exclusively on third down? Check. A meaningless field goal attempt when trailing by three scores early in the fourth quarter? Check. Leave the middle of the field virtually undefended to a team that has no speed on the outside? Check. Empty backfield on third and short, and fourth and short? Check. Sacks, interceptions, fumbles, and penalty yards galore? Yup, check, uh-huh, and you betcha.
Actually, Belichick didn’t need to out-coach the Ravens in this game; the Ravens’ themselves took care of that for him. As opposed to last year’s AFC Championship game, the Ravens made no adjustments to their gameplan and simply plodded forward with the predetermined gameplan.
If the reports are true from the Baltimore Sun’s Mike Preston, then the Ravens need to re-evaluate and re-assess the strengths of this current team on offense. The reality assessment is that this is a vastly different team than last year’s Ravens team. Unlike last year, the offensive line is a weakness, the run game is atrocious, and there has been no overall continuity. Flexibility, not rigidness, is more appropriate when a team struggles to excel in one area of offense.
The Ravens need to show the Cincinnati Bengals, and if they are lucky the playoff teams, that they are creative, that they are willing to go against the norm, and that they can be unpredictable.
The Battle of Attrition: Pass Rush vs. Run Game
What has a better chance of taking place first, some sort of a semblance of a running game or the re-emergence of a pass rush?
Good news: If the Ravens make the playoffs, only two of the playoff teams (the Cincinnati Bengals and Denver Broncos) have what one would consider to be strong run defenses. The Ravens had success against a stout run defense, the Detroit Lions which are a top five run defense in the entire NFL.
Bad news: Outside of the Chicago Bears, the Ravens have struggled against pathetic run defenses, including the New England Patriots. Plus, they need to beat one of the stoutest run defenses in the AFC, the Bengals, to get into the playoffs.
Good news: The Ravens started off the season hot when getting after the quarterback. The top sack leaders of the Ravens—Terrell Suggs, Elvis Dumervil, Daryl Smith, and Art Jones—combined for 24 sacks through the first nine games.
Bad news: The foursome, that is no longer fearsome, has a combined 4.5 sacks since the ninth game. Smith leads the bunch with 2.5 sacks.
Let’s face it, the run game isn’t happening—it has been a train-wreck all season. Health, inexperience, scheme confusion, and overall talent have held back this group. Nothing is going to change that.
The pass rush has the talent, its health is returning, and they have the creativeness scheme-wise to return to early-season form.
The verdict says that the pass rush has a better chance of resurfacing this season (duh). The Ravens will need it to be in early-season form this week as the Bengals have numerous receiving weapons. Getting to quarterback Andy Dalton is a must.
This rout by the Patriots will be a similar wake-up call as was the Denver Broncos rout last year in week 15. The Ravens rarely lay two eggs in a row. I am not saying that a win is a guarantee, but I do expect a focused and determined team to show up in Cincinnati.
If the Ravens beat the Bengals, they will make the playoffs. The New York Jets, in Rex Ryan’s possible last game as the Jets’ coach, will knock off the Miami Dolphins and their injured quarterback Ryan Tannehill—that is a guarantee.