Many fans are ready to throw in the towel on the season. Really? It’s week one! The Ravens played an emotionally charged Denver Broncos team, on national television, and stared across at arguably one of the best quarterbacks to ever play the game.
I have to be honest; this outcome was not a total shock to me whatsoever. I thought the Ravens could have pulled off the upset, had hoped they would at least keep it close, but a blowout by Denver was very likely. There were just too many factors going against the Ravens on this tough opening game.
Where do the Ravens go from here? Let’s examine key elements of the game and assess the reality of what it means moving forward.
I am a bit surprised I haven’t heard an abundance of something along the lines of, “$120.6 million bust!!” Obviously, Joe Flacco had an up-and-down game. His line was not that great: 34 of 62 passing attempts (55%), 362 yards passing, two touchdowns, 2 interceptions, and a QBR of 69.4. But you have to look beyond the stats.
When he had time to throw, Flacco picked apart the Bronco defense. At the same time, he made some very questionable decisions. The throw across his body into double coverage was terrible. The second interception was poor—he locked onto Ray Rice pre-snap and was throwing to him no matter what. Why, Joe, why?! The first interception could have led the receiver a bit more, but that was just a great play by Chris Harris.
Flacco is not going to morph into the best quarterback into the league. But as I stated this off-season, he will continue to progress. Had he received significant help from anyone other than Torrey Smith and Marshal Yanda, his efficiency, and possibly the outcome, would have much different.
Reality: While he was far from spectacular, Flacco was not to blame for the mess the other night. The receiver situation and offensive line need to drastically improve, and if/when they do, I believe we will see an uptick in proficiency from Flacco. Which brings me to…
The Offensive Line is Becoming a Concern
All things considered, the line pass protected well. They gave up four sacks, but the ball was put in the air 62 times. A couple of sacks were coverage sacks, and at least one was on Flacco as he rolled right into it.
Rick Wagner was thrown into the deep end when Michael Oher went down with an ankle injury, and he was a bit overmatched. He had moments of effectiveness, and I believe he still may develop into a starting-caliber right tackle, but that was a tough assignment to draw. Flacco’s happy feet on the first passing play after Wagner entered the game showed that Flacco had little confidence in Wagner. I think many people gained an appreciation for Michael Oher after he left the game.
What concerns me most is not the pass blocking, nor the injury to Michael Oher, but the inability to win the battles upfront for the running game. Ray Rice and Bernard Pierce had very little room to run, often getting stuffed behind the line of scrimmage. The backs averaged a paltry 2.8 yards per carry. Not acceptable. On top of that, the Ravens didn’t put much into the game plan—not many stunts, pulls, etc. It was all about beating your man, but that didn’t happen.
Reality: The Ravens’ offensive line needs to play better and establish an effective running game until the passing attack situation becomes clearer. The ineffectiveness we saw in the preseason has carried into the regular season.
Shredder Visits the Secondary, and the Entire Pass Defense Crumbles
Shredder? Ummm, where were Leonardo, Raphael, Michelangelo, and Donatello?
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles aside, the passing defense play was a battle of two halves. The Ravens actually were winning the battle in the first half. They remained in their nickel defense, shut down the Broncos’ running game, and held Manning in check. He attacked the middle of field with great success (I think Julius Thomas is still running free), but the secondary kept the receivers in check.
Then the second half happened. The crossing, stacks, and option routes opened up the outside. The Ravens couldn’t cover anything. Short routes, middle routes, deep routes outside the numbers—everything was open.
Corey Graham, Michael Huff, and Jimmy Smith struggled mightily. Huff took some horrible angles on some plays. Matt Elam looked like a rookie at times, but he had a favorable rating on Pro Football Focus. Only Lardarius Webb and James Ihedigbo had positive games.
Reality: Peyton Manning had an epic, historic game. More specifically, he had an epic second half. Manning shredded the Raven defense to the tune of 462 passing yards and 7 touchdowns. The Ravens’ revamped defense certainly took its lumps and it has many (mostly correctable) issues to fix as it continues to gel together. The concern moving forward is the middle of the field is still wide open (linebackers and safeties), and the secondary needs to work on technique to disrupt the timing on the shorter option routes.
Were the Ravens Ill-Prepared?
This is ludicrous. I’ve seen this written in many publications and it is totally false. The Ravens operated their game plan very well, and they were a dropped pass away from going into the half up 21-14. Instead, they settled for a field goal and a 17-14 lead. All of this while playing without two injured starters.
What the Ravens need to be held accountable for is their lack of adjustments at halftime. Did they really think Manning wasn’t going to adjust? They should have been prepared for the possible counters to their defensive game plan and made those adjustments.
Offensively, once Jacoby Jones went down, the Ravens stopped attacking the middle of the field. Jones had some success with a couple of slants and drags. If Jones had success with this, Marlon Brown could have continued his work attacking the middle of the field because I believe he has the skill set to do this. I think the original game plan was to soften up the Broncos by using the middle of the field early, and then attacking outside the numbers late with the speed of Smith and Jones. They seemed to have lost a bit of their identity when Jones left the game.
Reality: If there is a complaint with this coaching staff, it is that they rarely make necessary adjustments when things are going well. That is when you need to prepare for the other team to make adjustments. They seem to willing to fully embrace the motto, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” That is maddening! This is why last year’s AFC Championship was so refreshing when they completely altered the game plan at halftime. We need to see more of that on both sides of the ball.
There are many national media pundits who are saying some version of, “We told you. Without Ray Lewis and Ed Reed, the Ravens are not as good. Too many veteran players to replace.” Ok. I say it is week one, and while there are some legitimate concerns, there were some positives as well. It is early, and I think there is plenty of time for things to settle themselves and for the Ravens to find an identity as a football team.
Check back after week five. If the Ravens are still getting bludgeoned on defense and the offense is still searching for answers, I will be surprised.