Heading Into the Bye Week: What Is Wrong With the Ravens?
October 21, 2013 in Observations
With the Baltimore Ravens dropping their second straight game and their third in their last four games, it is clear that there is something wrong with this team.
The defending Super Bowl champions completely remodeled their roster in the offseason to try and avoid the Super Bowl Hangover which has effected so many teams over the last few years. At this point in the season though, this remodeling hasn't worked as the Ravens clearly have some problems.
One thing that is currently going the Ravens way though, is that they have a bye this week. This should allow the team to regroup and fix some of the problems that have plagued them throughout the first seven games of the season.
1. Run Game
Starting off, we have the run game, something that the Ravens are usually one of the best in the league at, but this season, they have major problems.
With 518 rushing yards on the season, the Ravens' attack currently ranks 26th in the league and their 74 yards per game rank 28th in the NFL. However, it gets worse. Gaining a meager 2.8 yards per carry, the Ravens rank dead last in the league in this category and the league leader (the Philadelphia Eagles) average almost double this number with 5.2 yards per carry.
Continuing the with the bad stats, running backs Ray Rice and Bernard Pierce rank 47th and 48th in yards per carry with 2.8 yards per carry each. Who is worse you ask? Well, nobody. The Ravens' two running backs rank as the worst two players (who qualify) in the league for yards per carry.
Last year, the Ravens were 12th in the league in yards per attempt and 11th in yards per game with Rice ranking 15th in yards per carry and Pierce at seventh. So, this problem doesn't extend to last season; this is a brand new problem—and not a good one.
The lack of a running game from the Ravens stems from two issues: a shortage of blocking from the offensive line and the running backs not making defenders miss.
I'll be going into the offensive line more in depth in a minute, but in short, the line has provided almost nothing in terms of running lanes for ball carriers all season, causing them to be taking hits in the backfield constantly. Not exactly a recipe for success.
Not all of the blame can be given to the line though. The running backs need to be able to break tackles and make defenders miss if the team is going to have success running the ball. Yes, the line is struggling to create holes to run through, but even when there are holes, the backs are either not finding them or going down on first contact after running though them.
Against the Steelers yesterday, Rice and Pierce combined for 11 yards after contact, a season low. Eleven. On 21 carries. That means they averaged half a yard after first contact. In other words, they gained 1.5 feet or 18 inches each play after they were first hit. You can gain more than that by falling forwards after contact.
Another problem with the run game is the blocking scheme that is being used. Currently, the Ravens use a zone-blocking scheme which is more of a finesse style and each blocker isn't assigned a specific man.
Last season, this worked just fine for the Ravens, but this year is completely different—as you can already tell from the numbers.
Head coach John Harbaugh has hinted at changing the blocking scheme which is a good sign. This shows that the coaching staff is will to consider changes and isn't fixed to one system.
The current scheme isn't working for the Ravens so a change to a man-blockign scheme would be a good idea at this point. The run game really can't get any worse at this point. Right?
2. Offensive Line
I said I would touch upon the offensive line more in-depth later on, so here it is.
Whether is be pass blocking or run blocking, the Ravens' offensive line has done very little to help quarterback Joe Flacco and the rest of the offense.
Acting as a sieve at times, the line has given up 20 sacks and numerous other pressures, which can be just as bad as sacks. While the Ravens don't lead the league in sacks allowed, I would bet they lead the league in unblocked sacks allowed and unblocked pressure as this seams to happen all the time.
For example, against the Green Bay Packers in week six, the line gave up five sacks. Three of these sacks came from unblocked blitzers.
The source of this problem is communication at the line. Center Gino Gradkowski is responsible for making the blocking calls when the Ravens come to the line-of-scrimmage. When Gradkowski makes the correct calls, the other linemen have to communicate with each other still and have to execute the calls.
Gradkowski, in his second year, took over for the retired Matt Birk this season and has underwhelmed. On numerous occasions, he has allowed unblocked blitzers to run right past him, giving up pressure. Making that even worse is he isn't even engaging another player at the time. While run blocking, he has been pushed around by bigger defenders. This is because he lacks the ideal size for the position but has plus athletic ability. The strong, powerful defensive linemen can push Gradkowski around because of his lack of strength.
Seeing that the offensive line needed a boost, General Manager Ozzie Newsome traded fourth and fifth round picks in this year's draft to the Jacksonville Jaguars for Eugene Monroe, an impending free agent and borderline top-ten left tackle. Monroe replaced Bryant McKinnie, who himself was traded today to the Miami Dolphins for a conditional late round pick. Through two games, Monroe, as expected, has been an upgrade over McKinnie.
The entire Ravens' offensive line has struggled this season after being the chief reason that the Ravens made their Super Bowl run. Despite only one change from that line in the playoffs (Gradkowski at center), the line has failed to regain that form, causing Newsome to make some changes. Even All-Pro right guard Marshal Yanda, a model of consistency and excellence, is struggling right now. That is when you know something is going bad.
Ever since their creation in 1996, the Ravens' have become known for their defense. A hard-hitting, physical, smash-mouth defense that will give up little yardage and allow you to score even less. Along with this, they have excelled at forcing turnovers.
Through their seven games this season, the Ravens' defense has forced nine turnovers, ranking tied for ninth best with in the AFC, with two other teams. Four of these turnovers have come via interceptions and the other five via fumbles.
The two best teams in the NFL right now, the Kansas City Chiefs and Seattle Seahawks, have each forced 19 turnovers; more than double that of the Ravens. Currently, the NFL average for turnovers forced is 10.9; almost two turnovers more than the Ravens have forced.
Not only have the Ravens had trouble taking the ball away, they have had problems holding onto it. With 11 turnovers, the Ravens ranked tied for ninth best in the AFC in giveaways, with one other team this time. Of these 11 giveaways, eight of them are interceptions and three are fumbles.
This makes for 1.5 giveaways per game from the Ravens and only 1.3 takeaways per game. While this may not seem like much, for the season, the Ravens sit at a turnover differential of -2 which is tied for ninth best (again) in the AFC, with two other teams. A negative turnover differential is uncharted territory for the Ravens, especially under Harbaugh, as the last time this happened for the entire season was in 2007, the last season where Brian Billick was the head coach and the Ravens struggled to a 5-11 record.
The good news on the turnover front is that five of the giveaways came in one game—where Flacco threw five interceptions against the Buffalo Bills and he seems to have put that behind him now.
The bad news on the turnover front is that the defense still isn't forcing many turnovers—in wins or losses.
4. Slow Starts
I've touched on this before, but now this is getting insanely awful.
In the first half, the Ravens are averaging 5.6 points per game from their offense. When you take away the 17 points their scored in week one, the Ravens offense is averaging 3.7 points per game in the first half over their last six games.
In these six games, the offense has scored zero, three, seven, six, zero, and six points in the first half. Yes, you just saw that right. Over the last six games, the Ravens' offense has scored one touchdown in the first half of games. One.
Even the Jacksonville Jaguars, the team considered by everyone to be the worst in the league, is doing better than this, scoring 4.2 points per game in the first half since week one.
By scoring so little in the first half of games, the Ravens are digging themselves into a hole early and often.
Five out of the last six games, the Ravens have let the other team score first and hasn't had a led after the first quarter since week one. In these six games, the Ravens have had the lead in the first half for about 10 percent of the time.
This absence of production from the offense in the first half of games is severely hurting the Ravens in games right now and is one of the key reasons why the Ravens sit at 3-4 heading into their bye week.
Reading this, it may look like the Ravens are a doomed team this season, but they are not. Despite these four flaws they are still just one game below .500 and are in second place in the AFC North, two games behind the Cincinnati Bengals.
The Ravens' season is far from being over, but at this point in time, the team has some serious flaws that need to be worked out.