Let’s say you’re a football genie, able to make one wish come true for your team. Which of the Ravens’ problems would you snap your fingers and fix?
The leaky pass defense? The home/road disparity? The intermittent offensive outages?
Those are all important, but I would fix the run defense, currently ranked No. 28 in the league.
Of all the issues that have surfaced while the Ravens have won six of their first eight games to start 2012, their inability to stop opposing running backs figures to cause the biggest headaches going forward.
Sure, the offense’s problems also could wreak havoc. Sunday’s mystifying 30-minute drought without a first down almost turned a win into a loss in Cleveland. The run of stalled drives was the product of an array of different breakdowns – a missed block here, a penalty there, a dropped pass here, another missed block.
But take a closer look at the offense’s numbers. Even though its up-and-down play has caused plenty of consternation both within and outside the organization, the Ravens are still ranked in the top half of the league in both rushing and passing. They have scored over 20 points in every game but one.
In other words, while the offense might not be steamrolling every defense, as some thought it might, it is still doing enough to win most games. On Sunday, for instance, while it maddeningly blacked out for half the game, it also put together touchdown drives of 70, 86 and 65 yards. That was enough to win.
The defense isn’t playing at the same level against either the run or pass. It is ranked No. 22 in the latter category, a forbidding figure considering the elite quarterbacks looming on the schedule – both Mannings, Big Ben twice, Philip Rivers.
But woes against the run are the unit’s most pressing concern.
After allowing another hundred-yard game to Cleveland’s Trent Richardson Sunday, the Ravens are yielding an average of 139.5 yards per game on the ground. That’s an astounding 47 yards more yards per game than a year ago, and almost 20 more yards per game than the Ravens have ever yielded on average in a season.
The Ravens have truly gone from the penthouse, No. 2 in the league against the run last year, to, well, whatever the bottom represents. And it’s causing problems.
Stopping the run has been job one for the defense going back to when Marvin Lewis was in charge here. For years, the Ravens have lived off the theory that you were halfway home if you could stop your opponents in one phase and make them one-dimensional.
But the opposite has been true this year as Richardson, Kansas City’s Jamaal Charles and Dallas’ DeMarco Murray and Felix Jones have gashed the Ravens on the ground. Opposing offenses have seldom been in third-and-long situations or under heavy pressure. It’s no wonder they’ve prospered. Smooth sailing on the ground has made it easier to pass.
If I’m a genie with one fix to apply, I couldn’t impact the Ravens’ prospects more than by bringing some mettle back to the run defense. It would immediately help the pass defense, too.
But of course, no genie is going to bail the Ravens out. They’re going to have to do it themselves, find a way to get better at stopping the run.
It isn’t going to be easy.
The good news is they did improve as Sunday’s game unfolded. Richardson gained just 29 yards in the second half after picking up 76 in the first half.
One way or another, the Ravens need to make the fix. The impact on the team’s overall level of performance would surprise you.