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Eisenberg: The Appropriate Time To Panic

Posted Sep 14, 2013

In the long run, a road loss to Peyton Manning won’t be a glaring concern. But a home loss to the Browns?

There’s no Gallop or Pew research backing my thoughts here, but monitoring the conversation that has unfolded in Ravenstown since the season opener in Denver, I would say the prevailing reaction to the Ravens’ 22-point loss has proceeded along these lines:

In the 24 hours immediately after the Thursday night debacle, there was a lot of hair-on-fire panic, climbing out on ledges and predicting the darkest of doom for 2013.

By last Sunday night, when the Ravens surprisingly landed in a tie for first place in the AFC North after the other three teams in the division also lost, less hair was spewing smoke and the ledges were starting to clear.

As this Sunday’s home opener against the Cleveland Browns has neared, widespread pessimism has given way to a cautiously hopeful attitude along these lines: Denver was one game, one very bad game, but a long season lies ahead and the Ravens’ track record suggests they’ll still be playoff contenders.

The panic has subsided, in other words, as well it should in mid-September before the team has played even one regular-season home game.

No, time has not healed all of the cracks in the public’s confidence in the team, and rightfully so. The Ravens have a lot to prove on both sides of the ball in the wake of Denver. Is their secondary better than it showed that night? Does Joe Flacco have enough viable receiving targets to float a substantive passing game? Is the offensive line solid? Those are just some of the major questions that need more positive answers starting Sunday if the Ravens are going to make their usual run.

But I get the sense that, pregame blather aside, the Ravens expect a more optimistic view of 2013 to begin to crystallize starting Sunday. How can they not expect that? Although their games with the Browns are always hard-hitting and usually close until late, the Ravens have won 10 in a row. The last time they lost to Cleveland, Matt Elam was 16 years old and Flacco was a BMOC at Delaware.

Yes, the Browns have some things going for them this season after undergoing yet another regime change. With a new set of coaches in charge, their defense is showing some pop, and with time, their offense could develop under Norv Turner.

But they opened their season with a crashing thud last Sunday, losing at home to the Miami Dolphins.  And road warriors they are not. They’ve lost 14 of their past 15 games away from home.

If the schedule gods were guilty of taking from the Ravens with that tough opener in Denver (I know, long story, let’s not go there), the gods are giving back this week with Cleveland’s well-timed visit offering the Ravens the chance to re-establish some normalcy. That’s why last week was too soon to panic – the ebb and flow of a long season tends to work favorably for consistent winners such as the Ravens.

But if the Ravens somehow lose again Sunday, dropping their record to 0-2, well, that would be the appropriate time to panic.

In the long run, a road loss to Peyton Manning and the vengeful Broncos won’t get marked as a glaring debit on the Ravens’ ledger. It was a tough spot, the Broncos favored by a touchdown, and while the Ravens debunked such odds throughout the 2012 playoffs, they aren’t always going to do that.

A home loss to the Browns on Sunday would be another matter, putting the Ravens at 0-2 for only the fourth time in their 17-year history, with the other three occurrences coming in 1999, 2002 and 2005 – seasons that, ahem, did not end with Baltimore in the playoffs.

Avoiding that kind of hole is what Sunday is all about along with re-establishing familiar aspects of the team such as a tough running game and stout defense. That’s what I’m expecting to see, and if things go as planned, it would set up a Week 3 matchup with the Houston Texans that could be quite telling.

If all does not go as planned, space on the nearest ledge could be impossible to find.


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