Eisenberg: Ravens' Identity Is Already Pretty Clear

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After the Ravens lost to Oakland Sunday to give them a 3-1 record for the season, Joe Flacco was asked if the team was still trying to figure out "where they are."

"We probably are a little bit," Flacco said. "I wish we weren't."

I get the notion of uncertainty. Even though the Ravens have only lost one game by one point, they've experienced good and bad times on both sides of the ball. That suggests more sorting out is in order before we can pinpoint their identity in 2016.

But honestly, I don't think it takes much guesswork to ascertain what the Ravens are in 2016. I don't know how many wins it will translate into, but I think their identity is already pretty clear.

They're a team that's going to play close, back-and-forth games pretty much every week. Blowout boys, they aren't. All but two of their past 20 games have been decided by no more than one score. If that isn't a clear pattern, I don't know what is.

It's what happens when you're good enough to compete with pretty much everyone, but not dominant enough to win by a mile. Fans want blowouts, but the Ravens haven't won a regular-season game by more than one score since December 28, 2014.

"We'd like to be pretty. Everybody wants to be pretty, but maybe we're just not that pretty," Ravens Head Coach John Harbaugh said after a Week 2 win in Cleveland. "We never really have been. It's never really been our calling card. But we're tough."

Yes, and that's another part of their 2016 identity. Regardless of who, where or how they're playing, they're going to compete hard. Harbaugh was so intent on maintaining that approach during the team's losing 2015 season that it has become ingrained.

If anything is certain about the Ravens, it's that they're always going to give a good effort.

What's their defensive identity? Again, I think we know. They're going to stop the run, or at least not get devoured up front, which forces opponents to have to beat them in the air. That's how Ravens defenses have played for years, and they're back at it in 2016 after falling off the wagon last season. Take away one long run in Cleveland and they're yielding just 2.73 yards per carry.

That puts pressure on the secondary to pull the team through, and it's currently sporting a No. 5 league ranking against the pass, an encouraging sign. But it also has given up important completions, especially against Oakland, which means it could still be a work in progress in terms of the lineup. Stay tuned.

The offense's identity is a perpetual talking point, and given the unit's spotty performance this year, the conversation is louder than ever. But I think the problems lie in execution, not philosophy. It's clear the Ravens are primarily a passing team now, dependent on Flacco and his arm. The days of them relying on a smash-mouth running game are over.

That doesn't mean they won't run the ball. Harbaugh has repeatedly said he wants a solid ground game in 2016, and the positive impact of one was evident in the second half Sunday. But the ground game is now a complementary piece. It hasn't been the offense's signature element for awhile.

Even in 2014, under Offensive Coordinator Gary Kubiak, supposedly a run-first guy, the Ravens ran on 37.7 percent of their snaps – below the league average of 41.7 percent. Their ratio barely changed in 2015 with Marc Trestman as the OC. The Ravens ran on 35.5 percent of their snaps. This year they're at 36.4 percent, pretty much the same balance.

It's who they are, folks.

The Ravens are pass-oriented now because they have a franchise quarterback, and also because the NFL has become a passing league.

"You're going to gain more yards throwing the football. You're going to score more touchdowns and score more points," Harbaugh said recently. "You have to be able to throw the ball in the National Football League; it's just the way it is. You think you're going to go out there and run it 50-60 percent of the time and score any points, it's just not going to happen."

The Ravens' passing game needs work, and that work will continue as they prepare for Sunday's game against Washington. But there's no doubt what they want to do or who they want to be.

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