Eisenberg: Ravens' No. 1 Problem Is Not What You Think It Is


In case you missed it, there was some really on-point big-picture analysis of the Ravens' 2016 season from safety Eric Weddle after Sunday's loss to the New York Giants.

He said the team could easily be 6-0. Or 0-6. Or 5-1. Or 2-4. Basically, any permutation of wins and losses that adds up to six.

It's true. The Ravens' games have all been close, back-and-forth affairs decided in the final minutes. They won three in a row to start the season, and now they've lost three in a row. But with just a few plays and bounces going the other way, they could have started with three straight losses, followed by three straight wins.

That's pretty weird, and I get the feeling the trend will continue. The Ravens have enough going for them that they can give themselves a chance to win on most Sundays. But they also have a penalty habit, mounting injuries and enough issues that they can't put teams away and end up letting some games slip away.

If my Twitter feed is any measure, some fans are ready to give up on the season after Sunday's loss. I get the frustration, but the fact that the Ravens won three games by a combined 13 points and now have lost three by a combined 11 points tells me this is a fluid situation. Things could go either way.

I think there's one area in particular the Ravens could address to improve their chances in close games. Their No. 1 problem isn't penalties, injuries, or decision-making. It's failing to finish drives and put the ball in the end zone. They're settling for field goals way too often.

Look at the numbers. In six games, the Ravens have scored just 10 touchdowns on 74 possessions. Only one other team has reached the end zone fewer times. (The New York Jets have done it nine times and the Ravens play them Sunday, so maybe take the under.)

No matter what else a team is doing right or wrong in games, it simply can't win that often when reaching the end zone on just 13.5 percent of its possessions. That's well below the league average of 21.5 percent (through Week 5, according to Football Outsiders drive data).

It's not that the Ravens aren't moving the ball into scoring position. Even after a defensive meltdown Sunday, they have 31 more first downs than their opponents for the season, 313 more yards from scrimmage and a five-minutes-per-game edge in time of possession. 

But their opponents have scored five more touchdowns, an average of almost one more per game.

Meanwhile, the Ravens' kicker, Justin Tucker, has booted 15 field goals – tied for the second-highest total in the league.

I don't think a picture can get much clearer.  Ravens Head Coach John Harbaugh is taking some heat for eschewing field goals in favor of fourth-down gambles that fail, and again, I get the frustration. I generally favor a "take the points" approach, especially when you have such a money kicker. But if you think that's what's costing the Ravens, please note what the above statistics indicate – the real problem is they're "taking the points" TOO often. They need to get to the end zone instead of falling back on Tucker.

Why can't they finish drives? It's a question that speaks to the general offensive issues that got Marc Trestman fired. Joe Flacco has been off target on some key throws. His receivers have muffed some chances. The play-calling produced a coordinator change. The line has struggled in short-yardage situations. There's been a dearth of consistent playmaking despite the front office's attempt to upgrade that area.

It's telling that the Ravens have converted just 34 percent of their third downs into firsts, putting them at No. 27 in the league, but what's really telling is no team has faced more third downs, period. The Ravens just keep going there, over and over, after not doing enough on first and second downs to move the chains.

There's your classic recipe for continually coming up short before you reach the end zone.

Sure, penalties have played a central role in the three-game losing streak, as have the defensive lapses that peaked Sunday. But even figuring all that in, the Ravens almost surely would win more close games if only their offense reached the end zone on a few more drives. I do believe it's that simple.

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