Having lost three straight, the Ravens (4-5) have issues. The bye week gives them extra time to fix them.
Here are five areas the Ravens will address during their break, needing a strong November and December to make the playoffs:
It has dropped off significantly since the franchise-record 11-sack performance against Tennessee. Baltimore has two sacks over the last three games, all of them defeats. Sack numbers alone don’t always tell the story, but the Ravens aren’t getting enough pressures or hits on quarterbacks either. It’s hard to stop NFL offenses if you don’t pressure the quarterback, particularly if that quarterback is Drew Brees, or Cam Newton, or Ben Roethlisberger.
To negate Baltimore’s pass rush, quarterbacks are taking shorter drops and throwing quickly, and the Ravens have been unable to counter.
“It’s the last few games,” Ravens Head Coach John Harbaugh said. “I think people are game-planning us that way.”
The bye week comes at a good time for pass rushers carrying a heavy load like Terrell Suggs, Za’Darius Smith and Tim Williams, who has an ankle injury. Outside linebacker Matthew Judon had a strong game against the Steelers, one which the Ravens hope he will build on down the stretch.
However, the best way for the Ravens to ignite their pass rush is to force opponents into more obvious passing situations – second-and-long, third-and-long. That’s when the Ravens can attack quarterbacks like they were earlier in the season.
This goes hand-in-hand with the pass rush. The Ravens are giving up too many yards on the ground, particularly on first down and in the red zone. James Conner of the Steelers gashed Baltimore for 107 yards rushing Sunday. Against Carolina the week before, Baltimore gave up a 12-yard touchdown run to Newton, and an 11-yard TD run to Christian McCaffery.
It’s a combination of the Ravens not getting enough inside penetration, and linebackers not holding the edge or pursuing fast enough. Harbaugh has talked about the bye giving players a chance to get their lets back and find an extra burst. The Ravens need that. They won’t return to playing solid defensive football unless their run defense improves.
“The last few teams have done a pretty good job running the ball,” inside linebacker C.J. Mosley said. “That’s a trademark of our defense, stopping the run.”
Consistent quarterback play
In four games when Joe Flacco has a quarterback rating above 90.0, the Ravens are 3-1. When Flacco’s rating is below 90.0, the Ravens are 1-4.
Flacco’s performance is impacted by other things like pass protection and support from the running game. However, several subpar performances by Flacco have been costly. He struggled during the loss against Cleveland in Week 5, when Crabtree’s fourth-quarter drop in the end zone cost the Ravens a chance to salvage an ugly win.
On Sunday, Flacco had Michael Crabtree open for a touchdown and made a poor throw. Flacco didn’t see Lamar Jackson wide open for an easy touchdown, throwing an incompletion over the middle instead. Jackson was the last option in Flacco’s progression on that play, but it was a missed opportunity.
“It’s a left-to-right read all the way across the field,” Harbaugh said. “If he’d have gotten to that, it would have been touchdown. I’m sure Joe would have liked to have gotten to that. … He just missed the shake route to ‘Crab’. That would have been one that he would have wanted to make.”
Harbaugh says he wants Jackson on the field more, which means the rookie quarterback must be consistent as well. Jackson must make accurate throws when receivers are open, and he must avoid turnovers. Harbaugh was not happy that Jackson and Gus Edwards fumbled an option exchange Sunday. Edwards recovered the ball, but Harbaugh blamed the miscue on Jackson.
“That was bad technique,” Harbaugh said. “He’ll tell you that. He pulled it late. He should have just given it there, but he just wasn’t sure, and he pulled it late. Fundamental thing that he can fix like that [snaps his fingers].”
Jackson is growing as a quarterback, but neither he nor Flacco have much margin for error over the last seven gam
Creating more explosive plays
Opponents have rolled deep coverage toward wide receiver John Brown in recent weeks, taking away the long passes he was catching earlier this season. In three of the past four games, Brown has been held to 28 yards or less. four of the last five games, Brown has been held to 58 yards or fewer in pass receptions. The lone exception came against New Orleans in Week 7, when Brown broke loose for seven catches and 134 yards.[period]
The Ravens have become more methodical offensively, unable to flip the field with momentum-changing plays. They also haven’t been able to find a counter when teams focus on Brown, as Michael Crabtree and the tight ends haven’t emerged enough to pick up the slack.
Lack The lack of a consistent running game has made the Ravens’ offense one-dimensional. No team in the NFL has attempted as many passes as Baltimore (391), in part because the Ravens’ rushing attack has struggled. Meanwhile, Flacco has averaged just 5.6 yards per completion, third-lowest of his career.
Settling for field goals has frustrated the Ravens’ offense recently. Baltimore set an NFL record by scoring touchdowns on its first 13 red-zone trips this season. Since then, the Ravens’ red-zone efficiency has dropped dramatically, including Sunday when they scored just one touchdown on four trips.
The Ravens upgraded their offensive talent this season, adding Crabtree, Brown and Willie Snead IV, rookie tight ends Mark Andrews and Hayden Hurst, and a multi-threat quarterback in Jackson. Last week, they acquired versatile running back Ty Montgomery. The weapons are in place to be more efficient in the red zone. Considering the high-scoring opponents remaining on their schedule, the Ravens must be more consistent on offense to win.
“We have to score more points, get more yards, especially score in the red zone,” Harbaugh said. “We were scoring in the red zone really well early in the year, and that has dried up. That has really hurt us.”