Litany of Questions Surround Ravens Offense, But No Quick Fixes Are in Sight
A quarter of the way through the season, the Ravens offense ranks as the NFL's third worst both in average yards per game (269.8) and average points per game (15).
Nobody was panicking after the first two weeks because the defense dominated with an eye-popping 10 forced turnovers and the offense didn't need to produce very much. After nearly getting shutout against the Jacksonville Jaguars, some were willing to call the offensive outing an aberration because of the long trip to London.
But after losing the last two games by a combined 70-16 score, ESPN says it's officially time to hit the panic button.
The Baltimore Sun's Jeff Zrebiec has a hard time seeing where the answers lie.
"[T]his Ravens' offense appears broken," he wrote. "Joe Flacco continues to take a beating behind a patchwork offensive line and even when he's given time, his accuracy and decision making remains poor.
"Talk of change will obviously be a prominent theme all week, but I'm not sure what the Ravens could do at this point that would make a significant offensive impact. Ryan Mallett doesn't give the Ravens a better chance to win than Joe Flacco. There are not quality offensive linemen on the street waiting for jobs. As feared, the offense is threatening to sink a season that seemed promising just two weeks ago."
Flacco was quick to accept responsibility for the loss after throwing two fourth-quarter interceptions and overthrowing a wide open Breshad Perriman for what looked like an easy touchdown.
Flacco extended the NFL's current longest streak of consecutive games with at least one pick to 10. The Ravens quarterback said "I sucked" after the game and added that turning the offense around starts with him.
"But Flacco isn't alone in this second straight flop," wrote ESPN. "Wide receiver Mike Wallace dropped a 30-yard pass. Running back Alex Collins continued to be the offense's biggest playmaker, but everyone holds their breath that he doesn't fumble again. The offensive line failed to hold up in pass protection, allowing Flacco to get hit repeatedly (officially, it was four sacks)."
Reporters asked Jeremy Maclin what the frustration level is. He responded, "It's high" and added that the offense "laid an egg."
"Maclin's frustration boiled over on the sideline in the second quarter when after the Ravens' third three-and-out in a span of four drives, he spiked his helmet and started yelling in the direction of Offensive Coordinator Marty Mornhinweg," Zrebiec wrote.
With 17 players on injured reserve, nine of which are on offense, there doesn't appear to be any quick fixes in sight. Head Coach John Harbaugh was clear about how the Ravens will have to turn things around from here.
"You're not going to make a bunch of changes. You just have to improve," he said. "There were some flashes in there, and we have to build on those things. It's a process. You have to go to work, and you work to improve. We have playmakers out there, and we can put the ball in people's hands. We can run the ball -- we've shown that. We have to eliminate the mistakes and make more plays."
What Should Ravens Do With Alex Collins?
The Ravens face quite the dilemma with running back Alex Collins.
On one hand, he appears to be the most explosive weapon the Ravens have on offense. That showed once again when he busted out a 23-yard gain yesterday on the first play from scrimmage, and later added a 50-yard scamper that set up the Ravens' lone touchdown.
On the other hand, Collins has shown a tendency to fumble. He gave up two fumbles on 31 carries last year with the Seattle Seahawks, and now has another pair on 25 carries this year. Yesterday's fumble led to a quick score for the Steelers.
In the past, Harbaugh has quickly put running backs in the dog house after turning the ball over like that, but he gave Collins another chance Sunday with the offense struggling, and that's when Collins rewarded the decision and went for 50.
Harbaugh made it clear that the leash isn't long for Collins, but many were happy to see him back on the field as he seems to be the biggest spark to the offense at this point.
"It's not crazy to think that Collins could get even more playing time this season if he can continue at this rate and make these types of big plays routinely," wrote USA Today's Lindsay Ok. "However, in spite of his big plays, Collins tends to give up some big plays as well that could come back to haunt him.
"It will be interesting to see if the Ravens risk his tendency to fumble for his production in the future. Baltimore needs all it can get on offense at this point, and Collins should be part of it, even if he makes mistakes."
Ravens 'Surprisingly Nonchalant' About Flacco Getting Pounded
The Baltimore Sun's Childs Walker was surprised to hear left tackle Ronnie Stanley's response about Flacco getting hit often Sunday. Per Walker, Stanley said it's nothing unexpected because football is a physical sport.
Walker called his response "startling" and "surprisingly nonchalant."
"That's true as far as it goes, and Stanley didn't play a bad game individually," Walker wrote. "But I don't know how you watch that performance and come away thinking Flacco had adequate time to do his job.
"The problem is that with starting guards Marshal Yanda and Alex Lewis out for the season, the Ravens are playing at a talent deficit against the better defenses in the league. Jacksonville proved as much last week. With Khalil Mack coming up next week in Oakland, the picture isn't getting prettier."
Flacco was sacked four times and hit six. According to Pro Football Focus (PFF), he saw pressure on 14 of his dropbacks, and had a passer rating of 35.8 on those occasions.
In place of Yanda, a six-time Pro Bowler, the Ravens have been rotating Matt Skura (33.6 PFF grade) and Jermaine Eluemunor (38.4) at right guard.
"Skura took 52 reps at right guard and Eluemunor had the other 17, and both had massive struggles," wrote PFF. "Both posted overall grades under 40.0, in large part because they combined to give up two sacks, two hits and three hurries in pass protection."
Top-Graded Ravens From Sunday
While the Ravens certainly miss defensive tackle Brandon Williams and are counting the days to his return, some of the highest grades given to Ravens players Sunday were interior defensive linemen.
Here are PFF's top-graded Ravens from Sunday:
DT Michael Pierce: 84.6 overall grade
LB Patrick Onwuasor: 84.4
DI Willie Henry: 84.0
T Ronnie Stanley: 83.8
TE Benjamin Watson: 80.3
It's not too surprising to see Pierce grade well, even though he admitted he tried to do too much last week with Williams dealing with his foot injury. He settled in this week and came away with seven tackles.
Seeing Henry grade well is encouraging.
"After seeing his first career snaps last week, Henry put together a better performance in his second outing," PFF wrote. "Henry rushed the passer 16 times, and hit Roethlisberger twice, pressured him once, and batted down two passes, with the second coming on third down to force a punt. The only bad play he really had in the game was jumping offsides and getting called for a neutral zone infraction on third and short to give Pittsburgh a first down."
Steelers running back Le'Veon Bell still gashed the Ravens with 144 rushing yards, but those yards mostly came on the outside where the Ravens had a hard time setting the edge.
"We got beat by a counter-play way too often," Harbaugh said. "It's a counter balance play, and they got outside too many times, and that can't happen."
Bell also got a staggering 35 carries. His 4.1 yards per carry matched the same average he had last week against the Chicago Bears, when he ran 15 times for 61 yards. The Steelers just kept riding him.
Why Didn't Ravens Pay More Attention to Offense in the Offseason?
WNST's Luke Jones says the Ravens can't blame the lack of offense totally on injuries because they didn't do enough in the offseason for that side of the ball to succeed.
"What about improving the offensive personnel that has been lacking playmakers and consistent offensive line play for years?" Jones asked.
Jones pointed out that the Ravens spent big money in March on bringing back Williams, then added defensive backs Tony Jefferson and Brandon Carr. The Ravens used their first four draft picks on defensive players too.
Jones said that the loss of Yanda hurts regardless of who else is on the field, and added that the Ravens did add Maclin and running back Danny Woodhead. He says that wasn't enough, however.
"Perhaps the current state of affairs wouldn't be as frustrating if the Ravens wouldn't continue to neglect their offense on an annual basis, a pattern that began with the decision to trade away wide receiver Anquan Boldin weeks after the Super Bowl in 2013," Jones wrote.
"Yes, you can continue to blame the offensive woes all on the injuries and keep beating up a quarterback who certainly needs to take his share of the responsibility for his poor performance, but offseason decisions stunted this offense's ceiling before the injuries began over the summer. The truth is the focus should have been on that side of the ball from the start while looking to tweak a defense that finished in the top 10 in most major categories a year ago. Sadly, what we're now witnessing isn't all that surprising."
Mike Pereira Explains How Antonio Brown's Catch Turns Into Eric Weddle Interception
It was amusing to watch all the fans and media who were criticizing Harbaugh for challenging the ruling of Steelers wide receiver Antonio Brown's "catch" in the third quarter.
To be fair, Jackson wasn't the only one who was shocked by the ruling. The CBS broadcast announcers were completely fooled too.
For years, how the league defines a catch has been a running joke and continues to be a mystery among most. Luckily, Harbaugh understands the definition and was sharp enough to use it to his advantage Sunday.
For those of you still looking for help understanding the ruling, former Vice President of Officiating Mike Pereira explains it in the FOX video below.
Keep an Eye on Raiders QB Derek Carr This Week
As the Ravens prepare for their trip to Oakland this week, they'll keep an eye on the health status of Raiders franchise quarterback Derek Carr.
Carr left Sunday's game against the Denver Broncos with about five minutes remaining in the third quarter after he was sandwiched between two Broncos defenders for a sack. He spent time in the medical tent before heading to the locker room and he never returned.
"I think he just got roughed up there. He got tackled. Something causes his back to spasm up," Raiders Head Coach Jack Del Rio said after the game. "I didn't see much that would indicate the he would be injured. His back spasmed up."
Like the Ravens, the Raiders are sitting at 2-2 a quarter of the way through the season. Oakland came into the season as a popular Super Bowl pick after signing Carr to a $125 million contract, paying out big dollars for a sturdy offensive line and adding running back Marshawn Lynch.
"The Raiders still have a long way to go and did not want to risk Carr's injury turning into something more significant," wrote NFL.com's Conor Orr. "Having seen life without the $125 million man in the playoffs a year ago, Oakland is going to do anything to ensure his long-term health.
"So it goes for Del Rio, who will exercise patience and caution with Carr all the way. When it comes to the face of the franchise, there is no other option."
Terrell Suggs Coming Out of Tunnel in Bane Mask Is Worth Re-Watching
We know the game was bad. We've thoroughly reviewed several of those aspects.
But does that mean we have to deny ourselves the pleasure of re-watching outside linebacker Terrell Suggs coming out of the tunnel in his "Bane" mask?
I think not.