Changes You'd Love To See During Bye Week
The Ravens' bye week couldn't come soon enough.
It's a golden opportunity to self-scout and implement more significant adjustments that can't be made during a regular week.
This is the first time in the John Harbaugh era that the Ravens are under .500 this late in the season, and the first time a defending Super Bowl champion has a losing record through Week 7 since 2006 (Steelers).
It's not time to write off the Ravens' season, but a "state of emergency" has been declared by leader Terrell Suggs.
"This is sickening, this is disgusting," Suggs said after the game. "It's time for all of us to take a good look at ourselves. … We can't kid ourselves anymore. We got a tremendous amount of work to do."
Here are nine changes you'd love to see once the Ravens come back from their bye week:
*1) ***Play to the offensive strengths, which is explosiveness, not the run game**
"Through seven games, the Ravens' running game has been abysmal, so why expect it to change?" asked CSNBaltimore.com's Clifton Brown. "After the bye, the Ravens must play more to their offensive strengths – Joe Flacco's arm, the speed of their wide receivers, and Ray Rice's ability in open space."
*2) ***Get Rice the ball in open space more often**
"They must get the ball to Rice in open space more often, on flat passes, on screens – whatever it takes," Brown wrote. "Rice looked a little more elusive Sunday, as if his early-season hip injury was becoming less of a problem. After the bye, Rice figures to feel even stronger, and the Ravens have to utilize him in the passing game, because the running game may not get any better."
*3) ***More deep balls, please**
"It was one of the best things the Ravens had going for them in 2012," our own John Eisenberg wrote. "Flacco throws one of the best deep balls in the NFL. Yet the Ravens haven't connected on many this season, or even attempted many. … There's a relatively high risk-reward ratio when you have fast receivers and a big-armed quarterback. I say go for it."
*4) ***Special teams must improve**
Let's review some of the special teams mishaps this season: two blocked punts, Jacoby Jones taken out by his own man fielding a punt, offsides penalty on surprise onside kick and allowing Emmanuel Sanders to get the Steelers in prime position for a game-winning drive. Harbaugh called the latter two mistakes "unforgivable." Wrote Brown: "Harbaugh is a former special teams coach, and the Ravens' performance in that area has to anger him. It has to improve for the Ravens to get better."
5) Make defensive plays in crucial moments
As Drew Forrester of WNST pointed out, two weeks in a row, the Ravens defense failed to get the opponent off the field on its final drive of the game. The unit let the Green Bay Packers run out the clock last week, and on Sunday the Steelers methodically moved the ball and took the final two minutes off the clock, kicking the winning field goal as time expired.
*6) ***Stop allowing time-eating long drives**
The defense has done a solid job in the red zone, ranking second in the league in red-zone percentage. The Steelers' single touchdown Sunday was only the fifth the Ravens have surrendered in 17 red-zone trips. However, the unit is allowing huge chunks of time run off the clock during opponent possessions, giving the offense less opportunities to score. The Ravens only had seven possessions Sunday. "The Ravens defense just can't get the other team off the field without yielding a 12-play, 10-minute drive of some sort," wrote Forrester.
*7) ***No more mental mistakes**
"The mental mistakes are what should really drive Harbaugh and the Ravens crazy," wrote ESPN's Jamison Hensley. False starts, special teams lapses, missed tackles and thoughtless penalties.
8) ***Get off to quicker starts** *After scoring a touchdown in the first quarter of the season opener in Denver, the offense has put up just two field goals in the last six games. "Baltimore continually gets off to slow starts, playing catch-up," wrote Hensley.
*9) ***Stop getting pushed around in the trenches**
The Ravens' offensive run game deservedly gets a lot of attention, but the run defense isn't doing much better. Baltimore gave up 140 rushing yards for the second week in a row. "The Ravens (3-4) can't run the ball and can't stop teams from running it up the gut, which happens when a team gets pushed around," Hensley wrote.
Report: Players Met With Harbaugh
Some of the changes the Ravens made to the blocking schemes may have been influenced by a meeting players had with Harbaugh.
"A team source confirmed before Sunday's game that several players met with coach John Harbaugh after the loss to the Green Bay Packers to address concerns with the running game and hopes to return to last season's blocking schemes," wrote The Baltimore Sun's Aaron Wilson. "The Ravens tried to simplify what they were doing with more of a simplistic blocking strategy utilized last season during a Super Bowl run."
The changes didn't have a big immediate impact on the run game, as Baltimore rushed for just 82 yards, including 14 from Flacco. But the Ravens did have more success than several past games.
Wilson spoke with some offensive linemen and fullback Vonta Leach after the game to get their reaction to the changes.
"We got back to the basics," said Leach, who was rarely utilized as the Ravens didn't use many I-formation sets. "We spread them out a little bit and got some holes going. We need to do even more of that to get things going."
"Whenever you don't have success, you go back to the drawing board and look for answers," added left tackle Eugene Monroe. "That's what we did. It's a never-ending cycle. It may have felt a little better, but it's not enough. We'll get it right."
Osemele Says He Needs Surgery
Second-year offensive lineman Kelechi Osemele has not played as well as he did in his standout rookie season, and his back pains may be the reason for it.
Osemele said he will need offseason back surgery to correct the problem, according to MMQB.com's Robert Klemko.
"Until they fix that disk, it's not going to be 100 percent," Osemele told Klemko.
No surgical procedure is currently planned, reports The Baltimore Sun's Aaron Wilson. Osemele only played one series against the Dolphins in Week 5 due to back spasms.
"He had his back examined thoroughly prior to the season and no surgery was recommended, per the source," wrote Wilson. "Osemele has had an up-and-down season and the source said the player is dealing with some frustrations."
Pierce Says He's 'Banged-Up'
While there has been plenty of injury speculation surrounding starting running back Ray Rice and his slow start to the season, Bernard Pierce has also struggled to get going.
He has aggravated a pre-existing leg injury, according to Wilson, but it doesn't appear serious. The Ravens didn't report serious injuries after Sunday's game.
"It's a little banged-up, but I'll be fine," Pierce told Wilson. "I'll get through it. It's been lingering on the side of my leg."
Rice Looking More Mobile, Healthy
On his longest gain of the day of 13 yards, Rice displayed some elusiveness and burst that we've become accustomed to seeing, showing that he appears to have recovered from the hip injury that plagued him earlier this year.
"There's the Ray Rice we've seen in previous years," tweeted Baltimore Beatdown's Jason Butt.
While Rice still isn't performing up to his normal high standards, it was a step in the right direction.
"Unlike other games where Rice appeared to have trouble moving optimally, he seemed much more mobile and decisive in the open field and even broke through a few tackles and eluded defenders at times," Wilson wrote.
Good News Is Ravens Still Play Bengals Twice
With a last-second game-winning field goal, the Cincinnati Bengals moved two games ahead of the Ravens in the AFC North.
That is a strong lead, but there is still plenty of football to be played, and the top two ranking division rivals still have not faced off against each other this season.
"The Ravens have two games remaining with Cincinnati, on Nov. 10 and the season finale on Dec. 29," wrote CSNBaltimore.com's Ray Frager. "That means they can count on moving ahead of the Bengals by beating them each time.
"What the Ravens don't want to do is fall back and not be in position to win the division. In what already is shaping up as a topsy-turvy AFC this season, who knows what craziness awaits if you fall into the wild-card pool for a postseason berth?"
- @BirkMatt: One thing for certain- players for @Ravens and @steelers will be sore tomorrow. #StillBestRivalry #PureFootball
- @jamisonhensley: Inexcusable. Delay of game after a timeout.
- @PMGleason: Terrell Suggs has now sacked Ben Roethlisberger 16.5 times (including playoffs), the most any NFL defender has dropped the QB. #Ravens
- On a Steelers pass in the third quarter that was ruled a completion. @ryanmink: Don't know why CBS didn't show a replay of that last pass. Looked like it may have bounced. #Ravens coaches rely on that in away stadium.
- @TorreySmithWR: Tough loss...played our butt] off but didn't make enough plays...bye week ahead...[we'll get better and get our minds right for the stretch
- @GerrySandusky: When it goes bad, it goes bad. Problems with the Ravens plane in Pburgh. Waiting for another plane to arrive. Loooooong night in Pittsburgh.
- @AKinkhabwala NFL Network’s Aditi Kinkhabwala]: CB William Gay said [no way is Ravens-Steelers dead. "Nobody left early. Go check - there might still be fans in those seats."
- @AKinkhabwala: Ben Roethlisberger on Steelers' creative play calling: "We all put our heads together and we came up w/ some fun, funky plays."