Biggest Concerns Facing the Ravens
So … is it panic time?
Ravens veteran outside linebacker Terrell Suggs certainly doesn’t think so, as he so stated after the Ravens’ 12-9 overtime loss in Cleveland Sunday.
The standings also indicate it isn’t time to panic. The Ravens do have a winning record, after all, and sit just one game out of first place in the AFC North. Keep in mind that Baltimore has also already played all three of its division opponents on the road, too.
PressBox’s Glenn Clark wants to make it clear he also is not panicking. In his opinion, this past Sunday was just one disappointing loss in a long NFL season.
That being said, Clark is fully aware there are members of the Ravens Flock that are panicking after the team’s performance on Sunday.
“This is the Ravens losing to the Browns -- and even more importantly, losing to the Browns a week after registering their biggest regular-season win in recent memory -- there are more than a few people who have decided that panic is an appropriate response…,” Clark wrote. “But even if panic isn't the appropriate response, that doesn't mean there's no room for concern.”
As a result, Clark laid out a few different trends from this season that are concerning him.
The Ravens upgraded their receivers, but did they do enough?
It’s hard to question that this year’s group of receivers is an upgrade to what quarterback Joe Flacco had at his disposal in 2017. Former wide receivers Mike Wallace and Michael Campanaro are currently on injured reserve, while Jeremy Maclin and Breshad Perriman haven’t been signed anywhere. The group hasn’t caught a single pass in an NFL regular-season game this season.
“We gave the Ravens a lot of credit for ‘upgrading’ at wide receiver. But when you don't actually have any, it doesn't take much to do that,” Clark wrote. “We should have always been questioning if they had done enough.”
The trio of new wide receivers – Michael Crabtree, John Brown and Willie Snead IV – certainly had their hands full on Sunday against Cleveland. The group was targeted a combined 33 times, but managed just 15 catches. A lot goes into that, but they had trouble getting separation.
Clark acknowledges the Ravens have gotten plenty of production from Brown. Brown’s average yards per catch (20.8) is No. 3 in the NFL – there’s no question he’s been excellent. And though Snead hasn’t been as dynamic as Brown, he’s also carved out a key role in the offense as a chain-mover with reliable hands.
The crux of this discussion is Crabtree. After dropping two passes, and having a potential game-winning touchdown bounce off his hands, Crabtree has faced his fair share of criticism, despite leading the Ravens in catches and yards on Sunday. The Baltimore Sun’s Jonas Shaffer wrote, “It’s fair to wonder whether Flacco will continue to trust Crabtree.”
Clark sees Crabtree as being instrumental to Baltimore’s potential success this season, writing, “If he continues to play like this the Ravens may still not have enough at the position to be able to win.”
No question, it’s a major issue that Crabtree needs to solve. If Crabtree has more drops this Sunday against Tennessee, Shaffer wouldn’t be surprised if he starts to get phased out of the offense. Should that happen, Clark may have his answer about the receiving corps being upgraded enough.
Did the Ravens use high draft picks on players that can contribute right away?
Clark is concerned that the Ravens’ first two picks from this year’s draft – tight end Hayden Hurst and quarterback Lamar Jackson – won’t be able to make big impacts in their rookie seasons, which he thinks is crucial to the team being successful.
“The Ravens didn't have enough talent on their roster for their top two picks in the 2018 to be anything other than immediate impact players,” Clark wrote.
Jackson has been used to varying degrees through five game, lining up in different positions in the offense to try to throw off opposing defenses. The plays have gone OK, as Jackson’s speed and elusiveness have been effective at times, though none have resulted in a big yardage gain yet. Against Cleveland, Jackson was on the field for five plays, though one of those he was able to run three yards to convert a key third down in the red zone.
Hurst’s NFL regular-season debut was delayed until this past Sunday because of a foot injury. He caught one pass for seven yards in his debut and got out of it physically fine. Yesterday, Harbaugh said Hurst’s debut was, “OK, about what you expect probably. He can certainly [improve]. He’s going to be better as he gets more reps, but he did fine.”
Hurst had a tremendous preseason that indicates he could become an impact player. Clark thinks he needs to start contributing right away for the Ravens to be successful.
“The Ravens can't afford for him to need the entire season to develop,” Clark wrote.
It still seems early to be judging the impact of these two rookies.
More big plays from the defense.
Clark acknowledged that “the defense deserved a better fate for its effort during the Browns game.” Though he is excited about how the defense has played so far, he also believes expectations could be raised for the group.
One area where he thinks the unit should be better is creating turnovers. After leading the league in takeaways last season, the Ravens have created just six turnovers in five games this year. Only 10 teams have fewer takeaways.
In all three of the Ravens’ wins this season, they’ve won the turnover battle. In both losses, they’ve lost the turnover battle. It’s a formula that also involves the offense not turning the ball over, but the Ravens need to make sure they continue to win that battle.
The Ravens started well against the Browns when cornerback Tavon Young picked off Mayfield on his first drive of the game. After that though, the Browns had 14 straight drives [ADD] without turnovers.
Safety Eric Weddle certainly believes the defense let Mayfield off the hook, saying after the game that “He made some throws that were really good, he made some other throws that were really bad that we could have capitalized on.”
“They need to make some bigger, game-changing types of plays as the season goes on,” Clark wrote. “That's not asking for too much.”
Clark highlighted two more issues he believes are currently facing the Ravens.
Watching the Defense Getting Sacks is Always a Good Time
Like many members of the Ravens Flock, Russell Street Report’s Michael Crawford was pretty dejected following Sunday’s game. Rather than focus on the “what-if’s” after the game though, Crawford chose to focus on a part of the game he thoroughly enjoyed seeing.
“I want to share what helps me cope after a tough Ravens loss: watching the defense get after the quarterback,” Crawford wrote.
The Ravens managed five sacks during Sunday’s game, though Crawford noted they could’ve had more if Mayfield didn’t do a good job of evading pressure.
A common theme in these sacks was Defensive Coordinator Wink Martindale disguising where the pressure was coming from, and confusing Mayfield. With defensive tackle Brandon Williams’ sack in the first quarter, defensive end Brent Urban and outside linebacker Za’Darius Smith both rushed from a down alignment, while Suggs dropped into pass coverage. Safety Chuck Clark and inside linebacker joined the rush, as did Williams, who worked his way past Browns center J.C. Tretter.
“This is a quick, explosive move by a big, powerful man,” Crawford wrote. “At the snap, Tretter sets to his right but Brandon Williams crosses his face, attacks his inside shoulder and rips up and through. Once Tretter opens his hips to recover, it’s over.”
There were also a couple sacks that were a result of the secondary having excellent coverage, including Baltimore’s lone sack in overtime.
Time to Make a Change on the Offensive Line?
It’s always interesting to look at the Ravens’ snap counts after a game to see which players were on the field a lot.
The Baltimore Sun’s Childs Walker did just that, and came away with a few takeaways for both the offense and defense.
On offense, Walker noted that rookie right tackle Orlando Brown Jr. managed to get on the field for two plays. The offensive line appears set, as the starters played all 87 snaps on Sunday. However, Walker wouldn’t be surprised if Brown gets more playing time “as the Ravens look to improve the efficiency of their running game.” Bringing in a guy that’s 6-foot-8 and 345 pounds could certainly help with that.
Zrebiec is also wondering whether it may be time to make a change on the Ravens’ offensive line.
For the defense, Walker was surprised to see the Ravens accounted for outside linebacker Tim Williams’ absence (hamstring injury) by having Suggs play more. Though playing a full overtime period definitely affected this, Suggs was on the field for 20 more snaps than he has been all season, something Walker referred to as “a trend the Ravens would probably like to reverse as they try to keep their veteran pass rusher fresh for 16 games.”
Walker was also surprised to see how little inside linebackers Kenny Young and Patrick Onwuasor played. There was much debate throughout the summer as to which would start alongside inside linebacker C.J. Mosley, but safety Anthony Levine Sr. doing so well appears to have cut into both Young’s and Onwuasor’s playing time. Young and Onwuasor combined for 36 snaps, while Levine was on the field for 35.
- Right guard Marshal Yanda and punter Sam Koch both made the Pro Football Focus Team of the Week. On Yanda, PFF’s Gordon McGuinness wrote, “From 63 pass-blocking snaps, he allowed just one hit and one hurry and has not allowed a sack in pass protection since Week 7 of the 2015 season.” Koch made the team after landing seven of his eight punts inside Cleveland’s 20-yardline.
- Cornerback Darious Williams, who the Ravens cut to make room for cornerback Jimmy Smith on the 53-man roster, did not clear waivers. He was claimed by the Los Angeles Rams.
- Be sure to wish defensive end Brent Urban a belated Happy Canadian Thanksgiving!