Ravens Can Deliver 'Knockout Blow' And Make Division A Two-Team Race
All that's transpired during the Ravens' rollercoaster season no longer matters. Baltimore is starting fresh.
"We look at the rest of the season as a six-game season. In some ways, this is like our opener," Head Coach John Harbaugh said Monday. "We know that everything is right in front of us."
As far as the Ravens are concerned, they are essentially 0-0 in this new season where they are tied with the 0-0 Pittsburgh Steelers. And, Baltimore can deliver a massive blow this week to one of their other biggest rivals, the Cincinnati Bengals, while boosting their own playoffs chances.
The Bengals dropped to 3-6-1 with a loss to the Buffalo Bills Sunday, and they reportedly lost top wide receiver A.J. Green (hamstring) for at least the next couple of weeks and starting running back Giovani Bernard (ACL) for the season.
"The three-team battle for the AFC North has yet to materialize and the Ravens can make sure it doesn't," wrote The Baltimore Sun's Jeff Zrebiec. "One more loss and the Bengals will almost certainly miss the playoffs for the first time since 2010.
"Applying the knockout blow would be a nice move for the Ravens, who have dropped five-straight games to Cincinnati and haven't beaten Marvin Lewis' team since November 2013."
But these aren't the same Bengals we've seen in seasons past.
They've lost a lot of offensive fire power besides Green and Bernard after the offseason departures of former Offensive Coordinator Hue Jackson and wide receivers Marvin Jones and Mohamed Sanu.
"Cincinnati has found myriad ways to beat the Ravens in recent years, so it would be foolish to discount Lewis' team," wrote Zrebiec.
If the Ravens can make the division a two-team race by beating Cincinnati Sunday, the top goal from there will be to outplay the Steelers the rest of the way. The most likely path to the postseason is to win the division because the AFC West has a stranglehold on the wild-card seeds.
The Steelers have played a similar up-and-down season to the Ravens, also earning a .500 mark. What's concerning, however, is the remaining six-week schedule favors Pittsburgh. Plus, it looks like the Steelers will face the Indianapolis Colts Thursday without starting quarterback Andrew Luck, who is under NFL concussion protocol.
"It's all about strength of schedule. Heading into this week, the Ravens had faced what Football Outsiders deemed to be the league's easiest schedule," wrote ESPN's Bill Barnwell. "Starting with Sunday's game against the Cowboys, they were set to face the league's toughest slate the rest of the way. The opposite was true for the Steelers."
Below are the remaining schedules for each team:
|Week 12||Bengals||at Colts|
|Week 14||at Patriots||at Bills|
|Week 15||Eagles||at Bengals|
|Week 16||at Steelers||Ravens|
|Week 17||at Bengals||Browns|
"Any way you look at it, the Ravens, despite a frustrating loss to the Cowboys in a game many players believed they should have won, remain in position to accomplish everything they set out to when the regular season began," wrote Zrebiec.
Where Was Perriman In Dallas?
Ravens second-year wide receiver Breshad Perriman was on the field for 24 offensive snaps Sunday, which was below his season average of 34, per Pro Football Focus (PFF).
On those 24 snaps, Perriman made zero catches because he was never targeted.
ESPN's Jamison Hensley believes the Ravens need to do a better job of getting Perriman and other playmakers consistently involved.
"Do they have the playmakers like the Steelers or the Cowboys? No," he told Brett Hollander and Qadry Ismail on WBAL Radio. "But they do have some playmakers, it's just how do you get the ball to them and create those big plays. That's really something that the Ravens haven't solved at any kind of consistent level."
The Ravens have shown they can create big plays with quick 5-yard slants when the receivers use their speed to outrun defenders after the catch. In addition to those, Hensley said the Ravens need to take more deep shots with Perriman and Mike Wallace, who are two speedsters.
"I think they really do need to keep taking shots downfield," Hensley said. "[Perriman] obviously wasn't a part of the game plan whatsoever. Coming off a game where he scored his first touchdown, you could see the confidence coming.
"I think he deserves at least one or two shots down the field. … When you have the arm strength of a Joe Flacco and you have speed on the outside, which they really didn't have last year, but you have a Wallace and a Perriman who can just run past corners, I think that's something that you really do have to exploit. You have to at least try to do that. When you don't, I think you're just playing into the hands of the defense."
Top-Graded Ravens In Dallas Loss
While quarterback Joe Flacco didn't take any deep shots to Perriman, he did attempt four passes of 20 yards or more Sunday in Dallas, according to PFF.
He just didn't connect on any of the four.
The Cowboys' defensive game plan was to play conservatively – they only rushed on five of Flacco's 37 dropbacks – and stop the deep ball. It seemed to work.
"The Ravens did a disservice to themselves by rushing just 15 times on the day, as the offensive line was able to open up huge holes throughout the game," wrote PFF's Josh Liskiewitz. "[Running backs] Terrance West and Kenneth Dixon combined for 82 yards on 14 carries, and for the game the Ravens averaged 6.3 yards per carry on the ground. The offensive line was just as strong in pass protection, as it gave up just two hurries. (Tight end Dennis Pitta was responsible for the only sack and hit yielded by Baltimore.)"
Top offensive grades:
OG Marshal Yanda, 84.7
C Jeremy Zuttah, 83.4
OG Vladimir Ducasse, 81.2
WR Steve Smith Sr., 81.1
OT Ronnie Stanley, 78.3
On the defensive side of the ball, the secondary had a rough day without top cornerback Jimmy Smith (back). Hensley pointed out that in the full six quarters Smith has missed, the Ravens have allowed opposing quarterbacks to notch a 126.9 quarterback rating.
"The Ravens offered little resistance to Dallas' passing game, starting with cornerbacks Shareece Wright and Tavon Young," wrote Liskiewitz. "The duo combined to give up 14 catches on 17 targets for 170 yards and two scores, although Wright was able to break up two throws. [Linebackers] C.J. Mosley and Zachary Orr weren't any better, as they gave up catches all eight times they were targeted."
Top defensive grades:
NT Brandon Williams, 75.5
LB Zachary Orr, 74.4
ED Terrell Suggs, 74
CB Shareece Wright, 67.2
ILB CJ Mosley, 64.9
Boyle's 10-Game Suspension Is Complete
Tight end Nick Boyle is now allowed back in the Ravens facility after completing his 10-game suspension for violating the NFL's policy on performance-enhancing drugs for the second time.
He will return to practice and team meetings this week, but it isn't clear whether the Ravens will activate him to the 53-man roster.
"I think we have a week to make the decision, so it's not for this game where we have to make a decision," Harbaugh said Monday. "It could be after this game. That's my understanding, unless I'm wrong about that, which is certainly possible. But he'll be back practicing this week. We'll see how he looks. He hasn't been here for 10 weeks, so it's been quite a while."
Boyle hasn't played since the preseason, so he'll likely need to knock off some rust. The Ravens will want to use the entire time allotted to evaluate him physically before deciding whether to give him a coveted roster spot.
Analysts believe the Ravens offense could use Boyle, a 2015 fifth-round pick, as a blocking tight end.
Harbaugh Mum On Injury Status Of J. Smith, Dumervil
When asked whether Jimmy Smith or Elvis Dumervil have a shot of playing Sunday's game against the Bengals, Harbaugh gave very little information.
Hensley told WBAL radio that he believes Smith must have suffered a setback with his injured back because Harbaugh seemed confident last Wednesday that Smith would play against the Cowboys, but was listed as doubtful Friday.
If Smith can't go against the Bengals, there is some comfort in knowing Green won't play either. But, the Ravens' chances of victory are always greatly improved with Smith on the field.
Ravens Mexican-Themed Helmet
With the Houston Texans and Oakland Raiders playing the first NFL game in Mexico City since 2005 last night, Mexican artists designed all 32 helmets for each NFL team.
Below is Jimvlad's interpretation of the Ravens helmet, and you can see the other 31 in the Instagram video below.