Late For Work 11/4: Time For Ravens To Make These 5 Changes

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Time For Ravens To Make These 5 Changes

John Harbaugh was asked in a Comcast SportsNet interview to specifically identify the ONE thing that has hurt his team most during its two-game losing skid.

Only Harbaugh couldn't narrow it down to just one.

He gave two: turnovers on offense and big plays on defense.

And he gave a much longer list in his Monday press conference with the media.

The Ravens find themselves in last place in the most competitive division in football, and Harbaugh knows things need to change if his team is going to climb back up the standings. And it starts this week against the struggling 2-6 Tennessee Titans at home.

The Ravens are at a crossroads, says The Baltimore Sun's Jeff Zrebiec, with seven games remaining to right the ship.

"A little more than two weeks after being in position to put a stranglehold on the AFC North, the Ravens have reached a crossroad," wrote Zrebiec. "[T]hey are in last place in the AFC North, the latest [in the season] that they've been in this position since 2007, former Head Coach Brian Billick's final season in Baltimore."

Here are five changes the Ravens (5-4) need to make in order to get back in the fight, per CSNBaltimore.com's Clifton Brown:

1) Turnovers on offenseBaltimore has six turnovers in their last three games, and the fumble by Lorenzo Taliaferro and interception by Joe Flacco on back-to-back drives in Pittsburgh ignited the Steelers.

"Those are self-inflicted wounds," Harbaugh told CSN. "And if you want to win in this league, in a game like that, in an environment like that, a rivalry like that, you've got to be better than that."

2) Allowing big plays on defenseOf Ben Roethlisberger's*six touchdowns, three were of the big-play variety. Scores came on plays of 54, 47 and 33 yards. *Harbaugh told media yesterday that he is looking for players in the secondary to "step up."

Added CSNBaltimore.com's Clifton Brown: "This problem might be hard to fix without injured Jimmy Smith in the secondary. But in addition to inconsistent pass coverage, the Ravens are hurting themselves with poor tackling after the catch. Somehow, the Ravens' coverage and tackling needs to improve."

3) Improve pass protectionFlacco struggled against the Steelers' blitz Sunday. He completed*85 percent of his passes when they rushed with four or fewer, but just 52 percent against blitzes, according to ESPN's Jamison Hensley.  Flacco was sacked a season-worst four times, and hit 10. *

Harbaugh said Flacco needed to get the ball out faster to make the Steelers "pay" for blitzing. Brown said the protection needs to be better too: "Flacco is a tough guy. But getting hit as often as he was Sunday night makes it much tougher to play quarterback. The offensive line needs to protect him better."

The Sun's Childs Walker added that he thinks the line is "headed in the wrong direction" after becoming one of the team's most pleasant turnarounds from last season. The biggest culprits Sunday came from the left side and center Jeremy Zuttah (see PFF grades below).

4) Cut down on penalties, keep composure
Harbaugh was not happy with his team's season-high 10 penalties, especially those that cost 15 yards. Many on social media were complaining about the referees the last two games, but The Sun's Jon Meoli has a passionate response to that sentiment.

"I have no patience whatsoever for the general sentiment that the Ravens get mistreated or unfairly judged by officials (or commentators, for that matter, but I'm not even touching that)," he wrote. "When you have your hands all over receivers, take four personal fouls and spend most of the game jawing after plays, you get what you get. Pittsburgh was a willing accomplice in all of this, but most of the escalation came from the team in white. That's just what happens."

OK then.

5) Fix road woesSunday marked the third road loss this season, and the Ravens are now 4-9 on the road dating back to the start of last season, noted Brown.

"It's tough to win on the road in the NFL. But the Ravens only have three road games left – at New Orleans, at Miami, at Houston," wrote Brown. "If the Ravens drop all three, it's hard to see them making the playoffs no matter what they do at home."

AFC North November Schedules

The Ravens have a much more inviting schedule in November than they did in October, based on playing at home more often and getting their bye.

FoxSports.com looks ahead at the November schedule for the entire division, which gives fans an idea of what will need to happen for the Ravens to get back into playoff contention.

"The slimmest of margins separates first place and fourth," wrote Zac Jackson. "This could get good."

BENGALS (5-2-1, 2-0 in division)
Cleveland
at New Orleans
at Houston
at Tampa Bay

STEELERS (6-3, 2-2 in division)
at New York Jets
at Tennessee (Monday night)
BYE
vs. New Orleans

BROWNS (5-3, 1-2 in division)
at Cincinnati
Houston
at Atlanta
at Buffalo

RAVENS (5-4, 2-3 in division)
vs. Tennessee
BYE
at New Orleans (Monday night)
vs. San Diego

Hensley: Suggs Not A 'Dirty Player'

Predictably, you have Steelers calling Terrell Suggs a "dirty" player after his controversial hit to Pittsburgh running back LeGarrette Blount Sunday night.

And, predictably, you have the Ravens defending Suggs.

So what does an unbiased third-party say?

"The Steelers were just wrong to call him a 'dirty player,'"* *wrote Hensley.

"Suggs has never stomped on anyone like Ndamukong Suh. He isn't a headhunter like Brandon Meriweather. And, unlike the Steelers who are most upset at Suggs, he has neither been fined $125,000 in one season like James Harrison nor punched another player like Blount."

Hensley argues that Suggs has no history of maliciousness. He notes that if you search "Suggs and fined" you will discover he was fined for wearing a gladiator helmet in pre-game introductions.

Hensley says Suggs maybe didn't need to attempt the tackle, and agreed that it was a "cheap shot" worth a fine, but the fact that he didn't go for Blount's knees hurts the argument that he was trying to injure the Steeler.

"Suggs deserves to get punished. He just doesn't deserve the label of being a dirty player," Hensley concluded.

With the controversy swirling and his team struggling, Suggs posted this message on his Instagram account yesterday morning (mobile users tap "View in browser" at the top of the page to view).

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Best, Worst PFF Grades

Below are the best and worst grades given out for the offense and defense by Pro Football Focus (PFF):

Top GradesRT Rick Wagner: plus-3.2
RG Marshal Yanda: plus-2.5
RB Justin Forsett: plus-2.0
LB Daryl Smith: plus-1.8
DE Timmy Jernigan: plus-1.7
DE Chris Canty: plus-1.7
Worst GradesC Jeremy Zuttah: minus-6.6
CB Lardarius Webb: minus-5.6
LT Eugene Monroe: minus-2.8
QB Joe Flacco: minus-2.4
CB Dominque Franks: minus-2.3

What specifically happened with Zuttah and Webb to get such low grades?

"One of a number of sobering performances for the Ravens came from Zuttah in the heart of their offensive line. While Marshal Yanda turned in another strong performance next to him, Zuttah all too often allowed Pittsburgh defenders to lock onto him and was consistently driven back on both run and pass plays," wrote Ben Stockwell.

"Not that the stat sheet doesn't imply it but the Ravens' secondary neither covered nor tackled the Steelers' receivers well last night. Webb registered a team high three missed tackles and surrendered his fourth 100-yard game in the last two seasons."

Quick Hits

    • Flacco, Steve Smith Sr., Torrey Smith and Justin Tucker were among the Ravens who put their loss to the Steelers behind them to help those in need. They participated in an annual coat giveaway, as seen in the video below. [CSNBaltimore.com]
  • Running back Bernard Pierce's house was broken into recently. [The Baltimore Sun]
  • A Pittsburgh man tried to bribe a police officer after he was arrested for assault at the Ravens-Steelers game. "Look, I am an IRS agent and I can help you in other ways if you let me go home and make this go away," 29-year-old Stephen Sapp said, per the police report. [KDKA-TV]
  • You learn something every day. For those wondering why the Steelers won the challenge when Flacco's shin, not his knee, hit the ground and was ruled a sack, the rulebook explains an official should declare the ball dead and the down ended when "a runner is contacted by an opponent and touches the ground with any part of his body other than his hands or feet." The definition is further explained as "any part of a runner's leg above the ankle or any part of his arm above the wrist."  [ESPN]
  • Rookie safety Terrence Brooks was disappointed with being a healthy scratch in Pittsburgh. "Somewhat surprised, to tell you the truth. I didn't really think I was going to be down," Brooks said. "At the beginning of the week, I saw some reps go away. I know it was because of that one play [53-yard catch to Bengals' Mohamad Sanu] last week. I feel like everything else is really strong except for that one play." [The Baltimore Sun]
  • Owen Daniels is one tough dude after returning to action 10 days after a knee procedure. [The Baltimore Sun]
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