Things to Like, and Not Like, About Ravens Through Two Weeks
With a fast 2-0 start to the season, there's a lot to like about the Ravens so far, but that doesn't mean there aren't areas for improvement.
As such, The Baltimore Sun's Jeff Zrebiec named five things he likes from the team through two weeks of football, along with four things he doesn't like.
Five Things to Like
1) The play of the young players on defense
Zrebiec's colleague, Childs Walker, is also impressed. After Sunday's game he said, "this could go down as a memorable defensive draft class." Second-round outside linebacker Tyus Bowser notched his first career interception and sack against the Cleveland Browns, and both first-round cornerback Marlon Humphry and third-round outside linebacker Tim Williams were strong in their limited snaps. "The infusion of speed and athleticism is obvious," wrote Zrebiec.
By the way, Bowser had such a good outing Sunday that he is a candidate for the Week 2 Pepsi Rookie of the Week. Vote for him here.
*2) Becoming less predictable
*Less predictability is a compliment Zrebiec is giving to both Offensive Coordinator Marty Mornhinweg and Defensive Coordinator Dean Pees. "The Ravens are giving many different looks to opposing offenses and defenses after an offseason spent trying to figure out ways of becoming harder to prepare for," he wrote.
** *3) Commitment to running game
*Along with some of the others, I second this. It's been a major key on offense. The Ravens are No. 2 in the league in rushing attempts (74 behind the Denver Broncos' 75) and third in the league in rushing yards (146.5 yards per game). John Eisenberg penned a column Tuesday, saying the Ravens need to remain committed to carrying the rock even though Marshal Yanda, the league's best guard, has been placed on injured reserve. Eisenberg pointed out that the Ravens ranked No. 28 last year with Yanda playing, so successful running isn't a one-man show.
4) Forcing turnovers
Baltimore has forced as many turnovers (10) as it's allowed points. There's not really much more to say here other than turnovers have been a big, big factor in winning.
5) Play of young defensive linemen
"Defensive end Brent Urban might be the team's most improved player on either side of the ball, and defensive tackle Michael Pierce is showing that his success last year was no fluke," wrote Zrebiec. "This group will be tested if defensive tackle Brandon Williams misses several weeks."
Four Things Not to Like
1) Coverage breakdowns
Zrebiec isn't alone in pointing out this deficiency. Both veteran defensive leaders Terrell Suggs and Eric Weddle were quick to downplay the turnovers after Sunday's game and instead emphasized the need to minimize mistakes. The unit's forced turnovers have made the 303 yards allowed per game, which is the 11th-worst mark in the league, seem like less of a problem.
"We made too many mistakes, too many blown coverages, too many big plays as a defense, so we are not happy about the performance we had," Weddle said Sunday. "We let those mistakes creep in, and [if] we don't fix them, it's going to hurt us down the road."
2) Uncertainty at weak-side linebacker
Luckily, this hasn't been a glaring problem, in part because of overwhelming talent at other positions on defense, including Weddle, Williams, Suggs, C.J. Mosley, Jimmy Smith and others. But the Ravens would like to see either 2016 second-round pick Kamalei Correa or former undrafted rookie Patrick Onwuasor pick up his game.
"If one of them starts to separate from the other, then one would take the job," Head Coach John Harbaugh said after the season-opener. "I'd like to see one of them playing at a Pro Bowl level. Neither of them are doing that right now. But, they're both playing well enough to win."
3) Breshad Perriman's lack of impact
The success on defense and in the rushing attack has lessened the need for the receivers to have big production, but you don't want to see them struggle either. "I'm not overly concerned about Mike Wallace and I think the Ravens will get him more involved," Zrebiec wrote. "I also expected some rust with Perriman after he missed most of training camp, but it has to be worrying to see him still struggling to make contested catches and to play as fast as he is capable of."
4) Lack of deep-passing gameSays Zrebiec, "You can't have it all, and the team's running game and intermediate passing game has been plenty good enough, but the Ravens, at some point, will need to hit on some big plays down the field. Quarterback Joe Flacco has thrown just two passes all season that have traveled more than 20 yards in the air."
Don't Look Now, But Ravens Offensive Line Ranked No. 4 Last Week
It's hard to believe given how many injuries the unit has sustained already, but three-time Pro Bowl center and Super Bowl champion Shaun O'Hara ranked the NFL's offensive line play in Week 2 for NFL.com, and the Ravens came in at No. 4.
"Baltimore is determined to protect Joe Flacco. In the 24-10 win over Cleveland, the Ravens ran the ball 47 percent of the time and totaled 136 yards on the ground. Solid production," wrote O'Hara. "The O-line excelled in the aerial attack, too, allowing Flacco to throw a pair of touchdown passes. While the Ravens' quarterback was sacked twice, one of them occurred when Flacco could've thrown a hot route to his open running back in the flat. Also, beyond the two sacks, Flacco wasn't otherwise touched.
"Austin Howard, who signed a three-year deal with Baltimore in August, has been a real bright spot this year at right tackle."
O'Hara acknowledged that we'll need to continue to watch the progress of this group now that Yanda is done for the season with a broken ankle, but it's encouraging to see Baltimore crack the top five despite losing its Pro Bowl guard on the first play of the second half.
The Ravens added two offensive linemen to the 53-man roster Tuesday, promoting Matt Skura from the practice squad and signing offensive tackle Dieugot Joseph off the Chicago Bears practice squad. Zrebiec pointed out that of the nine offensive linemen on the roster, four are former undrafted free agents and two are sixth-round picks.
One of those sixth-round picks is starting center Ryan Jensen, and Pro Football Focus gave him the third-highest grade of all NFL centers in Week 2. It's asking a lot, but if these young, unheralded players can continue to develop and hold their own, the Ravens will have a shot at absorbing Yanda's loss.
Ravens Lead League With Players on Injured Reserve
This stat probably comes as no surprise given the unusual early run on injuries in Baltimore. Here's the list, per ESPN:
Ravens = 15 players on injured reserve
49ers = 13
Jaguars = 10
Chargers = 9
Panthers = *9
The high number of players on injured reserve is not unique to this 2017 season. According to ESPN Stats & Information, Baltimore has placed 68 players on injured reserve over the last three seasons, which are the most in the NFL during that time.
Fans have constantly asked if there's a reason for the trend, and in the video to the right, Harbaugh says there really isn't any single thing to pinpoint.
"There is no one single answer," Harbaugh told reporters Monday. "I can't answer it any better than you can, but I am not trying to. I don't think you have to. You have to move on and you make the best of it."
ESPN agreed that there really hasn't been a trend to the injuries, noting the closest thing to it is that one-third of the injured reserve players have knee injuries, but they all happened under different circumstances.
"Cornerback Tavon Young injured his ACL after intercepting a pass in an offseason practice and bumping into a teammate," the website wrote. "Rookie lineman Nico Siragusa tore three knee ligaments after getting caught in a pile-up in a training camp practice. Tight end Crockett Gillmore tore his MCL during a camp practice when he landed awkwardly trying to catch a sideline pass. And promising running back Kenneth Dixon suffered a cartilage injury right before camp while working out with his college team."