Five thoughts on the Ravens' 28-24 loss to the Cincinnati Bengals Sunday at M&T Bank Stadium:
Officially Time To Reassess Ravens
When the Ravens lost their season opener in Denver, I thought they had lost a winnable game against a fellow playoff contender. When they lost in Oakland to fall to 0-2, I still thought they were a good team, just off to a bad start. Now that they're 0-3 for the first time after losing their home opener, it's officially time to reassess. The Ravens showed a lot of heart Sunday, rallied from way back and had chances (plural) to win, but they're dealing with too many issues to play winning football. Right now, they aren't what everyone thought they were. Their defense is killing them with its inability to make stops late in games. Their running game is pretty much nonexistent. Their secondary is shaky. They committed 13 penalties Sunday, continually setting themselves back. "We're just not good enough to be good in crunch time situations," quarterback Joe Flacco said. I'm surprised they're in this predicament, but no one is more surprised than the players, coaches and front office, who are used to winning and fully expected to continue in 2015. But obviously, a winning pedigree alone can't offset the kinds of troubling issues that have surfaced.
Stock Market Crashed On Ravens Defense**
It was a "stock market" day for the Ravens defense, meaning lots of ups and downs. After having its effort and everything else criticized by the head coach and defensive coordinator during the week, the unit allowed a long touchdown drive to start the game – hardly encouraging. Soon, the Bengals led by two touchdowns and were threatening to blow the game open. But the defense helped turn things around by limiting Cincinnati's prolific rushing game to 2.8 yards per carry, and by taking away Tyler Eifert, the Bengals' dangerous tight end, who had zero catches. When Elvis Dumervil knocked a fumble loose and C.J. Mosley ran it in for a score to give Baltimore its first lead of the game in the fourth quarter, I was ready to write about the defense salvaging its pride. But the final minutes of the game were a disaster. The stock market crashed. For the second straight week, the defense yielded late after being handed a lead. This time, it happened twice. The first time, Green caught an 80-yard touchdown pass. The second time, Cincinnati's offense marched easily to a score, picking up chunks of yardage at a time. The Bengals rolled with the game on the line, never facing a single third down on their way to scoring twice.
Offense Needs More Playmakers
Early on a day the Ravens were desperate to win, their offense was flat, like a soda without fizz. Trailing by 14 points, Harbaugh tried to get something going by calling for a fake punt on a fourth-and-3 at his 27-yard line in the second quarter. It produced a first down, but the drive fizzled when the Bengals stuffed Lorenzo Taliaferro on a third-and-1 run. That was fitting, because the Ravens' running game never got untracked all day, producing just 36 yards on 18 attempts. So far in 2015, running back Justin Forsett is averaging just 41 yards per game and 3.2 yards per carry, a far cry from the high thresholds he set a year ago. The onus to move the ball and/or make something happen rests almost entirely on Flacco and his top target, Steve Smith Sr. both of whom are having big seasons. But the Ravens can't be happy about the offense's overall lack of balance.To win games, they're going to have to run the ball much better and establish more of a blend of playmakers. i.e., someone besides Smith.
Ravens May Have Confidence Crisis**
Long before the Ravens rallied to make it close, the Bengals were oh-so-close to turning the game into a rout. With a 14-0 lead, they had the ball on the Baltimore 2-yard line in the final minutes of the first half and went for the kill, electing to go for it on fourth down. Andy Dalton threw what appeared to be a touchdown to Eifert, but it was ruled an incompletion on replay. The Bengals were ready to score again early in the third quarter until the Ravens' Jimmy Smith intercepted Dalton in the end zone. Somehow still alive, the Ravens "woke up," Flacco said, and showed heart in coming from behind to take the lead. Unlike a week ago in Oakland, Harbaugh praised the team's effort. But when the game evolved into a back-and-forth stare-off in the final minutes, the Ravens blinked. Yes, the defense was the main issue, but the offense failed to generate anything on a final drive. "We're not believing in ourselves enough; not envisioning ourselves winning," Flacco said. That sounds like a crisis in confidence.
Flacco took the blame for misfiring on a short pass over the middle to Smith that could have gotten a final drive started. "Steve was wide open," Flacco said … In the end, the final drive was short-circuited by a 15-yard face-mask penalty on guard Kelechi Osemele. "Way too many penalties," Harbaugh said … The game was basically a replay of last year's loss to the Bengals at M&T Bank Stadium, in which the Ravens came from behind to take the lead, only to see A.J. Green catch a long touchdown pass. That day, Green beat Chykie Brown. This time, he beat a zone scheme. "It seems to be a regular occurrence with him. One of these days, we'll figure out how to cover A.J. Green. It would be nice if we did that one time before he retires," Harbaugh said.