Five thoughts on the Ravens' 23-20 loss to the Buffalo Bills Sunday at Ralph Wilson Stadium:
Close Score Masks Serious Issues
Somewhat amazingly after so much went wrong, the Ravens almost came back and stole a win. But in the end, they got the result they deserved – a defeat. The simple truth is they didn't play well enough to win, and the close final margin masked some pretty serious shortcomings. They couldn't run the ball at all. They couldn't stop the run until it was almost too late. They tackled poorly in the first half. The Bills dominated the interior, especially early. Joe Flacco threw five interceptions, a career high, including several that never should have left his hand. His receivers dropped several balls. Flacco was under pressure all day and took quite a pounding. Add it all up and that's hardly a recipe for success. The Ravens deserve credit for hanging tough when things looked bleak and giving themselves a chance in the end, but honestly, the mistake-prone Bills had a lot to do with that. If the Ravens had won, it certainly would have made everyone feel better. But a loss underscores the reality that this team has a long way to go.
O-Line Is Core Issue In Run Game
Peel away the layers of this disturbing effort and you find, at its core, the offensive line's problems. The Ravens' running game was so inept that play-caller Jim Caldwell abandoned it late in the second quarter. I couldn't blame him. I love a run-pass balance as much as anyone, but the line was opening no holes and Flacco was constantly in third-and-long. Buffalo was already up by 13 points. It was time to go in a different direction. With Flacco dropping back on 32 straight plays, the Ravens climbed back into the game. But going forward, the Ravens are going to have to run the ball, so the onus is on the line to get in gear. What's wrong? Shoot, what isn't? Ravens Head Coach John Harbaugh said miscommunication led to several sacks. Flacco intimated that maybe the group needed to get more physical. There have been too many penalties. Except for Gino Gradkowski replacing Matt Birk at center, it's the same line that carried the offense to a Super Bowl title in February, but that seems a long time ago.
Bad Game, But Flacco Playing With Subpar Hand
The national headline on this game will be that Flacco's career-high in interceptions cost the Ravens a game. I'm OK with that, and so is Flacco, who quickly accepted the blame after his worst-ever game from a turnover standpoint. "We've got to play better and a lot of that falls on me today," he said. But let's be honest. It's as if Flacco is playing poker with a decidedly subpar hand right now. His running game has vanished. His line isn't protecting him well. He took some brutal hits Sunday. His receiving corps is injury-riddled and struggling. Other than Torrey Smith, none of the offense's other playmakers are making plays. Given all that, it's pretty amazing that Flacco kept making plays and had the team in position to steal a win at the end. His bad? No question on a five-pick day. But be aware of the context.
Run Defense A Must-Fix
The Ravens' run defense was ranked fourth in the league through three games, giving fans every reason to believe it was a recharged unit in 2013 after stumbling in 2012. But the Bills tore into the Ravens on the ground, picking up 203 yards on 55 attempts. Both of Buffalo's backs, Fred Jackson and C.J. Spiller, gained over 70 yards, breaking numerous tackles along the way. Most of the damage was done in the first half, and the Ravens fared better in the last two quarters, but defensive tackle Marcus Spears wanted no part of any caveats. "We just have to do a lot better from the start of the game," he said. "A lot of this game is technique and a lot is scheme, but sometimes you just have to play better." This is a must-fix.
Terrell Suggs was the best player on the field for the Ravens and didn't deserve that personal foul for a hit on Buffalo's EJ Manuel late in the game. Manuel wasn't taking a knee so he was fair game … It's time do away with the axiom about the Ravens eating up rookie quarterbacks. Manuel made his share of mistakes but also made some plays and showed a lot of toughness. The Ravens didn't rattle him … There were times Sunday when the Bills looked quicker across the board … I had no problem with Harbaugh settling for a field goal to make it 23-20 late in the fourth quarter rather than going for a go-ahead touchdown on fourth down in the red zone. He was gambling that his defense would get the ball back in time for the offense to take another shot, and it did … Things are not moving in the right direction for tight end Ed Dickson, whose botched reception became a key interception in the second quarter … On the other hand, Deonte Thompson gave the offense a lift and could be a threat going forward.