Do the Baltimore Ravens belong in the conversation about the best teams in the National Football League?
Two weeks ago, my answer would be a resounding yes. Today, it’s a resounding no.
The Baltimore Ravens are not among the league’s top teams. Get used to it, it’s not going to change any time soon unless something drastic happens.
Simply put, the Baltimore Ravens are a fool’s gold. Sure, the team looked elite in the beginning of the season against the Dolphins. And sure, they fared well enough to win against the Cardinals. If it looks like gold, feels like gold, and tastes like gold, it probably is gold. Except it was not gold, and the Baltimore Ravens are far, far from an elite team.
The 40-25 blowout is symptomatic of the larger problems facing the Ravens.
The Ravens defense, quite frankly, is the worst it’s been in a very, very long time. The secondary is atrociously bad, and previous high performing players fail to even give the guise of reliability. Tony Jefferson struggled to make tackles, Marlon Humphrey and Brandon Carr each were beat on routes, and Matthew Judon failed to even secure a quarterback hit. Perhaps the worst moment came in the fourth quarter. Baltimore closed the gap to six points, in a 24-18 game, and all the defense needed to do was stop the Cleveland offense and get the ball back. Instead, the defense allowed Nick Chubb to run 88 yards for a touchdown in one play. Plays like these happen in football games, defenses get beat by offenses, and vice versa. But on this play, it felt like everyone gave up before it was over. One could even see Earl Thomas come in to chase Chubb, and abruptly stop and start walking, effectively giving up on the tackle, the play, and the game.
Thomas’ lazy attitude was showing, and it’s no wonder he hasn’t made an impact at all this season. If this is how the Ravens defense is going to play, Baltimore will be lucky to even finish at .500.
The offense was no better either.
Lamar Jackson was kept under 200 yards passing until it was garbage time. He seemed to take a step back and regressed to his old self, but his supporting cast wasn’t helping either. Chris Moore failed to get his feet in-bounds on one of the very few deep shots of the day, Mark Ingram fumbled the ball at a crucial point in the game, and playcalling was dismal at best.
I understand that the Ravens have a strong run game, but why was the team hellbent on returning to the 2018 offense this game? Greg Roman decided to run the ball like it was Baltimore’s only option. He neglected to open the game through the air, and flat out denied Lamar Jackson the right to use his god-given arm talents. Short pass here, short pass there, run, run, run, run. That’s what the game flow felt like. I am all for running the ball when an opponent is unable to stop it, but not even pretending to diversify the attack (until garbage time when it didn’t matter anymore), is perhaps the dumbest thing one can do when calling plays for a dual-threat quarterback like Jackson.
And then there was Harbaugh.
I really don’t have many complaints about Harbaugh this week. Aside from failing to get his team ready for an extremely important game he had an entire week to plan for, Harbaugh was not that bad. He did try the newly trademarked, caution-to-the-wind two-point conversion again. The fans booed him for it too, and I was among the loudest in the crowd. The Ravens surprisingly scored on the two-point attempt this time, although it was moot in the grand scheme of things. Whether the play turned successful or not, it was still a very dumb decision. Maybe it is time that someone reminds coach Harbaugh that the Ravens did not win Super Bowl XLVII on analytics. But hey, I understand why he likes the analytics people so much. They will make great number crunchers to help him get a new contract when he inevitably gets fired for losing games with them, instead of winning them on his gut like he always has.
In the end, the Ravens are not contenders, they are barely competitors. The competition will continue to outdo them until something major changes. The Ravens need help. The healthy return of Jimmy Smith won’t hurt, but a turnaround might require something more. Maybe it’s time the Ravens bite the bullet and pay up for a certain Jaguars cornerback still on the market. It’s also time the Ravens stop trying to be cute with their “revolutionary” offense and return to how football should be played in Baltimore. Balance the rush and pass dimensions, and use Lamar Jackson’s dual-threat abilities to the fullest. Maybe then, the Ravens will be back in the winner’s column.