Thursday, October 25, 2012

The Baltimore Ravens: Rough Times Ahead?

If you are a Baltimore Ravens fan, you may not like what you're about to read. We have been debating whether to write this or not, and have decided that now is the time to do so.

We at If It Ain't Steel look at the game as football fans first, not just as Pittsburgh Steeler fans, and we have given the Ravens their due on more than one occasion. Check back through our posts if you don't believe. The most recent being the paying homage to Ray Lewis: http://ifitaintsteel.blogspot.com/2012/10/showing-respect-for-villain-known-as.html

But, I personally have been seeing something that has me scratching my head. I have been watching the Baltimore Ravens and have to ask what the heck happened to their team? Yes, I am well aware the purple and black has become black and blue with key injuries as of late, but I was asking this before the injuries.

This is a team that has been historically known to have a stout defense. Opposing quarterbacks had to look across the field at men like Ray Lewis, Terrell Suggs, Haloti Ngata, Jarrett Johnson and so on. If seeing those men did not put fear in you nothing would. They were fierce! Just ask Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. They were so fierce that Big Ben’s nose had its own Twitter (@BigBensNose) account for a while due to a hit taken from Ngata that turned his nose sideways on his face in 2010. The offense never had to score a lot of points because when your defense is only allowing opposing teams 14-17 points a game, you do not need a dominant offense. The only thing the offense had to do was not screw up.

The 2012 Ravens defense has not been that Ravens defense. I'm not the only one seeing this. - http://tinyurl.com/9lf333v

After the win over the Cowboys two weeks ago, Ravens head coach John Harbaugh said of his offense that "there have been many, many times our defense carried a heavy, heavy burden over the years. For our offense....and our special teams to carry some of that burden is a great thing."

"I’m quite sure," he went on to say, "(the defense) is going to be doing the same through the course of the season. I have a lot of confidence in those guys. We are going to play really good defense.”

Really?

The Ravens are giving up an uncharacteristically high amount of rushing yards. In seven games this season they have allowed an average of 23 points per game (PPG). From 2008 to 2011, they were third in the league each year in points allowed with an average of 16.25 PPG. Even if you take away the Houston Texans butt-whipping, they still gave up nearly 20 PPG (19.7) in the previous six games to teams with a combined record of 15-24. That's 161 points allowed by a defense that had only allowed 266 all of last season.

Another example of this is that they have already allowed 1,000 yards rushing against them, an astonishing 142.6 yards per game (YPG). In the last three games alone, they have given up 622 yards rushing. That's 207 YPG, including a franchise-record 227 yards to a Dallas Cowboys team led by Demarco Murray. Not Don Perkins, not Tony Dorsett, not Emmitt Smith...Demarco Murray. Don't blame the injuries there either, because they gave 214 rushing yards to the mighty Kansas City Chiefs. As a contrast, last season the Ravens only surrendered 92.6 YPG.

The passing defense is just as bad this season. They have already given up 1888 yards through the air, which is 269.7 YPG passing. Last season they allowed only 193.6 YPG to opposing passers. Those numbers were also put up with their best corner, Lardarius Webb, in the lineup. How much will the Ravens miss Webb? He was their best cornerback in the last season and a half, stealing nine passes (incl. playoffs), tied for most in the NFL.

The Ravens were given a boost last Sunday with the return of Terrell Suggs, and he played surprisingly well, but it was not enough to stop the Texans, to whom this defense allowed to score a franchise-record 43 points.

All offseason the Ravens talked about the new high-powered, no-huddle offense that they were working on, led by their "elite" quarterback Joe Flacco. Both looked good in the first game against the Bengals, but have been a wildly inconsistent and enigmatic since. Being the NFL's most penalized team hasn't helped any. - http://tinyurl.com/8ep94g9

Last Sunday, Flacco had an ESPN QBR of 0.2, the lowest for any QB in that rating system since 2008. Against Dallas, he had just an NFL QBR of 76.3. His two best games were a decisive win against the Cincinnati Bengals where he had a QBR of 95.1, and a one-point win against the New England Patriots when he had a rating of 93.2. He has thrown for 9 TD passes and 6 interceptions, with a completion percentage of 59.5% and an overall ESPN QBR of 53.9 (100 is best) and an 84.0 in the NFL QBR system (153.8 is perfect...both of which are nebulous systems, by the way). Hardly, what I would call an "elite" quarterback. But, what I have seen with this new "high-powered" offense is that they have taken their true star out of the game.

The star I am talking about is Ray Rice. I know that Ravens offensive coordinator Cam Cameron has good intentions and wants Flacco to look as good as they say he is, but why take out your main offensive weapon in process? Since the start of 2011, when Ray Rice gets 20 or more touches (carries and receptions) in a game the Ravens are 14-0, when he gets fewer than 20 touches, they're only 4-6. So, why not utilize that weapon? Oh, that’s right, it doesn’t look as pretty when Rice is grinding for all those yards and controlling the clock and giving your defense a break. All those long balls look prettier. And chicks dig the long ball, right?

Point blank, while the Ravens certainly should avoid targeting their star player too heavily, sage advice for any team as it's akin to putting too many eggs in one basket, there's no denying Rice's value to that offense.

Yes, I know they are sitting at 5-2 going into the bye. Trust me, their fans are all-too gung ho to remind us of this on a regular basis. And I'm well aware that the Steelers have their own injury and defense-related issues sitting at 3-3. But, what a lot of those fans are not realizing is that the reality of this is a potential downhill spiral that could get much worse.

From the free agent releases and player-losses in the offseason, to the injuries to the team this year, to the inconsistent offense, to the upcoming five Pro Bowl QBs, one QB who was a Rookie of the Year runner-up and one Rookie of the Year QB in-waiting, the "ball so hard" crew could fall so hard if they don't do something soon.