There has been much scrutiny in breaking down just what’s gone wrong with the Baltimore Ravens as they head to their Week 8 bye, sitting at 3-4 and tied for 2nd place in the AFC North.
Defensively, there have been positives but also a lion’s share of struggles as well.
They currently rank second in the NFL with 25.0 sacks, behind only the Kansas City Chiefs (35.0) but have allowed 104.3 yards on the ground, something not seen with traditional Ravens defenses of the past. They gave up a staggering 141 yards to the Pittsburgh Steelers, a team that’s had their fair share of trouble all season running the football.
We all know the story offensively for the Ravens. Things just haven’t clicked like last season so far because of injuries and inconsistencies and its something the Ravens continue to address.
Instead of being completely negative as we head into the weekend without Ravens football, there are also positives to discuss.
Positives, which if they continue trending upward or if history is used as an example, the team could be in for a nice run in the last nine games.
The Offensive Line: Slowly Getting Better
This is an absolute key for the Ravens to have any type of success in the 2nd half of the season. Offensive line play took the team all the way to the Super Bowl championship last season and with three of five starters from last year’s team still starting, there’s been no excuse for the inconsistencies.
But in the last few weeks, this line has gotten better, little by little each week. Center Gino Gradkowski is continuing to grow into his position, being able to effectively call out plays at the line of scrimmage is something he is getting better at. As those decisions get better, that allows the line to block up front and give Ray Rice and Bernard Pierce the holes that they’ve wanted to run through all season.
The trading for left tackle Eugene Monroe has paid dividends so far in his ability to pass block. According to Pro Football Focus, he graded out at +3.1 after last Sunday’s game against the Steelers. Monroe’s feet are his strength and he uses them very well.
His capability to pass block has helped left guard Kelechi Osemele play better himself. The Steelers pass rush was bottled up on the left side as the tandem worked well together on inside protection. Down the line, Marshal Yanda has bounced back after some inconsistent weeks that even Yanda himself had been critical of.
Things seem to be trending for this unit and they’ll need to for an offense ranked 21st in total yards per game. As things continue to progress and the team gets continued contributions out of rookie wide out Marlon Brown, the Ravens will hopefully welcome back one man very familiar to the offense very soon as well.
The one player that John Harbaugh assuredly hopes to return very soon is tight end Dennis Pitta. Everyone knew the offense would suffer when Pitta went down with a scary hip injury during training camp, but absolutely no one thought it would be this pitiful (no pun intended).
Pitta’s presence in the lineup cannot be matched, nor can his hands or ability to route run and block too. He’s Joe Flacco‘s safety value and trusty option when the going gets tough. So when news this week surfaced about Pitta’s return, hope abounded that he’ll be that missing ingredient to get the offense flowing again.
He’s eligible to return off the IR with designation list next week and has been at the Ravens facility catching passes in shorts and pads from Flacco and via the Jugs machine. It would be an incredible boost for this struggling offense and another pair of hands to help move the chains and score touchdowns. His return can also aid the run game too, where he can help – along with Ed Dickson – in blocking duties.
Pitta came into his own in 2012, hauling in 61 passes for 669 yards but its been a struggle to match that production between both Dallas Clark and Ed Dickson. Clark has played better as the season’s progressed, but has scored two touchdowns in seven games. Between Clark and Dickson, just 30 catches for 358 yards this season.
Dickson hasn’t scored a touchdown and while he’s dropped a number of passes this season, has responded somewhat to the wrath of Harbaugh after he became frustrated with Dickson’s absent-mindness play at times. A healthy return for Pitta means the Ravens likely will go with three tight ends as they like Dickson’s ability to block.
The Importance Of The 2nd Half Schedule
For the second straight season, and two out of the last three seasons, the Ravens have a Week 8 bye which seems like the perfect opportunity for the team to lick their wounds, regroup and then play out the 2nd half of their schedule.
By the looks of it however, that won’t be an easy task as the combined record of the teams in those remaining games is 28-26.
Still to come is a home and home with the division leading Cincinnati Bengals, NFC North match ups on the road in Chicago and Detroit against the Bears and Lions respectively and a tilt with the New England Patriots at home three days before Christmas.
Where are the positives to be found? In the last nine games of the season, five will be played at M&T Bank Stadium where they always seem to do wonderful things, posting a 23-4 record since the 2010 season.
The Ravens tend to become a focused and energized bunch after bye weeks in the John Harbaugh era. In the last three seasons, the team has a combined record of 21-9, including a 9-3 record after a Week 5 bye in 2011. Last season the Ravens went just 5-4 in their last nine as they scuffled through most of December before catching fire as a Wild Card seed in the AFC Playoff picture.
With players resting up and getting healthy (i.e. Pitta and the returning Jameel McClain), another week of practice to help a struggling offense to keep moving positively, these things may be what the doctor ordered and have Ravens fans feeling positive heading into a weekend without a team to root for.