The offense still sputters, the defense is not what it was in years past, the running game needs to get going, and oh yea- the Ravens are in the playoffs for the third consecutive season. For all of the consternation over this team, from their head-scratching Week 2 loss to Cincinnati to frustrating collapses against New England, Atlanta, and Pittsburgh, Baltimore fans have not had the same optimism going into this postseason as in years past. So what’s different? This Ravens team has been so unpredictable except in one department- whether they let the Texans and Bills come back to take the game to overtime or hold down the Saints when it matters most, they have managed to win. 11 games so far, and with a postseason berth in their future. But this discontent goes deeper than the constant grumbling that follows even the best pro teams.
1) The players are there. In past seasons, it was easy to blame static offensive efforts on the lack of elite wide receivers or the youth of Joe Flacco. With the additions of Anquan Boldin, T.J. Houshmanzadeh and the retaining of Derrick Mason, there is no excuse anymore to not have a very strong passing game. Moreover, Todd Heap has been healthy for the majority of this season, unlike past years. Joe Flacco has certainly taken a step forward this season, but he is far from elite. While he will certainly continue to improve, the weapons are there around him- and looking at what other quarterbacks are doing with less, he doesn’t have many excuses left.
2) Traditional run game has stalled. Ravens fans like their ground game. Even as the passing game lagged behind, Baltimore has prided itself on being able to pound the ball and take up time on the clock. For whatever reason, that hasn’t been there this year, due to shuffling on the offensive line or defenses keying in on the run game (though you would think if that was the case the passing game would be even better). Ray Rice has taken a step back this season in production, with 200 fewer yards than last season on 30 more carries than 2009. While he could get some of those yards back against Cincinnati, his yards per carry isn’t going to recover much from the mediocre 4.0 he is averaging right now. Willis McGahee has taken an even bigger step back, as the quizzical experiment with him as a sort yardage back hasn’t paid dividends this season. As always, fans want to see more of Le’Ron McClain. He should be getting the ball at the goal-line if it won’t go to Ray Rice. The three headed monster has become “Ray Rice and Friends”, and that isn’t nearly as effective.
3) 4th quarter hasn’t been good to this team. Baltimore fans have left games with a bad taste in their mouths even after a win. Primetime in Houston? Allow two 90+ yard drives in the fourth quarter to allow a game that was securely in hand to become an overtime thriller. 10-point lead against the Patriots? Offense stalls, and defense allows New England to come back and win it in overtime. Atlanta? Give up a late (questionable) score to lose. Add on the first win against Cleveland, the overtime win over the Bills, and both Pittsburgh games and you are looking at a team that has not been a good fourth quarter team. The inability to put away teams isn’t something I generally consider a legitimate concern, but it has been a strong pattern for this team.
What about you? Why does 11 wins feel so uneasy in Baltimore?