The NFL season has finished it’s first quarter of the season, the Baltimore Ravens find themselves in second place in the AFC North. The Ravens were in the news for all the wrong reasons before the very first game of the season, the Ray Rice incident loomed as a black cloud over the entire NFL along with the Ravens. They also had to figure out who they were on both sides of the ball as there were several new additions (Steve Smith Sr.) and young players who would be asked to step in and contribute immediately. All that aside, sitting just one game back of first place isn’t exactly a bad start to the season.
* Domestic violence is an issue that has been severely overlooked in professional sports and needs to be taken much more seriously. Unfortunately it took the incident involving the Rice family for the issue to become a focal point on the national level.*
The Ravens lost their season opener before reeling off three straight wins, they weren’t able to make it four as they fell to the Colts yesterday. Offensively, they’ve shown a penchant for making big plays both on the ground and in the air. The Ravens are ranked 12th and 13th in those categories, averaging 125 yards rushing and 247 yards passing. It was expected by mostly everyone, both fans and experts alike that Bernard Pierce would be the bell cow for the Ravens with Rice being suspended, then released. After getting the lion’s share of the carries in the first two games, it’s been Justin Forsett and Lorenzo Taliaferro as the 1-2 punch for Baltimore. Forsett has 50 carries and 23 receptions on the young season, the rookie back Taliaferro has 38 carries. Both backs have at least two runs of 20 yards or more, Forsett has made a living in the screen game.
While Torrey Smith hasn’t gotten all the way on track, the other “Smith” has been amazing. Steve Smith Sr. The veteran wideout that was discarded by the Carolina Panthers is off to a heck of a start, a resurgence if you will. “Smitty” has 30 catches on 48 targets, garnering 463 yards and three touchdowns. Torrey only has 11 catches, but he’s continued to do what he does best, make plays downfield as he’s averaging a team high 16 yards per catch. Another new addition has played a huge role in the passing game as well, Owen Daniels who was acquired to complement Dennis Pitta, has now stepped into that lead guy at the position after Pitta’s injury. Daniels has contributed heavily, tallying up 19 catches in 25 targets while getting in the endzone twice. The Ravens offense has been balanced and Flacco has done a decent job, they must limit their turnovers. That being said, Baltimore is in a good place as their point differential on the season is a +36.
Now, to the side of the ball that Baltimore has been known for dominating over the past decade or so. The Ravens have been extremely stout against the run, giving up just a little under 90 yards per game (89.4). Baltimore may have found their new stud middle linebacker, they drafted C.J. Mosely in the first round of this year’s draft with the hopes that he’d be that guy, he’s stepped right in and has produced. Mosley already leads the teams in tackles with 49, he also leads in solo tackles with 30. The young backer has done a great job against both the pass and the run, hauling in his first career interception Sunday against the Colts. Guys like Damien Stewart and Jimmy Smith have also played well, but the Ravens have struggled against the pass.
Their lack of a pass rush has hurt them in their two losses, Elvis Dumervil has three and a half sacks while only one other player has tackled one sack (Pernell McPhee). In five games, the Ravens have just five sacks as a team. In a league where passing is at a premium, the lack of a pass rush can kill a defense no matter how much talent they have on that side of the ball. The good news is that it’s still early in the season, one guy that might be able to step in and help in that department is another rookie. Safety Terrance Brooks played well in a game where he had extended snaps, production is everything and it wouldn’t be a surprise if he ends up starting at one of those spots as the season goes on. His range will be welcomed, another name to keep an eye on is Will Hill. He’s had some off the field issues in the past, but if he does in fact have that part of his life under control, the Ravens could use him right now as well. Hill looks like a linebacker and runs like a safety, again, another player with that type of range could really firm up the back end of that Baltimore defense. Last but not least, Baltimore’s best cover guy in Ladarius Webb has only played two games this season (the last two).
Health and availability will give the Ravens options in the secondary, they should be able to close that huge gap in where they are ranked against the run and passing game. More importantly, those guys up front will have to get going. “Sizzle” aka Terrell Suggs shouldn’t be expected to continue his drought of sacks. He’s been able to pressure and hurry passers but hasn’t tallied more than just a half of a sack. As the pass rush heats up, the secondary will get better and vice versa. If the back end can step up their play, it’ll force QBs to hold the ball a bit longer which can result in a hurry becoming a sack.
The Ravens have yet to play their best football and are in second place, unfortunately they have started the second quarter of the season with a loss. If history repeats itself, reeling off another three wins wouldn’t hurt their cause at all.