Monday, 21 September 2015

Ravens looking for lift off

For many neutral observers, including yours truly, the Baltimore Ravens were a sneaky Super Bowl contender and I selected them as my opponent to face the Seattle Seahawks in San Francisco in February. However, both of those selections look questionable now.

Whilst I think the Seahawks have been undone by a tough opening road trip - away to divisional rivals St. Louis and a grudge rematch in Green Bay - the Ravens also had an opening dual road trip on the much friendlier West Coast away to Denver and Oakland. The Ravens must have been confident returning home with at least one victory from a demanding road schedule.

However, they return for their home opener versus the Cincinnati Bengals in Week 3 with an 0-2 record and with a major need of reassessing their expectations for the season following a 19-13 in Mile High and then he gut wrenching defeat in Oakland 37-33 when they gave up a last minute touchdown to Derek Carr who connected with Seth Roberts from 12 yards with 26 seconds remaining.

What was so obvious of the touchdown pass was the blown coverage as Roberts was wide open to receive his reception in the end zone. Yet this was indicative of the whole Ravens performance on defence, Carr went 7 for 9 for 65 yards on the winning drive as well as a career high 351 yard and three touchdowns, this after last week when it was feared he suffered a serious hand injury to his throwing hand last week versus Cincinnati.

This is in stark contrast to the defensive performance by the same Ravens team that shut down Peyton Manning's passing offence. The Raiders gained 448 yard, more than twice what Manning was allowed.

Why did this occur? Were the Ravens complacent facing the lowly Raiders and confident that a repeat of the same defensive performance would get a road win. Yet the defence could not get any pressure to the sophomore Carr, as he was sacked once and he one time Timmy Jernigan did get in Carr's face he was called for roughing the passer.

The loss of Terrell Suggs to a season ending Achilles injury will effect the pass rush and in a division when you have Andy Dalton and Ben Rothliesberger to face you need pressure upfront to help the talented cornerbacks Jimmy Smith and Will Hill. Again the Raiders had talent at their disposal with both Michael Crabtree and rookie Amari Cooper both going for 100+ yard games, so perhaps the loss while a shock does have some explanation.

The finger can be pointed more at the offence, who took field goals from Justin Tucker at distances of 21, 22,  31 and 37. Maybe the offence need to be more assertive in the opposition territory, despite Steve Smith Sr. having 150 yards off of 10 receptions and Crockett Gilmore had another productive day with two touchdowns off 5 receptions for 88 yards. Kariam Aiken had 89 yards but Marlon Brown is coming back from injury so only had 2 receptions for 12 yards.

They like the balance of rush and pass but Joe Flacco throwing 45 times and Justin Forsett only getting 15 carries shows no balance. Flacco threw for 384 yards off 32 off 45 attempts and he did not get sacked. Flacco to be considered Eli needs to step up and show some clutch in critical fourth quarter situations.

0-2 is not the end of the season, but that age old statistic does rear its ugly head, only 12% of teams starting winless after two games made he postseason since 1990. The Ravens along with fellow playoff teams Seattle and Detroit Lions are in the same boat. Whilst I think the Ravens are not in as bad a situation as the Lions are, Baltimore will be like Seattle and not push the panic button just yet. Although the need for lift off at home to Cincinnati this coming Sunday is much needed.

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