The Ravens are heading into the bye week at 3-4 with back to back losses where the offense has scored a touchdown near the end of the game only to watch as the defense couldn't get a needed stop. With 7 games into the season, the question remains, is this Ravens team playoff bound or not?
As they're playing right now, the answer is no. And the reason is simple, the Ravens have an Achilles heel on both sides of the ball...the running game. They are near the bottom of the league in rushing offense and defense. While their defensive statistics are in the top 10, against the Steelers, Packers, and Bills, they have allowed 161 yards per game, allowing each team to dominate time of possession and negate the effectiveness of their pass rush. Offensively, the Ravens are near the bottom of the league, averaging a little under 73 yards per game (down from around 119 per game a year ago).
The take on the Ravens to start the season was that they would be better defensively, would struggle in the passing game, but they would have a dominant rushing attack. To date, their receivers have been playing better, making some nice catches in the Steelers and Packers games. Ed Dickson and Dallas Clark have been improving of late, and should provide the Ravens with a threat in the middle of the field. Marlon Brown has come along well, and Torrey Smith is on pace to have a 1000+ yard season (the first Raven to do so since Derrick Mason in 2009). The defense has improved since Terrell Suggs is healthy and returned to his DPOY form. The coverage in the secondary is solid but not spectacular, and opposing tight ends have been able to work them over in the intermediate passing game. The run defense, while statistically solid overall, has been glaringly bad in 3 of their 4 losses. The Ravens running game is shaping up to be their worst ever.
What's missing from this Ravens team right now are game changing plays. They are methodical, but not explosive. Jacoby Jones breaking a punt or kickoff for a touchdown consistently, or Ray Rice finding the hole for a 40+ yard gain, deep bombs to Torrey Smith, or interceptions returned for touchdowns aren't happening nearly enough. With Ngata having a couple weeks to rest, they could get better up front defensively without making any adjustments, but offensively they need to consider shaking up their lineup (Gradkowski needs to go) and possibly even firing the O-line coach. They need to work on getting off to faster starts on offense. The weapons are there in the passing game, and their running backs can work the middle of the field with the tight ends screens or short curls, freeing up their deep threats to work down field. Passing well enough should free up room for Rice and Pierce to run more effectively as well. But the bottom line is they need to give their defense leads to work with.
The Ravens are two games back in the division to the Bengals, who they still play twice. If they can run the table on the Browns, win at home against the Steelers, and sweep the Bengals, they have can still win the division. However, if they don't improve on running the ball and stopping the run, it won't happen.