The Ravens are 6-4 after beating the Tennessee Titans. Currently in fourth place in the division, the Ravens can only sit back this week and watch as the rest of the division plays. That leaves the Ravens in a good position to get a little rest, lick some wounds and to patch up some of the holes they have on offense, defense, and special teams.
We'll look into some of the possible issues that the Ravens should focus on this week.
Quarterback Joe Flacco's consistency - Flacco has been increasingly less consistent as the season has wore on. Even though he has only been sacked 14 times over 10 games, Flacco has seemed gunshy at times, not fully stepping into his throws and missing the mark. The worst was against Tennessee where Flacco missed wide open receivers and couldn't hit a basic swing pass. The Ravens succeed and fail with Flacco and it will take new offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak reviewing tape to see what has made Flacco uncomfortable and more importantly, what Flacco had liked the first half of the season so they can get back to some of that again.
Short yardage situations - The Ravens have had some issues in recent weeks on picking up third and shorts and currently rank 23rd in the NFL in converting those situations. With the offensive line and how it has performed as well as the current rushing leader in yards per carry, that ranking is unacceptable. Looking at different playcalls might be the way forward but it might also be time to have Lorenzo Taliaferro see the ball in those situations a little more with a little more teaching on lowering the shoulder and chopping with the feet.
Wide Receiver consistency - While we talked about quarterback Joe Flacco's issues, we can't completely ignore that his receiving corps has had major issues on just disappearing from games. With teams focusing on Steve Smith, the team needs to see players like Torrey Smith, Marlon Brown and Kamar Aiken step up and get open and make the catch when targeted. Each player has their own unique issue at play here but the overwhelming issue is just getting separation regularly so Flacco doesn't have to force each ball into a tight window for a completion. Analyzing exactly how defenses are taking Steve Smith out of the game should offer some insight on how to use the remaining receivers and create mismatches in order to get guys open easier.
Improving on the bend but don't break mentality - The Ravens throughout the entire season have been awful at allowing yardage while being one of the best teams in the NFL at keeping teams out of the endzone. However, with some injuries and a few off games, the Ravens have fallen on that ranking as well and playing with fire like that has cost them some games they should have won. Getting 3-and-outs should be the goal of this defense and that means stopping the mid range passes that have haunted the defense's dreams up until this point. While the Ravens are limited in what they can do defensively due to a lack of depth at the corner position and injuries throughout, the rest for Lardarius Webb should hopefully see him come back next week in a better position to play up to his talent level. After that, the Ravens can only look at mixing up blitzes and coverages in order to get a better break on the ball and play to the strengths of this defense rather than to hope they get a few tips around the endzone in order to get the stop.
More turnovers - The best way to achieve better on defense is to just take the ball away from the offense. It limits their potential and with the offense able to put up points, it turns an opponent into a one-dimensional offense that has to throw often in order to catch up; which is far easier to defend against. Right now the Ravens rank 14th in the league for takeaways while ranking 21st in interceptions (only 2 of those are by the secondary sadly). Focusing the linebackers and linemen on stripping the ball and the secondary on breaking on shorter routes will help. Simply having the same few guys back there regularly will also help as corners will know better when they have a safety over the top and can take a risk.
Mixing up pressure - The Ravens currently rank 9th in the NFL in sacks, but they have 2 games without a sack and several more with only a single sack. While racking up a few games with 5 sacks against terrible teams has helped the Ravens achieve the rank they have now, being able to do that more against better teams and consistently throughout games will play a major factor on the other two issues the defense has to look at.
Limit penalties - The Ravens have frequently negated good returns or assisted their opponent by getting silly penalties. This has driven down punt return averages while boosting their opponent's averages. While most penalties are committed from fringe players and young guys, this deep into the season should see them tapering off as the game slows down for them. Harping on the players that get flags and maybe even deactivating them for frequency should start to be implemented at this point from the coaching staff.
Punt returns - The Ravens rank 17th in the league with an 8.2 yard average. While some of this is likely due to some of the fumble issues Jacoby Jones had earlier in the season, the Ravens and their returners have to do better with holding onto the ball and not running sideline to sideline as they have been lately. As we have discussed previously, it might be time to see if a young player can provide a spark to the special teams returns and to help settle Jacoby Jones down a bit.
Coverage - The Ravens rank 16th in average kickoff return yards allowed and 12th in average punt return yards allowed. Some of that will be helped by negating penalties and some of that can be negated by kicking the ball out of the endzone for kickoffs. The rest of it just ends up being technique and keeping guys in their lanes, which the Ravens have been starting to improve on as of late.