I was fortunate to be able to go to the first home game of the year for the Ravens but I was not lucky enough to see them win. As I came back from Sunday's game with hands raw from clapping, throat sore from cheering, and my pride wounded by yet another defeat all I could think about was how numb I felt about it. I was stunned, and this season has now taken on a dreamlike quality to it. What I have seen so far has been so different from my expectations that I'm not quite sure how to feel. However, I do know when I will drift off this cool sea of melancholy and into a frothing whirlpool of anger, bitterness, and frustration. If we lose to the Vick-led Steelers and fall to 0-4, that will be the breaking point for me and for this team. That sounds dramatic but really I'll just get upset, vent a bit, then accept the reality of it and become a sardonic, sour, caustic fan for the rest of the season.
I still have hope that we can turn it around with a win on Thursday but these things have to improve in order to salvage our SB hopes:
The problems on Offense
Mainly, the run game has been sub-par and the second biggest dissapointment of this season so far. A lot of people are quick to blame the RB, in this case Forsett and his age, but when the running game falters--it is almost always the fault of the offensive line. There has been a lack of holes and no sign of the ability to get blockers to the second level which helped propel Forsett to lead all RBs with a 5.4 YPC and the most +20 yard runs (17) in the NFL last year. It has to be better to balance this offense and take some of the burden off of Joe and SSSR. A strong run game will also go a long way in helping the other receiving options get open by drawing in defenders and opening up those zones. Pass protection is still spotty and Joe has made it look better than what it is by moving well inside the pocket, but he has had to throw off his back foot a lot and his mechanics are getting sloppy. Penalties have also been an issue for this group and has put the offense in some bad situations. It's not at 2013 levels but it's nowhere near 2014's.
Offensive Gameplan + WRs
Things has taken some steps forward since Week 1 where I wanted to throw something at Trestman because of some very baffling decisions (the fades to Steve Smith, my god the fades) but it's still a long ways away from being a well coordinated and dangerous unit. Currently, our offense is the Steve Smith show starring Steve Smith, with Gillmore sporadically sprinkled in and every other participant tripping over their own dicks to see who can stay not open the longest, with the loser getting the oppurtunity to drop the pass thrown their way. The gameplan has not been very inspired and has to get more creative to make up for the lack of success on the ground. Yet, all it has done is create a ton of questions.
With Smith hurting them outside, inside and on shallow routes, shouldn't that help everyone else? Why are we not attacking the seams? Why are all the runs straight up the gut? Gillmore has the second best YAC ability after Senior so why don't we get him some more screens and short passes to see what he can do? That applies to Williams too. He's a rookie who's raw at route running and blocking but damn, he can't just catch and run? If we flex him into the slot or at WR, if we got him 1-on-1 against a DB, you're saying he couldn't do something? Why does the run game suck so bad? Where's Camp? Why is he so underused when we're throwing +40 times a game? Aiken can't run a slant? He's a possession receiver, why is he always getting sent deep? We can't use Waller for that? Seriously, what the hell happened to the run game?
I want to ask Trestman all of this and if he has Steve Smith on his fantasy team.
The Problems on Defense
Ok, maybe not everything but it sure feels like it sometimes. Jimmy Smith, Will Hill, C.J Mosley, Timmy Jernigan, Brandon Williams, Elvis Dumervil, Daryl Smith, Courtney Upshaw, etc. The talent is there, and has occasionally made plays, but they aren't playing well as a team. The run defense has been solid, despite some hiccups, but it's the secondary and a weaker pass rush that have been the culprit behind our last two losses. The fact that the back-end has looked more lost and confused than the patchwork secondary from a year ago that was cobbled together with spare, unwanted parts is completely baffling. It reminds me of that scene from Iron Man where Jedediah (Jeff Bridges) yells at a scientist because he can't figure out how to make a miniature Ark generator that Tony Stark built in a cave with a box of scrap; it was done before with less, why can't you do it now?! Players have been put in bad positions with no help and when there is assistance, have looked slow in helping. Fundamentals, usually a trademark of this team, have also been erratic as we have seen poor tackling, a lack of discipline, and way too many penalties (not exclusive to the defense). The unpopular philosophy of "bend don't break" is failing in it's one job: keeping points off the board. If the Ravens want to turn their season around, it needs to start with this side of the ball. Something has got to change, otherwise this unit could go down as the worst in Ravens history.
So, where do you start? Fixing the communication breakdowns and cutting out the self-induced, easily exploitable mismatches should be the first step. Reawakening the pass rush should be the second. So far it has been way too flat and static with too much of an emphasis placed on winning individually instead of working as a group to collectively apply pressure. There needs to be more stunts and twists to place greater pressure on an offensive line and there needs to be a better, coordinated effort. Please, let Jimmy play up all day (even if he gets beat), keep Arrington in the slot, and move Hill to where you need him most. Stop dropping Upshaw into coverage and use Lewis as a deep safety only. Play more press but move the CBs up and down occasionally before the snap and generally just try to disguise your coverage better to at least make QBs think a little bit more. That all sounds simple but we can't really reinvent anything or make any drastic changes at this point. Heck, maybe Babin comes in and just wrecks shop, wouldn't that be grand?
The season is not over but the margin of error is razor thin as we have to go 10-3 over the rest of this schedule in order to have a realistic shot at the playoffs. I still think we are capable of that despite our disappointing start. I'm no expert, just a fan, but I know the Ravens are capable of playing so much better. They have to when you're standing on the precipice of 0-3, staring into the abyss of 0-4.