For the first time in head coach John Harbaugh’s nine seasons, the Baltimore Ravens have lost four consecutive games. The offense has been dreadful for much of the season, and has the fewest passing touchdowns in the league. The defense already has more interceptions than all of last season, but has given up too many big plays during the losing streak.
Despite the weekly installments of ugly football the Ravens have played this season, they are still in contention in the AFC. The December schedule is brutal. However, the Ravens are still only a game out of first in the division and face all three divisional teams at home in November. If they can check off the items on the to-do list below, January Joe might still make an appearance this season.
- Get healthier
Beginning on the offensive line, the Ravens need their two best lineman back on the field. If Ronnie Stanley and Marshal Yanda are ready to play after the bye, they will immediately improve the blocking at left tackle, left guard and right guard. Steve Smith could also give the Ravens some much needed yards after the catch ability if he can overcome his ankle injury.
It is best to count on rotational contributions from Suggs and Dumervil at this point, due to their injury limitations. But the return of C.J. Mosley, the defensive captain who was playing at a very high level before missing the last two games, would dramatically boost the defense.
- Fix Flacco’s footwork
It is no secret that Joe is not playing very well this season. The offensive line has allowed far too much pressure, forcing Flacco to throw on the move often, and the play callers have not helped Flacco get into rhythm. Nevertheless, he has thrown too many inaccurate passes because of poor footwork in the pocket.
It is surely difficult to stand tall and step into throws when pressure is closing in, especially after a shot to the knee ended his season prematurely last year. But the Ravens need their franchise player to find his receivers in stride more consistently at all passing depths.
- Replace Webb and Wright in the secondary
The Ravens did right by Lardarius Webb this offseason, transitioning him to the safety position and honoring his expensive contract after he agreed to a pay cut in 2015. Unfortunately, Webb does not have the size, speed or instincts to play safety. Anthony Levine, Marqueston Huff or even Matt Elam, if he comes back from injured reserve, would be an improvement. All the defense needs to stop most of the big plays is a free safety who can run and tackle.
Shareece Wright is a good tackler, but his problems in man coverage are easy to isolate, especially in the red zone. With Jimmy Smith and Tavon Young entrenched as the top two corners, the team can use Will Davis on the outside or Jerraud Powers in slot to round out the nickel package. Wright is best utilized as a depth corner going forward.
- Find ways to scheme pass rush
The young pass rushers are progressing. Timmy Jernigan has nine quarterback hits on the season, while fellow big man Michael Pierce has five. Edge rushers Matt Judon and Za’Darius Smith combined for three hits on the quarterback in Week 7. These players are talented enough to consistently pressure the quarterback when they have some help from the play callers.
Mosely and Zach Orr are both good blitzers, coordinator Dean Pees needs to send them up the A-gap more frequently. Obviously, less cushion allowed by the corners in coverage helps the pass rushers. And Pees should call for more stunts and twists, where the defenders cross paths or loop around each other in order to confuse the blockers, since they have proven effective.