After an uninspiring 27-26 home victory over the mediocre Eagles, the Baltimore Ravens record is 8-6. Entering the final two-week stretch of the regular season, the Ravens currently hold the seventh seed in the AFC, one game behind Miami for the final wild card slot, ahead of Tennessee and Denver due to tiebreakers.
Fact: The Ravens allowed 4.4 yards per rushing attempt to the Eagles
Opinion: Their vaunted run defense has been slipping
In Week 15, Ryan Mathews accumulated 128 rushing yards on 6.4 yards per carry. The Eagles converted 13 first downs on the ground, compared to 10 in the air. In Week 14, the Patriots ran out the clock on the ground, LaGarrette Blount posted 72 yards and a touchdown on 18 carries. In Week 13, Jay Ajayi of the Dolphins averaged 5.1 yards per carry. Power rushers have been much more successful against the Ravens front down the stretch this season.
The defensive line has been giving up ground and allowing blockers to reach the linebackers on the second level. Timmy Jernigan has hit a wall after a strong start to the season. C.J. Mosley and Zach Orr have been missing tackles, forcing the safeties to creep up in support.
The Ravens must fix their run defense in practice this week before their trip to face the Steelers capable rushing attack. Dean Pees defense has always been predicated on stopping the run first, in order to make teams one dimensional. The Ravens secondary is simply not talented enough to overcome a vulnerable run defense.
Fact: The Ravens have a +6 turnover differential this season
Opinion: The improvement in turnovers has been the biggest difference from 2015
With 26 takeaways. compared to 20 giveaways, the Ravens have the sixth best differential in the NFL. On Sunday, they turned the Eagles over once, with an interception from Zach Orr, but could not collect any of the three fumbles they forced. Their 16 interceptions on the season are the second most in the NFL.
Last season the Ravens had the second worst turnover differential in the league, - 14, with 28 giveaways and only 14 takeaways. Safety Eric Weddle has been the impetus for the improvement, he has produced four interceptions and one forced fumble. Terrell Suggs has also forced three fumbles in the last six games.
The Ravens will be hard pressed to win any more games this year if they lose the turnover battle.
Fact: Ravens offense has scored touchdowns on 73% of their trips into the red zone since Week 12
Opinion: Marty Mornhinweg has dramatically improved the Ravens red zone efficiency
For comparison, the Ravens scored a touchdown on 57% of their red zone trips this season. They scored a touchdown on 49% of their red zone opportunities in 2015. Baltimore has been much better at punching in touchdowns lately.
Over the last three games, five different Ravens have scored red zone touchdowns - Terrence West, Dennis Pitta, Darren Waller, Kamar Aiken and Kenneth Dixon. Mornhinweg has been putting Joe Flacco and the Ravens offense in position to succeed in the red zone through effective play calling.
Fact: The Ravens won a game in Week 15 when they lost the time of possession by 13 minutes, allowed the Eagles nine more first downs than they generated, lost third down efficiency by 8% and lost the turnover battle 2-to-1.
Opinion: The coaching staff is the least culpable group for the team’s struggles
The Ravens have played a plethora of ugly games in 2016, and are lucky to still be in the playoff picture. However, the coaching staff is the reason they have eight wins. By keeping the Ravens players focused, diffusing locker room tension and creating timely special teams plays, the coaches have spurred the team to victory in some games they should have lost.
Through questionable salary cap management, free agency decisions and drafting, the Ravens front office has allowed the roster to be surpassed by many teams around the league in the talent department. Ozzie Newsome and Eric DeCosta put together a team that has precious few difference makers, is dangerously thin at cornerback and along the offensive line, and is one of the oldest teams in the NFL. The players are the ones who have taken unnecessary penalties, made bone headed decisions and let several prime opportunities slip through their fingers.
If the Ravens season goes south over the last two games, shaking up the coaching staff may be the easiest way to change the franchise’s trajectory for the future. But that does not mean the coaches have been the most responsible group for the regression.