Halfway Through 2018, Ravens Sit At Crossroads - Jeff Seidel
The Baltimore Ravens hoped and probably expected to be better than 4-4 at the halfway point of 2018. This team has more talent on offense and is deeper on defense than last year’s group that missed the playoffs.
But the Ravens lost to the Browns in Cleveland in overtime a few weeks ago and couldn’t hold a 10-point fourth-quarter lead against New Orleans at home last week. Then, Carolina crushed Baltimore 36-21 on Sunday and put the Ravens in a position where they’ll likely need to go 6-2 over the final eight games for a good shot at winning the AFC North.
That will not be an easy task, but they now have no choice. They truly are at a crossroads.
The Ravens play at Kansas City, the Chargers and Atlanta in the second half along with consecutive home games versus division opponents Pittsburgh and Cincinnati -- separated by a bye week. Now, though, after losing three of their last four and turning in their shakiest performance of the season in the Carolina loss, the Ravens don’t have much margin for error.
Coach John Harbaugh, whose seat could be getting a bit hotter now, often emphasizes taking one game at a time, and now they need to focus on the Steelers, who come to town Sunday at 1 p.m. The toughest thing is the Ravens have to wash Sunday’s poor performance out of their heads pretty quickly.
“We’re 4-4 in a .500 league,” Harbaugh said Monday. “We’re a game out of first place, and we have our season in front of us. We’d all love to have a better record than we do right now. We probably should have a better record, but the record is what it is. That’s our starting point. That’s what we fight from.”
While the Ravens personnel and coaching schemes are better than they were last season, the schedule is undoubtedly more difficult.
What we learned: Turnovers are a real problem, too
The Ravens’ plus-17 turnover margin last season was the NFL’s best, but that success hasn’t carried into the 2018 campaign. Not by a long shot. After giving the ball away three times against the Panthers and failing to force a takeaway, the Ravens’ have a minus-four turnover margin, tied for the seventh-worst in the league. Alex Collins lost a fumble Sunday for the third time this season, tied for the most among running backs in the NFL, and Joe Flacco threw his fifth and sixth interceptions of the year against Carolina. Meanwhile, the defense has forced just one turnover in the past three games.
What we’re wondering: Who’s to blame for the lack of takeaways
Entering Sunday, the Ravens’ defense had made improvements from 2017 in nearly every statistical category aside from takeaways. Maybe first-year coordinator Don Martindale needs to make tweaks to start forcing turnovers or perhaps individual players must grow more aggressive. Safety Eric Weddle, for instance, piled up six interceptions last season and has zero this year. Baltimore might want to diagnose the dip in takeaways rather using fortune to explain it, because this team could use a boost.
There is an element of randomness inherent to turnover production. For example, the Ravens rebounded from a league worst six forced interceptions in 2015 to post a league best 18 in 2016. The defense will have chances to boost their takeaway totals down the stretch against turnover prone offenses including Tampa Bay, Oakland and Cleveland.
Oh, the horror: Ravens’ most gruesome month remains October - Jamison Hensley
An argument could be made that the Ravens are the worst team in October because the only wins by the 49ers and Browns in this month have come against Baltimore. Over the past four seasons, San Francisco and Cleveland are a combined 0-30 against the rest of the NFL in October.
Is there any reason for the Ravens’ October woes?
“I certainly have my thoughts on it,” Harbaugh said Monday. “You can go back each year and look at the years and see what was going on with the team in those type of situations and look at each game for what it’s worth.”
“It’s a game of bouncing back,” safety Tony Jefferson said. “We’ll be fine. We’ll fix the corrections that we need to get fixed. There’s no looking back. It’s time to move forward.”
Hensley notes that almost half of the Ravens losses since 2015 have come in October. They will carry an 8-3 November mark into their tilt with Pittsburgh on the 4th.
Joe Flacco has cooled off — Remember Week 4, when the quarterback torched the Steelers for 363 yards and two touchdowns in a Ravens win at Heinz Field? He hasn’t thrown for 300 yards since and has completed more than 60 percent of his passes just once in the past four games. The loss Sunday against Carolina was his worst game of the season. He completed just 22 of 39 passes for 192 yards and one touchdown against two interceptions.
The pass defense isn’t disrupting much — Over the Ravens’ past two games against New Orleans and Carolina, both losses, opposing quarterbacks have completed 73 percent of their passes for four touchdowns and zero interceptions. The passing yardage totals won’t blow anyone away — the Saints’ Drew Brees and Panthers’ Cam Newton combined for just 431. Opponents have, however, been able to complete the throws they did attempt pretty much at will. Ben Roethlisberger wasn’t quite as sharp in Week 4, so we’ll see if there are any lessons in the tape from the past couple of weeks.
The absence of Marlon Humphrey has negatively impacted the pass defense but the offense has remained relatively healthy. One way or another, the true 2018 Ravens will reveal themselves when pitted against their arch rival Steelers in Week 9.
Winners and losers from the 2018 NFL trade deadline - Gregg Rosenthal
John Harbaugh, Ravens coach: It was a swift fall in Green Bay for Ty Montgomery, but he was already headed in the wrong direction in the Packers’ backfield. Montgomery only played six offensive snaps before he fumbled away Aaron Rodgers’ chances for a game-winning drive Sunday on a kickoff. After NFL.com’s Mike Silver wrote about some Packers teammates being upset with the running back/return man, Montgomery said Monday that “it’s tough for me to trust anyone” in the locker room.
Consider it good fortune for Harbaugh, who may be fighting to keep his job. The Ravens (4-4 and in third place in the AFC North) only had to send a 2020 seventh-round pick to Green Bay to obtain the valuable role player. Baltimore’s backfield is lacking juice, and Montgomery can absolutely help on passing downs and in the return game. The Ravens already give defensive coordinators a lot to prepare for, with the ways Lamar Jackson can be used on the field; Montgomery should bring the unit even greater flexibility.
Known as a capable receiving back, Ty Montgomery may prove to be a valuable midseason addition.