BREAKING NEWS ON TORREY SMITH

Before I begin, understand that nothing in this article matters more than what Ravens wide receiver Torrey Smith is going through. According Sal Pal on ESPN (above video), early this morning Torrey Smith was informed that his younger brother, Tevin Smith was killed in a motorcycle accident in Northern Virginia. Smith left the team hotel at around 2 a.m. but also informed head coach John Harbaugh that he wanted to play tonight.

RAVENS HAVE ISSUES BUT ARE STILL BETTER TEAM TONIGHT


The NFL season is just three weeks old but the Baltimore Ravens are clearly at a turning point in their young season. With a loss to the New England Patriots on Sunday night, Ray Lewis, Joe Flacco and the rest of the purple and black risk owning a losing record for the first time since 2008. That season with a rookie head coach and quarterback, the Ravens began the season 2-0 before losing three straight to Pittsburgh, Tennessee and Indianapolis, to fall to 2-3 after six weeks. Of course, the Ravens would collect themselves and go on to finish 11-5, which started their current run of four consecutive playoff appearances, the most in the NFL.

The major difference between now and then is Ray Lewis was 33, and the Ravens defense had surrendered more than 300 total yards just once (Week 5 @ Colts). With Willis McGahee, LeRon McClain and Ray Rice piling up 133.2 rushing yards per game, the offense had an identity, which was to establish the run first.

The attitudes in the locker room following a loss back then were, “we need to be better as a team” instead of blaming game officials. The Ravens back then rarely beat themselves and if they did, they seemed to learn from them and correct the problem.   

The 2012 Baltimore Ravens entered the season as a team that many justifiably believed were a legitimate top five team in the league. Having established the Ravens as a gold standard franchise in the NFL since taking over in 2008, head coach John Harbaugh’s team has 50 wins during his tenure. Only the Steelers and tonight’s opponent have more with 51.

It is likely that I may be coming down a bit hard on Harbs boys after just two weeks. Beating the Eagles in their home opener is a very tough task for any team to accomplish. However, one could argue that a loss like the one suffered last week to the Eagles suggests that the Ravens will always be knocking on the door of elite (and that includes their quarterback) if they fail to learn from their own recent history.

Oh by the way, Sunday’s win over the Ravens was the first time the Eagles won a home opener since 2008. They lost to New Orleans in 09, Green Bay in 10, and the NY Giants thumped Philly 29-16 last year.  

In case you did not put that little puzzle together, all three of those teams went onto to win the Super Bowl that same season.  I wrote an article last year following the Ravens Week 2 loss in Tennessee telling Ravens fans to relax, and stop overreacting. I wrote that the Ravens would be just fine and the Titans had just thoroughly outplayed them, in other words, the Ravens got beat. 

BEATING THEMSELVES:

Last Sunday, the Ravens beat themselves and gave away their second win of the 2012 season to the Eagles. When you toss in the fact that Philly turned the ball over four times, and still won, the loss becomes cause for concern. The way the Ravens lost, their reaction to how they lost and their attitude moving forward is disturbing heading into tonight’s game vs. the Patriots. You can use that argument that the boys will be just fine, after all, they were 1-1 after two weeks the past two seasons and finished with identical 12-4 records.

While that may be true, they were a different kind of 1-1 in 2010 and last season. This team now has five years in the same system and has a ton of playoff experience. If some drastic self-evaluating didn’t take place this week at the team’s training facility known as the “Castle”, then a 1-1 “We will be OK” Ravens team, will be looking at a panicked fan base wanting answers from their 1-2 stunned group of players. While it is never a bad thing to be a confident group, it is not a good thing to believe you are better than you are showing on the field now. That currently describes the Ravens defense.

NOT THE SAME OLD VAUNTED BALTIMORE “D”

Bill Parcells said you are only as good as your record, or in the case of the Ravens defense, your ranking, which currently stands at 27 out of 32 teams. Playing without the 2011 Defensive Player of The Year in Terrell Suggs, Baltimore’s once vaunted defense is allowing 404 yards per game and when you consider the Texans have not allowed an offense to crack 200 yards yet, the Ravens have some catching up to do.

The Ravens schedule has them facing 11 Pro-Bowl quarterbacks in 13 games this season and while they are 1-1 vs. two of them so far, I hardly consider Andy Dalton and Michael Vick the best of group. Ray Lewis and company handled Andy Dalton in Week 1, but last week failed to contain Vick. The Eagles fleet footed signal caller threw for 371 yards, and Philadelphia’s offense gouged the Ravens “D” for 486 total yards.

Flacco was not the only leader laying blame elsewhere last Sunday, Ray Lewis had some for the temporary zebras as well. Ray gets the benefit of the doubt but he is not blind, No.52 has to see what is going on within his own defense and it has to scare the hell out of him.

Lewis knows the Ravens defensive backs, who since the first week of the preseason have been blowing coverage’s on both sides of the field, continues to struggle and looked bad last week.

Carey Williams looks lost, cannot tackle, and thinks he’s a lot better than he really is playing. I wonder if with each passing week Williams is starting to regret turning down the Ravens offer of a $15 million contract extension for three years. Williams play on the field is like the banker in Deal or No Deal and right now, the Ravens CB is opening nothing but high dollar suitcases, which is forcing the offers to drop when the phone rings. If he does not step up his play, the suitcase the Ravens originally offered Williams will be long gone.

Jimmy Smith is hot and cold and while that was good enough to make him the Ravens top draft choice two years ago, quarterbacks expose the “cold” aspect of your game very fast in the NFL. Lardarius Webb is having a great season and Ed Reed is Ed Reed but as you saw last week, that’s not always a good thing. Thinking he had safety protection over the top, which he should have had, Carey Williams allowed Jeremy Maclin to slip by down the left sideline. Reed, the Ravens future Hall of Fame safety chose to creep up on the Eagles QB as he was rolling left but that allowed Maclin to slip behind the entire Ravens defense and become the only player on the field in the end zone, eventually with the football in hand for six points. Paul Kruger didn’t play but  has been ineffective in place of T-Sizzle. Kruger cannot set the  edge on the run, which his replacement,  Albert McClellan actually did with six tackles and holding LeShon McCoy under 100 yards. But overall, the Ravens rush defense has allowed 129 yards on the ground per game and has given up three rushing touchdowns after allowing 10 during the entire regular season last year.  Ray Lewis leads the Ravens with 19 tackles and so far they have six sacks to match their six turnovers (3 INT’s 3 FR).

Since the start of preseason, the Ravens have allowed receivers to have some nice games. Julio Jones had over 100 yards, and so did Calvin Johnson during the preseason. Even rookie Justin Blackmon of the Jaguars anemic offense had over 70 yards receiving during the all-important dress rehearsal preseason game. During Week 1, the Baltimore secondary allowed 156 receiving yards to Andrea Hawkins and AJ Green and last week, Eagles tight end Brent Celek and Eagles wideout DeSean Jackson combined to catch 15 passes for 271 yards.

Celek was open more than a 24-hour convenience store on the left or right side of the field. Surprisingly, the Ravens held Eagles receivers to just three catches for 20 yards over the middle of the gridiron last Sunday but Eagles pass catchers had their way on each sideline. Philadelphia was 6-for-7 for 148 yards down the deep left or right sideline with one touchdown.

I don’t know about you, but I’m not sure what the replacement officials had to with all of the busted coverage’s we saw last Sunday. Ray Lewis said this week to check back at the end of the season to where the defense is ranked, I would rather they just play as the top five unit each week that we are used to seeing with an occasional bad game thrown in. Now, the Ravens defense, the vaunted Ravens defense must climb from the back of the pack like a rookie NASCAR driver at the Daytona 500. That doesn’t always end up well when the bunch gets to racing real close at those speeds and this may not either with all of the Pro-Bowl passers on the schedule if they don’t start rising up the charts tonight.

IS IT GROUNDHOG’S DAY?

Offensively speaking, and this is a far bigger matter than it was made out to be this past week in the Baltimore media, the Ravens still lack a clear offensive identity, and after five years, it is simple inexcusable.

Offensive coordinator Cam Cameron and quarterback Joe Flacco may know what they want to do and how they want to do it, but an identity only comes when you accomplish your offensive game plan with success and consistency and that must happen from week-to-week. The Ravens seem to think that just because everyone knows what you are trying to do, you have an identity.

During the past two seasons and unfortunately, heading into a third, I am getting plenty tired of hearing the arrogant responses from the players and coaches at 1 Winning Drive concerning poor play calling and bad situational decisions. Asking why and with a 10-point lead on the road, the Ravens threw 12 passes and ran just twice to start the second half last Sunday in Philadelphia, is not a bad question. Ray Rice did not take a hand-off from Joe Flacco until there was 5:30 left to play in the third quarter and that deserves some justification. Despite extending their lead to 23-17 on their final scoring drive midway through the final quarter, Cameron and Flacco continued to throw the ball. They ran five times and passed four times on the Ravens final scoring drive.

Learning from past mistakes does not seem to be catching on with the Ravens offensive coordinator Cam Cameron. While Joe Flacco does appear to be more mature in terms of leadership and some of his mechanics, everyone knew Joe was throwing that little swing flair pass to Ray Rice last week on fourth down during the Ravens last possession.  With two shots to get a yard and a half, the Ravens failed and the Eagles took a knee for the victory.

If you want further proof that the Ravens are still very much in flux over what kind of offense they are ask yourself these two questions. If the Ravens are trailing by 3 points and time is not a factor, who should have the ball in their hands making plays? Then ask yourself, why doesn’t he? Ok, so it’s three questions, and the third one is a bit more complex, or not; entering the season, the Ravens were 21-1 when Ray Rice touched the football 20 or more times in a game, do numbers lie?

The next area of concern is how the team handled itself following last week’s loss in Philadelphia.  Joe Flacco and Ray Lewis blamed the officiating and John Harbaugh seemed to echo that sentiment with the way he did not answer reporters questions throughout the week, offering a smile and providing suggestive answers to questions about replacement officials hoping to avoid fines with his responses.

While I’m not buying into the whole elite QB talk when it comes to Joe Flacco, mainly because the fact it came up at all isn’t his fault,  I wanted to hear Joe Cool own up to his poor performance during the second half of last week’s game. There wasn’t one official on the field that had a damn thing to do with Flacco completing 8 of 25 passes (32%) with an interception.

I would have loved to hear Flacco simply say he and his offense did not play good enough. I want to know why he is putting too much air under his throws and why he is checking down to Dennis Pitta so quickly these days.

You did not hear Tom Brady and Bill Belichick blame anyone but themselves and their teams poor play for their loss at home to the underrated Arizona Cardinals last week. In fact, if anything, the Patriots were eerily calm about the loss and seemed business as usual following their first home opener loss since 2001. The Patriots know that if they lose tonight their NFL record of 157 consecutive weeks with a winning record will be over.

If the Ravens truly aspire as an organization to have what the Patriots and Steelers possess, then I hope they understand, namely Flacco, Harbaugh, and Cameron, that they must be willing to accept blame.

You hear players and coaches say all the time that the average fan has no idea what is going on out there on the field. While that may be true, most of us can identify a poor throw, and a missed tackle and we most certainly can identify bad play calling. I like that Harbaugh does not call his players out during a press conference, but if your baby is ugly, then sometimes call it so. It does not hurt to say we played poorly as a team and were outcoached.

Not only do I want to know why the Ravens did not continue to give Ray Rice the ball last week, but also I want to know why the Ravens have not learned from not giving Ray Rice the ball enough in situations just as last week. Yes, Rice had 22 total touches last week and that number defies all logic in terms of when Rice touches the ball 20 or more times in a game the Ravens usually win. However, Rice was averaging a little over six yards per carry and with what the Ravens just handed the fifth year back in terms of a contract, I think it would be OK to ask him for 30 touches, or OH MY GOODNESS 35 in a game when his teams needs him. 

Would giving Rice another six, seven, or eight touches have mad e a difference? Just like the horrendous game in Jacksonville last year, and then again in Seattle a few weeks after the loss on Monday night football, we will never know. Nevertheless, it sure would be nice to find out with a 10-point lead on the road in Week 2.

The point to all of this is, why in the hell are we still asking this question? Ray Rice is the key to the Ravens offense, period, and end of story! Do you think Cam Cameron even knows that under his guidance during the past four seasons the Ravens have rushed for 130.8 yards per game, fourth most in the NFL. Baltimore also has 71 rushing TDs, ranking fourth most. Oh yeah, they have the second most wins during that span as well.

RAVENS KEEP HOME STEREAK ALIVE

The Ravens have an opportunity to put all of this behind them with a win tonight against the Patriots. Baltimore has never beaten the Patriots during a regular season game and is 0-2 at home. Tonight is an opportunity to prove to the football world that last week was merely a blip on the radar instead of a prelude to a long season in the Charm city.

I said during my radio show this week that last week’s loss could be the one that makes the Ravens 12-4, or 11-5 again, instead of 13-3 or the 14-2 record they may need to host the AFC title game. You never know how bad a loss is until the season is done, but I circled last weeks beacuse I have a sick feeling it could loom large. The same could be said for winning games against teams like the Patriots tonight.

A win for Baltimore tonight and maybe the Ravens are hosting the AFC Championship game instead of travelling to New England to play it. You never know how these things play out, but what I do know is this, Joe Flacco, Ray Lewis and the rest of the Baltimore Ravens better play their best, most disciplined, mistake free football against Tom Brady and the rest of Bill Belichick’s team tonight.

Including the playoffs, the Ravens have won 12 straight games at M&T Bank Stadium, the longest home winning streak in the NFL. The team that was second on that list had their home winning streak snapped with their first loss in a home opener since 2001 last Sunday. That team will be looking to end the Ravens streak tonight and you had better believe the New England Patriots will do whatever it takes to accomplish their mission.

The good news for Ravens fans is that Baltimore is the better team. The Patriots cannot protect Tom Brady and their defense, which is ranked second in the NFL, is still very young and inexperienced. The only way the Ravens lose tonight is the same way they lost week, and last year against the Patriots in the AFC Championship game, if they beat themselves and give the game away.