Wilt Thou Fly Away, O Raven?
Let’s just say that as the Ravens return from their week off, coach John Harbaugh has his hands full on all fronts.
With nearly a half a season in the books, the defending Super Bowl champions would be sitting at home watching the playoffs if the postseason began today.
After yesterday’s games, the Ravens are second in their division, the AFC North.
More ominously, their 3-4 record locks them in a scrum of roughly eight teams battling for a wild card berth, assuming that either Denver or Kansas City will get the first of two AFC wild card slots.
For his part, Harbaugh has got the optimism thing down pat, noting that his team has done well over the prior five years here in Baltimore in overcoming adversity.
True enough, but none of Harbaugh’s previous squads has been tested in the ways this team has to date, with many of the difficulties of their own making.
Indeed, linebacker Terrell Suggs was quite accurate last week when he told Sports Illustrated writer Peter King, quote, “We know what we gotta fix—offense, defense, special teams. We’re in a state of emergency.”
To wit, the Ravens’ offense has been a bit of an enigma. The passing game has been sporadic, while the running game has been flat out anemic.
Of the 32 teams in the NFL, the Ravens rank 28th in rushing yardage. Even as the league moves to more of a passing game, Baltimore needs to be able to run the ball to open the field for quarterback Joe Flacco.
Yet, Ray Rice, one of the league’s best running backs over his first five years, is on pace for only 550 yards this year.
While Rice has been nursing a sore hip, there are those who yearn for the old Ray Rice, while wondering if he hasn’t become old Ray Rice.
Special teams play has also been spotty. Two punts have been blocked and Pittsburgh’s game winning field goal was set up by a long kickoff return.
Meanwhile, the defense, the historic heart and soul of this team, has broken down at key moments.
The defense is ranked 19th overall in the league, and has given up close to 300 rushing yards total in the last two games.
In addition, the Ravens have lapsed into undisciplined play. As of Saturday, they were tied for 12th in the NFL in penalties per game, with seven.
Of the teams that had more penalties, only two-- Seattle and San Francisco, the team they beat in the Super Bowl -- have winning records.
The Ravens have nine games to turn things around and their schedule doesn’t look oppressively hard.
They have two games with the Bengals still left on the schedule and as long as they don’t fall any further behind, those games will matter.
That’s the view John Harbaugh will try to sell his players.