Ravens Need To Rebound Over Next Month

By PFC Ravens Writer Martin Steger

The Ravens endured their third consecutive loss on Sunday, though this one wasn’t nearly as competitive as the previous two. Peyton Manning continued his string of success against Baltimore, making the Ravens’ secondary look scarily like the injury-riddled 2007 version in a 30-3 thumping. Furthermore, Joe Flacco continued to show his age, throwing a season-high three interceptions. The rookie started strong but has struggled recently, helping to land the Ravens below .500 for the first time this year.

Though Baltimore’s once-promising season now looks muddled at 2-3, they have a needed opportunity to bounce back over the next month, provided they fix Flacco’s woes and prove Sunday’s defensive meltdown was a fluke.

The Ravens’ next game is at Miami. Looks easy because Miami was 1-15 last year…except that “1” came against Baltimore. On top of that, the Dolphins are greatly improved this year, sporting a stronger defense and innovative offense. This game is winnable for the Ravens, however. Dolphins quarterback Chad Pennington is solid, but can’t pick a defense apart like Manning and might not be able to punish the Ravens’ gambling corners as readily. Though it will be a challenge, the Ravens need this win: They’re not a team built to climb out of a big hole on the scoreboard or in the standings, so stopping their 3-game skid is essential.

After that, the Raiders come to town for the Ravens’ lone home game in a 6-week stretch. Depending on how the team responds to its new coaching regime, Oakland’s strong running game will be a test—the Ravens have an elite run defense, but gave up some yards against the Colts by going for the big hit instead of the sure tackle. This is a matchup to watch in another game the Ravens can win, provided they fix the offense (sound familiar?) and go back to playing strong defense.

Following the Oakland game is a road trip to Cleveland. The Ravens have already showed they can beat Cleveland; now it’s just a matter of doing it on the road in a Dawg Pound rejuvenated by Cleveland’s victory over the Giants. If Cleveland and Baltimore have managed to climb back into the wild card conversation by the time this game rolls around, it will be a critical juncture for both teams. Baltimore is skidding while Cleveland showed signs of life on Monday night, however, so the former trend needs to reverse for this game to matter.

The next week, Baltimore travels to Houston to make up the “Hurricane Ike” game. This is normally when the Ravens would be resting up after nine challenging weeks, but instead they will face the Texans before launching into the truly tough part of their schedule. If the Ravens come out of this game with anything worse than a 5-4 record, the playoffs will be all but out of reach.

The final seven games are brutal, starting with the defending champion New York Giants, a team that still has enough pass rush to give the Ravens’ line some trouble. From the Giants game on, there isn’t a single game the Ravens would be favored in right now, aside from a road trip to Cincinnati.

On top of the Giants, the Ravens also play the rest of the strong NFC East, including a trip to Dallas for the last regular-season game in Texas Stadium. If the energy in the building doesn’t give the young Ravens enough problems, then the trio of Terrell Owens, Jason Witten and Roy Williams might—the Ravens’ #1 defense is strong enough to deal with them, but not if they play the way they did against Indianapolis. Mixed in with the NFC East gauntlet is a home game against Pittsburgh and the season-ender against Jacksonville, both tough, physical teams.

The Ravens need to fix their struggles on offense and mental lapses on defense. Quickly, because they won’t have the time or the breathing room to do it later in the schedule.