In A Fog

The Ravens aren't alone in having trouble finding their way while trying to repeat the success of the 2006 season

Ravens Weekend

November 09, 2007|By Don Markus | Don Markus,SUN REPORTER

The red flag might have been raised last January, when the Ravens showed up at M&T Bank Stadium for their first playoff game in three years, ready to bury the Indianapolis Colts and enough of Baltimore's emotional baggage to fill a fleet of Mayflower moving vans.

The 15-6 loss to the eventual Super Bowl champions has proved to be a foreshadowing of the 2007 season, when the Ravens have become one of the NFL's disappointing teams. But among the scathing remarks that followed Monday night's 38-7 rout in Pittsburgh comes a dose of reality.

The Ravens have plenty of company in their mediocrity. After losing to the Colts in the Super Bowl, the Chicago Bears benched quarterback Rex Grossman earlier this season and are still floundering at 3-5; the New York Jets, considered one of the league's up-and-coming teams a year ago under coach Eric Mangini, are down-and-out at 1-8; and the San Diego Chargers, a league-best 14-2 last season under Marty Schottenhiemer, are a middling 4-4 this season under Norv Turner. At 4-4 going into Sunday's home game against the Cincinnati Bengals (2-6), the Ravens are not close to being the biggest bust in the league this season. Nor are their struggles that shocking to those who recall what has happened in Baltimore for several years.

ESPN analyst Ron Jaworski said it was a matter of time before a lack of offense caught up with the Ravens.

"I don't believe week in and week out you can play slugfest games, battle it out in the trenches, and win consistently," Jaworski said yesterday. "The 2000 season [when the Ravens won the Super Bowl] to me was an aberration. It was an incredible defensive year, and a lot of things fell their way offensively. The game is now an offensive game."

Former Dallas Cowboys player personnel director Gil Brandt said it doesn't take much to see the pendulum called parity in the NFL swing against a team such as the Ravens.

"Teams are closer together, and if you let a key player or two get old, you give up some turnovers, all of a sudden instead of being 13-3, you're 8-8," Brandt said this week.

"I think that when you look at teams that had great aspirations and then get beat at home by Indianapolis like they did last year, not score a touchdown, for some untold or unknown reason, it's hard to get back to where you were."

Here are some reasons the Ravens and others have faltered.

Where does it hurt?

Injuries are typically the biggest contributor to a team's not living up to expectations.

The Ravens are certainly not alone in this area.

The Bengals, expected to challenge in the AFC North, have been depleted by injuries to their linebackers, as well as running back Rudi Johnson, offensive tackle Willie Anderson and now wide receiver Chad Johnson, who didn't practice yesterday after suffering a neck injury Sunday.

The St. Louis Rams might be the most affected, playing nearly all of what has become an 0-8 nightmare without left offensive tackle Orlando Pace, as well as extended periods without running back Steven Jackson, wide receiver Isaac Bruce and quarterback Marc Bulger.

But teams have overcome injuries to remain competitive. Dick Jauron certainly will get some votes for Coach of the Year, given how devastated the Bills could have been by the number of players sidelined but instead are a respectable 4-4.

Older, not better

Brandt recalled what happened to the Cowboys in the 1980s. After losing in three straight NFC championship games and then being beaten earlier in the playoffs in two of the next three years, the Cowboys began a stretch of five consecutive losing seasons that bottomed out with 1-15 in 1989.

"We felt that we had a pretty good team and rather than changing over and bringing some young players in, we kind of stayed with the same players too long," Brandt said.

The Ravens fit that description when it comes to quarterback Steve McNair, 34, and maybe some others. The Philadelphia Eagles (3-5) have struggled with the return of rapidly aging quarterback Donovan McNabb. The Denver Broncos (3-5) have been hampered by injuries, in part brought on by advancing age.

There are exceptions to that rule. The Green Bay Packers, who appeared to be pushing Brett Favre toward retirement in the previous two seasons, have been revived in a 7-1 start by their 38-year-old quarterback.

If it's not broke ...

Many were skeptical when the Chargers fired Schottenheimer after losing to the New England Patriots in a divisional playoff game. That skepticism only deepened when Turner, who lost more than he won in Washington and Oakland, was hired.

The focus of the blame in San Diego has fallen on Turner.

"I think you can try to blame it on Norv Turner, but I would love to see him go out and try to tackle somebody right now," linebacker Shawne Merriman said after Minnesota Vikings rookie running back Adrian Peterson rushed for a league-record 296 yards against the Chargers on Sunday.

Flunking chemistry

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