Can they step up?

When playing teams over .500, Ravens face different issues

November 18, 2008|By Jamison Hensley | Jamison Hensley,jamison.hensley@baltsun.com

If the regular season ended today, the Ravens would receive the sixth and final playoff spot in the AFC.

But would they deserve it?

After Sunday's 30-10 loss at the New York Giants, the Ravens are 1-4 against teams with a winning record.

"We're 6-4. What do we have to prove to anybody?" wide receiver Derrick Mason said. "We have a band of 53 guys in this room and we're going to keep fighting for one another. At the end of the season, we'll see where we stack up against the rest of the teams in the NFL."

Of the top eight teams in the AFC, the Ravens have the fewest victories against teams with winning records.

The Tennessee Titans (2-0), Pittsburgh Steelers (2-3), New York Jets (4-1), Denver Broncos (2-2), Indianapolis Colts (3-1), Miami Dolphins (3-3) and New England Patriots (3-3) all have better marks than the Ravens when facing teams above .500.

The Ravens' only victory against a playoff contender came against the Dolphins (who didn't have a winning record at the time). The rest of the Ravens' wins have come against teams with a combined record of 12-35-1.

The Ravens, though, seem to welcome the doubters.

"We're back where we started the year at - everybody against us and all we got is ourselves," defensive end-linebacker Terrell Suggs said.

The Ravens will have several chances to prove themselves. Starting with Sunday's game against the Philadelphia Eagles, four of the Ravens' last six games in the regular season are against teams with winning records.

"The only thing you do is position yourself to get in the playoffs," linebacker Ray Lewis said after the Ravens' first loss in five weeks. "You come back and regroup with four out of the next six in Baltimore. I'll take my odds."

Here are the four major reasons the Ravens have struggled against teams with winning records:

Turnovers

When the Ravens don't give the ball up, they don't give the game away. It's the biggest disparity in the Ravens' play against the better teams in the NFL.

In five games against teams with winning records, quarterback Joe Flacco has turned the ball over eight times (seven interceptions and one fumble). In five games against teams with non-winning records, Flacco has given the ball up twice (both were interceptions).

It showed up in yesterday's loss when the Ravens were trailing 20-10 and were driving toward midfield. But a high pass by Flacco bounced off receiver Derrick Mason and got picked off by Aaron Ross, who returned the interception 50 yards for a touchdown.

Penalties

The Ravens are committing an average of one more penalty against teams with winning records. But it's not about the numbers. It's about the timing.

Two personal fouls - Jarret Johnson in Pittsburgh and Terrell Suggs in Tennessee - played big roles late in a couple of three-point losses. In Sunday's loss at New York, the Ravens had nine penalties in the first half, including six (four defensive offside and two false starts on the offense) before the ball was snapped.

The toughest penalty against the Giants came when defensive tackle Justin Bannan was called for being offside, negating Fabian Washington's first-quarter interception.

No run game

Offensive coordinator Cam Cameron has never hidden the fact that he loves to run the ball. But that foundation has cracked against the top-tier teams.

The Ravens' running back by committee has taken turns stumbling against Pittsburgh, Tennessee and Indianapolis, averaging less than 4 yards a carry. In New York, Flacco was the team's leading rusher because Willis McGahee (2.0-yard average) and Ray Rice (2.4) struggled to consistently run the ball.

The Ravens average 102.4 rushing yards against teams with winning records, significantly lower than against the other teams (185.4 yards).

Poor tackling

The Ravens have been one of the best tackling teams during the past decade. So the few times they fail to wrap up opponents, it's that much more magnified - especially when it results in big plays against winning teams.

Their control of the game in Pittsburgh vanished in the third quarter when receiver Santonio Holmes bounced off Chris McAlister's attempted tackle and then sidestepped Ed Reed for the 38-yard touchdown.

Their spirits were crushed in Indianapolis late in the first half when running back Dominic Rhodes broke a 38-yard run after missed tackles by Trevor Pryce, Lewis, Jim Leonhard, Johnson and Frank Walker.

And their chances at upsetting the defending Super Bowl champions were stomped on Sunday when Brandon Jacobs, Ahmad Bradshaw and Derrick Ward gashed the top-ranked run defense for huge runs.

If the Ravens want to deliver a big win, they have to stop the big play.

EAGLES (5-4-1) @RAVENS (6-4)

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Line: Ravens 1 1/2

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