4-4 isn't the end of the world for Ravens

November 10, 2009|By Jamison Hensley | jamison.hensley@baltsun.com

NFL history says the struggling Ravens still have a decent shot at making the playoffs.

Since 2000, 22 teams have started 4-4 like the Ravens and reached the playoffs, including three each in the past three seasons.

But the reality of the situation says the Ravens have work to do before thinking about the postseason. From a faltering defense to a slow-starting offense to an unreliable kicking game, the Ravens' problems are mounting along with the losses.

"This is the turning point now," outside linebacker Jarret Johnson said after the Ravens' 17-7 loss at Cincinnati on Sunday. "If you don't start winning, you've got problems. We left ourselves with no room for error."

Turning around the season isn't out of the question. The Ravens' second-half opponents have a combined record of 32-32 (.500).

But the challenge for the Ravens is reaching 10 wins when they still have to go against the undefeated Indianapolis Colts (8-0), travel to play the Green Bay Packers (4-4) in a December night game and twice face the defending Super Bowl champion Pittsburgh Steelers (6-2). Of those four games, the Ravens can't lose more than twice if they want a solid shot at making the playoffs.

"Obviously, every game becomes huge right now," tight end Todd Heap said. "When you lose a few games early, that's how you set yourselves up. We know where we're at and what we have to do."

Last season, six teams hit the midway point of their seasons with 4-4 records. Half of them (the Miami Dolphins, Minnesota Vikings and Indianapolis Colts) earned playoff berths.

The problem for the Ravens is that nearly half the AFC teams have better records than they do. There are seven teams in the conference with at least five wins, and there are only six playoff spots.

"That's something that veteran or mature guys will never do. We'll never panic," cornerback Domonique Foxworth said. "Looking at the big picture, we haven't played our best football. It's not over until it's mathematically over for us. We're going to keep playing, and we're going to step up."

Here are the three pressing questions facing the Ravens at the midway point of the season:

•Are the Ravens contemplating a change at kicker? Ravens coach John Harbaugh didn't give a strong vote of confidence to Steve Hauschka a day after the kicker missed his second straight fourth-quarter kick.

Asked whether the Ravens are ready to replace Hauschka, Harbaugh said Monday: "We're not ready to make any kind of announcement on that. We think Steve's going to be a really good kicker in the NFL. I'm disappointed with that kick, and I know Steve is, too. He can kick that ball a lot better. It was not a good swing. We're not ready to say we don't think he's going to be a good kicker in the NFL yet."

Hauschka's missed 38-yard field goal in Cincinnati makes him 1-for-3 in the fourth quarter this season. Last season, Matt Stover was 22-for-23 inside 40 yards and was 5-for-5 in the fourth quarter.

"I'm definitely disappointed with that [kick]," Hauschka told RaveTV. "It's a kick I have to make to put our team in a position to win."

He added, "I'm confident in the way I've been kicking, so I just hope this is preparing me for another day when they're going to need me even more."

One option for the Ravens is to sign free-agent kicker Mike Nugent. The Ravens recently tried him out when Hauschka hurt his ankle.

•Is there any consideration to starting rookie Lardarius Webb over Fabian Washington at cornerback? Harbaugh didn't say this would happen, but he didn't shoot it down, either. When Webb came in after Washington bruised his thigh, he played with energy and aggressiveness.

If the Ravens wanted to switch at cornerback, it might be best to make the transition against the Cleveland Browns, who have the NFL's worst pass offense.

"There's always a consideration for anybody that's playing well to be one of the best 11," Harbaugh said. "You ask about his role every week because every week you see him play well. So, we'll see how it works this week. That's not to say anything negative about Fabian or Domonique or any other corners because I thought they played pretty well, too."

Washington's effort Sunday was tainted by the fact that he was called for interfering with Chad Ochocinco, a 24-yard penalty that converted a fourth-and-2.

"He's got plenty of ability to be able to run with Chad and make a play … and not have to grab a wrist or whatever happened there," Harbaugh said.

•How can the Ravens jump-start their offense in games? The Ravens haven't scored a first-quarter touchdown in their past four games. The only points during that span have come from a 43-yard field goal. On Sunday, the Ravens were shut out in the first quarter, gaining a total of 31 yards.

Slow starts haven't always been the trend for the Ravens. The offense scored first-quarter touchdowns in the first four games of the season.

In their last three road losses, the Ravens have trailed at halftime by an average of 12.6 points.

"You can't start slow like that and expect good things to happen," Heap said. "You have to play a full game. Offensively, we have to come out and set a better tone."

Jamison Hensley's 3 questions facing the Ravens at midseason:
1. Are the

Ravens contemplating a change at kicker?

2. Is there any consideration given to starting rookie cornerback Lardarius Webb over Fabian Washington (left)?

3. How can the Ravens jump-start their offense in games?

Finishing strong
In the previous three seasons, nine teams have started 4-4 and reached the playoffs: YearTeamW/L Season end'06Dallas9-7Lost wild card'06 Jets10-6Lost wild card'06Phil.10-6Lost divisional '07SD11-5Lost AFC champ.'07Sea.10-6Lost divisional'07TB9-7Lost wild card'08Miami11-5Lost wild card'08Ind.12-4Lost wild card'08Minn.10-6Lost wild card

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