Too early to panic, but not too early to be concerned about Ravens

September 21, 2010|Peter Schmuck

In the aftermath of the Ravens' ugly performance against the Cincinnati Bengals on Sunday, everyone is calling for calm.

John Harbaugh says Joe Flacco will be fine. Some in the media are certain the team needs just a few minor tweaks to look like a Super Bowl contender again.

In other words, it's too early to panic about a supposedly upgraded offensive team that has scored 10 points in each of its first two games.

Of course, any reasonable observer would probably agree, since it's hard to argue with a 1-1 record after playing twice in six days against playoff-caliber teams on the road, but there is little time for reason in the roller-coaster of emotions known as the National Football League.

The Ravens came into this season so laden with expectations — one major preseason power poll rated them the second-best team in the league — you can't help but be seriously deflated after watching Flacco and the team's expanded cast of playmakers struggle to move the ball against the New York Jets and Bengals or, for that matter, simply hold onto it.

Sure, those two uninspiring efforts came against two very good defensive teams under difficult conditions, but they were also the kind of teams the Ravens will have to beat under similar circumstances in the playoffs if they are fortunate enough to get that far. And despite all the preseason hype that surrounded this team after two straight postseason runs under Harbaugh and the addition of Anquan Boldin, T.J. Houshmanzadeh and Donte Stallworth, the playoffs are not a foregone conclusion.

The Ravens are a game down to the defending AFC North champions and, well, has anyone noticed that the supposedly wounded Pittsburgh Steelers are 2-0 against two tough opponents in spite of the temporary absence of elite quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and the loss of backup Dennis Dixon for several weeks to a knee injury?

If you aren't starting to get an uneasy feeling about this season, you're probably not paying close enough attention. Flacco hasn't been sharp. The offensive line has not been giving him a lot of time to throw. The receivers haven't been getting separation. The Ravens are 1-1 because their terrific defense has yet to allow a touchdown.

Maybe it's just a matter of making a couple of adjustments and getting back on a normal practice schedule, but we're not going to know that until the Ravens put some points up against a quality defense and increase the margin of error so they can't be undone by a couple of bad calls or big plays.

This week's game against the Cleveland Browns should be an opportunity for Cam Cameron to tune up the offensive attack, but the only news — on that front — that could come out of Sunday's home opener at M&T Bank Stadium would be bad news.

If the Ravens struggle to a 13-6 victory over the unimposing Browns, I'll race you to the panic button.

The real test will come the following week, when the Ravens head into another lion's den to face the Steelers. That will almost certainly be another defensive struggle, but it could also be a reality check if the Ravens can't outscore a divisional rival that is without its top two quarterbacks.

It's not about the won-loss record. In that regard, it's obviously too early in the season to draw any conclusions one way or the other. The Ravens could pass the quarter pole with a 2-2 record and be in fine shape, because the schedule softens up considerably after they go on the road to face the New England Patriots in Week 6.

They also figure to be stronger and more versatile with the return of Stallworth and superstar safety Ed Reed, who are expected to come off the PUP (Physically Unable to Perform) list after the Patriots game.

Don't misunderstand. There is still plenty of reason to be excited and optimistic, and it'll be a little easier to stay that way if the Ravens take out some of their early season offensive frustration on the Browns this Sunday.

If there also is an undercurrent of anxiety, it is because the Ravens do not look like a great football team yet, and they have created a level of expectation at which merely good will not be good enough.

peter.schmuck@baltsun.com

Listen to Peter Schmuck on WBAL (1090 AM) at noon Fridays and Saturdays and at 6 p.m. Tuesdays and Thursdays with Brett Hollander. Also, check out his blog, "The Schmuck Stops Here," at baltimoresun.com/schmuckblog.

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