Ravens aren't a championship-caliber team

December 14, 2010|Mike Preston

HOUSTON — The Ravens are a playoff-contending team because there aren't many good teams in the NFL.

At this point in the season, the good teams separate themselves from the bad teams and have established an identity heading into the playoffs. The Ravens are a team that can't beat the good ones and feast on the average ones.

Barely.

The Ravens pulled out a victory against the Houston Texans in overtime Monday night, but this was far from convincing. In fact, it was embarrassing. From a city and a franchise that once prided itself on great defense, the Ravens blew not one, but two 21-point leads to a team that tried its best to lose this game before halftime.

A Ravens offense, filled with so much promise before the start of the season, had another second-half meltdown. You can blame it on offensive coordinator Cam Cameron. You can blame it on quarterback Joe Flacco or the offensive line, but the bottom line is that it's not getting any better. It's the same show every week.

On the other side of the ball, it's not much better. In the Ravens locker room, we hear about a win being a win, and how hard it is to win on the road, and blah, blah, blah. In the second half Monday night, the Ravens gave up scoring drives of 70, 42, 99 and 95 yards.

Right now, this isn't championship material. It's a recipe for one and done in the postseason. Worse yet, the Ravens still haven't improved significantly from the first game of the season.

Shaking things up on offense

All week, coach John Harbaugh hinted at the Ravens returning to old-school, at becoming a power-running team again. They made some changes and unveiled a new strategy, but they are still far from becoming a dominant running team.

The Ravens inserted third-year player Oniel Cousins at right offensive tackle for Marshal Yanda and moved Yanda back to his natural position at right guard. The former starter at right guard, Chris Chester, played tight end. The move was supposed to give the Ravens more muscle, but it didn't work. At one point, the Ravens inserted seven offensive linemen in the game in a short-yardage situation.

But after two quarters, the Ravens had only 46 yards on 15 carries against a team that entered the game allowing 101.4 yards a game. The offense went stale again in the second half.

The Ravens at least get a couple of more weeks to find out whether they can revert back to the form of yesteryear. But the days of this team knocking another team off the ball appear to be over.

Return for the better

Hopefully, the Ravens' return game is starting to turn for the better. Since putting Lardarius Webb back to return punts and rookie David Reed on kickoff returns several weeks ago, the team has come close to breaking several for touchdowns, and Reed scored on a 103-yard kickoff return to open the second half.

Webb also came close to breaking a punt return for a touchdown in the first half. Maybe the special teams units can take some of the pressure off the offense and defense by winning the field-position battle, something this group hasn't done often this season.

Job on the line?

Three NFL coaches have been fired before the end of the 2010 season, and there are a couple of more on the hot seat, including Houston's Gary Kubiak. Before Monday night's game, Kubiak had a 36-40 record in five seasons in Houston.

The Texans have had only one winning season in that time and haven't participated in the postseason. There is speculation that if Houston doesn't earn a playoff berth, which is highly unlikely, Kubiak could be looking for a new job. Fans were already booing the Texans with five minutes left in the second quarter.

Haven't fixed the problem

All week, Ravens left tackle Michael Oher talked about being focused and not jumping offside. Well, his focus lasted until midway through the first period, when Oher was flagged for an illegal procedure. If the problem can't be corrected, the Ravens should just make the snap count one all the time.

Penalties like that hurt in big games. Remember Pittsburgh?

Not getting it done

The Ravens rectified some of their pass-protection problems Monday night, but it will be hard to be successful with this type of strategy against good teams in the postseason.

For most of the first quarter, the Ravens went with maximum protection and sent out only two receivers. They were hoping to get away from this at the beginning of the season, but it's apparent their tackle play hasn't improved enough and, overall, the passing game will suffer because the Ravens have to keep in a tight end or running back to pass-block.

Letting one slip

The oops award goes to Ravens wide receiver Derrick Mason, who dropped a long pass from Flacco on the team's fourth offensive play of the game. Mason had Texans cornerback Kareem Jackson beat by a couple of steps, but he forgot something.

The ball.

Mason made up for it, however, with a 9-yard touchdown catch in the second quarter.

Texans grounded early

The Texans came into Monday night's game with the NFL's 10-ranked passing attack, averaging 242.5 yards. But they looked like a different team in the first half. Houston receivers dropped five passes, three by tight end Owen Daniels. Houston quarterback Matt Schaub also overthrew three wide-open receivers.

The Texans did get one break when Andre Johnson scored on a 46-yard reception late in the second quarter. Johnson caught Ravens safety Ed Reed sleeping. It wasn't a good night for Reed as far tackling, either.

Winter warriors

The Texans entered the game with a 10-0 record at home in December and January since falling to the Tennessee Titans in overtime in 2006.

mike.preston@baltsun.com

Listen to Mike Preston on "The Bruce Cunningham Show" from noon to 2 p.m. on Mondays and Fridays on 105.7 FM.

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