Three Things We've Learned About the Ravens during their 3-1 start

October 10, 2011|By Kevin Van Valkenburg | The Baltimore Sun

1. Expectations for Joe Flacco might have been a little too high considering all the new receivers the Ravens have been trying to integrate into their offense. That said, even his biggest supporters are starting to acknowledge that he needs to be more consistent for the Ravens to win a Super Bowl.

Flacco stated before the season that he wanted the Ravens to be viewed as his team this year, and that he wanted the ball in his hands in big moments. He might finally get the respect he feels he deserves if he played well, and if he didn't get the job done, he had no problem taking heat for his performance. What's interesting about Flacco in 2011 is we've seen both sides of it already. He looked like a future Hall of Famer in games against the Steelers and Rams, and yet the Titans and Jets have made him look like a I-AA quarterback. The fact that he has the lowest completion percentage in the NFL shouldn't be alarming -- the sample size is much too small -- but it certainly has Ravens fans feeling a little uneasy despite a 3-1 record.

It might be a little unfair considering Lee Evans has barely played with an ankle injury and Torrey Smith and Ed Dickson are still figuring out the NFL. We won't know how good the Ravens passing game can be until midseason at the earliest  But the difficult thing about Flacco is, he'll play so well for one quarter, one half, or one game, that he'll raise expectations to unrealistic levels. Those expectations aren't unfair, however, because that's the burden every talented quarterback has to bear in the NFL.

What has to be conceded in evaluating Flacco is that he needs to be better if the Ravens are going to win the Super Bowl. The NFL has changed a ton since 2000, to the point where it's almost become basketball on grass. If you think all Flacco needs to do is pull a Trent Dilfer and not lose games for the Ravens, you haven't been paying enough attention. The era of game managers and grinders is gone. Defenses are at such a disadvantage with the current rules, that if you can't throw the ball down the field to your playmakers, and consistently put pressure on the other team to make plays in open space, you're likely going to get left behind.

2. The Ravens corners don't have to be great as long as the front seven can get pressure on the quarterback.

Cary Williams, Chris Carr and Lardarius Webb aren't going to scare too many quarterbacks. They're solid NFL corners, but each of them has flaws that can be taken advantage of. Yet as long as the Ravens continue to find creative ways to rush the passer, their flaws are minimized. What teams are finding out about the Ravens is if you can catch Ed Reed cheating on one side, you might be able to get a receiver open with a double move on the other side of the field, but you probably won't have time for the play to develop. Chances are good that Haloti Ngata or Terrell Suggs (or Corey Redding or Pernell McPhee) will be breathing down your neck.

It's certainly a risk/reward strategy. The Ravens made life miserable for Ben Roethlisberger, Sam Bradford and Mark Sanchez, but when the Titans kept Matt Hasselbeck off his back with some pretty good blocking, he exposed some of the flaws in Baltimore's cover schemes. The trick for defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano will be to continue using a variety of blitzes so that teams have a hard time figuring out where pressure is coming from. Ngata and Suggs have shown they're two of the hardest players in the league to block, and that should free up Pagano to play mad scientist and bring pressure from tons of different positions.

The Ravens are going to get burned occasionally -- that's just the reality of a blitzing defense -- but they'll create a lot of turnovers, too. The defense this year is nothing like the defense in 2000. Those comparisons are a little silly, frankly. That defense was so good, it suffocated offenses more than it forced turnovers. You simply couldn't get a first down. This Ravens defense will give up its share of yards, but it will also make you pay.

3. If you want Cam Cameron to stop calling passes and focus more on running the ball, even in blowouts, you might be missing the big picture.

When you're an offensive coordinator trying to develop young players, especially a young quarterback, you have to occasionally make decisions that you know aren't going to be popular. Or even consistently successful. But they're necessary for long-term growth. I think we saw an example of this against the Jets.

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