Ravens offense has to prove its worth on Sunday — or else

The Ravens can't afford more growing pains with their revamped offense

October 27, 2011|Mike Preston

There was no reason to panic after the Ravens' loss to Jacksonville Monday night, but if they lose to Arizona Sunday it will be a cause for major concern.

In fact, all hell will probably break loose at The Castle Monday morning.

There is a good chance it won't happen. The Ravens have won nine straight after a loss and are 22-5 at home under fourth-year head coach John Harbaugh. Plus, the Cardinals are horrible, but upsets can happen — as the Ravens' 12-7 loss to Jacksonville showed.

The Ravens, though, can't lose to another 1-5 team. They can't possibly go nearly another three straight quarters without a first down, or lose 33 yards on another series, can they?

You almost have to try to be that bad again.

"I think it gets your attention, no matter what, because you have to line up and play on Sunday, and this can happen," said Harbaugh of the dismal defeat in Jacksonville. "If it is a harsh reminder, then so be it — it's probably good for everybody. You can't afford to let games slip between your fingers."

"By the same token, everybody gets beat in this league," he said. "We'll see if anybody is undefeated. Everybody gets humiliated; everybody gets the snot kicked out of them at one time or another in life and in football. So, you have to get back up and go to work."

You like Harbaugh's spirit and the rah-rah speak. But if the Ravens lose to Arizona and turn in another stinker on offense, it might be time to find a bridge, because somebody is either going to be pushed or jump off it soon.

And we're not just talking about offensive coordinator Cam Cameron or quarterback Joe Flacco. If the Ravens have to blow up this offense, then owner Steve Bisciotti has to huddle with general manager Ozzie Newsome and personnel director Eric DeCosta to ask certain questions.

Here are just a few: "Why haven't we been able to have an efficient, productive offense since Ted Marchibroda? Why is our offensive line so poor when we've used multiple draft picks to build it in recent years? Why can't we find a quarterback? Why can't we draft a receiver who can run a comeback route and actually come back to the quarterback?"

Those would be justified because during the offseason the Ravens fired quarterback coach Jim Zorn and offensive line coach John Matsko. They signed speedy veteran receiver Lee Evans and the league's best fullback, Vonta Leach. They drafted rookie receiver Torrey Smith in the second round and brought in offensive tackle Bryant McKinnie to fill a major void on the left side.

Yet after six games, the Ravens have the No. 20th ranked offense in the league, and their best offensive player — Ray Rice — carried the ball only eight times against Jacksonville.

Oh, there is going to be a lot riding on this game.

"You come out here, you start practicing, and you're having fun. You're with all your guys and you're just playing football," said Flacco of putting the loss behind him. "And when you're out there, you're really not thinking about it. To be honest, it's tough not to think about it a little bit all week until you go out there and beat the next opponent; it's always in the back of your mind a little bit. But, I think good teams put it past them and do the best they can to go out there and forget about it very quickly."

The Ravens are a good team, but we're now wondering how good. Great teams smash opponents like St. Louis, Tennessee and Jacksonville and use them as fodder along the way to securing a first-round bye or home game(s) in the post season.

But the Ravens have lost two out of three, and at this time of year teams start studying the blueprints on how to beat you. If teams can complete short, timing passes on offense and get pressure with the front four and drop seven into coverage to confuse Flacco, the Ravens will lose.

Next up is Arizona, which has the No. 26th ranked defense in the league, allowing 388.3 yard per game, including 274.2 passing, 28th worst in the NFL.

Unlike Tennessee's and Jacksonville, the Cardinals can't dominate teams with their defensive front. Arizona has to blitz, and if Flacco can make his reads quickly, the Ravens should be able to hit some big plays.

Arizona has a defense that is in transition. The Cardinals have a new defensive coordinator in Ray Horton, the third under fifth-year coach Ken Whisenhut, and they have been slow to adapt to Horton's scheme, which is similar to the one employed by the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Taking everything into consideration, this should be a big win for the Ravens. After the disaster in Jacksonville, there should be enough motivation and pride to get this team ready going into Pittsburgh next week.

But if they lose, the fallout will be severe. It won't be time to push the panic button, but there will be a line forming. And the eventual fallout could be severe.

mike.preston@baltsun.com

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