Ravens must improve consistency, learn to beat 4-3 defense

Ravens could be a Super Bowl team if they make certain improvements

November 10, 2011|Mike Preston

So far, the Ravens have been on schedule. When the season started, they wanted to get through the early part with a winning record because they thought they would be a better team at the end once their younger players gained some maturity.

Fresh off a miraculous comeback win in Pittsburgh Sunday night and headed into the second half of the season, the Ravens want to become more consistent and ride a winning streak going into the post season.

Also in the second half, they have to find a way to have more success against the 4-3 defense, which has traditionally given them trouble. The Ravens will have two straight opportunities beginning Sunday in Seattle and next week when the Cincinnati Bengals travel to Baltimore.

But the buzz word around the Ravens now is consistency. They have shown that they can beat the best teams in the AFC with victories against Pittsburgh, Houston and the New York Jets, but also that they can play down to the levels of Tennessee, Jacksonville and Arizona.

Except for Green Bay, all the other good teams in the NFL have had a similar problem. But the Ravens need to focus on the big picture.

Just about all Super Bowl winning teams put together a significant winning streak during the course of the season, preferably at the end.

There will come a time late in the season when a win just isn't a win, but a poor showing against a losing team is an indicator that you could be a one-and-done playoff team. Twice this season, the Ravens have had letdowns after big wins.

"The whole key for us right now is consistency," said Ravens head coach John Harbaugh. "We have to learn how to take care of business and we can't let wins, regardless of who we play, get away from us. We haven't handled that well."

Most of the improvements have to be made on offense. The Ravens are ranked No. 2 in total defense and No. 3 in rush defense, but No. 16 in total offense and No. 22 in rushing, averaging only 102 per game.

The good news, though, is that the Ravens are starting to show signs of chemistry. Offensive coordinator Cam Cameron has been able to blend the two tight end formation with Ed Dickson and Dennis Pitta along with the two-wide receiver base of Anquan Boldin and Torrey Smith.

Fourth-year quarterback Joe Flacco seems to have found his confidence with the short passing game and the no-huddle approach, but still is able to go deep to Smith. Flacco's completion rate of 54.7 percent is a concern, but it has gotten better in the last six quarters.

And it could improve even more once veteran receiver Lee Evans returns. That just gives Flacco another speedster on the outside with Smith, and Boldin more room to run in the middle.

The key, though, is consistency. This passing game has to keep progressing, not just show up periodically.

"No, hopefully we don't play too many games that you have to come back and have a 97-yard drive, 98-yard drive to win a football game," Flacco said. "Hopefully, we can take care of business throughout the course of the game. I mean, we did play well the whole game, but hopefully as a team, we can go out there and play well, be consistent.

"I think that's what we're working towards is being more consistent and playing every game the way we know how to. And the more we work towards that, the more we grow as a team, the more our young guys get better and better, the better we're going to become as the year goes on. And I said that all along. We're a young football team, and we've got a lot of improving to do, and that's what we're going to do all year, is improve and improve, and we'll see where we are at the end of the year."

The area where the Ravens need to make the most improvement offensively is in the running game. They should improve with the return of left guard Ben Grubbs. But part of the problem is the Ravens lack of success against the 4-3 defense.

Tennessee ran it, and handed the Ravens a 26-13 loss. Jacksonville used it and won, 12-7. And it's not just this season. Traditionally, the Ravens have struggled against 4-3 teams like the Indianapolis Colts and the Cincinnati Bengals, teams which are quick and penetrate. The Ravens have had problems getting to the middle linebackers.

"You have to attack them," said Ravens running back Ray Rice. "The thing is with the 4-3 fronts, different than the 3-4, obviously it's a different structure of defense. You can't run the same kind of runs against a 3-4 that you are going to run against a 4-3. Blocking assignments are probably a little bit more downhill, rather than east and west. A lot of the stretch-and-cut things still apply, but you can't go into the game plan thinking that you are going to run the same plays you ran against the Steelers — or any 3-4 teams — that you are going to come in and run the same against a 4-3."

Harbaugh said: "We've been studying the scheme, finding stuff that can be more effective against than we've used in the past. We better figure it out. We're going to face it the next two weeks."

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