Five Things We Learned in the Ravens 22-17 loss to the Seahawks

November 14, 2011|Kevin Van Valkenburg

1. When the Ravens lose games like this, John Harbaugh often refers to the team's performance as a "lack of execution." With all due respect, that's coach-speak, and it doesn't really mean a whole lot. It's an explanation that's purposefully vague. When a team fails "execute" a play, there is a reason for it, so let's call it what it really is. This team lacks focus.

I don't really know how anyone on the Ravens -- player or coach -- could argue otherwise. It isn't just bad luck, that's for sure. There is a pattern here. All three of their losses were preceded by wins over a good team the Ravens were fired up and eager to play. Either they privately obsess too much over their own status and press, or they believe deep down they've worked through their inconsistencies after each big win, and are surprised by new wrinkles teams throw at them.

Yes, it's always difficult to win on the road in the NFL. And when a good team gets knocked off by a bad team, especially on the road, players tend to say things like this: "Those guys get paid too. They're NFL players too." But the main reason it's difficult to win on the road in the NFL is that it's harder to focus away from home. You're in an unfamiliar environment, you're often uncomfortable, and you can't rely on outside factors to give you an emotional boost.

Great teams overcome those factors one of two ways. Either they play with so much intensity and aggressiveness, they overwhelm bad teams by being that much better and faster. Their errors aren't amplified. The other way they overcome road woes is by not making mistakes. They show up, handle their business, and don't blow calls or assignments. They might not be juiced up to play against a bad team, but they put themselves in the right position enough times that talent eventually wins out.

The Ravens are a talented team, despite their flaws. They wouldn't have been able to win in Pittsburgh if they weren't one of the AFC's most talented teams. But they sure don't deal particularly well with high expectations. You can try to pin it on one area if it makes you feel better. (We'll get to Cam Cameron and the lack of a running game, David Reed's atrocious special teams performance, as well as the Swiss cheese 3rd-down defense in a second.) But it's really the entire team that lacks focus. Losing to Tennessee wasn't a big deal because the Titans have talent. Losing to Jacksonville was unpleasant, but every now and then you go on the road and lay an egg. And losing to Seattle, in theory, could be viewed as understandable because it's one of the hardest places to play in the NFL. There are always going to be week-to-week excuses and explanations. But when you view all three games together, you have to conclude there is a larger trend in play, and that the Ravens don't "execute" against bad teams because they're not good at blocking out external issues.

It's hard -- at least right now -- to imagine this team putting together the three or four great weeks it would require to win a Super Bowl. But you also have to wonder if a string of playoff games wouldn't unite this team in a way that nothing else could. They only seem to lose to bad teams, not good ones, so assuming they make the playoffs and don't have to play a bad team, in theory, they'll be fine.

I don't buy that theory though. I think if the inconsistency continues, it will be their undoing. It might be time the Ravens drag out the tired, but oh-so-useful cliche that "No one believes in us." Because right now, just when this team threatens to make you a believer, they have a knack for disappointing you.

2. At some point, we may have to concede that Cam Cameron's philosophies are a reflection of John Harbaugh's philosophies. Harbaugh is the head coach. He can tell his offensive coordinator he wants to run the ball more, and Cameron has to listen. No one disputes that. So maybe its time we stop blaming Cameron for Ray Rice's lack of rushes, and start asking a broader, more pointed question: Does Cameron abandon the run early in games because Harbaugh has no issue with abandoning the run early in games?

A lot of Ravens fans are angry about the fact that Rice carried the ball only five times against the Seahawks, and since Rice said he was too emotional to speak with reporters after the game, I'll bet you he's not thrilled about it either. David Reed's turnovers on special teams made it difficult to run the ball, but the turnovers didn't make it impossible. After the Ravens fell behind 10-0, they threw the ball 11 consecutive times before they called another running play. Cameron called for a handoff to Ricky Williams to end the streak, but he followed that up with five consecutive passes -- although to be fair, the last of those five was a pass by Ray Rice to Ed Dickson for a touchdown.

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