If the Ravens want to improve, it is time to say 'bye'

Upcoming bye week is chance for the Ravens to fix their problems

October 20, 2013|Mike Preston

PITTSBURGH — The Ravens need a bye week.

They need to say goodbye to a lot of things, like farewell to their sorry running game. They need to say bye-bye to the slow starts, and say so long to inconsistent play on special teams and in the secondary.

And they need to say hello to some players who can make plays in crunch time.

The Ravens lost to nemesis Pittsburgh Steelers on Sunday on a 42-yard field goal as time expired. They have lost two in a row and dropped two games behind the first-place Cincinnati Bengals in the AFC North.

The bye week can't get here fast enough for the Ravens who are now entering a new phase of the 2013 season.

Ravens rush linebacker Terrell Suggs went as far as to call the status a "state of emergency."

It's not like the Ravens are terrible, but unlike a year ago when almost everything seemed to break their way, this team doesn't do enough of the little things to win games and that makes a big difference in the NFL.

Ravens coach John Harbaugh will take a lot of criticism for the onside kick that followed Justin Tucker's 32-yard field goal early in the fourth quarter, which allowed the Ravens to pull within, 13-9.

The Steelers recovered and went on to kick a field goal that put them up , 16-9, with 10 minutes and 03 seconds remaining.

It was a great call. The Ravens had to at least score a touchdown to win anyway, and Pittsburgh was pummeling the Ravens defense with long drives. By the end of the game Sunday, the Ravens only had seven possessions.

They had to gamble.

"I love that call," Tucker said. "I love that we were aggressive and I love that we were trying to steal a possession. It wasn't like we were getting a lot of opportunities on offense and this was a momentum play."

Agreed.

There are more pressing issues with this team anyway. In big games, great players are supposed to make big plays in crunch time and the Ravens haven't delivered. They couldn't get the Green Bay Packers off the field last week in the fourth quarter and Pittsburgh had two drives in the final quarter that netted two fields including the game winner.

Where was the big play?

Where was the big play when Pittsburgh opened that last drive with a 44-yard kickoff return? Why couldn't cornerback Corey Graham make that tackle after an 8-yard gain on second down in that drive which turned into 13 yards and a first down? Where was Pro Bowl defensive tackle Haloti Ngata most of the game when Pittsburgh was running for 141 yards?

Somebody, please make a darn play. That's a message Harbaugh needs to get across during bye week.

"Hopefully, it will be an opportunity for us to continue to improve," said Harbaugh of the bye week. "I feel like we're improving our football team. The thing we have to do is find a way to win these games. You've got to find a way to become a good football team through finding a way to win. We're 3-4, by no means out of it. To do that, we've got to become good enough to do it and we've got to win these games along the way."

This is a victory the Ravens should have earned. Instead they are trying to plug holes. Everyone wants to point to the offense, but the defense was disappointing Sunday. The Ravens were ravaged by one of the worst rushing offenses in the NFL.

In the last two weeks, they have been allowed more than 100 yards rushing in each game. Green Bay finessed the Ravens a week ago, but Pittsburgh physically dominated them Sunday.

Pittsburgh quarterback Ben Roethlisberger threw for only 160 yards, but the Steelers completed a lot of passes over the middle, which every team does against the Ravens. That's another thing the Ravens need to clean up during bye week.

On offense, the Ravens showed some improvements compared to recent weeks, but it's hard to tell because Pittsburgh controlled the ball for 31 minutes, and the Ravens had only four possessions in the first half, the last starting with 39 seconds remaining.

The Ravens scored on four of seven possessions, but never established a strong running game. Halfback Ray Rice had only 45 yards rushing on 15 carries and backup Bernard Pierce had 13 yards on six. With no running game and an element of surprise, Flacco was forced to pass and the Ravens aren't going to overpower any team with this cast of receivers.

"I think we got better today," Rice said "We were able to move the ball better. Let's not kid ourselves, that was the Pittsburgh Steelers defense out there. I think I got my step back now, and that's something I had to do this year was to learn to play with an injury. Our tempo was good and our execution was better. I think we made some strides."

Maybe that's because the Ravens have been a comedy of errors on offense for seven games. Without Flacco and receiver Torrey Smith, they wouldn't even have an offense.

But maybe they can change that with the bye week. Last week, they modified the running game and starting Monday they get a chance to do some self scouting. They can make some adjustments and shift personnel if needed.

But this is a team that needs a break, a couple days off to figure some things out. Right now, they are just too inconsistent to win consistently in the NFL.

mike.preston@baltsun.com

twitter.com/MikePrestonSun

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