Oct 2, 2016; Baltimore, MD, USA; Baltimore Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco (5) pressured by Oakland Raiders linebacker Khalil Mack (52) at M&T Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mitch Stringer-USA TODAY Sports
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When the Baltimore Ravens entered the regular season, there were plenty of reasons for optimism. Some things have gone completely right, while other things have gone completely wrong. What are the biggest surprises of the season?
Before we get into the surprises of the season, we have to go over the facts. The Ravens are 3-2. Their two losses have come in back to back home games. The Ravens defense ranks third in overall defense. In passing the purple and black boast the fifth best passing attack. In rushing the Ravens rank fourth best. The Ravens defense has completely turned around. Without such stellar play from the defense, the Ravens could be without a win this season.
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The Ravens offense has been downright ugly this season. Only 10 teams are getting less yards per game than the Ravens. The Ravens pass offense ranks 22nd and their rushing attack ranks 17th right now. Baltimore is putting up just 18.8 points per game, which isn’t something to brag about.
The Ravens beat the Buffalo Bills 13-7. Next they spotted the Cleveland Browns a 20-2 lead and managed to win the game 25-20. When they played Jacksonville they squandered a 16-7 lead only to get the win with a Justin Tucker field goal. Oakland punished the Ravens for their slow start and gave them the first loss of the season. The Ravens lost to the Washington Redskins but let’s be honest, the offense and special teams sank their own ship.
Jan 3, 2016; Cincinnati, OH, USA; Baltimore Ravens inside linebacker C.J. Mosley (57) against the Cincinnati Bengals at Paul Brown Stadium. The bengals won 24-16. Mandatory Credit: Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports
Surprise One: The Defense Is Not The Problem
Before the season, if you would have told me that the Ravens defense would be the strength of this team, I am not sure I would believe you. The Ravens defense was particularly awful last season. Before the season, I was thinking Dean Pees was a problematic defensive coordinator who loves soft coverage and a three man rush. Now I can’t stop crediting the Ravens defensive coordinator. The Ravens gave him the tools to be successful and he is doing a great job.
The preseason didn’t paint the Ravens as a defensive powerhouse. Cam Newton sliced up the defense on the first drive of the preseason. The next week saw Andrew Luck do the same thing to the Ravens. Honestly, we didn’t know what to expect from the Ravens defense. That makes the defensive dominance surprising.
Instead it looked like a balanced offense was about to be unleashed on the NFL. The Ravens run game was the toast of the town during the preseason. I guess this further devalues the preseason, as it didn’t give an accurate look at the real Ravens. The Ravens defense was awful last year. It looked disconcerting in the preseason. However it has been relatively unblemished in the young season. You may have seen it coming, but many didn’t.
Oct 11, 2015; Baltimore, MD, USA; Baltimore Ravens offensive coordinator Marc Trestman during the game against the Cleveland Browns at M&T Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mitch Stringer-USA TODAY Sports
Surprise Two: The Offensive Coordinator Has Been Replaced
Sports fans bet on many things. I doubt anyone bet that Marty Mornhinweg would replace Mark Trestman as the offensive coordinator, after five weeks of football. John Harbaugh is known for his loyalty. Many argue (myself included) that Cam Cameron only lasted as long as he did, because of this loyalty. Two home losses in a row however, is a very bad look. It is clear that the Ravens head coach wasn’t going to fall on his sword to protect a dysfunctional offensive coordinator.
The Ravens problems stem from slow starts, and disappearing acts from the offense. For example, the Ravens defense just gave up 10 points. The Redskins scored six points because of the special teams as well. The Ravens offense needed to do so little to win that game. They couldn’t even do that.
The Ravens clearly have talent. The running backs are good. Dennis Pitta is back and he is a play-maker. Mike Wallace and Steve Smith Sr. are capable weapons. Joe Flacco clearly needs to play better, but it looks like coaching has been the Ravens biggest failing. It is very rare that an offensive coordinator gets fired in the middle of the season.
Sep 18, 2016; Cleveland, OH, USA; Baltimore Ravens center Jeremy Zuttah (53) against the Cleveland Browns during the second half at FirstEnergy Stadium. The Ravens defeated the Browns 25-20. Mandatory Credit: Scott R. Galvin-USA TODAY Sports
Surprise Three: Offensive Line Problems (But Not The Expected Ones):
If you would have told me that the offensive line was going to be a problem, I would not have been shocked. I was doubting Ronnie Stanley from the start. Starting two rookies on the left side seemed like a bad idea to me. However Ronnie Stanley and Alex Lewis have been far from the Ravens biggest problem this season. Stanley has missed the past two games, but he played fairly well in the first three games. My expectations at a difficult position are lowered for a rookie. When he has been in the game, he’s surpassed these expectations. Alex Lewis has been a stud, in fact he may be the best performer on that offensive line.
Jeremy Zuttah has struggled. Marshall Yanda hasn’t seemed like himself this season. Maybe he is over helping, but we’ve seen better out of Yanda. Don’t get me wrong, Yanda is still a stud, but he’s struggled at times this season. Rick Wagner left the game with an injured thigh last week. Now Wagner and Marshall Yanda’s status is up in the air for Sunday. Ryan Jensen and John Urschel got beat pretty bad last week. Also, Ryan Jensen was so bad against the Raiders it made James Hurst look okay.
The offensive line is struggling, but it’s not because of the play of Stanley and Lewis. Stanley has missed two games, while Lewis has missed one too. That has not helped. However it proved that they are far from the Ravens biggest problems up front.
Oct 1, 2015; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Baltimore Ravens head coach John Harbaugh (L) and wide receiver Kamar Aiken (11) celebrate while leaving the field after defeating the Pittsburgh Steelers at Heinz Field. The Ravens won 23-20 in overtime. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports
Surprise 4: Kamar Aiken Has Vanished
I know that Aiken was forced to step up because of injuries but I thought he could continue where he left off last season. Aiken caught 75 passes last season and was the Ravens number one target. Now he is barely in the fold. Of Flacco’s 138 completions, only six of them were to Aiken. When you account for such a small percentage of the offense, that six players have more receptions than you…Houston we have a problem.
Aiken has a whopping 28 yards through five weeks of football. If he kept up at this pace, he’d have just 84 yards going into the last week of the season. It seemed like Flacco had such a chemistry with Aiken during training camp. What the heck happened?
One explanation is that Steve Smith Sr. is back. The veteran wide receiver is Joe Flacco’s favorite target, there is no doubt about it. Flacco also leans on Dennis Pitta, who he is always in sync with. Mike Wallace is leading the Ravens with touchdowns, yet he has only three. The offense has had problems and it has dipped into everyone’s stat line.
Sep 25, 2016; Jacksonville, FL, USA; Baltimore Ravens cornerback Kyle Arrington (24) and inside linebacker Zach Orr (54) run after intercepting the ball during the second half of a football game against the Jacksonville Jaguarsat EverBank Field. The Baltimore Ravens won 19-17. Mandatory Credit: Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports
Surprise Five: Zach Orr Has Blossomed Into A Star LB
I have always been a fan of Zach Orr, but he has surpassed my wildest expectations. Orr has been a tackling machine and an underrated reason why the Ravens have improved so dramatically in run and pass defense. Orr is good in coverage and he is a head hunter in pursuit of the running back. C.J. Mosely and Orr have been a perfect combination at the interior linebacker positions. Orr has 27 solo tackles and a clutch interception to his name this season.
The Ravens drafted Kamalei Correa in the second round of the 2016 NFL Draft. When they moved Correa inside, it looked like he was going to fill the vacant linebacker role. Orr has defiantly taken control of the position. Correa is going to have to wait. Orr is playing so strongly, that it’s hard to imagine we thought Correa would start in the first place.
The Ravens have had a Ravens like season. They haven’t made anything easy, yet so far there are more positives than negatives. It doesn’t feel that way after two straight losses, but 3-2 is not the end of the world. These surprises have given us all a lot to think about? What will surprise us in the coming weeks?