Before an amazing rash of injuries totally derailed Baltimore’s season in 2015, the Ravens played in a remarkable number of very close games. Get this: in Baltimore’s first dozen games, they went 4-8. In their wins, they beat the Steelers, Chargers and Rams each by three points and the lowly Browns by six in Week 12.
Their eight losses were by a combined 34 points.
They never lost a game by more than eight points, which occurred on the road against an excellent Cardinals team in Week 7. So, through a dozen games, Baltimore played in 12 very close games against a pretty strong slate of opponents. This shows that they were better than their record indicated during the first three-fourths of the NFL season.
Lets fast-forward to 2016. Baltimore is 3-0 and sits alone atop the AFC North. But why are the first 12 games of last season relevant? Well, so far this year, the Ravens have beaten the Bills by six points, the Browns by five and the Jaguars by two this past Sunday. And the argument can be made that if it wasn’t for a ridiculous taunting call against Terrelle Pryor, the Ravens would be sitting at 2-1.
Remember, Baltimore was losing 20-0 at one point of that game before Josh McCown was injured and clearly not the same after that. In Jacksonville, the Ravens escaped despite turning the ball over three times in the fourth quarter in what was a very close game that neither team appeared to want to win.
In some ways, a 1-2 record would be more deserving of Baltimore’s level of play thus far than 3-0.
Wins are wins in the NFL, but none of Baltimore’s wins have been all that impressive and Buffalo, Cleveland and Jacksonville are now a combined 1-8. So, is this perennially exceptional franchise back on the road to becoming a powerhouse again or is this an average, or even below average, NFL team that is closer to a seven win team than a 12 win team?
In all honesty, that isn’t easy to decipher right now.
Will upcoming games against Oakland, Washington, the Giants and Jets tell us more about what the Ravens truly are? Of course, and the more data and film we can compile the better. But these four opponents are a combined .500 and look to comprise much of the NFL’s middle class for the 2016 season.
What is it that Baltimore is doing well and where are the concerns? Who is playing well and which of the Ravens’ players are struggling?
On offense, it appears as though Baltimore has found it’s left tackle for the foreseeable future in first round pick Ronnie Stanley. He looks like a natural who has been in the league for a long time. Obviously that is very encouraging. Also on the offensive line, Marshall Yanda remains a premier guard and Ricky Wagner has played very well after a 2015 season in which he struggled. The left guard and center positions have not been great.
The offensive line will show that there is a trend with this team right now-and that makes analyzing them in the big picture more difficult. Baltimore does not have extreme strengths or weaknesses.
We know this is a very good coaching staff and the Ravens are always exceptional on special teams, but on offense and defense, there are not a plethora of standouts good or bad.
This goes for Joe Flacco as well. His receivers and Baltimore’s running game has been more of a detriment to the offense than a huge asset, but Flacco remains slightly above average in relation to the other starting quarterbacks around the league.
Flacco did his best work against the Browns and his worst effort was this past week in Jacksonville, especially in the second half. He threw two interceptions in each of those games. His numbers and his play overall are pretty middle-of-the-road with some big plays mixed in.
As mentioned, Baltimore is really struggling to run the ball and while Steve Smith and Dennis Pitta are good players and great stories as they return from injury, neither has been a major difference maker. Mike Wallace’s deep game fits in great and Breshad Perriman may one day develop into a star, but you guessed it, this group of receivers is pretty average.
Maybe when Kenneth Dixon returns from injury, he will spark the running game and his preseason suggests that could be the case. He also should provide a shot in the arm to Baltimore’s passing game. But it looks like Justin Forsett’s best days are certainly behind him while Terrence West has been a solid contributor and the superior player to Forsett.On defense, Eric Weddle has been even better than expected in a Ravens uniform. His addition has been huge and a clear upgrade. Lardarius Webb has also been solid next to Weddle at safety and looks more comfortable now after converting from cornerback. CJ Mosley, who had a spectacular interception in Jacksonville and has done very well in coverage overall, is also having a very good year after a down campaign in 2015 and Terrell Suggs has been a welcome back addition after his major injury.
Timmy Jernigan is also a talented player who has stepped up, especially as an interior pass-rusher, and Brandon Williams remains an underrated rock in the middle of their front.
The Ravens defense is encouraging overall and great vs. the run. They have allowed just 44 points this year and tackle extremely well. Is it an elite unit? Certainly not, but it looks to be above average and they are creating turnovers. Derek Carr and company should prove to be a much steeper test next week than anyone the Ravens have faced to date, though.
Allen Robinson gave the Ravens a very tough time. Amari Cooper very well could abuse Shareece Wright in Week 4 and the Raiders’ offensive line, now with former Raven Kelechi Osemele, is one of the best groups in the league.
3-0 is 3-0 no matter how you slice it and if Baltimore improves throughout the season and ends up hosting playoff games, no one will care how these early games were won. Plus, they have a pretty favorable schedule.
That being said, these were three of the ugliest wins you can find and there are as many questions as answered surrounding the Ravens right now. But hey, it sure beats being 0-3…which Baltimore almost just as easily could be right now.