Ray Lewis and the rest of the Ravens definitely should have a restful bye week after starting the first quarter of the 2011 NFL Season in good fashion. Taking It to the House’s Barry Barnes breaks down Baltimore first four games
The Baltimore Ravens are where they want to be at 3-1 (even though 4-0 would be better), sitting at the top of the AFC North division.
It’s early. However, the Ravens are sitting in unfamiliar territory. As usual, the Ravens’ defense is ranked in the NFL’s top ten – currently are 3rd in total defense allowing 284.5 yards per game. Shockingly, Baltimore’s offense is sits in the 6th spot in total points, averaging 29.8 points per outing.
As the Ravens progressed into the month of October, which started with a convincing win against the New York Jets Oct. 2, 34-17, Charm City’s finest have their sights on 30 more successful days.
Apparently, consistency is what Baltimore lacks.
“The No. 1 thing we have to work on is consistency,” said Ravens offensive coordinator Cam Cameron who is in his third season with the club. “We have kind of gone like this [up and down] over three games. We’ve got to be able to develop a consistent… I think everybody knows what we want to do. I hear a lot about the identity thing. It’s clear the identity we want to have.
“I think those are the things that Mike [Duffy] is alluding to, but you have to do it consistently, and you have to do it against good defenses,” he continued. “This is a great challenge for us this week. We’re doing a lot of things good. I don’t know if we are doing anything great yet, or anything anywhere close to where we want to do it, but the one thing we definitely have to improve on is our consistency.”
The Ravens started their season against the team that ended their season and Super Bowl chances, the Pittsburgh Steelers. While the Steelers looked sharp and aggressive during the preseason, concerns surfaced around the Ravens, nationally, regarding their offensive line and quarterback Joe Flacco’s development.
Center Matt Birk and newly acquired tackle Bryant McKinnie had not played a down during the team’s exhibition games. Birk had surgery on his knee at the beginning of training camp and McKinnie was released by the Minnesota Vikings in mid-August due to, allegedly, being out of shape. The Ravens signed McKinnie on Aug. 24, and after the Dallas Cowboys’ last preseason game, they released center/guard Andre Gurode, who also knee surgery, and Baltimore signed him shortly after on Sept. 4 to a 1-year, $3 million deal.
Birk and McKinnie started in the season-opener. Despite not playing in August, these veterans allowed their experience to do the talking to their naysayers. The Ravens offensive line handled everything that was threw to them by the Steelers and help bullied the black and gold towards a 35-7 beat down of their hated rivals at M&T Bank.
With sustained confidence after punishing the Steelers, the Ravens next opponent appeared, to the public, to be a pit stop towards an undefeated month when Baltimore traveled to Tennessee to take on the Titans. Unfortunately, the Ravens hit a pot hole as the Titans, thanks to the wide receiver Kenny Britt, torch the Ravens 26-13.
“One thing I’m not happy about is we let one go…with me it’s not that you lost, it’s how you lost,” said Ravens linebacker Terrell Suggs, who is tied 5th in the league for sacks (4). “Tennessee lined up and played their best game and they beat us and be it. It was a great football game that they won.
“I think we gave them a lot of help in beating us,” he continued. “We beat ourselves but you can’t discredit Tennessee…they are 2-1 (now 3-1).”
When Ravens head coach John Harbaugh was asked if the team’s worst game is behind them, he said he would hope so.
“The Titans game? I sure hope so. I hope that’s the worst game, but it’s unpredictable,” said Harbaugh. “Those are the kinds of things you just really don’t think about, to be honest with you. From a coaching perspective or a player’s prospective, that’s not even something [that occurs to you.]
“It’s a great question to think about, but we just don’t even think about it because it doesn’t have any bearing on what we’re trying to do in a given day,” he added. “So, I hope so, but that’s not really something to think about.”
Baltimore bounced back the following week and put to bed all doubts about being a legitimate Super Bowl team as they aired the Rams out of St. Louis with a convincing win, 37-7 on Sept. 25 to end the month, making franchise history.
The Ravens gained a total of 553 yards, setting a franchise record. Not to mentioned the club put up the most points in the first quarter with 21 which was too a team record, thanks to Flacco’s three touchdown hook ups with rookie wide receiver Torrey Smith – in his pro debut.
The offensive explosion the Ravens had in Week 3, shocked the masses. For Baltimore, their first quarter output came to no surprise because their performance is display during practice. Clearly, it will take patience on the Ravens side to develop consistent offensive firepower on game days, and their fans have to wait comfortably as well.
“I know you guys had a hard time believing us when [head coach] John [Harbaugh] was saying patience, and I was talking about it [too],” said Cameron. “In practice, he was practicing like that. It hadn’t come up the way we wanted it in a game yet. It didn’t translate yet. Obviously, you guys don’t get to see that, but it really wasn’t a surprise to a lot of us.
“If you have seen practice – especially the last two weeks – that is the way he has practiced; just like you saw in the first quarter of that game.”
Despite having a Bye Week for Week 5, the Ravens next four will make or break their season – bearing another question.
Can the Ravens put away teams that are not on their level? Can they continue to compete against other good teams?
The Ravens’ defense has been monstrous is their aggressive play, despite not having the preparation during the offseason due to the NFL lockout.
“The first thing is the players. You have physical players – guys that like that kind of football,” said Ravens head coach John Harbaugh in his weekly press conference Monday. “We have a bunch of guys who like football, first of all, and we have guys who like to work hard – guys who understand the value of putting in a good day’s work. But the bottom line is good players playing hard.
“That’s your goal as a coach: put the best group of players together you can and just try to mold them into the best team that you can,” he continued. “We like rough, tough guys here, and we’ve got a team full of those guys.”
In terms of returns for touchdowns, the Ravens defense leads the league with 53 since 2002 – 29 interceptions, 11 fumbles, 5 punt returns, 4 blocked punts, 3 kickoffs, and a missed field goal.
Baltimore will journey on the road for two primetime contests and have some good home cooking at M&T bank Stadium. A trip to Jacksonville for Monday Night football in Week 7 on Oct. 24 and a date to Pittsburgh for Sunday Night football in Week 9 on Nov.6 in attempt to sweep the Steelers. On Oct. 16, the Ravens will take on the Houston Texans in Week 6 and for Week 8 on Oct. 30; the Arizona Cardinals make the journey to Baltimore.
Rookie cornerback Jimmy Smith should be in the lineup after the bye, in time to help face the likes of Texans wide receiver Andre Johnson and Cardinals wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald.
The Ravens will intensely watch the Texans, as they prepare and relax on their bye. Harbaugh will surely watch the Texans – with some chicken wings and fries.
“What’s on the menu? I don’t know, maybe some chicken wings, French fries. (laughing) But, I will be watching the game (the Texans and Oakland Raiders matchup), no doubt,” said Harbaugh when asked what’s on the menu. “I am sure all of our guys will.”
The Ravens should come out with another 3-1 record for the second quarter of their season, standing at 6-2 heading into the meat of the NFL season.