The Baltimore Ravens will have the unusual experience of spending New Year’s Eve at home without game preparation concerns for the first time in recent years. After a 34-17 loss to the Cincinnati Bengals, the Football Birds of the Baltimore Harbor will watch the playoffs on TV – a first for Joe Flacco and John Harbaugh.
The final game of 2013 was a full-fledged display of all the difficulties the Ravens have faced over this season that never really seemed to get uncorked. It was a microcosm of the whole list of macro problems about which have been written in this blog and in every media source covering the team.
The inability of the offense to score touchdowns, especially within the red zone – There have only been three touchdowns in the past 45+ possessions by the offense. Though it goes without saying that Justin Tucker had a fabulous year, he was able to amass record-breaking points, not because he kicked so many PAT conversions, but because the offense sputtered so frequently.
Flacco interceptions – Add three more today to the career high total. I won’t blame him for the first two – a deflection and a deep 4th-and-10 throw in the face of a nasty blitz. But the final pick-six throw was simply bad – behind the receiver.
A weak offensive line – Along with the inability to consistently open holes or control the line of scrimmage in short-yardage situations, the porous offensive line contributed much to Flacco’s discomfort and passing complications this season. On this day they were helpless against packages that ran varied blitzes.
An insufficient running game – The precipitous drop-off in rushing yardage from previous years is absolutely startling. This is the product of the item immediately above, though it certainly never appeared that Ray Rice was the same person as before.
Bend, bend, bend and snap defense – Though the 2013 defense played well overall and maintained a top-10 ranking into this last week, there were more than a few times where they seemed to wear down and get suddenly beaten on a play or manhandled on a particular drive.
Timing not calibrated – The crispness that marks a championship outfit in the NFL … and the fine-tuning of a team successfully playing on the winning side of the narrow margins in a fast-paced sport … connecting on passes, defending in the gaps between corners and backs, etc. … all of this was fractionally OFF for the entire season.
It is not a total disaster. When the Ravens were 3-5, and then 4-6, it looked pretty bad for the team to win four in a row and get back into contention. But they did it. And then came weeks 16 and 17.
This team has many strengths and fine players. It also has a roughly equal number of weaknesses and marginal players. Accounting for losses of players from the championship season of a year ago, along with factoring for injuries, etc., this is a squad that is a decent team at the middle of the pack, or slightly better. It is a team that could have reasonably been anticipated to contend for the playoffs, but is honestly a team you would expect to go about 8-8 … or 9-7 if many circumstances worked out well.
Where do the Ravens go from here to make the team better for 2014? That will be what we will be writing about for the next six months.
Tags: Baltimore Ravens