The Ravens currently sit at 4-3, tied with the Cleveland Browns (!?!) for second place in the AFC North, just a game behind the Squealers. Historically, the Ravens are a much better team in the 2nd half of the season under head coach Brian Billick. They have won 5 straight (regular season) games when coming off the bye week, and are 6-3 overall. In regular season games after Nov. 1, the Ravens are 46-23 under compu-coach. Last season, the team went into the bye at 4-2, and dominated the second half of their schedule to finish 13-3.
The Ravens are 2nd in overall defense, trailing only the Squealers, and 2nd in rush defense, looking up at the Tennessee Titans. Running back Willis McGahee is 2nd in the NFL in rushing yards, and is averaging 4.4 yards per carry. Backup QB Kyle Boller has played well in relief of the injured Steve McNair, and is finally showing some signs of progress that we have been waiting years to see. Wide receiver Derrick Mason has been a huge part of the offense, and leads the NFL with 56 receptions. Return man Yamon Figurs ranks 3rd in the NFL in kick return average and 4th in punt return average among players with at least 5 attempts. Kicker Matt Stover has been his usual consistent self, leading the league with 18 field goals on 21 attempts.
Despite their success on the ground, the Ravens have been unable to put together a constant mid-range passing attack to compliment their running game, and are just 16th in the league in total offense. They have struggled mightily in the dead zone, and as a result are 25th in the league in points per game, averaging just 17.7. Going into week 8, only 3 teams were having less success scoring touchdowns inside the 20, and those teams had a combined record of 3-17. Overall, Ravens quarterbacks have turned the ball over 9 times while throwing for only 5 touchdowns.
Defensively, the Ravens have again been vulnerable to the big play, and have not shown the ability to shut teams down when leading in the second half. They have allowed 25 plays over 20 yards, and 6 over 40. They also have not pressured the quarterback as well as they did in 2006, and have only 15 sacks through 7 games, 16th in the NFL (last year, the team had 60 sacks, just one behind the league-leading Chargers.) No Raven is in the top 50 in the league in sacks, with Corey Ivy, Jarrett Johnson, Kelly Gregg, and Terrell Suggs sharing the team lead with 2.0 each.
Plenty of ugly to go around this season so far. After making it through the 2006 season incredibly healthy as a team, the injuries have caught up to the purple and black this year in a big way. Jonathan Ogden has not started a game since opening night, and just took his first snaps since then last week in Buffalo. Quarterback Steve McNair has made only 4 starts, and came out early in one of them. Even when playing, McNair has been bothered by a groin injury, which has made his throws inaccurate, wobbly, and all around, well…ugly. Tight end Todd Heap, left tackle Adam Terry, and center Mike Flynn have all missed games due to pain. Wide receiver Mark Clayton was slowed by injury early in the season, but seems to be getting over it.
On the other side, the D hasn’t escaped the bug either, as end Trevor Pryce has been out since week 2 with a broken wrist, and corner Chris McAlister may or may not return this week after injuring his knee in week 6. Samari Rolle also missed significant time due to “undisclosed illness.” The health of this aging core group of players will play a big role in how the rest of the season plays out here in B-More.
The teams the Ravens have beaten (Jets, Cardinals, 49ers, Rams) have a combined record of 6-24, while the teams they have lost to (Bengals, Browns, Bills) are 9-12. Looking ahead to the rest of the schedule, the remaining teams on the Ravens docket are a combined 34-24. Also, the quarterbacks the Ravens have beaten this season on their way to a #2 ranked defense have included names like Kellen Clemens, Kurt Warner, Trent Dilfer, and Gus Frerotte. A little shudder shakes the Nest when we think of how this team will fare against the Peyton Mannings, Tom Bradys, Ben Toothlessburgers, and Matt Hasselbecks of the world, at least if they continue to play the way they have, which is to say extremely loose in the secondary.
Another big double-branch on the ugly tree that has been the 2007 season is the play-calling of coach Billick, and now the outspokenness of Ray Lewis as pertains to it. Billick has been criticized heavily, here and elsewhere, for his refusal to run the ball in certain situations, particularly at the goal line in Cincinnati and at midfield in the final minute in Buffalo. We don’t know if he outsmarts himself, thinking “well, they expect us to run here, so let’s fool them and go with the pass,” or if he really does have more confidence in his passing game than running game to pick up 2 or 3 yards. Both scenarios are cause for great concern by fans hoping to see some wins pile up in the 2nd half. Equally disconcerting is the fact that Ray-Ray saw fit to call the coach out on his radio show. The last thing we need is to see the locker room divide as it did three years ago, which led to several sub-par purple and black seasons. Lewis should have kept his complaints private, in-house, and spoken to Billick one-on-one like a man. As upset as Ravens fans are about the play-calling, the court of public opinion has spoken, and their resounding response to Lewis is to just “SHUT UP!” As a matter of fact, it could be argued that many members of the team should shut their mouths a bit, as it seems just about every player has their own weekly radio show that they are hosting. Time that could be better spent preparing for the next opponent.
The fact of the matter is, at 4-3, the Ravens control their own destiny at this point. They have 4 division and 8 conference games remaining to put themselves in a position to make the playoffs. As good, bad, or ugly as anything has been so far, there is still a lot of football to be played, and plenty of time to either right the ship, or sail it right off the end of the earth.