OWINGS MILLS, Md. (AP) — The Baltimore Ravens limped into their bye week alone atop the AFC North, knowing they’ve got to play a whole lot better to stay there.
Instead of improving each week, the Ravens have gotten progressively worse. Baltimore squeezed out a 9-6 win at Kansas City on Oct. 7, then edged Dallas at home before absorbing a 43-13 lashing in Houston last Sunday, the team’s worst defeat since coach John Harbaugh took over in 2008.
The Ravens are 5-2, but there’s plenty of work to be done if they’re to reach the postseason for a fifth consecutive year. During the week off, the coaching staff intends to correct many of the shortcomings that were exposed during the debacle in Houston.
“As we’re building a football team that we hope becomes a great football team by the end of the season, these are the kinds of things that you’ve got to work through,” Harbaugh said. “We’re just going to have to take the good, build on that, eliminate the bad, and get better.”
About the only positive of that game against the Texans was the unexpected return of linebacker Terrell Suggs, who made his season debut after undergoing surgery on a torn right Achilles tendon in May.
The negatives? Well, the Ravens couldn’t protect quarterback Joe Flacco and their once-esteemed defense again struggled to maintain its stingy reputation. The unit gave up 200 yards rushing against both Kansas City and Dallas, is currently ranked 26th in yardage allowed and will likely be without injured starters Ray Lewis and Lardarius Webb for the rest of the season.
Over the past two weeks, the Ravens have yielded 72 points, 57 first downs and 901 yards.
“I feel like we all are disappointed in what we’ve done at this point,” said linebacker Jameel McClain, who’s taken over for Lewis at middle linebacker. “But now, at this point, at the bye, we have the chance to look back and see how we can correct what we’ve done, and how we really can get better and how to work on our strengths and (minimize) our weaknesses. It’s definitely frustrating, because we know it’s a higher standard in this organization, and we are here to uphold it.”
If healthy, Suggs can improve a pass rush that ranks 22nd in the NFL with 12 sacks. Baltimore had 48 sacks in 2011, including 14 by Suggs, the NFL defensive player of the year.
It would be easy to blame the Ravens’ defensive struggle of late on the absence of Lewis (torn triceps) and Webb (torn ACL), both of whom were injured against Dallas. But the truth is, with Lewis and Webb on the field, Baltimore allowed 486 yards to Philadelphia, gave up 30 points to New England and surrendered 214 yards rushing to Kansas City.
“This is a problem that was happening with them, and it’s a problem that’s happening without them,” McClain acknowledged. “It’s something that we have to fix right there.”
Entering this season, Baltimore ranked in the top 5 in run defense for six straight years. The Ravens are currently 27th in that category and still in search of solidifying its front seven.
“A work in progress,” Harbaugh said. “We’re not where we’ve been in the past, obviously. We’ve been a dominant run front. We’ve been able to play the run with seven in the box and pretty much dominate the run. We’re not there right now.”
Another issue is the Ravens’ uneven play on the road. Baltimore has the NFL’s longest current winning streak at home, 14 straight dating back to last season, but the Ravens have lost two of three on the road this season — the lone win a squeaker against a woeful Kansas City team that’s 1-5.
“I’ve been getting asked that by everyone — in grocery stores and everywhere,” wide receiver Torrey Smith said. “I don’t know. You’re putting all the same players on the field. You’ve just got to execute, and for whatever reason on the road we haven’t done as well.”
At home, Flacco has seven touchdown passes and two interceptions. On the road, he’s thrown two TD passes and been intercepted four times.
“I don’t really have an answer,” the quarterback said. “I think that’s just the way it works out.”
In spite of all their problems, the Ravens entered their bye week with the second-best record in the AFC and one of only three teams in the conference with a winning record.
“Last time I checked, we’ve only lost two games,” Smith said. “We might not have played perfect, but there’s no need to panic. Now if we were at .500, or below .500, it might be a different conversation. But we’re not. So, we just need to fix our problems and just keep going to work.”
(Copyright 2012 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)