Can Harbaugh and the Ravens fix what's wrong?

Can Harbaugh and the Ravens fix what's wrong?
October 20, 2013, 9:45 pm
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Suggs says Ravens in 'state of emergency'

The Ravens (3-4) can no longer deny they are in trouble.

For the first time under John Harbaugh, they will enter November with a losing record. They are in serious danger of missing the playoffs for the first time in Harbaugh’s six-year tenure. Having lost three of their last four, the Ravens have indisputable evidence that their season is trending in the wrong direction.

The bye week comes at a good time for the Ravens, because they have plenty to fix, as linebacker Terrell Suggs candidly admitted when the said the team was in a “state of emergency.” If the Ravens are going to make a late-season run, here are three things that must change.

1. The offense must become more explosive.

The Ravens have only reached 30 points one time all season. In that game against the Texans, they had a pick-six for a touchdown, and a punt return for a touchdown.

Through seven games, the Ravens’ running game has been abysmal, so why expect it to change? After the bye, the Ravens must play more to their offensive strengths – Joe Flacco’s arm, the speed of their wide receivers, and Ray Rice’s ability in open space.

They need to continue throwing on first down regularly, as they did Sunday against the Steelers. They must get the ball to Rice in open space more often, on flat passes, on screens – whatever it takes. Rice looked a little more elusive Sunday, as if his early-season hip injury was becoming less of a problem. After the bye, Rice figures to feel even stronger, and the Ravens have to utilize him in the passing game, because the running game may not get any better.
The Ravens also need to take more deep shots. Flacco had Jacoby Jones for a touchdown on a deep pass Sunday, but underthrew him and the ball was deflected away. With Jones and Torrey Smith, the Ravens have two wide receivers that can strike quickly, and Flacco usually throws the deep ball as well as anyone. The deep ball has to become more a part of what they do. In the last two weeks, they scored 17 points against the Packers, and 16 points Sunday against the Steelers. If the Ravens don’t score more against quality teams, they can forget making the playoffs.

2. Special teams must improve.

The Ravens have already had two punts blocked this season. Jones was injured on special teams in Week 1 when one of his own teammates, Brynden Trawick, collided with Jones as he was attempting to catch a punt.

Sunday against the Steelers, the Ravens’ special teams mishaps continued, after tying the game with two minutes to play. On the ensuing kickoff, Emanuel Sanders almost returned it for a touchdown from seven yards deep in the end zone. The officials ruled that Sanders barely stepped out of bounds at his own 37-yard line. But the Ravens’ kickoff coverage was atrocious.  Sanders broke containment, got past the Ravens’ defenders, and came within a toenail of a 107-yard kickoff return. Starting from his own 37 made it much easier for Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger to engineer the drive that led to the game-winning field goal.

Harbaugh is a former special teams coach, and the Ravens’ performance in that area has to anger him. It has to improve for the Ravens to get better.

3. The Ravens’ defense needs to create more turnovers

The Ravens only have nine takeaways in seven games. They are not giving their offense enough short fields. They are not making enough plays that change a game’s momentum. The pass rush has been excellent, and the Ravens have been solid in the red zone. But defensively, the Ravens need to become more opportunistic with strip sacks, interceptions, and hits that lead to fumbles. Their offense clearly needs the help.