3-and-out: Ravens prepare for Browns
1. Andy Dalton has been the best quarterback in the AFC North, and Joe Flacco needs to change that.
Dalton is having his finest season (65.6 % completions, 16 touchdowns, seven interceptions, 99.0 quarterback rating.) He’s a major reason why the Bengals (6-2) are threatening to run away with the division. Many things factor into a quarterback’s performance, but the bottom line is that Dalton has been more consistent this season than both Flacco and Ben Roethlisberger of the Steelers. Let’s not even talk about the Browns’ quarterback situation. Flacco has never been a huge stats guy, but he has been a winner. At 3-4, the Ravens need to play better offensively, and that means Flacco must play better. That’s the heavy burden that comes with being a highly paid franchise quarterback. Look for Flacco, who has not thrown an interception the past two games, to have a strong November and December. If the Ravens are going to make the playoffs, Flacco doesn’t have a choice.
2. Signing Bernard Scott gives them more depth at running back, but the Ravens still need Ray Rice to play like Ray Rice.
The Ravens' decision to sign Scott gives them more insurance at running back. But the Ravens are really hoping that Rice returns to form in the second half of the season. Rice remains extremely important to the Ravens' fortunes, and his struggles have severely hampered the offense. The offensive line has not opened enough holes for him, and Rice has looked a half-step slower at times following his hip injury in Week 2. Meanwhile, Bernard Pierce can't stay healthy enough to be the featured back. He aggravated a hamstring injury against the Steelers, and Pierce may be banged up all season. Scott can handle some carries if either Rice or Pierce is not 100 percent. But Scott isn't going to dramatically improve the running game. The Ravens are hoping Rice will do that.
3. The Ravens need more interceptions
The Ravens have just four interceptions. The only teams with fewer are the Jets, Packers, Chargers, Texans, and Jaguars, who all have three. The Ravens’ pass rush is good enough to force quarterbacks into mistakes, but the Ravens’ linebackers and corners need to make plays more often when they have a chance for a pick. If the Ravens’ defense produces more turnovers over the final nine games, it will help the offense greatly.
Extra point: With the Ravens (3-4), Browns (3-5), and Steelers (2-5) all under .500, the AFC North may produce just one playoff team for the first time since 2007.