I’d compare it to having to get home from a business trip in Phoenix in time for Thanksgiving. You can’t get a direct flight so, strange as it sounds, you have to connect in New York. The cross-country flight is smooth and has very few people on it, allowing you to stretch your legs. The flight leaving New York, however? You’re stuck between a screaming child and a screaming drunk. You’re forced to taxi for hours, de-plane, then re-plane only to find out your new seat neighbors are a person who apparently doesn’t believe in the idea of deodorant and someone who REALLY wants to tell you about a video they saw on the internet that proves COVID isn’t real. The flight is rockier than Sylvester Stallone’s filmography. The gas masks pop down at one point. You’re forced to make an emergency landing in Philadelphia, but good news! After waiting five hours at the airport, they’re going to give you a 5 a.m. school bus ride back to Baltimore.
But hey, technically, you made it back in time for Thanksgiving?
That’s about the best I can do in attempting to describe the Ravens’ first six games of the season juxtaposed with their last game before their bye.
In diving into where this team now finds itself, the most important thing we can do is remember our favorite episode of the beautiful NBC program “This Is Us.” I think we all know which one I’m talking about, right? Season 5, Episode 12? I mean, Jack and Miguel bond. Kevin and Madison navigate challenges. Randall seeks out a new kind of support network.
You remember it! It’s the episode titled “Both Things Can Be True.”
(I had to pull that description verbatim, word for word, from the fine folks at IMDB.com. I would spend the next paragraph trying to prove that I have never viewed “This Is Us” but you would think I protest too much and frankly, I have far more embarrassing things in my viewing history.)
Both things CAN be true. If you find yourself spending the week thinking the Ravens have serious problems after they were boat raced at home by the Cincinnati Bengals in Week 7, you’re right. And if you find yourself hearing a co-worker make such a complaint (or someone in the national media aggressively going after the Ravens because of their performance) and you scream out loud “YEAH BUT THEY’RE STILL 5-2 AND VERY MUCH IN THE MIX!” then you’re right too.
Both things can be true.
Yes, the Ravens have serious problems. We knew their injury issues were overwhelming even before another potentially significant injury suffered by starting right tackle Patrick Mekari in the loss to Cincinnati. It is nearly miraculous that the sheer number of injuries hasn’t hurt them more significantly than two losses through seven games.
We also know that their run game hasn’t lived up to the lofty standard of recent seasons. Against the Bengals, the Ravens failed to rush for 120 yards as a team for the fourth time this season (in seven games). For comparison, they failed to reach that mark just three times in 18 games (including the playoffs) in 2020.
While the run-game issues were to be expected given their overwhelming injuries at running back and offensive line, there is little to give hope to the idea that they could fix the problems as the year goes on. The expected return of Nick Boyle — one of the league’s best blocking tight ends — should help, but there’s been little to suggest that the group of running backs the team has tried this season is capable of generating the necessary burst to become a dynamic run offense.
It seems even less likely considering Mekari’s injury further depletes an already very thin offensive line that has gutted out a spirited effort given the circumstances, although we’d need to admit that we’re really grading on a curve.
And then there’s the defense. Coming into the Bengals game, the Ravens were allowing 5.9 yards per play defensively, tied for 10th worst in the NFL. Against the Bengals, they allowed 8.3 yards per play. It was more disastrous than, say, hypothetically wasting a timeout in order to set up a punt. (I mean, could you imagine if someone did that?)
Of course, the defense just played quite well a week earlier against the Chargers … a game in which they also just so happened to run the ball. Solving the run offense would likely go a long way toward helping a troubled defense but that is, of course, easier said than done. Could a trade be had for O-line help? Or for a back? It’s hard to fathom the issues being fixed schematically, but they have two weeks to attempt just that.
With five AFC North games and dates with the Rams and Packers looming, nothing is assured for this team despite their hot start.
But we can’t ignore that part, either. They ARE 5-2. That would have been a reasonable start for this team even if they were totally healthy. It is truly remarkable considering everything they’ve been through.
Without question, both things are true.
Photo Credit: Kenya Allen/PressBox