Ravens are 2-0, but it has not been im­pres­sive

Baltimore Sun - - RAVENS INSIDER - Mike Pre­ston mike.pre­ston@balt­sun.com twit­ter.com/MikePre­stonSun

CLEVE­LAND — Nearly a year ago, the Ravens pri­vately com­plained about their early-sea­son sched­ule, which in­cluded four trips to West di­vi­sion teams dur­ing the first seven weeks.

They can’t com­plain about their first two games in 2016.

They’ve played two of the NFL’s worst teams, and barely man­aged a 25-20 win against the Cleve­land Browns on Sun­day. Af­ter­ward, the Ravens were giddy in the locker room be­cause they are 2-0, and they talked about re­siliency and over­com­ing ad­ver­sity be­cause they ral­lied from a 20-point first-quar­ter deficit. Gimme a break. This wasn’t Frank Reich and the Buf­falo Bills ral­ly­ing from a 32-point third-quar­ter hole against the Hous­ton Oil­ers in the 1993 play­offs. Th­ese were the hap­less Browns, and the Ravens couldn’t have pulled this come­back off against any other NFL team — maybe not even against some good teams in Canada.

And while the Ravens re­main un­beaten and atop the AFC North, there were some trou­bling signs Sun­day, in­clud­ing the team’s lack of a run­ning game for the sec­ond straight week. There were also some prob­lems in the sec­ondary and a lack of in­ten­sity from a team that has strug­gled on the road in re­cent years.

The Ravens got a re­prieve last week be­cause it was the sea­son opener and they were play­ing the Bills, who at least fin­ished 8-8 last year. But the Browns were 3-13 in 2015 and have a new coach in Hue Jack­son and enough youth that they could have a pim­ple epi­demic.

If the Browns hadn’t com­mit­ted stupid “We just have to get bet­ter,” coach John Har­baugh said af­ter the Ravens had 80 rush­ing yards. penal­ties at cru­cial times, the Ravens might have lost to a club that has less tal­ent than an ex­pan­sion team.

“This is a team that is go­ing to be a force to be reck­oned with be­cause they are play­ing a bunch of rook­ies,” Ravens coach John Har­baugh said of the Browns.

And that’s the prob­lem. The Ravens strug­gled against a team with 16 rook­ies on its ros­ter. Har­baugh knows East Coast teams have to run the ball in late De­cem­ber and early Jan­uary if they want to ad­vance and go deep into the play­offs.

But the Ravens couldn’t run against Buf­falo and had only 80 yards on 26 car­ries Sun­day. Ter­rance West had 42 yards on 11 car­ries, and Justin Forsett had 37 yards on 14 at­tempts. The Ravens did man­age to take five min­utes off the clock with a strong run­ning game late in the fourth quar­ter, and Har­baugh hopes to build off that.

The Ravens also might get some help from rookie run­ning back Ken­neth Dixon once he re­turns from a knee in­jury in about two weeks.

“We just have to get bet­ter,” Har­baugh said. “We just have to look at the tape and fig­ure out ex­actly what we have to do to the run game to get it go­ing ear­lier.”

The Ravens can’t rely on quar­ter­back Joe Flacco ev­ery week. Right now, he is strug­gling from half to half. Flacco threw for 302 yards and two touch­downs against the Browns, but Cleve­land has one of the worst sec­on­daries in the league.

If the Ravens want to take some pres­sure off Flacco and that re­ha­bil­i­tated knee, they need to get the run­ning game go­ing, which would open up the play-ac­tion pass­ing game. Flacco is all for it. “We’re not get­ting a ton of yards right now,” Flacco said. “We’re do­ing some dif­fer­ent stuff, and it prob­a­bly isn’t giv­ing our line­men the best chance to be su­per phys­i­cal. I think it’s keep­ing de­fenses off bal­ance, and even­tu­ally it’s go­ing to pop. On that last drive, we were able to pick up a hand­ful of first downs run­ning the foot­ball. I think that’s where we’re try­ing to go with this thing. We wantto get up20-0andwe­want­torun­teams over late in the game. It’s just not go­ing that way yet, but we just have to stay con­sis­tent and even­tu­ally it will turn.” Forsett agreed with Flacco. “I think we fi­nally got in a rhythm to­ward the end of the game, and ev­ery­body was do­ing their job,” Forsett said. “When you have suc­cess run­ning, ev­ery­body is do­ing their job and mak­ing plays. It’s a team thing. We have to get it to­gether where we are con­sis­tent for four quar­ters.”

Right now, a strong run­ning game is the miss­ing in­gre­di­ent on of­fense. The Ravens have some speed, and they have enough weapons to spread the ball around.

On de­fense, the Ravens looked good against Buf­falo in Week 1, but the Bills have one of the worst of­fenses in the league, which is why they fired of­fen­sive co­or­di­na­tor Greg Ro­man on Fri­day, af­ter only two games.

There are still ques­tions about the Ravens sec­ondary. The Browns had re­cep­tions of 47 and 28 yards, which isn’t that big of a deal, but they at­tacked cor­ner­back Sha­reece Wright, and safety Lar­dar­ius Webb was slow get­ting to the ball.

The Ravens gave up 387 yards of to­tal of­fense, in­clud­ing 260 pass­ing to vet­eran quar­ter­back Josh McCown, who would have thrown for more yards if he hadn’t suf­fered a shoul­der in­jury in the first quar­ter.

Right now, the jury is still out on whether the Ravens are much im­proved from a year ago. It might not be any clearer a week from now, when they play at Jack­sonville, another peren­nial loser. In the big pic­ture, the Ravens were happy with the great es­cape Sun­day.

They are un­beaten and tied with Pitts­burgh for the di­vi­sion lead. The Ravens can talk about over­com­ing ad­ver­sity and never giv­ing up, but deep down in­side, they know there is a lot of im­prove­ment to be made.

It’s not a good sign when you beat the ju­nior var­sity by only five points.

KEN­NETH K. LAM/BAL­TI­MORE SUN

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