It’s too early to say what 3-0 start means
Ravens beat lowly Jacksonville, which should have fired coach Gus Bradley on Monday after the team’s dismal performance.
Collectively, those three teams have a record of 1-8. So what does that make the Ravens? Undefeated. That’s it. If you want to call them one of the NFL’s best right now, go ahead. Make their day. As for me, I still see a slightly-below-average team that hasn’t found an offensive identity or played a good opponent yet.
That’s good enough for now, in a league filled with sorry teams such as Cleveland, Miami, Chicago, San Francisco, Jacksonville, Indianapolis, Detroit and Tennessee.
If it weren’t for fantasy football leagues, a lot of fans might lose interest in the NFL.
But with three wins to open the season — along with an unbeaten preseason — the Ravens are gaining confidence.
That’s good for the nucleus of young players on defense such as linemen Brandon Williams, Michael Pierce and Timmy Jernigan, linebackers C.J. Mosley, Zachary Orr and Za’Darius Smith and cornerback Tavon Young.
Imagine if the Ravens had started losing early this season? Inside, there might have been some doubt, and these young players might have started thinking, “Uh-oh, here we go again.”
Instead, winning has been like a shot of adrenaline. You can see it in the defense as it gets better every week. But all that rah-rah momentum stuff will only take a team so far.
Eventually, the Ravens are going to have to play at a higher level against quality teams. Veterans Terrell Suggs, Eric Weddle and Joe Flacco know that.
They know if they continue to play the way they have in the first three games, they might not make the playoffs, and even if they do, they won’t go far. Flacco, who doesn’t shy away from the truth, said as much Sunday after the Ravens barely got by the Jaguars.
“You’re not going to be able to get away with this when you’re playing really, really good teams in January,” Flacco said after the 19-17 win.
Coach John Harbaugh knows that, too. That’s why he keeps pressing his offensive staff to find a running game, because it is hard to win in this league without one unless you’re playing the league’s worst every week.
The Ravens can’t count on Flacco to throw 40 times a game. They tried that last year in the 10 games Flacco played and were 3-7. Flacco is a winner, but too erratic at times to carry an offense.
The problem is the Ravens don’t have an obvious answer to cure the running game. Starting running back Justin Forsett no longer beats defenders one on one. Backup Terrance West shakes as if he is auditioning for “Dancing with the Stars.” Rookie Kenneth Dixon, injured so far, has talent, but he is no Jamal Lewis in his first season.
The offensive line hasn’t been able to get much movement at the line of scrimmage, and even right guard Marshal Yanda has struggled this season by his standards. The most consistent lineman has been right tackle Rick Wagner. The Ravens have adequate skill-position players, but there is concern about the health of tight end Dennis Pitta and wide receiver Steve Smith Sr. Then there is second-year receiver Breshad Perriman. Ravens offensive linemen Ronnie Stanley, right, and Ryan Jensen block for quarterback Joe Flacco during the final drive of Sunday’s 19-17 victory over the Jaguars.
Coming out of college there were scouting reports criticizing him for dropping passes, and that was evident Sunday when he failed to hold on to two easy ones.
Defensively, there is only one concern, and that’s the play of the secondary. That group still scares me, but there is more confidence with Weddle at safety.
Around town Monday, there was glee and sarcasm about the Ravens’ record. Some of the optimists were comparing this present defense to the record-setting group in 2000, and comparing placekicker Justin Tucker to Matt Stover.
Apparently, someone had spiked their purple Kool-Aid. The 2016 guys are still babies compared to the Super Bowl defense, which had longtime veterans Tony Siragusa and Rob Burnett on the defensive line, one of the top trios of linebackers ever to play the game in Jamie Sharper, Ray Lewis and Peter Boulware, and two solid cornerbacks in Chris McAlister and Duane Starks.
Also, that team had Jamal Lewis at running back, who dished out as much punishment as Ray Lewis did on the other side of the ball.
To win a title the way the Ravens did in 2000 was an aberration, and might never be done again. These Ravens have their own strengths and weaknesses and, if they can find a niche and develop an identity on offense, they might be able to do something.
At least for now, they have an unbeaten record and time on their side.