Already, the first quarter of the 2016 NFL season has passed by, bringing along another season of upsets, blowouts, and comebacks. Teams are finding their identity, and good teams are separating from bad. The season is still young, and the playoffs are still very far away.
The Baltimore Ravens have a 3-1 record after dropping their first loss to the Oakland Raiders on Sunday.
The Ravens fought until the final minute, but were unable to pull off a victory like their previous three games. Here are my main points.
What I Liked
- Return Of The Run Game. It’s been a while since the Ravens’ run game has kept the offense in a game like it did against Oakland. Terrence West made his first start of the season, with Buck Allen as his back up instead of Justin Forsett. West ran wild in the second half, finishing the day with 113 yards and his first touchdown as a Raven. With Kenneth Dixon on the verge of returning, the Ravens look to have a solid 1-2 punch down the road.
- Steve Smith Sr. Returning To Form. Last year in Week Two against Oakland, Smith Sr. rebounded from a weak showing from the previous week, and continued on a tear until a season-ending injury in Week Seven. Smith Sr. has improved in each game this season, with his best game again coming against Oakland’s suspect secondary. Smith Sr. finished the day with eight catches for 111 yards, including a 52-yard touchdown in the fourth quarter.
- Stout Defense. Yes, the defense gave up four touchdown passes to Derek Carr. Including a go-ahead touchdown on the Raiders final drive. The offense didn’t put the defense in much position to succeed all day, yet the defense only gave up 261 total yards. The run defense has been dominant in every game this season, and looks like it will be a strong force throughout the year. A big part of Dean Pees’ defense has been a bend-but-not-break philosophy. It doesn’t always work, but the Ravens have to be happy with their defensive performance this season.
- Offense Comes Alive In Second Half. Joe Flacco’s offense has been susceptible to slow starts all throughout his career. He has also been known to turn the lights on in the second half, and the offense was in position to win in the final minutes if not for a failed fourth down conversion attempt late. The Ravens scored all three of their touchdowns after half time, which is better than not heating up at all. If the Ravens can figure out a way to heat up earlier, this will be a scary offensive squad to pair with a great defense.
What I Didn’t Like
- Weak Offensive Game Plan. Common sense would presume that with a quarterback like Joe Flacco, and receivers like Mike Wallace and Breshad Perriman, the Ravens would at least attempt to pass it deep multiple times a game. Terrence West’s career game should’ve opened up a deeper passing game than it did yesterday. Apart from a 52-yard catch-and-run by Smith Sr., Baltimore’s longest passing play only made it 17 yards.
- Weak Pass Blocking. The Raiders spent a lot of money in the offseason to upgrade their pass rush, which paid dividends in Baltimore. On a day when two starters were missing and the run game took off, Baltimore’s pass blocking put Flacco in risky positions. The scary reality is that the Ravens are now relying on two banged up rookies to protect Flacco as the season goes on.
- Giving Up The Lead Late. Baltimore fought back from down 11 points in the second quarter, and 9 in the fourth. They pulled forward for their first lead of the game with 3:36 seconds after the West touchdown. The Raiders’ offense answered quick with a late touchdown, and Baltimore failed on a final drive. The defense has been great through four games, but it can’t be relied on every game to win at the end. The offense needs to do more, and stop dropping passes, late.
- No Pressure On Carr. As well as with the pass rush, Oakland spent big money on its offensive line this offseason with the pick-up of ex-Baltimore guard Kelechi Osemele. The Ravens recorded zero sacks or QB hits on Derek Carr. Even against an above average offensive line, Dean Pees needs to get creative with his blitzing. He certainly has the personnel to be able to.
- No Turnovers. After five interceptions in two weeks, Baltimore’s secondary did not record a turnover and gave up four touchdowns. Shareece Wright was picked on the entire day by Michael Crabtree, who brought down three of Carr’s four TDs. The defense needs more turnovers if Baltimore wants to win games behind a conservative offense, especially at home.
- Yes, Baltimore lost at home after giving up a late six-point lead. But this is no reason for concern. The Raiders are not a weak team like they were for much of the past 15 years. The Ravens fought hard all game, and ultimately came out on the wrong end of the stick. Baltimore has work to do, as all teams do at this point, if they want to make a run for the post season. The team must find a concrete identity on offense to pair with an opportunistic defense. Baltimore has three winnable games before their bye week to figure it out before the schedule becomes remarkably tougher.
Week Five Preview
- The Washington Redskins will make the trek up I-95 for road contest in Baltimore next week. The Redskins are coming off of two straight wins, but Baltimore will have extra motivation not to fall into a losing streak against their inner-state rivals. The Redskin’s defense presents Baltimore’s offense with a good opportunity to get on track this week. Terrell Suggs, C.J. Mosley, and Timmy Jernigan will look to bounce back against an inferior offense and improve Baltimore to 4-1 before two road games in New Jersey.