Considering that the Baltimore Ravens had the eventual Super Bowl champion New England Patriots up against the ropes in their AFC divisional-round playoff game last season, it wasn’t exactly a bold choice to include the Ravens among the NFL’s elite teams going into this season.
But now, three weeks into the 2015 season, Baltimore (0-3) is the only winless team in the AFC and one of only four winless teams in the entire league. The Saints, Lions and Bears are the others.
The Ravens’ struggles could be chalked up to a tough schedule — they opened on the road in Denver, then went back to the West Coast a week later to face Oakland, and then were home to face perennial playoff team Cincinnati this past Sunday. And there’s the matter of the season-ending injury suffered by star linebacker Terrell Suggs in Week 1, which surely deflated the team since Suggs is one of Baltimore’s emotional and on-field leaders.
Baltimore Sun writer Jeff Zrebiec explored five things the Ravens need to fix to get their first W, a list which includes the team’s maligned secondary:
The unit the Ravens front office spent the offseason and preseason trying to improve remains the team’s biggest issue. The Ravens are allowing 291 passing yards a game, the third most in the NFL, and coverage breakdowns have figured prominently in late-game meltdowns the past two weeks.
This year, the Ravens can’t use injuries as an excuse. Jimmy Smith, the team’s top cornerback, has played two consecutive subpar games. Cornerback Rashaan Melvin had a nightmare 2015 debut and was benched after a half. Safety Kendrick Lewis hasn’t been the stabilizing force that the Ravens had hoped for.
It’s a passing league and teams are going to make plays. But what has to be so maddening to Pees is that the secondary, mostly a veteran group, continues to bust coverage, miss tackles and make fundamental mistakes.
The coaching staff has a few options. They can get second-year safety Terrence Brooks more involved. They can thrust recently-acquired cornerback Will Davis into a more prominent role or elevate a cornerback, like Asa Jackson or Charles James, from the practice squad. Ultimately, though, what they need most is for guys like Smith, Lewis, Melvin and Kyle Arrington to play better.
The Ravens have a short turnaround, facing the Steelers this week on “Thursday Night Football.” It will be the first start of the season for Pittsburgh quarterback Michael Vick, who is replacing injured starter Ben Roethlisberger.
Even at 35 years old, Vick is still a unique threat to defenses with his ability to run outside of the pocket. He also still has a big arm, and has Antonio Brown on his side, arguably the No. 1 receiver in football. If Vick is accurate, he’s perfectly capable of picking apart Baltimore’s secondary just like Bengals QB Andy Dalton and Raiders QB Derek Carr have done the past two weeks.