You've been trying to figure out "what happened?" when it comes to the Ravens' 44-7 blowout loss to the Jacksonville Jaguars Sept. 24. You've hypothesized in your mind what it might be. You've suggested a number of possibilities.
I've come to tell you that, with few exceptions, your theories are largely correct. What you think went wrong for the Baltimore Ravens is right on track. That's the good news. The bad news is that nearly everyone else's theory is right, too. There isn't one individual issue that faces the team that can quickly be solved. There are a multitude of realities that are troublesome.
Here's the one theory that I can't give even the slightest credence to. It's the one that says something like, "Well, that was karma for the Ravens kneeling during the national anthem." Whatever your opinion is about protesting, I can't do wacky conspiracy theories here. Maybe you're better suited at Infowars.com than PressBoxOnline.com today. I honestly don't even know how to make a tin foil hat, so I don't think I can help you.
But let's talk about the others, all of which are likely true.
First, the Ravens were badly hurt by the loss of offensive lineman Marshal Yanda and defensive lineman Brandon Williams. It shouldn't be shocking that if a team loses its best player on each line, it's going to struggle up front. However, given the depth we thought the Ravens had on their defensive line, we probably couldn't have easily imagined the Jaguars' offense carving up the Ravens for 166 yards on the ground. We also couldn't have fathomed that a team that tallied eight sacks through the first two weeks of the season would suddenly lose its push with one player missing.
Perhaps we should have seen the offensive line disaster coming more than we did. Not only have the Ravens lost two starting guards -- Yanda and Alex Lewis, with Yanda arguably the best in football -- but the rest of the group is uninspiring to say the least. Only one of the team's current starting offensive linemen (left tackle Ronnie Stanley) would be certain to start for other NFL teams. The Ravens thought so much of Yanda's backup (Tony Bergstrom) that they decided to leave him inactive and start a player (Matt Skura) who wasn't even on the roster a week before.
Not only could the Ravens not run the ball, but their lack of protection (against, in fairness, a defense that doesn't get nearly enough credit and has garnered the "Sacksonville" moniker) left quarterback Joe Flacco running for his life en route to one of the worst days of his career.
The good news is the Ravens should get Williams back. The bad news is that while not every defense they'll face is as good as the Jaguars, there's no reason to think anything about their current offensive line is going to get any better. It's frightening.
But it isn't the only issue. Another theory that has been suggested has been the way the Ravens handled their trip to London. By flying overnight Thursday, the team asked players to try to get sleep on a plane (albeit in beds not upright chairs) and deprived them the opportunity to get their bodies adjusted to the time change ahead of the first 9:30 a.m. Eastern Time kickoff in franchise history.
I think it was a mistake. CBS sideline reporter Alex Flanagan noted in the second half that quarterback Joe Flacco's back was stiff -- the type of thing that can happen when you attempt to sleep on a plane during an overnight flight. I've talked to a number of players who have made the trip on that same schedule and none of them have found it pleasant. Football players tend to be creatures of habit. This schedule was so unnatural to them that it's reasonable to wonder what impact it had on the team. The group also looked completely lethargic, which can be expected given the early kickoff time for a group still battling jet lag.
Yet as I admit that I think these are actual issues, I must also point out that the Jaguars traveled the exact same way (albeit most of their players had experience making the trip because Jacksonville plays in London once every season), and dismissing other issues and fixating on this one would be a mistake.
Because there's one other theory in particular that truly stands out. It's the theory that we've discussed ad nauseam for the first two weeks of the season. It's the theory that maybe Baltimore's 2-0 start with 10 forced turnovers had as much (if not more) to do with how bad the Cincinnati Bengals and Cleveland Browns are than the Ravens really being all that good.
We're still a long way from knowing how truthful that theory is, but it's impossible to dismiss after such an embarrassing performance. The Ravens built a roster that has to win with defense; they're just not strong enough on the other side of the ball to recover from woeful defensive efforts. And simply being "good" defensively isn't good enough, either. They need to be dominant. They clearly weren't in London, and it lead to an unmitigated disaster. Can they be a dominant defense again? That remains to be seen.
Oddly, even before the Pittsburgh Steelers lost to the Chicago Bears, my strange feeling was that the Ravens' matchup in Week 4 is better for them than their matchup in Week 3. But we have much to learn about a team that does not face one singular issue -- it faces a litany, and it has to solve them in a hurry.
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