The Ravens insisted that their meltdown in London was an aberration, that the humiliating loss to the Jaguars was just an aberration, that returning home to face their AFC archival Pittsburgh Steelers would be just what the Ravens needed to refocus.
Instead, the offense that was so anemic against the Jaguars was again a disaster in the first half against the Steelers, and the Ravens suffered a disheartening 26-9 defeat that leaves the Ravens reeling at the end of the first quarter of the season.
Here are are five impressions after the Ravens fell to 2-2 and lost for the first time in their past five meetings with the Steelers:
1. This offense isn’t good enough to afford mistakes.
The Ravens offense looked utterly anemic in the first half, as the unit had just had four first downs. There were a few positive signs, such as Alex Collins’ 23-yard run on the game’s opening play.
But there were also key mistakes. Quarterback Joe Flacco appeared to have Mike Wallace down the left sideline in the second quarter, but the low throw bounced off Wallace’s hands, costing what would have been at least a 20-yard gain. Later in the quarter, Alex Collins, who had sparked the Ravens with a 23-yard run on the game’s opening play, coughed up a fumble that led to a Steelers touchdown.
Then early in the fourth quarter, with the Ravens trailing 19-9 and driving, Flacco rolled out and threw a floater that was underthrown for Ben Watson and intercepted by Ryan Shazier.
Maybe a high-powered, high-octane offense can overcome those mistakes. The Ravens offense cannot.
2. Joe Flacco right now is a middling quarterback playing for a middling team.
Flacco’s final numbers looked good on paper – 31-for-49 for 235 yards, with one touchdown and two interceptions. But make no mistake – he stockpiled a lot of yards in garbage time. When the game was in the balance he was totally ineffective for the second straight week.
In the first half, Flacco finished nine-for-13 for 49 yards and the Ravens were 1-for-5 on third down as they fell behind 19-0. This was after falling behind 23-0 at halftime against the Jaguars last week. So do the math and they’ve been outscored 42-0 in the first half in the past two weeks.
"I sucked. … It wasn’t good," Flacco said.
"We’ve got to be better off early in games," he continued. "… And when we’re trying to climb back in games like we were today, there’s opportunities to do it, and we weren’t good enough to do it. That starts with me. I wasn’t good enough to get us back in the game."
Case in point: When the Ravens took over at the Steelers 18-yard line after an interception by Eric Weddle, Flacco overthrow an open Breshad Perriman near the goal line, and then Mike Wallace dropped a pass. After a sack, the Ravens had to settle for a field goal.
Much was made of Flacco’s back injury costing him the entire preseason. He says the back injury has had no bearing on his play, and that might be true. Regardless, he needs to be much better if the Ravens are going to be any factor this season.
3. The Ravens front office deserves plenty of scrutiny.
Last season, the Ravens defense carried the team for much of the year while the offense struggled to gain any traction. The offense was bad enough early in the year that offensive coordinator Marc Trestman was fired. But it seems the Ravens’ late-season defensive collapse, culminating with the Steelers’ 21-point fourth quarter on Christmas Day, informed the Ravens off-season decision-making.
The Ravens used the first four draft picks on defensive players, and used much of their free-agent capital on defense as well, signing defensive backs Brandon Carr and Tony Jefferson and re-signing defensive tackle Brandon Williams to a huge new deal.
They added running back Danny Woodhead, but the injury-plagued running back is on injured reserve after playing just one quarter. Receiver Jeremy Maclin was a bonus signing late in free agency.
But the message was sent via the draft and the early offseason that the Ravens were going to build a team to win with defense. The offense was not a priority and it shows.
4. Injuries up front defensively have taken their toll.
The Ravens sorely missed Brandon Williams, who missed his second straight game with a foot injury, and defensive end Brent Urban, out for the year with a Lisfranc foot injury. The Ravens turned to Bronson Kaufusi, appearing in the first game of his career, and Carl Davis to try to contain Le’Veon Bell and the Steelers ground game. It did not work.
The Steelers totaled 173 rushing yards, with 144 coming from Bell (35 carries). Whether the ends or the outside linebackers, the Ravens consistently struggled to set the edge against the run, and Bell did a lot of damage to the outside.
"We got beat by a counter-play way too often,” coach John Harbaugh said. "It’s a counter balance play, and they got outside too many times, and that can’t happen."
For all the talk of the Ravens depth up front, there is a major dropoff when going from a Pro Bowl-caliber player in Williams to players such as Willie Henry or Kaufusi or rookie Pat Ricard, who had hardly ever played before.
5. The AFC North is not what it once was, and is the Steelers’ to lose.
Four weeks into the season, the Steelers are in first place in the AFC North, with a win at Baltimore in hand, and they look primed to run away with the division. The Ravens, who burst to a 2-0 start with a pair of divisional wins, are suddenly 2-2 with an offense in disarray and their only two wins against other AFC North teams that entered play Sunday at a combined 0-6.
This division used to be considered one of the best in the NFL; now it appears to be the Steelers and everyone else. And the way the other divisions are stacking up, it appears the AFC North might get just one playoff team this year. So the Ravens need to right this ship fast.