After the Ravens' 20-0 win against the Cincinnati Bengals in their season opener Sept. 10, I wrote a column suggesting
I wouldn't read too much into the win
and would reserve my feelings until after the season's quarter pole (four games in).
While (as is typical) I was accused of being a cynic, this isn't an "I told you so" column. I genuinely didn't know what the Ravens would be after 25 perfect of the regular season had passed. I absolutely did not expect them to be as much of a mess as they are currently.
This feels a bit like whipping a lifeless equine. So I don't really want to look back on what's already occurred. We've done plenty of that in Baltimore this week. We know the answers to the questions we've asked before.
"Is this defense as good as the 2000 team, the best defense in franchise history?" No, probably not.
"Can the offense do just enough to allow the defense to win games?" Maybe -- if they're playing an awful team like the Bengals or Cleveland Browns.
"How much will the loss of guard Marshal Yanda hurt the team?" Immeasurably.
Those aren't the relevant questions any longer. The only question that really matters at this point is simple.
"Can they fix this?"
That's loaded, right? I don't even really know if there's a defined way to prove it's been fixed. I guess if the Ravens make a deep playoff run it would prove they fixed whatever their current issues are. But could anything short of that accomplishment do it?
So how would they fix it? They still have one significant injured player (defensive tackle Brandon Williams) who can return in the coming weeks. Other players could have a chance to return from injured reserve as the season goes on, but, frighteningly, we know that more injuries could come, so this may prove to be healthiest the Ravens will be all season.
They could fix this by making a major change in personnel or the coaching staff. The league's trade deadline isn't until Halloween. The Ravens could use a guard. Maybe two guards. Maybe two guards and a right tackle. Maybe two guards, a right tackle and a running back. OK, so maybe two guards, a right tackle, a running back and another wide receiver. And probably another pass rusher. All of that.
And while shipping their seventh-round draft pick to the Arizona Cardinals for offensive lineman Tony Bergstrom doesn't look so great so far, who's to say the Ravens couldn't ship away the rest of the 2018 draft in order to fill their many, many needs. Oh, did I mention they could also use a boost in the return game?
As far as coaches are concerned, it's hard to fathom the team firing another offensive coordinator early in the season despite Marty Mornhinweg's return being so unpopular with fans in January. Mornhinweg's unit has been largely inept, but it's hard to imagine anyone (including fellow assistant Greg Roman, who presumably would move into the role) doing better given the overall lack of talent on the roster and the litany of injuries. Could Mornhinweg ultimately be dismissed? Yeah, I guess. But how many times can this franchise keep doing the same thing?
So if it isn't a major change in personnel or on the coaching staff, how else could this be fixed? Perhaps the players could grow together and show more cohesion. There's been an argument for that along the offensive line in particular. It's a makeshift group outside of left tackle Ronnie Stanley. It's a group that didn't work together much during the preseason and got absolutely no work with quarterback Joe Flacco. Could that group improve as the season goes on? Perhaps.
Could receiver Breshad Perriman improve as well as he continues to gain meaningful experience? Yeah, that's possible, even if it feels highly unlikely at the moment. Could the group of young pass rushers (Matt Judon, Za'Darius Smith, Tyus Bowser and Tim Williams) produce someone (or someones) who can make consistent contributions instead of just sporadic decent plays? Again, that could potentially happen.
Could it all be fixed simply because the schedule eases up for them a bit? Maybe. This week's game against the Oakland Raiders marks the first of five straight before the Ravens' bye that are against teams who have some level of quarterback issues. This week it will be EJ Manuel instead of Derek Carr for the Raiders. The following week, the Chicago Bears are expected to play rookie Mitch Trubisky instead of veteran Mike Glennon. Maybe all of this can help the Ravens.
But maybe the Ravens simply aren't good enough to be able to take advantage of it. Truth be told, that's my gut as of right now. As much as the schedule seems to set up for them over the course of the next month, I simply can't help but think this group of 53 players isn't good enough to capitalize. The high-end talent doesn't appear to be there. It doesn't appear to be there at all on offense and it doesn't appear to be enough on defense.
Maybe the fans who are starting to believe the organization needs a bit of an overhaul or a complete culture change are right.
I don't think this can be fixed. But I'll reserve my right to re-visit the topic halfway through the season.
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