I’m guessing that when the Baltimore Ravens drew up their plans for how they wanted Sunday’s game at Houston to turn out, it didn’t look much like the 43-13 debacle that transpired at Reliant Stadium. If anything, the game wasn’t as close as the score suggests. It was 29-3 at the half, and both teams played the second half like they both knew exactly how it was going to end.
Heading into the game the storyline was that these were the two best teams in the AFC battling for conference supremacy at this stage of the season. Well, Houston clearly claimed that distinction. Even worse, despite having the second-best record in the conference, it could be hard after that game to believe that Baltimore is still the second-best team.
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So, how bad is it for the Ravens? Was this just a temporary setback? Or is it a sign that things are bleak for this team going forward? Let’s take a look:
Good news for the Ravens
Circumstances of loss
I’m not of the opinion that there is such a thing as a good loss. There are some losses that are more understandable than others, though, and this fits into that category. No matter what, Houston was going to be tough to beat in this one. The Texans are a very good team. They were playing at home where they are even better. They had been humiliated the previous week but were responding well to the loss and were likely to be angry and focused. On top of all that, Baltimore was facing their first game after two huge losses in the defense, and they had to deal with the real possibility that Ray Lewis has played his last game. If Baltimore had won this game facing all that it would have been truly remarkable. The fact that they lost it is essentially expected.
The conference, as a whole, is pathetic this year. There are just three teams above .500 through seven games this year. One of those, New England, is lucky to be there and has hardly been inspiring. Baltimore has a two-game lead in their division at this point, and the same in a wild card race that isn’t exactly inspiring right now. There is a bigger-than-usual margin for error for this team because of the division they are in.
Bye week comes now
This is absolutely perfect timing for a bye week. A terrible performance like that could easily snowball into a real problem. Now they have some time to get their collective head in a better place and to focus back on the task at hand. The new starters on defense can get more comfortable, and the offensive issues can be addressed. This is a chance to restart the season — a gift of an opportunity. On top of that, they come back with games against Cleveland and Oakland, so they get to ease into the second half of their schedule — at least compared to what they could face.
On the surface this would actually appear to be bad news — the team has failed to cover five consecutive spreads. That could be a good thing in the search for value in the next few games, though, The Ravens are generally a reasonably public team, but the bad loss, the betting struggles, and the defensive personnel losses will turn the public off of this team — likely more than they should be. If they can use this bye week effectively then they could offer real value in the coming weeks.
Bad news for the Ravens
Lousy on the road
This is not a very good road team, and five of their remaining eight are on the road — including three divisional games. They lost at Philadelphia and were humiliated in Houston, and they beat Kansas City 9-6 in easily the ugliest game played all season. We always expect a team to be a bit better at home, but the gap in this case is significant and concerning. They probably need to win at least three on the road the rest of the way to avoid playing on the first weekend of the playoffs.
Defense lacks depth
When you lose a guy like Ray Lewis that is going to be a big issue no matter what — the guy has been the foundation of this team forever. Losing Lardarius Webb would be a big blow, too, because he has played well and the secondary lacks depth. Having to deal with losses of both, though, is a massive problem. This team has been defined by the defense for so long that the Ravens just expect that to be how it happens. The unit was already struggling to do their job this year, but this is going to make it even tougher. The return of Terrell Suggs helps, but he has come back so quickly from his Achilles’ injury that it’s hard to believe he’s going to last at a high level. It’s much easier to imagine that the defense becomes a liability through the season than it is to imagine them shining.
Flacco was truly terrible on Sunday — lost. Every QB can have a bad day, so that alone isn’t reason to panic. What’s the bigger concern, though, is that for the last three games his play has been inadequate. There are some excuses — most notably the offensive line has been pushed around more than it should. The fact is, though, that Flacco has not made the progress this season that he ideally would have. That would have been a concern no matter what, but with the defensive issues the offense carries a bigger burden this year than in the past, so Flacco’s flat play is a bigger issue.