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Harsh Realities

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I’ve been biting my tongue on saying this for the last couple of weeks, if for no other reason than I was in an almost blinding state of denial, but as fans we can’t keep kidding ourselves any longer. With apologies to Bill Shakespeare, something is rotten in the city of Baltimore. There are a few harsh realities that we can no longer ignore, and the sooner we accept them, the sooner we’ll be able to move on as fans of a franchise in turmoil.

First of all, it appears that Joe Flacco is in the throws of a major Sophomore Slump. His numbers have improved over last season, he did start out this year with a resounding bang, and yes, he has been playing hurt, but make no bones about it, the kid is playing through a pretty sizeable downturn. In each of the past five weeks, Joe has regressed substantially. Watching him play its almost painful, his pocket presence has suffered, his mobility is virtually non-existent (largely due to injury), and perhaps most damning of all, his reads have slowed down dramatically. Despite the Green Bay love fest exhibited on Monday night by the ESPN announcing crew (why does ESPN hate Baltimore so much?), John Gruden made a great observation regarding Flacco. It seems like it’s taking Joe forever to go through his progression. Now, in all fairness it could be one of two scenarios: 1.) he could just be slowing down in his reaction time (not good); or 2.) he could be rapidly going through his reads several times in hopes of finding an open target (bad but not as terrible as option one). We’re all hoping its option two, but one has to wonder why he’s not moving around in the pocket and not drifting out of pressure to keep plays alive like he did last year and like he did in weeks one through four of this year.

Secondly, it has to be said that this offensive unit is just not very good. Joe has the ability to make plays, but when his receivers can’t get open, it doesn’t make a world of difference. Aside from Derrick Mason and Ray Rice, this unit as a whole has been under achieving for some time now. Todd Heap is clearly in the decline of his career, L.J. Smith is a nobody, Kelley Washington and Mark Clayton lack any discernable ability to achieve separation. It’s starting to get ugly against defenses ranked in the top half of the NFL talent wise. That being said, it’s not just the receivers who are at fault. Cam Cameron needs a very serious wake up call in terms of his overall game plan, the offensive line is falling apart from the inside out (I’m looking at you Matt Birk), not to mention that the overall blocking has been terrible. This unit is young and needs to mature. They can be good, they will be good, but for now, they’re just not ready to compete at the elite level.

Third, the Defensive Unit has officially cracked. For years the stalwart group has been showing signs of wear and tear but has managed to hold it together and be productive. This year, stress and time have finally taken their toll. Ray is still dominate but is slow and is missing tackles on the outside. Trevor Pryce is still a talent but isn’t the same ferocious presence he was years ago. Kelly Gregg is still recovering from knee surgery and there are questions as to his ability to regain his form. Simply stated, the defense has no teeth. I’m not going to beat a dead horse, we know how bad the secondary is, but the first step in getting a defensive win is getting to the opposing team’s quarterback and the Ravens Defense does not have the ability to do so. Major changes need to be made for this unit to be successful. It’s not going to happen this year.

Finally, for the first time in recent memory the front offensive has made some very poor personnel choices. I’m not talking about the draft; so far this most recent draft class has been stellar. It’s very rare to see significant contributions from all of your top level picks. I’m talking about elsewhere on the team. From the decision to let go of Graham Gano (who is kicking for the Redskins now), to the decision to not at least explore Chris McAllister in a work out (despite the fact that he was released by the Saints today), to most alarmingly the decision to keep Frank Walker and throw buckets of money at Dominique Foxworth and Chris Carr, Ozzie’s Midas touch has hit the rocks. Some of the moves have worked out well. Billy Cundiff has the makings of a solid kicker from here on out, and man alive was Lardarius Webb a good addition, but overall the front office has painted themselves into a corner and are facing a pretty legitimate re-building effort for the foreseeable future to address the many holes in the ship.

The harshest reality of all is that the Ravens are simply not that good. They’re not a playoff caliber, Superbowl ready roster. At best they’re a 9-7 roster. But the thing is, that’s not necessarily a terrible thing. This is a team who needs to rebuild with youth in a very serious fashion, and in all honesty the front office has been doing just that. Our offensive line is built to last for the future, as is our quarterback and our linebacker crew. The problem is the poisonous cancer known as elevated expectations. Last year the Ravens had no business competing for the AFC Championship game. A perfect storm of talent, heart, moxey and luck led what should have been a rebuilding squad through the playoffs to within a heart beat away from the Superbowl. Come this year we expect not only the same, but better. The problem is there’s no way for the team to match that effort so as fans, we’re all left heart broken, angry, and worst of all disappointed.

That all being said, there’s still light at the end of the tunnel. Sure, in all honesty we’re probably not going to make the playoffs this season, but next season looks bright. Joe will have another year to mature, the offensive line will have another year to get stronger, the linebackers will be that much better, and all of our players coming off surgery will be that much healthier and ready to compete. I’m not writing the season off just yet, but when you’re on life support it’s always best to plan for the future.


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