The NFL has arrived at midseason, and Week 8 brings a Bye Week to the Baltimore Ravens, and it's blatantly obvious, to the players, coaches, and fans, how badly they need it. The reigning super bowl champs look more like a Division 3 college team, struggling on both sides of the ball and failing to finish strong against teams they should have blown through with little effort. With a current losing record, can the Ravens pull it together to finish the season strong? Or are fans doomed to chalk this one off as a 'rebuilding year' and focus solely on their fantasy team this year instead?
QB Joe Flacco isn't exactly making it easy to see why he deserves that massive contract he's holding. In fact, even the proudest of Baltimore supporters are having a hard time making excuses for those few dumbfounding errors we can't find reason for. Partial blame can be put on the ever-changing receivers, but when the situation calls for it, a quarterback has to make do with what he's given. Instead, it's coming heartbreakingly close or barely squeaking by. Within the last few years, Flacco finally silenced those who found his presence with the Ravens mismatched and disjointed, and his performance in last season's Super Bowl was electrifying. With Baltimore losing key players to retirement and trades, it seemed as though Flacco was to be the new leader this season. He has completed 59.5 percent of his passes for 1,917 yards, which isn't terrible. But he's tied in his touchdowns and interceptions at eight apiece, a scale fans hoped would weigh heavier on the touchdown end. He is on track for 4,381 passing yards and 18 interceptions, which would both be career highs. He's never been one to put up the sparkling numbers of Manning or Brady, but 'scraping by' is not a good look for Baltimore, and the improvements necessary may need to start with Flacco.
But remember, no one can fully blame the quarterback. And while its easy to say that adjusting to a field without Ray Lewis or Ed Reed is to blame for the array of wrongdoings committed by Baltimore thus far, it all comes down to how the team is functioning as one unit, and the Ravens have some work to do. It seems that the bulk of conversation surrounding the team is on the subject of plenty of player tweaking, almost daily one player is swapped for another. The latest was OT Bryant McKinnie to the Dolphins on Monday. But according to coach John Harbaugh, this open spot has not yet been filled. Injury is definitely a problem that has worked against the team for much of the season. RB Ray Rice was deeply missed early on with a hip injury, but has since returned and gives fans atleast something to hope for. But Baltimore is expected to explore the free agent market during their bye week to deal with RB Bernard Pierce's hamstring injury, who reportedly didn't practice Wednesday. He was absent towards the end of Sunday's game against Pittsburgh. And again, poor Joe Flacco; two of his fastest receivers-Jacoby Jones and Deonte Thompson-injured and missing a majority of the season. TE Dennis Pitta, after dislocating his hip during training camp, is said to be targeting a November return. Finding a fitting replacement has seemingly been difficult for Baltimore. LG Kelechi Osemele is suffering from a back injury, but has missed little game time. But "it's affected my power," he said. "I'm an offensive lineman, I need to have strong legs. Obviously it's affecting me."
OLB Terrell Suggs called the 3-4 start a 'state of emergency'. The Ravens are still reigning champs, and after this bye week, it's time for Baltimore to go full-throttle. As the second half of the season begins, the team needs to remind their opponents (no matter who it is) why they shouldn't be counted out just yet. Said Joe Flacco: "You just kind of go to work, and you grind every day. You don't really think about what's happened in the past because you have to be so locked in to what we're doing now just to get through and to do it well."
Adopting that business-like approach, the Ravens are headed back to work.