There is no understating the importance of the Ravens’ victory over the reeling Bengals last week. With the win, they improved to 4-0 in the division and maintained a slim lead over the Steelers in the AFC North. With five weeks left in the season, they control their own destiny when it comes to a postseason berth. It’s not a bad position to be in.
But let’s be honest with ourselves here for a minute.
Sure, the Ravens are sitting in first place at the moment with only five games to play, which feels nice. And after a miserable season last year, we’ll take it. But does anyone really think that this team resembles anything close to a worthy playoff contender?
Now, make no mistake about it: the 2016 Ravens have some really good qualities. The defense is downright dominant at times, and is the main reason they currently sit atop the division. They’re dialing up pressure on opposing quarterbacks, creating turnovers, and making teams one-dimensional by completely taking away the run.
Oh, and that guy Justin Tucker is pretty good too. Unfortunately, though, he seems to be the only one who can consistently put points on the board.
The Ravens offense has been stuck in second gear all season. In earlier weeks we’ve heard the accountability from Joe Flacco. After Marc Trestman was fired Flacco said it starts with him. “I’m the guy. If there is a guy to look at, it’s the quarterback,” Flacco said, according to Jeff Zrebiec of the Baltimore Sun. “That is where a lot of that comes from.”
Two weeks later, on October 26th, it was the same rhetoric. “I’m obviously not playing good enough,” Flacco said, according to Zrebiec. We’re not a good enough offense and it starts with the quarterback. I’ve got to be better. We’ve got to be more precise and it starts with me.”
While taking accountability is great, unless the results change, it makes no difference. Whether it’s the play-calling, the system, the coaching or the quarterback, this an offense that has been consistently poor all season. If the offense hasn’t figured it out by Week 12, the chances of that changing this season aren’t very good.
What’s most confounding for fans is that on paper this looks like a good offense. Leading up to the season the expectation was this could end up being one of the more explosive units in the Ravens’ twenty-year history. With two deep threats in Mike Wallace and Breshad Perriman paired with a still highly productive Steve Smith and the resurrection of Dennis Pitta, this looked like an offense that could put up some serious yards and points.
The result has been an offense that ranks 23rd in yards, 24th in points, and a quarterback with the 4th lowest QBR (via ESPN) in the league. They’ve only scored more than 25 points twice all year. Once against a bad Raiders defense in week four and once against the Browns who haven’t held a single opponent to less than 24 points all season.
Sitting in first place feels nice but considering their schedule, keeping pace with the Steelers is likely too tall a task over the next five weeks. Even with one of the top defenses in the league and a kicker who is locked in, this offense, for whatever reason, will likely be the reason the Ravens aren’t playing football in January for the third time in the last four seasons.