Let’s be clear about something, the 2017 Baltimore Ravens can be tough to watch sometimes. One game, they look like a legitimate playoff team. Other times, they look like one of the worst teams in football. Despite their lackluster offense, the Ravens are 5-5 and occupy the final AFC playoff spot as of Tuesday (thanks, Nathan Peterman). Thanks to their great defense and an easy remaining schedule, Baltimore has a great chance of getting back to the postseason in 2017-18.
Tough Defense, Tough to Watch Offense
Whether using traditional or advanced numbers, the Ravens offense has been pedestrian at best in 2017. They rank 17th in the NFL in points per game, 31st in total offense, last in passing and last in yards per play. Football Outsiders Defense-adjusted Value Over Average (DVOA), which measures team production based on the quality of opponent, ranks the Ravens 29th in the league. I know, I know, it’s shocking that an offense that relies primarily on short running plays and checkdowns often struggles to score points. I also find it
sad interesting that 16 years after their first Super Bowl, the Ravens best scoring option is still the kicker.
Fans and analysts can point the finger at injuries; offensive linemen Marshal Yanda and Alex Lewis are out for the season, Ronnie Stanley is in the concussion protocol, Danny Woodhead just came back, and receivers Jeremy Maclin and Mike Wallace have also missed time. Quarterback Joe Flacco’s ineffectiveness has compounded these ailments. The former Super Bowl MVP gets paid like Aaron Rodgers but has played like a backup in 2017; he ranks 28th out of 32 qualified passers in total QBR and 32nd of 33 in DYAR (Defense-adjusted Yards Above Replacement). Combine injuries with the atrocious quarterback play and you get a Ravens team that struggles to score, placing a heavy burden on the defense.
Fortunately for the Ravens, their stop unit has been up to the task so far. As of Wednesday, Baltimore’s defense ranks sixth in total defense, second against the pass and third in points allowed. They also generate an abundance of turnovers; they are tied for the league lead in takeaways and are tied for third in turnover ratio. Similar to 2016, Baltimore will need their defense to continue their strong play if they want to return to the playoffs.
Easy road ahead
The Ravens’ remaining strength of schedule works in their favor. Four of their final six games are at home, although they are just 2-2 at M&T Bank Stadium this year. Of their final six opponents, only two have a winning record (Steelers, Lions). Frankly, all I have to do is list the quarterbacks the Ravens are going to face over the next month: Tom Savage, Jacoby Brissett, DeShone Kizer, and Andy Dalton. None of those signal-callers has a QBR rated higher than 40.6. The two good QB’s Baltimore has to play aren’t exactly setting the world on fire either; Ben Roethlisberger and Matthew Stafford have QBR’s of 59.3 and 59.3 respectively (league average is 50). Eric Weddle, Jimmy Smith, and that opportunistic Ravens secondary have a good chance to mask the offensive shortcomings and carry Baltimore to the playoffs in a ho-hum AFC.
Can they get there?
Baltimore was in this position last year. They were 7-5 after blowing out the Miami Dolphins and looked primed to reach the playoffs. Then, they dropped three of their next four games, only beating the equally slumping Philadelphia Eagles.
Given the paucity of good teams in the AFC, the Ravens can make the playoffs this year. Their defense can get them there, but the offense has to catch up eventually- if it can. That will ultimately determine how far this team goes. If Flacco and the gang plan on playing better, there is no better time than now.