Three things to watch for as the Ravens look to bounce back in the Music City

The Baltimore Ravens were flying high heading in to take on the lowly Cleveland Browns last week looking to build on their Sunday Night Football victory over the arch rival Steelers.

Unfortunately “the same old Ravens” showed up to First Energy Stadium and the Ravens left with a disappointing 12-9 overtime loss against the upstart Browns. Joe Flacco and the offense didn’t register a touchdown on the day and seemed to be out of sync throughout. The defense was good enough to win on Sunday surrendering just 12 points across five quarters of football but couldn’t get the last stop to preserve a tie (how awful does preserving a tie sound?).

But alas the Ravens sit at 3-2 in second place in the AFC North and are headed to Nashville to take a on a 3-2 Tennessee Titans team that has been up and down this season. They are in first place in the AFC South division and are fresh off of a 13-12 road loss to the Buffalo Bills this past Sunday in a game where they produced just 221 yards of total offense.

Here’s what to watch for ahead of this week’s game.

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Michael Crabtree will be looking to bounce back from his worst performance of the season. Image Credit: AP

1) Can the offense bounce back? 

Flacco and the offense need to be better than they were on Sunday for the Ravens to have any chance of turning this into a special season. While Michael Crabtree and his NFL-leading seven drops are getting the lion share of the attention, the rest of the offense was ineffective as well. Flacco was 29-56 for 298 yards and a costly redzone interception.

Crabtree, Willie Snead, and John Brown combined to haul in just 15 of the 33 targets they received. The running game started well but floundered in the second half. The Ravens haven’t scored a touchdown in 123:03 of game time after beginning the season 12-for-12 in the red zone.

This Sunday, the Ravens will take on their former defensive coordinator Dean Pees and his Titans defense that currently ranks seventh in yards-per-game allowed. The Titans do a great job stopping the pass attack of their opponents, boasting a ranking of third in the NFL surrendering just 210 yards per game.

Where the Titans struggle defensively is stopping the run. They rank 26th in the NFL giving up 123.2 yards-per game on the ground. Ironically, the Ravens have really struggled running the football this season and they will be presented with another favorable match-up in hopes to get the running game going.

The Ravens are seventh in the league in rushing attempts. Despite cries from fans for a better run-pass balance, John Harbaugh doesn’t seem concerned:

The Ravens have been ineffective in running the football this season as they are averaging just 3.4 yards-per-attempt which ranks 30th in the league. They have also had issues with ball security from their running backs as both Alex Collins and Buck Allen have fumbled this season. Collins has lost the football twice and Allen has once.

I am not sure how much trust Harbaugh and offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg have in the running game at this point and if they can’t get it going against one of the NFL’S worst units, this could be a storyline that continues throughout the season.

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Jerry Rosburg and his special teams unit will be hoping for an incident free performance against the Titans. Image Credit: Baltimore Sun

2) Can the Ravens stop with the special teams issues?

It isn’t often that the Ravens’ special teams unit draws the ire of fans criticism but five games into the 2018 season, there are issues to be discussed here.

Week three against the Broncos saw the Ravens give up a blocked punt from their own 13/yard line which set up Denver at the Ravens six for a game-opening touchdown drive.

That same game saw a Justin Tucker 43-yard field goal attempt blocked with the Ravens clinging to a 17-14 lead late in the second quarter. The Broncos took it back for a touchdown to boot, but it was called back for an illegal block which wiped out the potential go-ahead touchdown.

And this past week against the Browns, this happened:

Browns rookie Denzel Ward blocked Tucker’s 48-yard field goal at the end of the first half that would have tied the game at six heading to the halftime break. In a game that ultimately needed an overtime session to determine a winner, this was once again another key mistake from this special teams unit.

The Ravens need to clean this up fast.

Detroit Lions v Baltimore Ravens

Willie Henry and Terrell Suggs sparked the Ravens defense against the Browns. Will it continue? Image Credit: Getty Images

3) Can the front seven build off of what was a great week?

The Ravens recorded five sacks against the Browns this past Sunday, making good on half of my prediction for the defense this past week (they only recorded one turnover).

Willie Henry returned to the lineup in Cleveland and picked up his first sack of the season while Eric Weddle, Brandon Williams, and Terrell Suggs each picked up a whole sack. Za’Darius Smith and rookie Kenny Young each picked up a half a sack for the defense as well.

It was arguably the most disruptive that the Ravens’ front seven has been this season as they also recorded a season-high 11 tackles for a loss on the day. The Browns and their number two-ranked rushing attack mustered just 112 total rushing yards in roughly five quarters of football.

The Titans offense hasn’t been too impressive this season either. They rank 17th in rushing, 29th in passing and points-per-game, and 24th in third down conversions. The Ravens defense should have the advantage over a Titans unit that has not gone over 20 points in regulation this season.

Predictions:

Jake McDonnell– Ravens 20 Titans 17

Nolan McGraw– Ravens 23 Titans 17

Ian Schultz– Ravens 17 Titans 13

Jay Stavros – Ravens 24 Titans 10

This game could go either way for the Ravens. If the offense responds and has a huge game against Tennessee, I will be happy to eat crow. I think that the Ravens defense will have a big day against a Tennessee offense that hasn’t hit their stride yet this season. Flacco will connect with Crabtree for the game-winning touchdown in the fourth quarter.

The Details:

Image Credit: AP

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