SCHMUCK: Reeling Ravens face crucial decisions over rest of season


Maybe in some alternate universe the Ravens are just masquerading as a bottom-10 NFL team until Halloween, then will reel off five straight wins to get back to .500.

It's certainly not mathematically impossible, but even considering such an extravagant improbability requires you to first answer this question:

What are you going to believe — some wishful arithmetic, or your eyes?

If you watched Monday night's loss to the Arizona Cardinals, there were the usual misleading signs of life and another final score that seemed to indicate the Ravens were just one touchdown worse than one of the best teams in the NFL. Somehow, they have managed to leave each of their six losses feeling like they should have or could have won if only well, you can fill in the blank depending on which game we're talking about.

It is a pointless exercise because it isn't even that complicated. Good teams win. Bad teams find ways not to. The Ravens found several ways not to win on Monday night and the rest of the country watched the same game you did and wondered how the Cardinals managed not to win by 25 points.

Losing one close game to a very good team could mean that your guys are pretty good and the ball just didn't bounce their way.

Losing almost every close game, regardless of the opponent, means that your team doesn't have what it takes to win.

Time for assessment: That has been obvious for a while now, and the upcoming bye period that starts next week is probably a good time for the Ravens organization to take a cold, hard look at itself and get down to the unhappy business of reordering its priorities to make sure that something positive can come of all this.

That doesn't mean giving up on the season, at least not completely. John Harbaugh is never going to do that and he shouldn't. He hasn't had a losing season as a head coach and he certainly wants to see how much his team can squeeze out of the favorable half of its schedule.

There are some wins to be had out there. The Ravens got the short end of the NFL scheduling stick with five of their first seven games on the road and most of those in the western time zones. The remaining nine games feature a lot of home cooking and some seemingly-beatable opponents, so it's not like the Ravens are in danger of finishing 1-15.

They are, however, in danger of getting a prime position in next year's draft, which makes the evaluation process that goes on over the next 10 weeks critical to the formation of a competitive roster in 2016 and 2017.

Unpleasant task: Everyone seems to agree that the Ravens simply do not have enough healthy talent to be competitive, which leaves them with the unpleasant task of figuring out how much of their unhealthy talent is going to make the contribution next year that the team was counting on this year.

For instance, will Breshad Perriman be "The Burner" who was going to stretch the field in place of Torrey Smith, or will the Ravens have to go back into the NFL draft and use a high pick to augment their undermanned receiver corps?

If there is a way to ascertain that Perriman is the real deal and the Ravens also are able to go out into the free agent market to buy one of the top veteran wide-outs, then they will be in position to use a strong draft to replenish their secondary and — just maybe — quickly reconstruct the dominant defense that has long defined the franchise.

To that end, do they assume that Terrell Suggs has one more good year in him after a second Achilles tendon reconstruction? Do they go forward with any confidence that Lardarius Webb can still be a dependable cornerback or Matt Elam will return and suddenly bloom as a premier safety?

Or do they assume nothing and look to upgrade everywhere?

Search for answers: Though there might be wide consensus that the team's sharp downturn stems from a decided lack of playmakers, the Ravens also need to figure out if that's the only reason why the offensive attack has failed to develop a consistent rhythm during new offensive coordinator Marc Trestman's first season.

The search for all those answers might require some soul-searching over the next 10 weeks and, perhaps, a tug-of-war over the best way to go forward in a season that no longer can keep its preseason promise.

Do you play to win every game, or do you play to win the future?