The expectation coming into Sunday’s game against the Cleveland Browns was that the Baltimore Ravens would find out whether they are a good team.
There is still no verdict.
They are unbeaten after two games, which is the ideal situation but it’s hard to determine their status. At this point, let’s just say they are an average team with the potential to be good.
The analysis is more of an indictment of the AFC North than the Ravens. After they beat the Browns, 24-10, on Sunday, it’s safe to conclude that the Ravens have played two really bad teams.
It was OK to gain some confidence after the Ravens shut out the Bengals, 20-0, in Cincinnati last week, but there wasn’t a lot to rave about Sunday except that the Ravens are 2-0. Maybe that’s why the crowd started emptying out of the stadium shortly into the third quarter.
And the worst part was that the Ravens lost Pro Bowl right guard Marshal Yanda for the year with a fractured ankle. Next to quarterback Joe Flacco, he was the only player on offense the Ravens could ill-afford to lose.
Subdued in victory: Maybe the best sign from Sunday’s win was how subdued the Ravens were in the locker room. They knew they had won, but this wasn’t a dominant performance, not like last week against the Bengals. If they were acting as if they had just beaten the Pittsburgh Steelers in a big game, that would have been concerning.
Instead, the Ravens were realistic. They beat a horrible team with two bad quarterbacks and a defense that was incredibly soft in the middle. That says something about the character of this team.
“Let me start by saying huge win, division opponent, 2-0, got a chance to be 3-0,” safety Eric Weddle said. “That’s what we strive for, but we made too many mistakes, too many blown coverages, too many big plays as a defense, so we are not happy about the performance we had.
"We let those mistakes creep in, and if we don’t fix them it’s going to hurt us down the road. It may look like a great, great defensive effort, but when you look at it, we made too many mistakes out there.”
That recognition is a good sign. In the past, the Ravens would crow about having five turnovers for a second straight week, but this team gets it. The players know Cincinnati quarterback Andy Dalton played poorly last week and Cleveland rookie quarterback DeShone Kizer was tight and awful Sunday, throwing three interceptions.
Are the Ravens a good team?
It’s hard to say that about almost any NFL team after only two games. Are the New England Patriots, Kansas City Chiefs and Steelers good in the AFC? Are the Dallas Cowboys, Green Bay Packers and Seattle Seahawks the best teams in the NFC?
It’s easier to declare that Cincinnati, Cleveland, the New York Jets and the Indianapolis Colts are really, really bad.
Things to like: There are some things to like about the Ravens. They have a strong defense and good running game that finally gives them an identity after years of being nomads.
Flacco looked a lot more comfortable this week compared with last week. He moved better and the Ravens rolled him out of the pocket more. He threw passes with zip across his body, which showed he wasn’t worried anymore about his back problems.
Regardless, the Ravens finally got tight end Benjamin Watson involved in the offense, and they might have found a change-of-pace runner in Alex Collins to go along with Terrance West and Buck Allen.
New offensive assistant Greg Roman had the Ravens in the “pistol” offense at times and used the unbalanced line to create a balance between the run and pass offense.
On defense, the Ravens were credited with five turnovers, but they got a couple of gifts on some poor throws by Kizer and backup Kevin Hogan. Overall, the Ravens have been an opportunistic bunch, but they won’t get those freebies against quarterbacks such as Tom Brady or Ben Roethlisberger.
“We have not played our best football,” outside linebacker Terrell Suggs said. “We can be better. We did some things that we don’t do. We are mad at ourselves. A win is a win, but we expect more out of ourselves. We are going to enjoy it tonight, but we have to get some things corrected.”
Suggs knows better. He got the best out of his battle with Browns left tackle Joe Thomas, and the Ravens had some young defensive players stand out in linebackers Tyus Bowser and Tim Williams.
But they gave up 386 yards of total offense to Cleveland. The Browns had receptions of 35, 34, 49 and 24 yards and a run of 37. Too much.
“We can take some positives from [the win], but we can’t give up as many big plays as we did,” Weddle said.
Loss of Yanda a huge blow: The loss of Yanda might be too much to overcome. The Ravens need to get more out of their receivers and the downfield passing game, but that will eventually come as Flacco gets more comfortable with his receivers.
But Yanda could have been the model for the “Play like a Raven” mantra. Besides being a perennial Pro Bowl player, he made average players such as center Ryan Jensen and right tackle Austin Howard better.
He was good in the locker room and never complained publicly about anything. In the world of pro football, the team with the toughest guys usually wins and Yanda was a tough guy on a team that lacks alpha males.
But as Harbaugh said, the Ravens have to overcome. At this time, they are in great shape as far as the standings and they showed offensive improvement from a week ago.
Defensively, the Ravens fly to the ball and the young guys will only get better. But we just don’t know how good the Ravens are until they play a top team. And that won’t happen for at least another two weeks when the Steelers come to town.
But at least they are 2-0. Right now, that’s all that matters.