The Baltimore Ravens (3-4) have a much needed break before tackling the second half of the NFL season. Following their Week 8 bye, the Ravens are set to take on division rivals in back-to-back weeks, facing the Cleveland Browns (3-4) on the road in Week 9 before heading back to Baltimore to play the Cincinnati Bengals (5-2) in Week 10.
With a break in the schedule, the Ravens need to use this time to focus on a few parts of their game that need some improvement.
1. Run game
Week after week, Head coach John Harbaugh and running backs Ray Rice and Bernard Pierce seem to be disappointed with the run game.
Between Rice and Pierce, the team is averaging 74 yards per game, ranking 28th in the league. Both running backs are averaging 2.8 yards per carry.
Those numbers are substantially low, especially for Rice, a three-time Pro Bowl running back. Last season, Rice rushed for 1,143 yards during the regular season. He is currently on track to rush for just over half of what he did last year.
While the Ravens have been talking about fixing the holes in the run game, this bye week is the time for the team to put that plan into action.
2. Special teams
Harbaugh spent nine seasons in Philadelphia coaching special teams. So, if there is anyone that has a chance at improving the Ravens special teams unit, it is Harbaugh.
In 2013, the Ravens special teams was ranked one of the best in the NFL. However, this year has been a different story. But Harbaugh has a plan for making the Ravens special teams a deadly force in the NFL yet again.
And the answer is simple.
“We’ve got to play better on special teams,” Harbaugh said in a press conference on Monday. “We’re going to find some guys that want to play special teams.”
Harbaugh will be moving players around during the bye week, finding who works well in the lineup and who does not. And some moves may be bigger than most people are expecting.
“If it means changing people out, then thats what we’ll do,” Harbaugh said. “We’ll trade guys, we’ll cut guys, we’ll sign guys, we’ll coach guys, we’ll change schemes – It doesn’t matter. We’re going to find a way to get better.”
3. Run defense
Stopping the rush has not been one of the Ravens biggest problems this season, but there is room for improvement. The Ravens lost a lot of players on defense after last season, so general manager Ozzie Newsome has had to make some adjustments.
The defensive line as a collective unit has not been as strong as it has in the past. Linebacker Terrell Suggs has been extraordinary for the Ravens defense on stopping the run. He is ranked highest in the NFL out of all linebackers in that aspect. With Suggs healthy, the front seven is automatically stronger.
But on the other hand, the Ravens have not seen much from defensive tackle Haloti Ngata. Newsome’s plan was to build a strong defense around Suggs and Ngata, but Ngata has yet to have a standout performance. With young players and new players added to the unit, it has taken the team some time to adjust.
The Ravens need to spend some time taking the defensive line from average to exceptional.