Mike Preston: Inconsistent Ravens are still struggling to be a top-tier team

It’s hard to tell where the Ravens fit in the NFL picture because there are few good teams.

Maybe there are four, but three would be a safe bet right now. The San Francisco 49ers, Philadelphia Eagles and Kansas City Chiefs are the top teams, and then there is a significant drop-off.

The Detroit Lions, Miami Dolphins and Buffalo Bills might be in the next tier, and then there is another drop-off.

Where are the Ravens? It’s yet to be determined.

Right now, they are nomads in search of an identity. They have potential, but with the exception of the Carolina Panthers, Denver Broncos and Arizona Cardinals, so do 28 other teams.

How good the Ravens look depends on the half. They totaled 242 yards of total offense and scored on their first four drives against the Tennessee Titans on Sunday at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium in London, and then the offense disappeared in the second half before the team held on for a 24-16 victory.

“Well, right now it’s a process,” Ravens coach John Harbaugh said after the game. “At this point in time, it’s an early season. No championships are won in Week 4, Week 5 [or] Week 6. We’re kind of looking in terms of what we are capable of becoming. We lost some games we should have won. We played good football in stretches, but we made mistakes. We’ve shot ourselves in the foot way too many times.

“What success looks like right now is heart, the ability to overcome adversity, keep fighting till the end, find a way to win, make plays when it counts and to keep improving. We keep improving, at some point in time you get over the top, you break out and you start winning by larger margins. That’s what we’re going to try to do.”

That’s the goal, but the Ravens haven’t been able to put together a full 60 minutes of football in two years. Since the start of last season, they are tied with the Las Vegas Raiders for the most blown double-digit leads with five.

In the NFL, a lot of teams break out of their pregame huddles by saying the word “win.” With the Ravens, it’s “when,” as is when is this team going to finally put it together? The Ravens gave up 10 third-quarter points Sunday to allow the Titans to pull within 18-13, but they should have been up by a lot more.

The Ravens have already lost to teams they should have beaten easily in the Indianapolis Colts and Pittsburgh Steelers, so it brings me back to my earlier question: When?

It’s early in the season and the Ravens are supposed to be making progress, but it’s hard to see. There are almost as many questions now as there were when training camp opened in late July.

The injuries to starters are understandable because that’s a part of the game, but this lack of concentration from one half to another is certainly not.

Right now, the Ravens can win against a lot of the teams in the NFL, but it’s a mystery why they can’t dominate teams they should beat, or why they lose in the first round of the postseason.

Maybe they just aren’t good enough.

They spent a lot of money in the offseason bringing in free agent receivers Nelson Agholor and Odell Beckham Jr., and so far they’ve added little — certainly not their money’s worth. They hired coordinator Todd Monken to put new life into the offense in February and then gave quarterback Lamar Jackson a five-year, $260 million contract two months later.

This offense, though, is in Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde mode.

One half it shows up, and then the next it disappears. Jackson has made progress, but his only consistent weapons have been rookie receiver Zay Flowers and tight end Mark Andrews.

Defensively, the Ravens’ front seven can play with almost any team in the NFL, but they haven’t played a quality or healthy quarterback all season. The health of safety Marcus Williams still appears to be in question and cornerback Marlon Humphrey is better on the inside than the outside.

Outside linebacker Jadeveon Clowney is having a strong season, but there are concerns about the 30-year-old’s longevity after 10 years in the league. There are times when you wonder whether the Ravens can keep pace with high-powered offenses such as those in Kansas City with quarterback Patrick Mahomes or in Buffalo with signal-caller Josh Allen or in Miami with its abundance of speed.

On Sunday, it seemed as if Harbaugh finally started to move away from his usual aggressive philosophy. Instead, he sent out the best kicker in NFL history in Justin Tucker to attempt six field goals.

That probably won’t get it done in the postseason, but it was enough to beat the Titans instead of relying on Jackson and an erratic offense. The Ravens were still 1-for-6 in the red zone and had only 118 yards of total offense in the second half.

This can’t continue.

“It’s just another win, but it was the most important win because it was the opportunity that we had today,” Beckham said. “I think our group of people [knows] exactly where we’re at and where we’re supposed to be. There’s always that goal to keep working and keep climbing.”


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