During Week Two of the NFL season, Mr. Carlos Hyde of the San Francisco 49ers appeared to be far more of a Jekyll.
He was far from the only player, coach or team to face an identity crisis, however. In a league entangled by parity, it’s not remotely surprising that the sweeping generalizations we used to describe a Week One performance did not remotely hold up for even seven days.
For example, it was just a few days ago when those of us in Baltimore were genuinely concerned about whether Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco would ever have the time necessary to throw a football, so the Ravens’ offense could carry its weight and not force the team’s brilliant defense to have to win every game on its own.
The Ravens don’t have a win through two football games for the first time during John Harbaugh’s eight-year tenure as head coach. They’re not the only team in this predicament — they’re not even the only team that I expected to be very good to find itself in this spot. The Seattle Seahawks have been in the last two Super Bowls, and while playing without safety Kam Chancellor has been tough, it didn’t make them a suddenly incompetent organization.
Baltimore’s situation may be unfamiliar, but it is certainly not untenable. Much like the Seahawks, the Ravens were handed a tricky road schedule to start the campaign, with two games on the West Coast against AFC foes. Also, much like the Seahawks, the Ravens were not embarrassed by either opponent. There’s nothing inherently wrong with losing two close games on the other side of the map during the course of the season. There’s nothing inherently wrong with losing two close games during back-to-back road contests.
So what is wrong with the Ravens? Well … that’s kind of the thing. They’ve been so wildly inconsistent through their first two games that we’re just not sure.
During their Week One loss to the Broncos, not even “putrid” would do justice in an attempt to describe the offensive output of the team that reached the AFC Divisional Round a season ago. The team’s 173 yards of total offense, two turnovers and no touchdowns were the ugliest marks. Yet the Ravens’ defense lived up to its historic billing, allowing just 219 yards and no touchdowns. It kept the Ravens in the game until the final moments, when two dropped passes ended up being the difference.
Seven days and an attempt at beating jet lag later, the script was completely flipped. Flacco and Co. racked up 493 yards of total offense, but that vaunted defense (albeit noticeably Terrell Suggs-less) could not come up with an answer for quarterback Derek Carr and a less-than-overwhelming Oakland Raiders attack.
The record isn’t helpful. Just about every social media account in Charm City has shared the stat that only 13.75 percent of teams that lose their first two games go on to reach the playoffs. But the record isn’t even the most concerning part about this football team right now.
The most concerning is the part where we can’t figure out what this team is actually good at and what has to be fixed.
The most concerning part is the complete lack of identity.
Schizophrenia from a football team is undoubtedly distressing, but not at all uncommon, even from the Ravens during the Harbaugh era. Most memorably, the 2012 Ravens couldn’t get out of their own way late during the season, including a woefully inept offensive performance during an embarrassing blowout home loss to the Broncos. Just weeks later, they strolled through Denver on the way to an historic offensive romp through the postseason en route to a Super Bowl title.
We’ve struggled to figure out Harbaugh-coached Ravens teams before. That won’t make you any more comfortable with the nature of the current group — it’s just a statement of fact. In an attempt to become more balanced than the defensive dominant rosters of the Brian Billick era, this team has been in this position before.
But those teams featured more dominant, “in their prime” individual players on the roster to help them through their identity struggles. There’s no Defensive Player of the Year candidate currently on the roster. There are very few players who could even be considered candidates to make a Pro Bowl on the offensive side of the ball.
Football therapy will continue for the team throughout the week in Owings Mills, Md., as it tries to work through this particular identity crisis. But the problem won’t elicit sympathy from division rivals Cincinnati and Pittsburgh during the next two weeks.
And if it isn’t solved during that timespan, it will likely already be too late for the solution to matter this season.
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