The Seahawks are back on the road this week, hoping to build off of three straight wins that have put them right back in the middle of the playoff picture. In Baltimore, the Seahawks will face a team going through a rough season thanks in part to injuries, and also just some tough breaks late in games. Despite their 4-8 record, the Ravens have been in every game this season, and hope this is the week that a close finish goes their way. To find out more about the Ravens, we asked five questions to Baltimoreravens.com's Sarah Ellison.
1. For Seahawks fans who haven't been paying close attention, what has gone wrong this year to cause a team with such a good track record under John Harbaugh to be 4-8 to this point?
Ellison: The better question is what hasn't gone wrong? From coming up short in clutch moments, to a lack of playmakers, mounting injuries to star players and unfathomable blown calls, little has gone right in Baltimore. The Ravens have seen their franchise quarterback Joe Flacco, defensive leader Terrell Suggs, potential future Hall of Fame receiver Steve Smith Sr., starting running back Justin Forsett, top tight end Dennis Pitta and first-round rookie wide receiver Breshad Perriman all land on injured reserve. All teams deal with injuries, but that's a lot of star power for anyone to replace.
Baltimore has set a new NFL record with all 12 of their games decided by a single score. The young unit always does enough to keep things close, but it has yet to learn what it takes to consistently seal victories in the fourth quarter. Sometimes winning simply comes down to a confident mentality, and Head Coach John Harbaugh is trying to instill that winning culture in the up-and-coming talent. Also, for the first time that I've ever seen, a loss has been directly attributed to a missed call by the referees. The NFL admitted the Ravens should have won their Week 10 matchup against the Jacksonville Jaguars had the officials gotten the final call of the game correct.
Whether it is poor play, horrible luck, or a combination of both, this has been a disappointing year for a team that many media pundits predicted to go on a Super Bowl run.
2. What is the mood of the team after so many heartbreaking, down-to-the-wire losses?
Ellison: The mood is surprisingly focused, optimistic and determined. I've covered the NFL for a decade, and I've seen locker rooms splinter with records that aren't even as bad as the Ravens' 4-8 start. Harbaugh's winning record and Super Bowl trophy speak volumes, but I've gained an even greater respect for him this season. It is downright impressive how he's kept this team together and gotten his players to never give up, as evidenced by all the close, gritty games. Professional athletes shouldn't need extra motivation, but the fact is sometimes they do, and Harbaugh has been masterful at keeping "THE TEAM, THE TEAM, THE TEAM" as the highest priority.
3. How has the offense changed with Joe Flacco, Justin Forsett, Steve Smith, etc., out for the year? It seems like Javorius Allen has been a bright spot, yes?
Ellison: Scheme-wise, little has changed. But, losing Flacco has made Baltimore appreciate the Super Bowl XLVII MVP even more. Backup quarterback Matt Schaub has thrown four interceptions in two starts, leading to 31 points for the opponent. He doesn't have the same poise, accuracy or big arm as Flacco. At 36 years old, Smith was still producing at a high level, and moved the chains on third down. He brought a swagger to the offense that hasn't been replicated. And, yes, Allen, a fourth-round rookie, has been a pleasant surprise filling in for Forsett. Allen was responsible for a whopping 45 percent of the Ravens' offensive production last week in Miami, churning out yards both on the ground (63 rushing yards) and in the air (107 receiving yards, one touchdown). He is a playmaker the Ravens have been sorely lacking, while displaying vision, good hands, and elusiveness. There's already talk of Allen potentially pushing Forsett for the starting role next year.
4. On paper it looks like the Ravens defense is playing pretty well since the bye. What has led to the improvement?
Ellison: The biggest difference is the defense has clamped down on allowing big plays. Through the first eight games, the Ravens' 30th-ranked pass defense allowed four touchdown catches of more than 60 yards. The unit's 33 completions of 20 or more yards allowed was third-most in the NFL. But, the secondary has been more disciplined since the bye with far fewer breakdowns in the backend. As a result, over the past four games, the Ravens defense has allowed the second-fewest total yards per game (257) and the fewest passing yards per game (164) in the NFL.
Having said all that, one can't help but wonder whether the improvement has come as a result of facing lesser opponents. In the first half of the year, Baltimore faced some of the league's best offenses, including the Bengals (No. 8), Steelers (No. 2), Cardinals (No. 1) and Chargers (No. 6). Since the bye, the competition has been the Jaguars (No. 18), Rams (No. 31), Browns (No. 26) and Dolphins (No. 29). The Seahawks will present a much bigger challenge with a seventh-ranked offense, and Sunday's matchup will prove whether the Ravens defense really has gotten better, or if the opposition was simply weaker.
5. Given the way the Ravens season has gone, is it safe to assume we're in for a close—and potentially weird—finish?
Ellison: Yes! I get why the NFL chose to flex this game out of its original primetime television slot. The Ravens are essentially out of playoff contention and Seattle only recently put itself back into the postseason conversation with a three-game winning streak. That said, all 12 Ravens games this season have been nail-bitters, coming down to the wire, many with thrilling endings. National audiences eat that stuff up. I wouldn't be surprised if a similar fate was in store for Sunday. I will say, however, that some people here in Baltimore are predicting that the Seahawks could break the Ravens' one-score streak as the injuries continue to pile up in Baltimore and Seattle seems to be ascending.
The Seahawks have faced the Ravens only four times, twice at home and twice in Baltimore with the last meeting there being 12 years ago. This gallery throws you back to each game through photos and scores, right in time for their rubber match this Sunday.