Jeff Zrebiac: ‘Ravens Have No Downfield Threats’

When you start 0-3 – even though you were leading in the fourth quarter, even though all three losses were by six points or fewer – you’ve got problems. And the Baltimore Ravens have problems.

To win in the NFL, you have to play well on at least one side of the ball. The Ravens have played well on neither. They’re 16th in the NFL in scoring offense (23.3 points per game) and 26th in scoring defense (28.0).

So, mediocre on one side and awful on the other.

What’s been the problem?

“They really just don’t have any downfield threats,” Baltimore Sun Ravens writer Jeff Zrebiec said on CBS Sports Radio’s Ferrall on the Bench, tackling the offense first. “You have 36-year-old Steve Smith, who’s played two amazing games in a row, but they really don’t have another guy to make a lot of plays down the field. That’s what Breshad Perriman was supposed to be, the rookie first-round pick, and he still hasn’t played yet (due to injury). He’s not going to play against the Steelers, either. So yeah, it’s an effort for them (to score). And they’re not running the ball. That was supposed to be sort of the bread and butter on offense this year.”

Smith has been beastly with 25 catches for 349 yards and two touchdowns, but he’s been a one-man band. The Ravens’ next best pass-catcher – at least in terms of receptions – is Justin Forsett (12 catches, 41 yards), who, by the way, is a running back. Crockett Gilmore has 10 catches for 151 yards and two scores, but outside of him? Nada.

As for the running game, the Ravens have just one rushing touchdown and are averaging a paltry 3.3 yards per carry.

Yeah . . .

And then there’s the defense, which gave up 37 points to the Raiders and coughed up a pair of fourth-quarter leads to the Bengals this past Sunday.

“(The defense has) steadily gone down since the days of old when they had the best defense in the NFL,” Zrebiec said. “All those guys that used to be on it are either gone or injured. We all know Ray Lewis and Ed Reed, but then you got more guys. Haloti Ngata got traded, and now Terrell Suggs is out. They’ve been okay at times, but the biggest problem is late in the fourth quarter, they haven’t been able to stop anyone. They couldn’t stop Andy Dalton, they couldn’t stop Derek Carr, and Peyton Manning – after shutting him down all game – engineered a late fourth-quarter drive that resulted in points. So they’ve had leads late in the second half of all three games, but their defense – which used to be able to close leads all the time and come up with turnovers and make that key play – they just haven’t been able to do it the last couple of years.”

The Ravens desperately need to get in the win column Thursday night, when they take on a Michael Vick-led Steelers squad in Pittsburgh. While Ravens/Steelers is still one of the best rivalries in football and is almost always a good game, this one tonight feels a little different. It has a little less juice.

Why?

“The faces of the rivalry (are gone),” Zrebiec said. “You still have (Mike) Tomlin and (John) Harbaugh there, but the guys on the field are what makes the rivalry. All the faces of the rivalry, all the guys that have made all these big plays in the series, are all gone. Lewis and Reed and Suggs. Torrey Smith even had some huge games against Pittsburgh. (Troy) Polamalu made so many big plays against the Ravens. (Brett) Keisel and Ike Taylor – the list goes on and on. And of course Ben’s not going to be there. The last two sort of links to the old rivalry were Ben Roethlisberger and Terrell Suggs – and they were sort of the face of it for the last couple years when some of the Ravens and Steelers’ better players in recent years retired. These guys were two links to it and they’re not going to be playing Thursday night. It’s going to feel real weird. I think both of these teams in a lot of ways have some pieces but there’s been a lot of transition from sort of the older guys to the new players. I still think it’s a good rivalry. I still think the sentiment and the hitting will be there. But I think why people don’t talk about it as much anymore is the personalities and the names, most of them have moved on.”

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