Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice has improved in his second season.
Where they stand: The Ravens (4-4) started fast but have fallen behind in the race of playoff contenders by losing four of their last five games. It’s not totally impossible for Baltimore sneak into a wild-card spot, but time is quickly running out. The Ravens have the talent to compete with anyone, but their inability to finish games in the first half of the season has put them in a very tight spot. The AFC is deep as usual this year and it will probably take a minimum of 10 wins to get into the postseason. That would leave the Ravens will very little margin for error as they would have to win at least six of their final eight games.
Disappointments: Baltimore’s pass defense has been consistently poor all season. It’s the only problem the coaching staff has been unable to figure out. Their major free-agent signing, cornerback Domonique Foxworth, has been a disappointment. Fellow cornerback Fabian Washington and backups Chris Carr and Frank Walker also have played inconsistently. On top of that, the Ravens have been unable to generate a consistent pass rush. The front seven isn’t winning as many one-on-one matchups as it did last year, which isn’t helping. If the Ravens' struggles in those areas continue, it’s going to be a long second half.
Surprises:Ray Rice showed flashes as a rookie. But this year he took a major step forward to developing into the full-time feature back. The Ravens saw this early in the offseason as Rice put on some extra muscle to help him run between the tackles. As a result, the team has gone away from their three-headed monster approach to get the ball in Rice’s hands as much as possible. He is the most dynamic weapon the Ravens have on offense and will increasingly become a headache for opposing defensive coordinators for years to come.
Outlook: Right now things are not looking good for the Ravens, but I wouldn’t rule them out. This team can get hot at any moment, and if Baltimore ever figures out how to defend the pass better it will become a very dangerous team down the stretch. The Ravens are a team built to thrive in November and December. So don’t be surprised if they get hot in the second half. But with a .500 record, the pressure is on to win now or stay home for the postseason.