Perhaps a glass-half-full person would look at the Ravens’ shortfalls and feel good about the fact that the team has so much room for improvement, but is still 6-2.
Baltimore comes home Sunday to face the Oakland Raiders an imperfect team. As the Ravens ready for their first game at M&T Bank Stadium since Oct. 14 and last until Dec. 2, defense has long been an issue. Health is another. But one that has gone somewhat undetected is lack of discipline.
Considering their difficulty slowing opposing offenses, the Ravens can’t afford to give away yardage. Yet, that’s exactly what they’ve done all year.
Baltimore is committing 8.3 penalties per game, the second-most in the NFL, for 72.1 yards per game, tied for third-most in the league. Early on, the coaches could blame the replacement officials for uneven calls.
But since the regular officials’ return, the rate of the Ravens’ infractions hasn’t slowed. Coach John Harbaugh’s feelings?
“Not happy about it. I’m not happy about it,” he told reporters Wednesday. “We had gotten to the point where that wasn’t an issue for us. Some of those calls early in the year with the replacement officials, we looked at and we said, ‘We don’t know about those calls.’ But the ones since then are all calls that we need to be concerned about. We have to clean that up. We’re capable of doing it. We’ve never been a highly penalized team. That’s something that I know we are going to do better.”
This season, the Ravens have had four games with at least nine flags against them.
On Sept. 23 against New England, Baltimore committed a season-high 14 penalties for 135 yards in its last game with replacement officials. On Sept. 27 against Cleveland, the first game with the regulars back, the Ravens had 11 penalties for 100 yards.
Against Dallas on Oct. 14, Baltimore was flagged 10 times for 76 yards and last week, the team had nine penalties for 82 yards at the Browns.
On a positive note, the Ravens won all four of those games. But they didn’t make it easy on themselves. The players take exception to the idea of a growing reputation that they’re undisciplined.
“If you know our guys, I think you would understand that we are pretty disciplined,” quarterback Joe Flacco told reporters. “I guess stuff happens out there. Things get chippy out there. I guess they make some of those calls. I would have to see each of them on an individual basis and kind of tell you what happened each time. I think when you look at things as a whole - no matter what you’re talking about - you can kind of be misled on what is actually going on.”
Said linebacker Terrell Suggs: “You just can’t let the emotion of the game get to you so much. If it’s a play, you kind of just have to have a short memory and get over it. Like I said, the penalties, I think that’s something you can definitely control. I’m not really too beat up about it. I’m not going to go talk to our defense and be like, ‘We have to get less penalties.’ We have to play better football, but we definitely have to keep our composure.”
Harbaugh believes the team can take two measures to fix the problem and reduce the number of flags.
“It’s talking about it, but it’s also doing it in practice,” Harbaugh said. “We’ve done that with the pre-snap penalties. The pre-snap penalties have been cleaned up. We have to continue building on that. That can be a problem at any time. The Raiders do a great job of drawing you offside. They’ve had two huge plays in the last few weeks where they’ve drawn teams offsides in third- and fourth-and-less-than-five. So that’s going to be something the defense will have to be aware of, for instance.
“The helmet-to-helmet contacts, we’ve had a few of those. Those are tougher, because sometimes the helmet drops down into the strike zone after a player is committed. But I told them this morning, ‘Hey, let’s just hit them where we are supposed to hit them. Let’s get down and hit them in the body where we are supposed to hit them. We’ll hit them just as hard. Maybe we’ll hit them harder.’ But we have to stay off the helmet-to-helmet stuff. Obviously, the coach, don’t get one on the sideline. That’s my own issue. I’m quite certain we can get that corrected. So it’s across the board.”