And it's not just some schmuck. . .it's Peter Schmuck, Ravens' beat writer for the Baltimore Sun. To put it mildly, the guy doesn't seem to be terribly impressed by the Beloved Purple at this point in time.
It's tempting to lump together the Patriots loss with the Bengals fiasco and wonder whether the Ravens are headed for an extended swoon, especially with the 5-0 Minnesota Vikings waiting at the Metrodome on Sunday and the surprising Denver Broncos headed here after the bye week.
But you might be better served to look behind the Brett Favre hype and the win-loss records. Maybe you would do well to remember that the Ravens have played very well on the road during the John Harbaugh era and compare favorably with the Vikings and Broncos.
It comes down to whether it's the standings or the stat sheet that is lying, because the Ravens rank fifth in total offense and the Vikings rank 19th. The Ravens (10th) also rank ahead of the Vikings (14th) in total defense. Favre and the Vikings have done a slightly better job at putting points on the board, but it's fair to point out that they have not played against a defense ranked among the top 15 in the league.
Fair points, because that is exactly what the statistics say at this point. However, if we look at things a little more deeply, there are a couple of flaws to be seen in Mr. Schmuck's logic.
Yes, 'tis true that the Vikings are "only" 14th in the league in total defense through their first five contests of the year. And the Ravens' rush defense is even better at this point in the season than Minnesota's vaunted rush defense. . .statistically. However, the Ravens' pass defense is currently rated 26th in the NFL through the first five games of the year, and they give up a whopping eight yards per pass attempt, a figure that puts them side-by-side with such defensive juggernauts as Kansas City, Detroit, St. Louis, and Tampa Bay. To put it mildly, it's not Samari Rolle and Chris McAlister shutting receivers down any more for that secondary. . .and with the Ravens' pass rush looking a bit inconsistent, this isn't the Ravens' defense we're accustomed to seeing.
Another thing that works against Schmuck's reasoning, as well as the Vikings statistical standing, is the fact that in three of Minnesota's first five games, the Vikings have ended with both their second-string offense and second-string defense on the field. Against Cleveland, Brady Quinn was able to lead a 9-play, 80-yard drive against Minnesota's backups at the end of the fourth quarter. . .all of it through the air. . .to get the Browns a garbage-time touchdown. Last week, again against Minnesota's backups, Marc Bulger came off the bench and took the Rams 80 yards in six plays (assisted by a couple of Viking penalties) to give the Rams a touchdown in garbage time as well. The Vikings' starting defense, as I'm sure we're all aware, has been doing just fine.
Another stat that Mr. Schmuck left out. . .Minnesota has the best turnover ratio in the NFL at this point in the season, sitting at +8 (12 takeaways to only 4 giveaways). They're also one of the best defenses in the league on third downs, just like they were last season. (In the interest of fairness, the Ravens are right behind the Vikings in third-down conversion percentage allowed.) Schmuck also opines that the law of averages will eventually catch up with Favre and his low number of interceptions thus far in 2009. That may or may not be the case, granted. . .but with Baltimore's struggling secondary and a group of receivers in Sidney Rice, Bernard Berrian, and Percy Harvin that's starting to hit their stride with #4, I would be surprised if this week was the week that occurred.
This week's matchup is going to be an interesting one for sure, but. . .and this might sound arrogant. . .I'm not quite as scared of the Ravens now as I was when the schedules first came out and I saw that we had to play this team and the Steelers in back-to-back weeks. The Ravens are a physical team that's well-coached, but I think they may be getting the Vikings at the wrong time. But, that's why they play the games, isn't it?