| USA TODAY
PHILADELPHIA — As they prepared to enter their bye week after escaping Lincoln Financial Field with a 30-28 victory over the Philadelphia Eagles, multiple Baltimore Ravens offered a similar refrain.
Comparing their team’s current state to the form they aspire to, they said they are close.
“We’ll be fine,” quarterback Lamar Jackson said, choosing to view his team’s shortcomings more as removable warts rather than fatal flaws.
Said offensive tackle Orlando Brown Jr.: “We’re still chasing perfection.”
But coming away from Sunday’s game — an outing in which the Ravens blew a 17-0 halftime lead, failed to put the game away twice in the fourth quarter and needed a goal-line stand to prevent a game-tying two-point conversion before sealing a victory over the injury-ravaged 1-4-1 Eagles — it was hard to feel inspired.
It’s equally as challenging to feel overwhelmingly impressed by Baltimore’s 5-1 record considering the cast of characters they have dispatched and the lopsided manner in which they suffered their one loss. The challenges will only intensify once the Ravens return from their Week 7 break, and it’s hard to definitively say that this team is capable of responding.
It’s true that in the NFL, a win’s a win. None of them are easy, no matter what the box score suggests. But Baltimore — a team that, at 14-2, boasted the best record in the NFL last season and aims to make a deep postseason run this season — should have handily dispatched the likes of Cleveland, Washington, Houston, Cincinnati and Philadelphia, who own a combined 8-20-2 record.
If the Ravens are to entrench themselves among the league’s elite, some of the struggles from Sunday’s game can’t persist.
Guilty of inconsistencies on offense and defense, a slew of undisciplined penalties on both sides of the ball, Baltimore didn’t exhibit the level of excellence that championship-caliber teams possess.
And if the Eagles — who added running back Miles Sanders and tight end Zach Ertz to a laundry list of offensive injuries — can threaten Baltimore in the fashion they did Sunday, there’s no telling what challenges the Ravens will encounter in their next five games (two meetings with the unbeaten Pittsburgh Steelers and dates with the Indianapolis Colts, New England Patriots and undefeated Tennessee Titans).
That slate of games will reveal whether last season’s magic was a flash in the pan or if this team has indeed established itself as one of the league’s best.
But for now, something feels off.
An offense that ranked second last season entered Sunday 24th in yards per game. A defense that had held foes to a league-low 15.2 points per game still at times proves susceptible to errors and miscommunications that lead to big plays.
On Sunday against the Eagles, neither Ravens unit looked elite.
There certainly were flashes, like Jackson’s 37-yard touchdown run in the third quarter or the defense’s six sacks and game-saving, goal-line stand.
However, it’s troubling that the offense remains heavily reliant on Jackson’s legs and still struggles to consistently manufacture explosive pass plays. When they fall behind, whether in points as they did against the Kansas City Chiefs in Week 3 or in unfavorable down-and-distance scenarios like they faced against the Eagles, the Ravens struggle.
Foes have demonstrated an ability to neutralize wide receiver Marquise Brown poses and tight end Mark Andrews, the only Ravens pass-catchers who have distinguished themselves as reliable weapons. And for as electrifying a runner as Jackson is, questions remain about his ability to carry his team with his arm, particularly when having to play from behind.
Jackson has yet to record a 300-yard passing game this season, and Sunday marked his fourth consecutive outing with less than 200 yards through the air. He and the Ravens have managed to get by like that for most regular-season games, but that output didn’t cut it against the Chiefs, and such an approach could leave the Ravens wanting against explosive offenses like those of the Steelers and Titans.
“Yeah, we need to work on that,” Jacksonsaid when asked about the lack of explosive pass plays. “Better situations and we need better schemes on that and we’ll be fine. We’ll be fine with that, and when your number is called, just do the rest.”
But Baltimore’s offense doesn’t stand alone. On Sunday, consistency and discipline proved elusive for the defense as well. After holding the Eagles in check throughout the first half, Baltimore surrendered plays of 40, 50 and 81 yards while also committing penalties that gave the Eagles life and set them up for touchdowns.
An injury depleted squad like Philly’s shouldn’t have managed to move the ball with the ease that the Eagles did in the final two quarters.
“We have to learn to finish, man,” safety DeShon Elliott said. “We have to learn to finish [and] continue to work on our communication and tackling. I know it’s early, but when you have a lead like that, you can’t let off the gas pedal. We let off their necks. I feel like we have to be better than that.”
Indeed, Sunday’s effort wasn’t enough. Not for a team with the aspirations the Ravens share within their locker room.
“These are the kind of games that build character,” defensive end Calais Campbell said. “This is a championship character that’s built in moments like this.”
The next stretch of the season will reveal whether the Ravens can address their shortcomings against more formidable opponents to give themselves a chance to live up to expectations.