By Simon Evans
(Reuters) - Alarm bells are ringing for a Baltimore Ravens team heading into their bye week leading the American Football Conference's North division but still smarting from a 43-13 road loss to the Houston Texans.
A team fancied by many to reach the Super Bowl when the season began suddenly looks vulnerable, and while injuries to key players have not helped, they are not the only reason why the Ravens no longer seem so fearsome to opponents.
"I'm concerned about everything ... you can talk about pretty much everything, what aren't we concerned about?" Ravens head coach John Harbaugh said after his team's loss on Sunday.
Baltimore's consistency in reaching the playoffs in each of the past four seasons was built around their defensive prowess, but this year's Ravens defense are ranked 26th in the 32-team National Football League.
Adding to the concerns, Ravens' 13-time Pro Bowl linebacker Ray Lewis could miss the rest of the season with a torn triceps while cornerback Lardarius Webb has a torn ACL and will not play again this year.
Safety Ed Reed, another key component in the Ravens defense, has been playing through a labrum tear in his shoulder while linebacker Terrell Suggs just returned from an Achilles injury.
On Sunday, the Texans (6-1) exploited a Ravens (5-2) defense that allowed both of their last two opponents, the Kansas City Chiefs and Dallas Cowboys, to rush for over 200 yards.
But the concerns do not merely concern the defense.
At home, quarterback Joe Flacco, utilizing a no-huddle offense, has enabled the Ravens to come out on top but the production has been markedly lower on the road, where many believe it is tougher to run a hurry-up offense.
In Houston, Flacco completed 21 of 43 passes for 147 yards and two interceptions while the Ravens managed just 179 yards of total offense, less than half the average entering the game.
At home, Baltimore is averaging 32.2 points from four games while on the road it averages just 15 per game and the problems with the passing game have not seen a shift towards establishing the run. Running back Ray Rice had just nine carries on Sunday.
A lot then for Harbaugh to contemplate before the Ravens return to action on November 4 at Cleveland but he says he is not going to get too despondent about one heavy defeat.
"It's the NFL, sometimes you get tossed out of the bar. It was one of those days but we have to coach better, we have got to play better than we have, to accomplish what we want to accomplish," said Harbaugh. "It is a good time to have a bye week to work that out."
(Reporting by Simon Evans in Miami; Editing by Frank Pingue)