Similar to where the Baltimore Ravens were at the end of the first quarter of the 2011 NFL season, Charm City’s finest are sitting where they wanted to be coming into this year’s campaign—at the top of the AFC with a 6-2 record.
The Ravens currently share the top spot of their conference with their divisional opponent, the Pittsburgh…no, no…the Cincinnati Bengals. Baltimore has not encountered rookie quarterback Andy Dalton and his Thundercats in Cincy, yet. However, the Ravens will look to take care of business when their time comes against the Bengals.
Baltimore finished with a 3-1 record (as predicted in their first-quarter report), but two particular games were not played out as expected. After a convincing victory over the Houston Texans in Week 6 on Oct. 16, 29-14, the Ravens were looking to cruise through their next two opponents, the Jacksonville Jaguars (2-6) and the Arizona Cardinals (2-6), because coming into Week 7, both squads had a combined winning record of two.
The Jaguars were served as a sacrifice to the Ravens in front of a national audience for Monday Night Football on Oct. 24 in Week 7. Under Ravens head coach John Harbaugh, the Ravens were 7-4 in primetime contests and 7-0 against rookie quarterbacks entering the game. Apparently, the Ravens either wanted to display mercy on the Jaguars or were not prepared mentally to face them. To the credit of the Jaguars, they simply outplayed the Ravens towards a surprising 12-7 victory and the Purple and Black was largely criticized, both locally and nationally.
In the matchup against the Cardinals, some comfort was provided in knowing the Ravens were playing at home, where they are defeated at 4-0, while being questioned as to which Baltimore team would show up.
After trailing the Cardinals 24-6 at the half in Week 8, the thought of the Ravens welcoming Halloween a day early by wearing Arizona’s uniform due to how aggressive the visiting team was against the Purple and Black. The Ravens quickly dismissed that notion as they put together long drives and countered with 21 unanswered points to take a 27-24 lead, to later win the contest 30-27.
Moreover, the awaited rematch against the Pittsburgh Steelers (6-3) has been the talk since Week 1’s beat down in Baltimore.
In primetime fashion for Week 9 on Nov. 2, the Ravens went to Pittsburgh and both teams delivered a normal, classic throwdown. Due to the Dr. Jekyl and Mr. Hyde nature of the Ravens offense, a Steelers victory appeared to be likely.
Nevertheless, the sure new evidence of the Ravens’ growth has been their composure. The Steelers were the team that could easily get under the Ravens’ skin, but this Baltimore team never wavered.
With a long touchdown run by Ravens running back Ray Rice (on the first play from scrimmage on their opening drive) called back for a questionable holding call and an inverted whistle blown of Rice’s one-yard touchdown run, who had a second push into the end zone without falling to the ground, the Ravens kept their calm.
With a Steelers’ 20-16 lead and 2:24 left in the contest, Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco orchestrated a 13-play, 92-yard drive to cap a 23-20 victory with :08 remaining when he hooked up with Ravens rookie wide receiver Torrey Smith for a 26-yard touchdown pass.
Unfortunately, the two winnable games the Ravens lost (against the Tennessee Titans and Jaguars) prevented them from having a perfect 8-0 record, but Baltimore will take it, their record, as it is.
“Prefer to be 8-0, just like any coach would say. You just kind of look at it and take it for what it is,” said Harbaugh at his weekly press conference.
The record could be better; it could be worse in the end. We’ve won some big games against some good teams, especially some AFC teams. And we’ve let some slip away that we shouldn’t have. What you just try to do is continue to improve, because the next challenge is going to be the toughest challenge. That’s just the way it is. So, I think you look at it from that perspective.
The biggest observation of the Ravens offense has been their wide receiver corps, as teams opposed threats to them by jamming Baltimore’s pass-catchers. The Ravens receivers had issues coming off the ball with cornerbacks playing them physically off each snap. This problem caused Flacco to have issues in getting the ball to his receivers in a timely matter and with the up-and-down play of the offensive line, Flacco made bad decisions at times and was battered constantly.
After their game against the Jaguars, where the bump-and-run issues was more evident, the Ravens wide receivers, led by Anquan Boldin and Smith, are better at getting off the line with more crossing patterns and quick outs. Due to those quick passing plays and Flacco being in shotgun formation, the pass-catchers are making the big plays needed to move the ball down the field.
“Last week, Anquan did a really good job when they came up and got in his face,” said Flacco Nov. 2 during his interview.
“Hopefully, we can get more of that out of him. I think in the past, when we have struggled this year, it’s been when teams have come up and kind of been a little bit more physical with us at the line and taking away one guy; taking away this guy here.
“I think Anquan will be a guy that will be successful at it,” he continued. “We have to make sure that we can create ways of getting that matchup that we want, and be able to connect on a couple of those; being able to get into some formations that are going to back them off a little bit, so that we don’t have to deal with it every play.”
On paper, the Ravens appear to have it made with a winnable schedule ahead. Consequently, Baltimore has shown in the past that against low-achieving teams, they do not play consistently well, being labeled as a team that plays down to their opponents.
In the Ravens’ next matchups, they have everything to play for as playoff positioning is on the line.
In Week 10, the Ravens will be making their longest trip of the season as they go to Seattle to take on the Seahawks. The Seahawks may be 2-6, but on their turf in front of their 12th man (the crowd), they can be difficult to defeat. The Ravens already had trouble performing against a losing team’s home-field advantage.
The Ravens will finally face the young, competitive Thundercats when the Bengals visit Baltimore in Week 11. The Bengals could easily damage the Ravens’ positioning for the AFC tournament bracket if they slip up.
On Thanksgiving, the Harbaugh family will celebrate the holiday together. However, after the turkey and the sweet potato pies have been completely eaten with laughter, the Harbaugh brothers (John and Jim) will have a backyard fight in downtown Baltimore as their teams will square off for Thursday Night Football when the 7-1 San Francisco 49ers come to town for Week 12.
The Ravens will face the Cleveland Browns (3-5) the following week and that matchup is never easy, as quarterback Colt McCoy and Company will look to play the spoiler.
The Ravens are very capable of finishing their next four games at 3-1.
Clearly, the Ravens are the better team against their third-quarter opponents and they should likely finish 4-0, especially if they play consistently well offensively against their competition, knowing that the Steelers are still in the hunt.
Their defense is ready for primetime.