Monday, November 10, 2008

Ravens Are Bowl Eligible

Well, I was wrong. Before the season began, I predicted the Ravens final record to be 5-11. As of right now the Ravens are 6-3 are tied with Pittsburgh for first place in the AFC North after a 41-13 win over the Texans. And the Ravens are looking better than anyone I know expected and have compiled four straight wins. The Ravens are taking advantage of the weaker teams they have to play and getting the wins they need to get. They have only beaten one team with a winning record, but two of the three games they have lost were very close. And as the Ravens seemingly get better each week, they will probably have a good chance to make the playoffs.

A lot of this renewed hope in Baltimore is due to the 'three headed monster" running back approach. Call me an elitist if you will, I am going to rename this the Ravens' Hydra. I think it sounds better, and makes sense. Running backs Ray Rice, Willis McGahee, and Le'Ron McClain combine to tear apart defenses week after week. It seems as if a team tries to shut one down just has to worry about another. In a way, if you cut off one head, another grows back in its place.

One reason that the Hydra is so effective is the offensive line good play. This line was suspect coming into this season. Plagued with injury and inexperienced players, the O-line has overcome these obstacles and come together quite nicely. They open running lanes and help to make the big plays. They will however face a big challenge next week against the Giants' defense. And we'll get to see if the Ravens' offense is really coming together or has just capitalized against weak defenses.

The Hydra and the offensive line also allows Joe Flacco to excel. The Ravens are able to run the ball so there is less pressure on Flacco. And the offensive line relieves pressure by giving him plenty of time in the pocket. He's been able to mature from game to game and can lead the team down the field. He can spread the defense by throwing the long ball, man, he has a rocket for an arm. And it turn, this helps the Hydra to succeed. If a defense stuffs the box to block the run, he can throw a long pass and open up the field.

Every part of this team seems to be working together to make the other parts better. The second string quarterback, Troy Smith comes in and runs the option, he creates another threat and adds another highly skilled player to the offense. He enables Flacco to become a receiver, which helps to confuse defenses. And receiver Derek Mason has been running great routes making Flacco's passes look even better because Mason keeps coming down with the ball. Even Todd Heap was getting in on the action last week, reminding everyone why we used to love this tight end.

Cam Cameron has done a great job this year making this offense work. He deserves some type of award for finally giving Baltimore an offense. I'm happy Miami was so bad last year so the Ravens were able to pick him up. I guess something good came out of the 1-15 season.

But this is still a very good defense. Ray Lewis, who people were saying was past his prime, came down with two interceptions yesterday. He continues to be a dynamic force on the field and great leader on the sidelines. Even in his 13th season he continues to be effective in leading the defense which has not allowed a 100 yard rusher in recent memory. Only three teams this season have scored over 20 points on the season and only one team, the Colts, have scored over 30 points. Those are impressive numbers. This is a defense that cannot be overlooked, even though the offense has been shining this year as well.

Expect the defense to play a big part next week against the Giants, the defending Super Bowl Champions are 8-1 this season and are pulling away from the NFC East, considered the best conference in football right now. They are looking to be serious contenders again this year, and a win by the Ravens would be a big statement about how far this young Baltimore team has come.
It should be an exciting game next week. We'll see if the Ravens' Hydra combined with new dynamic offense and brutal defense can shut down the Giants' own three headed monster. It'll be a good test for the Ravens who have so far this season exceeded expectations. While playoffs this year would be great, knowing that we are able to compete with the best teams in the league will be a good enough result for me.