Nov 10, 2016; Baltimore, MD, USA; Baltimore Ravens wide receiver Mike Wallace (17) runs past Cleveland Browns cornerback Joe Haden (23) after a catch at M&T Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mitch Stringer-USA TODAY Sports
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The Baltimore Ravens have a tough schedule. When the season started, we knew this was when things would get interesting:
The Baltimore Ravens have to go to Dallas this Sunday. Their opponent is a red-hot Dallas Cowboys team with an 8-1 record. Then the Ravens have their first test against a Bengals team that always has the Ravens number. After that Baltimore hosts the Miami Dolphins team that has really found themselves with the help of running back Jay Ajayi. Baltimore continues their murderer’s row of a schedule going to Foxboro to play the New England Patriots.
That’s not where the fun ends either. Baltimore has to navigate through a battle with the Philadelphia Eagles, a Christmas day showdown against the Pittsburgh Steelers and then go to Cincinnati to play the Bengals in the finale. There is no easy game left on the Ravens schedule. This shows you the cost of the four game losing streak. To have a reasonable shot at the playoffs the Ravens need nine wins at the minimum. This means the Ravens can lose no more than three more games.
The Ravens have their work cut out for them. Instead of taking advantage of the New York Jets and the Washington Redskins, John Harbaugh’s team has to beat up on tougher teams like division foes and the mighty Patriots. Do the Ravens have things going for them, that will help with the brutal schedule? Yes, they do.
Nov 6, 2016; Baltimore, MD, USA; Baltimore Ravens linebacker Terrell Suggs (55) gets introduced prior to the game against the Pittsburgh Steelers at M&T Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Evan Habeeb-USA TODAY Sports
A Defense That Won’t Quit.
I told you once, that this defense is special. I’ll sing it from the mountain tops all season long. The Ravens earned respect and admiration for their defensive efforts this season. For most of the season the Ravens offense has been putrid. That being said, the Ravens have had a chance to win every game this year. When the offense stinks up the joint, and the game is in reach, you have a defense to thank.
The Ravens defense has benefited from new additions like Eric Weddle and Tavon Young. We expected Weddle to play his heart out, but Young has been a pleasant surprise at the cornerback position. Brandon Williams is a top-tier defensive tackle. We already knew that. Now Timmy Jernigan is playing elite as well. C.J Mosley is a great linebacker. You knew that already too. However did you expect Zach Orr to be this good, playing next to him? Michael Pierce is also making a surprisingly large impact as an undrafted free agent. The Ravens you have come to count on are performing. Baltimore’s players that you weren’t so sure about have all panned out.
The Ravens have had a top 10 defense all season long. They have been ranked in the top 10 in both run and pass defense every week this season. Last season the Ravens defense was not up to the Baltimore standards. This season the defense has been better than we ever could have expected. This defense is something the Ravens need to pack in their challenging road games.
Nov 10, 2016; Baltimore, MD, USA; Baltimore Ravens wide receiver Steve Smith (89) celebrates after scoring a touchdown during the third quarter against the Cleveland Browns at M&T Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports
An Offense That Figuring It Out
The Ravens offensive line is still a concern but the Ravens offense is getting on track. The offense exploded in the second half of their last game against the Browns. It still hasn’t been as good as we want it to be, but it has been better since the bye week. The Ravens offense is starting to gel and come together. They’ve figured out a few things.
Marty Mornhinweg has shown improvement in his play-calling. The Ravens are starting to realize that a balanced attack that features a good bit of the ground game is best. Against the Browns, Flacco still threw the football 41 times, but he also handed it off 31 times. The Ravens may have figured out the balance they need from Terrance West and Kenneth Dixon. West got 15 more carries than Dixon but Dixon got involved in the passing game. The Louisiana Tech star grabbed five passes for 42 yards, including a dazzling 16 yard play.
Steve Smith Sr. being on the field makes a huge difference for Flacco. Smith Sr. had five receptions for 60 yards and a touchdown. The Ravens spread the ball out. When Smith Sr. is on the field, defenses know he is the go to guy. This allows players like Mike Wallace, Breshad Perriman and Dennis Pitta to step up. The offense still isn’t where it needs to be, but there are signs of life moving forward.
Nov 6, 2016; Baltimore, MD, USA; Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger (7) dives into the touchdown as Baltimore Ravens outside linebacker Terrell Suggs (55) tackles during the fourth quarter at M&T Bank Stadium. Baltimore Ravens defeated Pittsburgh Steelers 21-14. Mandatory Credit: Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports
The Ravens Get Up For The Big Games
The good news is that every game from this point on is a big game. The Ravens get up for the big games. This is a team that always loves the biggest moment. Joe Flacco has always done well in the playoffs, much better than he does in the regular season. The Ravens always give tough teams a tough games. There is a reason the Ravens have won nine of the last 12 games against the Steelers. The Ravens get up for the biggest moments. It’s just what they do.
Players like Terrell Suggs, Steve Smith Sr. and Marshall Yanda respect teams like the Steelers and the Patriots but none of them are afraid. There is no stage to big for the Ravens. The Ravens have always had a knack for giving good teams all they could ask for. Harbaugh’s Ravens always play to the level of their opponent. Good opponents mean that we’ll see the best version of the Ravens.
The Ravens are a team that has struggled this season. In this crucial stretch of games we will see if the Ravens have conquered their demons or if they will be swallowed by them. It will be tough, but don’t make the mistake of thinking that the Ravens aren’t capable of pulling through this.