How do the Ravens do it? It is a question I’m sure many of their opponents have asked right after being vanquished by Baltimore this season.
The Ravens defense, after all, is old and has been decimated by injuries. Baltimore’s offense suffers from predictable play-calling and inconsistency at key skill positions, including quarterback and wide receiver. Yet somehow, Baltimore has won nine of its 11 games so far this season, is firmly in the driver’s seat to capture another AFC North crown and has inside position in the race to earn a first-round bye in the playoffs.
The last two weeks have provided the perfect example for how the Ravens have excelled at winning ugly.
Baltimore came within five minutes of not scoring a single touchdown on offense in either game. Last week at Pittsburgh, Ravens offensive coordinator Cam Cameron seemed to be almost trying to avoid scoring points. He kept calling running plays against a stacked box, and kept watching the Steelers stuff Ray Rice and Bernard Pierce for short gains. Then on the resulting third-and-longs, Joe Flacco was forced to make low-percentage vertical throws while under heavy pressure.
Then on Sunday in San Diego, the Ravens employed a similarly conservative offensive game plan for three quarters, before finally being forced to open things up in the final period.
An optimist would argue that Baltimore stayed in both games thanks to its defense, and while that side of the ball certainly has upped its level of play over the last two weeks, it has also benefited greatly from facing a pair of struggling offenses.
The Steelers were playing with a backup quarterback who was gutting through a pair of broken ribs. San Diego has been floundering with Phillip Rivers all season. The Ravens were hardly shutting down the ’99 Rams in either of the last two contests.
Nevertheless, the defense did what it had to, and the offense got out of the way. Earlier in the season the opposite was true when the offense was carrying the defense. The result has been some ugly, yet effective football.
Can it be sustained? We will find out over the final five weeks, as the Ravens face a desperate Steelers team, the electric Robert Griffin III, a red-hot Peyton Manning, his two-time Super Bowl champion little brother, and a suddenly surging Cincinnati team.
There is not a single easy game left on Baltimore’s schedule, meaning the Ravens will be unable to ease their way into the postseason, and could well be exposed as a tad overrated right now. But if they keep winning, even in the ugly fashion they have employed of late, there will be no questioning this team’s mettle.
Ravens football has never been about winning beauty contests. This is the franchise that won a Super Bowl in the same season it went four full games without scoring a touchdown, so worrying about how Baltimore is winning may be unnecessary. But man you have to wonder if this particular group can keep finding success the way they have.
The good news is; they never fail to make it interesting. That and the fact that they’re 9-2 of course.