Clearly the Ravens have a myriad of issues still to work on as the season progresses if they hope to get to and ultimately win a Super Bowl. Clearly what we saw on the field against Seattle on Sunday was a far cry from elite football, and the Ravens will have to do much better. What’s not so clear at present, in the aftermath of another disappointing loss, but worth mentioning as well is that things aren’t nearly as bad as they looked on Sunday for these Ravens and that there’s plenty of time to iron out the negatives. Since the criticism of the Ravens will be plentiful and easy to come by this week, I offer instead 7 sips of the proverbial Purple Kool-Aid. It’s by no means an attempt to minimize the negative, just a reminder that there’s plenty still to be positive about.
Sip #1 – It’s Good (and hard) to Stay Humble – The NFL is a week-by-week proposition and while it’s generally necessary to play well throughout the season simply to get into the playoffs, it’s never great to be playing at your best in November. Those efforts, while encouraging at any time, are best saved for the playoffs. While adages like “taking them one at a time” and “any given Sunday” are espoused regularly in the NFL, the Ravens have lived it this season and sooner or later are bound to learn their lesson over it. It’s unlikely that Aaron Rodgers and the Packers are sitting up nights in bed worrying about needing to get better, but they’ll have to (as impossible as that seems) if they hope to keep winning. This season has given these Ravens plenty of fodder for sleepless nights and hunger to improve.
Sip #2 – They’re Still a Work in Progress – Chemistry in football, and in particular between a quarterback and his receivers can take years to build. In order to win this season, the Ravens will have to do it on the fly. While words like crutch tend to paint a negative picture of what guys like Derrick Mason and Todd Heap meant to Flacco in the offense, gone now are the guys whom Flacco had a seemingly inherent understanding of where they’d be when things broke down. What’s left is a younger and more athletic group, but one full of either first or second year players in the offense with whom Flacco is still trying to assimilate. The addition of Lee Evans (if indeed it’s coming), with whom Flacco seemed to have a good sense of timing in the pre-season could mean exponential improvement in the receiving corps. His absence has provided opportunities for guys like Torrey Smith and LaQuann Williams to develop more quickly. While it’s tough to fathom from the stats sometimes, they’re getting better and more in sync every week.
Sip #3 – They Still Have 4 Home Games Left – If you’re buying the trend, the Ravens struggle on the road, and against bad teams. Four games left at home should provide them enough wins to earn passage to the playoffs. Their three remaining road games are against Cincinnati, Cleveland and San Diego. At least two of the three are tough to call bad, so the Ravens have that working for them too. They’ll have to avoid those road woes if they hope to get playoff games at home though. Hopefully they come out of Sunday’s loss with a better understanding of how important a divisional title and home games in the playoffs are.
Sip #4 – There Are No Bad Teams in the Playoffs – Maybe whoever gets in from the AFC West would qualify as bad, and as a wildcard, traveling there could be the Ravens worst nightmare. Generally though, it’s tough to take playoff games lightly or to underestimate post-season opponents. Once they get there the Ravens should have that working in their favor.
Sip #5 – Maybe they’re Keeping Ray Rice Fresh – Begrudge the number of touches he gets (or fails to get) if you like, but Ray Rice has taken a ton of wear and tear in his three plus, playoff extended NFL campaigns, and he’s not exactly your prototypical “between the tackles” type of runner. The Ravens of the last 2 seasons have been far too Rice-dependant. Not only does it put all of their eggs in one proverbial basket, but it also prevents the Ravens other offensive options from developing. If the Ravens need Rice to get 20+ touches to insure a win, they’d better be careful to keep him fresh for the playoffs. Doing so while also exploring other ways to generate offense could prove prudent in the long run while frustrating in a game like Sunday’s.
Sip #6 – Iron Sharpens Iron – And the NFL is full of iron. Say what you want about the also-rans that have upended the Ravens this season, but there’s no doubt they have talent. Pool all of the best talent from LSU, Alabama and Oklahoma State (the nation’s 3 best college teams) this year and practice them together for a year, they’d still be no match for the winless Indianapolis Colts much less the Titans, Jags and/or Seahawks. Still those teams shouldn’t have been in their games with the Ravens. From here on out, the Ravens have been identified. They can play with anyone, and usually will. Teams with little else to play for will now be sure to give the Ravens their best shot. They’ll prepare and play like they expect to win and it’ll be up to the Ravens to remind them that they can’t. If the Ravens allow teams to continually hang around in games, they’ll continue to pay the price for it. Sooner or later they’ll learn from it.
Sip #7 – They Still Control Their Own Destiny – If the season ended today, the Ravens would be the 5th seed and a wildcard in the playoffs. Fortunately the season doesn’t end today and a simple win next week against Cincinnati would put the Ravens back in the driver’s seat for the top seed in the AFC. Climbing back into a tie with the Steelers and Texans over whom the Ravens hold the head-to-head tiebreakers, and with New England if they win too by way of common opponents (one the Ravens would maintain as long as they beat the Colts). The Bengals are banged up, losing Leon Hall for the season and possibly AJ Green for a period of time too, and are ripe to be sent back to Earth; and there’s little chance the Ravens will be able to overlook them. Stop me though if you’ve heard that one before.