Now that everyone has had a chance to remember what it was like to be outside, do the laundry or actually acknowledge their children/spouse/significant other on Sundays for the first time since August, the Ravens are back on the clock this and every week until January (and beyond?).
Bye week in the NFL is almost like getting a forced vacation. You go full-bore from the start of camp, and then you get four days off to recharge, play golf, see the family, etc. The long weekend comes to an abrupt end as game plans and position meetings replace sleeping in and cooking breakfast. You come back to a desk full of memos, projects and missed calls, and you can’t stare at the stack and wish it away. You have to dive in and deal with it in small doses.
So after Week 7 action in which we saw Minnesota finally get stopped in the fourth quarter (by the Steelers), the Bengals dismantle the Bears, the Giants lose for the second straight week, the Cardinals win on the road for the third straight time, the improbable comeback by the Saints in Miami and a Texas-sized beatdown by the Cowboys over the Falcons, where does that leave the hometown purple heroes?
Well, right where we left them at 3-3. Unfortunately, neither the Vikings or Bears were much help to the Ravens in the standings. Denver had the week off, too, and the Broncos will be raring to go this week in Baltimore.
The Ravens players and coaches know they could have been 4-2 or even 5-1 (or just as easily 2-4), but as the most astute coach will say, “It is what it is.” The Ravens have put the first six weeks behind them. A must in the NFL, since the schedule will not allow for time to for the “what might have been” game. That game’s for the fans to play on sports talk stations, in bars and on the internet.
That doesn’t mean the coaches and scouts haven’t been hard at work looking at tape of games and practices, trying to figure out what hasn’t worked and replacing those items with ones that do succeed. The problem is, the Broncos have had the opportunity to do the same. Nothing is static in the NFL, except for the fact that if you can’t stop something in particular, teams will keep pressure on that issue until you do — and then they will go on to something else. It is a chess match each week.
Everyone has something to play for, whether it’s the playoffs, or fighting for jobs. Everyone comes to play each week, and you have to be ready whether you play a team that’s 5-1 or 1-5. Just ask Philadelphia about Oakland. You think Eagles coach Andy Reid hasn’t gotten that point across about a reeling Redskins squad under a seemingly lame-duck head coach they play Monday night?
Right now, the final 10 Ravens opponents in the regular season have six winning records, three losing marks and one .500 club. Fortunately, three of those 10 games will come against the two teams currently in front in the AFC North race, Cincinnati and Pittsburgh.
Gone are the 14-10 games Ravens fans were accustomed to earlier in the decade. There will be more of the 33-31 variety going forward this season. You can’t make wholesale in-season personnel changes, but gameplans can be tweaked to maximize the positives and some younger players will be asked to step up. The Ravens offense isn’t afraid on the road, Joe Flacco can make the tough throws, Ray Rice has become the primary rushing threat who can also catch the ball out of the backfield for big yards and Ladarius Webb can return kicks effectively to shorten the offense’s yardage workload — all positives.
It will be up to the offense to carry the day. Control the line of scrimmage and the clock and minimize the exposure of the defense against the high-powered offenses like Denver, Cincy, Indy and others possess. Grab the lead early, and impose the playbook on the opponent. Carry the lead to the fourth quarter, and pound the ball to move the chains and the clock. Defensively, stop the run and find ways to pressure the quarterback into bad decisions. In short, the formula that helped the Ravens so much in 2008 and in the first three games of 2009.
It’s time for the Ravens and their fans to get back to work, and not panic at the pile of work sitting on the desk when you get in the office. It’s a manageable stack — you just have to approach it one week at a time.
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