As someone who tends to view the glass as half-full, the 22-3 Ravens victory over the Rams gets Baltimore to 4-2 and keeps them one-half game behind the AFC North-leading Steelers, who had their bye week.
You don’t get any extra points on the scoreboard for style in the NFL on a weekly basis. You are strictly judged on the result. Regardless of how the Ravens have achieved their last two victories — beautiful or ugly — they are 4-2 just the same.
After watching inconsistent play the past few weeks from a tough-nosed quarterback in Steve McNair — who is obviously not 100 percent healthy, Brian Billick realized that Kyle Boller gave his club the best chance of winning the game against the Rams. Boller’s numbers were not great on the surface: 18-of-30 passing, 184 yards, no touchdowns and one interception. But his biggest contribution was to safely put the ball in the hands of Willis McGahee 25 times. The Ravens ran 31 times in an almost 50-50 split on offense (32 pass attempts).
McGahee took those handoffs and finally broke into the end zone for the first time this season by way of the ground as part of his 61-yard day.
The Ravens defense had a huge game with six takeaways including a club-record five interceptions. The encouraging part for Baltimore was that the offense turned those six turnovers into 12 points. The Ravens put away a clearly inferior opponent for the first time all season and they did not have to sweat out the result in the fourth quarter.
Boller, according to Billick, will be the starter next week against Buffalo, a team that looked much like the Rams until they exposed the Cowboys’ offensive weaknesses for most of the game last Monday that New England exploited yesterday.
Baltimore is averaging 18.3 points per game — 22nd in the NFL. The top four scoring teams are New England (38.3), Dallas (33.8), Indianapolis (32.8) and Cleveland (27.8). Fifth is Pittsburgh (26.4) while Cincinnati is sixth at 25.2. Last year, the Ravens averaged 22.1 points per game.
The Ravens defense is eighth in the league in fewest points allowed at 16.7 while Pittsburgh leads the league at 9.4. Last year, Baltimore had a league-lowest 12.6 average points allowed and all playoff teams averaged 19.1.
There has not been much room for error for the Ravens this season. They have out-scored opponents by an average of 1.6 points while last year they were an average of 9.5 points better.
In my view, the Ravens are still asking their defense to carry too much of the load and be near perfect each week to win. Five field goals from Stover (as part of his NFL-leading 18) were essential in yesterday’s victory, but in order for Baltimore to survive a tough upcoming schedule after the bye, Stover needs to be trotting out to kick extra points instead of threes.
To illustrate: Stover has accounted for 62 of Baltimore’s 110 points so far (56.4 percent of the club’s total). Last season, he accounted for 34.3 percent of the total scoring output.
On the glass-half-full side, the Baltimore offense has scored points on 24 of 69 drives (34.8 percent – 10th in the NFL). Indy is first (58.0 percent), New England second (56.5), Dallas third (47.9) and the Steelers fourth (41.5) while the current NFL average is 32.4. For comparison sake, the Ravens last year scored on 31.3 percent of possessions while all playoff teams scored on an average of 35.4 percent of possessions.
The Ravens should beat Buffalo by about the same margin they held over the Rams. The Bills have been out-scored by well over 10 points per game, out-gained in total offense by a ridiculous average margin of almost 195 yards and have scored only seven times in 48 possessions. Only three of their 24 points in the loss to the Cowboys came from an offense that was out-gained, 385 to 229.
At some point very soon, especially with three consecutive games against division opponents followed by San Diego, New England and Indy after the break, the Ravens have to engineer touchdown drives, instead of relying exclusively on Stover’s leg to make the difference each week if they hope to play beautiful January football.