Admittedly I was nervous about the Ravens’ trip to Jacksonville. In fact, days before kick-off I had penciled this in as a loss. Notice I wrote “penciled,” because by the time I made my official picks, I had convinced myself that the Ravens would win, and in ink wrote they would move to 3-0.
I had a change of heart because of several factors – pressure on Gus Bradley and Jacksonville to win one, and in front of their home fans; the injuries to the Jaguars’ offensive line and defensive backfield; the Ravens winning organization vs. the historically poorly run Jaguars; Blake Bortles seemingly early regression from a year ago, coming into the game with 3 picks already; Joe Flacco looking like Joe Flacco already, post knee surgery and all.
And so the Ravens – in the bulk of the pundits’ eyes – have graduated from the worst 2-0 team in the NFL to the worst 3-0 team in the NFL. I wonder what the narrative will be next week, when the Ravens move to 4-0. What the pundits – among many other great things – have missed about the 2016 version of your Baltimore Ravens, is that they now own 2 road victories. It doesn’t matter at whose expense they’ve come against folks, as the hardest thing in sports is to win on the road in the NFL.
The pundits/experts also aren’t taking into account that they’ve gone 3-0 without their best pass rusher in Elvis Dumervil. They’ve done it without arguably their best running back in Ken Dixon. And they’ve done it without their starting left guard (who may very well move to center the way Jeremy Zuttah is getting pushed back) in John Urschel.
This week the Ravens entertain the Oakland Raiders, who needed a phantom call against Will Hill last season to secure a victory out on the left coast. This year it is the Raiders who get to fly cross-country into the unfriendly confines of M&T Bank Stadium, where you can bet they’ll be greeted by a rowdy and raucous Ravens fan base.
The Raiders will discover how tough it is to move the ball against the Ravens’ defense with their home crowd screaming at the top of their lungs behind them. The Raiders’ defense has been rather porous through the first 3 games, and look to me tailor-made for the Ravens’ offense to hit their stride and find their rhythm.
The Ravens’ receiving corps had a few hiccups but seems fine, good and getting better. QB Flacco hit 21 one in a row – ’nuff said! The offensive line is a work in progress, but without a running game and the crowd noise, they had their hands full with the Jags’ pass rush. With the knowledgeable home team’s fan base sitting on their hands this Sunday, fully understanding when the Ravens’ offense is “at work”, I believe the o-line will be just fine and will open up some holes for the running game, which will make the passing offense downright deadly.
The special teams are arguably the best in the league right now. Yes they had a lapse in coverage and lost containment on one play. Yes Devin Hester lost the handle on another one, but boy oh boy are they ever solid. Blocking kicks is getting to be a common event by the Ravens, and the self-proclaimed “Wolf Pack” of Justin Tucker, Sam Koch (by the way he averaged 48+ yards per punt the other day) and Morgan Cox are the best in the business.
On the defensive side Timmy Jernigan has been a star, playing at an All-Pro level. Terrell Suggs at 50% is still better than 80% of the players at his position. CJ Mosley is playing at an All-Pro level, and has regained the outstanding form he displayed 2 years ago. Zach Orr has been all over the place, and Kamalei Correa has looked good in limited action (but has really stood out on special teams).
On the back-end Eric Weddle has been “as advertised” and that is a very good thing. His intensity and high football IQ are evident every time he steps on the field. And what about Tavon Young? The 4th round rookie out of Temple has been everywhere, doing a great job as a nickelback as well as a standout on special teams. He got one of my game balls for his play against the Jags!
Through 3 games, I love what I’ve seen from the 2016 edition of the Baltimore Ravens. They have youth, energy, veteran leadership, tenacity, intensity, resilience – you name it, they have it all. Am I excited? You bet! NFL teams that start 3-0 have a 75% chance of making the playoffs. This team is destined to get there, and I don’t see anything derailing their playoff train.
The Steelers you say? Trash – at least their secondary is. I predicted that rookie Carson Wentz and the Eagles would take them down, and take them down they did – hard! Wentzylvania and company exposed them for what they are. What’s more, they flat-out quit on Tomlin. On the Eagles’ last touchdown they just barely arm-tackled the running back. It was so bad that CBS took the game off of TV and switched it to the Colts – Chargers game.
The Browns are downright pathetic. Their field goal kicker missed three 40 yard or so field goals to give one away to the equally hapless Dolphins. The Browns could have signed Robby Gould, but nooooo…..he was “too expensive”….and the Browns don’t value kickers. Right. Good one. Way to save money. Ugh!
The Bengals lost some weapons at wide receiver in the off-season and apparently there’s been a significant drop off with their replacements. Their defense seems to have regressed a bit, so they are looking like a team that is not as strong as it was a year ago.
I know it’s early, but this division is for the Ravens to take, and finally give its fans a home game (or two) this season. Luck is for losers, so I’ll wrap it up by saying that it is skill that has gotten them to this point, and it is skill that will take them where they want to go.