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Not to get too far ahead of ourselves here but letâ€™s start with the obvious â€“ the Ravens are looking very good to us and very scary to the rest of the NFL. Two weeks ago had someone asked me if the Ravens were good enough to beat the elite teams in the league in the playoffs like the Colts, Patriots and the Chargers, my answer would have been a resounding â€œNO!â€
Because two weeks ago the Ravens were struggling to develop any semblance of a running game and their secondary was giving up free plays like Walmart customers give up spare change to the Salvation Army.
But as we know, nothing in the NFL is static and in two weeks the Ravens have shown marked improvement in the running game and Rex Ryanâ€™s attacking front seven and the return of Corey Ivy has rejuvenated the Ravens secondary.
The running game helps the Ravens offense in so many ways. Essentially a productive rushing attack allows Brian Billick to open up his playbook and keep opponents guessing. It also makes them more dangerous and more prolific on the scoreboard. And as we all witnessed on Sunday at The Vault, if the Ravens defense can make you one dimensional with a lead, they are like sharks that capture the scent of blood and their bite is lethal.
To make matters worse for their opponents, the Ravens are hardly showing signs of peeking. If anything thereâ€™s room and the talent for improvement. If the Ravens were traded on Wall Street brokers would definitely be recommending holds and buys.
The locker room is in its best shape since the Super Bowl season. To a man the Ravens have embraced a professional approach to each game and they recognize that one win is just that â€“ one win. No more, no less, itâ€™s just another rung in the ladder to the top, another step in the direction of Miami.
The offense is beginning to gel as their young linemen like Jason Brown and Chris Chester and even Tony Pashos grow more comfortable and gain more experience. Ovie Mughelli is developing a rhythm with Jamal Lewis. Steve McNair has found his groove in Brian Billickâ€™s offense, an offense now designed to utilize McNairâ€™s skills and provide him that comfort zone absent from Jim Fasselâ€™s offense. And the playmakers, Heap, Mason and Clayton are beginning to establish a rapport with McNair that can only come with time.
And time is on the Ravens side.
The same cannot be said about quarterbacks facing the Ravens. Just ask Little Ben.
Haloti Ngata has shown improvement and the Ravens have kept him fresh with the rotation of Justin Bannan, Kelly Gregg and Aubrayo Franklin. Trevor Pryce has become a nightmare for opposing defensive coordinators now that he is more familiar with the Ravensâ€™ unorthodox defensive schemes. Dawan Landry has gained invaluable experience, Corey Ivy is once again healthy and Samari Rolle has seemingly recovered from an early season slump.
Terrell Suggs has developed into a much more complete player and is working very well in tandem with Pryce. The Ravensâ€™ linebackers are simply menacing and each week at least one of the three-headed monster of Lewis-Thomas-Scott has a standout performance.
And then thereâ€™s Ed Reed. Reed has had a very sub par season and if he makes a few big plays (donâ€™t be surprised if they happen this week in Cincinnati), the 2004 AFC Defensive Player of the Year could again return to his lofty perch.
The Ravens have won in many different ways this season. They have learned how to win whether at home or on the road and they are getting contributions from so many players. Their 9-2 record is a quintessential team effort from a team that has yet to play its best game.
Brian Billick has often talked about balance not only in the offense but throughout the team. In the NFL you want a team that can beat you in many ways. The New England Patriots are a perfect example. The Patriots have never been a statistical leader in any category other than wins. And thatâ€™s because they have that desired balance.
The Ravens are approaching that balance. They are on the right track. You can feel the momentum â€“ momentum eerily similar to that of the 2000 team. But that team lacked the balance that this 2006 version of the Ravens appears to be on the verge of achieving.
Two weeks can make a big difference in the NFL. The Ravens are a perfect example of that. Two weeks ago there was doubt that the Ravens could play with the elite. Today many are wondering if the so-called elite can play with the Ravens.