These are not your typical Ravens…That thought was wedged into the forefront of my mind after watching the Ravens dismantle Sage Rosenfels and the Houston Texans on Sunday.
Harbaugh’s gang showed a killer instinct and in an uncharacteristic way they went for the jugular choking what little life remained in the collective will of Gary Kubiak’s troops during the pivotal fourth quarter.
In the past, particularly during the Brian Billick era, the Ravens beat an obsolete formula to death – control the clock, limit mistakes, win the battle for field position and defend the run. That is not to suggest that the formula can’t be successful, but it was so ingrained into the fabric of the team that it fostered a play not to lose mentality instead of playing to win.
Far too often, the Ravens relied on the defense to finish games. If Sunday was any indication, the excessive dependency upon the defense is a thing of the past. The Harbaugh approach has served as a rehab of sorts for the organization’s addiction to Ray Lewis.
That said, it’s nearly unconscionable how often the most memorable plays and oftentimes pivotal game changing moments are authored by Lewis. This week, Lewis took the first of two gift interceptions from Rosenfels and scampered down the left sideline, tossing Texans’ FB Vonta Leach to the ground like a rag doll after a stiff arm to the chest. And to think the Ravens thought earlier in the season that we might see less of Lewis in obvious passing situations.
A player we expected to see more in passing situations in Antwan Barnes. The second year player was a summer camp standout but since has done next to nothing. Given how thin the Ravens are in the secondary, the Ravens likely want more versatile players on the field. Unfortunately for Barnes, he hasn’t developed the coverage skills the Ravens prefer from their linebackers. He’ll need to become more versatile if he hopes to see more playing time going forward. This week Harbaugh may have delivered a very direct message to Barnes but deactivating him for the Texans’ game.
Props go out to Rex Ryan and Cam Cameron for their respective game plans against Houston. Ryan’s unit contained the dangerous WR Andre Johnson, limiting him to 66 yards on 7 catches without a score. In his previous 4 home games, Johnson’s least effective performance included 9 catches for 131 yards. Cam Cameron keeps adding something new each week to the offense. On Sunday Yamon Figurs got into the act with a 43 yard score while Willis McGahee and Todd Heap rediscovered their form. Seemingly overnight, the Ravens have a host of offensive weapons that opponents now need to prepare for. And perhaps even more importantly, more players are feeling like they matter in the Ravens’ offense. That keeps them engaged and effective.
Kudos also go out to Harbaugh and Jerry Rosburg for placing K Steve Hauschka on the 45 man active roster. His kickoffs were noticeably higher and deeper than Matt Stover’s and you can’t tell me that his contributions aren’t more valuable on game day than a luxury player such as Oniel Cousins, Marcus Smith or Lamar Divens.
Is there a more determined warrior on the Ravens roster than Derrick Mason? The 34 year old WR leads through his wisdom, determination, dedication, competitiveness and passion. Give me 53 players like Mason and I’ll go to war in the NFL against any team bar none.
The Ravens are 6 ½ point dogs in the Meadowlands this Sunday. I think that’s about right. I’m not saying the Ravens can’t hang with the G-Men but in my mind it boils down to this: Eli Manning at home v. banged up Ravens secondary; a dangerous front four in pursuit of Joe Flacco; and don’t forget this is the Ravens third consecutive game on the road. I don’t see it derailing the Ravens season, but Sunday will be a reality check for the Ravens. They’ll compete but it won’t be enough. I’ll call it 27-17 Giants.
The Giants’ defense is the first in a string of tough defenses that the Ravens will go up against over the next six weeks, interrupted only by a brief respite when they travel to Cincinnati to take on the Bengals November 30. Cam Cameron has been steadily building his offense piece by piece and they are now close to hitting on all cylinders at just the right time. Imagine where the Ravens might be if the offense was as multi-faceted against the Steelers or Titans. The encouraging news is that Cameron’s offense is slowly becoming second nature for Flacco & Company and it certainly leaves plenty of room for optimism going into 2009.
Speaking of 2009, the understatement of the year is that this offseason will be a very interesting one for Ozzie Newsome. From the looks of it, the team really seems to need only offensive line depth and a No. 1 receiver to potentially be a top 10 unit going forward. And that No. 1 WR could be Anquan Boldin. Boldin will want (and deservedly so) No. 1 receiver money but can the Cardinals afford that? Kurt Warner is playing very well in Arizona so he might be looking for the club to ante up which would leave them with one of the more expensive backup QB’s in the league in Matt Leinart.
Somewhere along the line the Cardinals will have to invest in the defense (particularly given Ken Whisenhunt’s Pittsburgh roots) and keep this in mind, Bill Bidwill has been one of the stingiest owners in the league for many years. This all could make the often discussed Terrell Suggs for Anquan Boldin trade more realistic than some might think. Suggs lives in the Phoenix area and would probably welcome the move. The Ravens might want a bit more juice than Boldin but on the surface this could be a fit. The Ravens develop linebackers like the Atlanta Braves once developed pitchers yet they struggle to draft and develop receivers.
Another linebacker that the Ravens developed and who has since moved on is Adalius Thomas. According the Boston Globe, AD is done for the season after breaking his arm against the Jets on Sunday. Interestingly enough the Patriots, a team not foreign to some gamesmanship when it comes to injury reports, are said to be denying that AD is lost for ’08. Stay tuned…
The Jets signed Ty Law to a one year deal recently, a move that curiously the Ravens spent little time considering given the ravaged state of their secondary. The Patriots and the Saints both considered Law to help boost their respective defenses down the stretch. When asked why he selected the Jets Law replied, "I wanted to be somewhere I was wanted."
And for those of you who might be sobbing a bit over the lost chance on Law, here’s another humiliating kick in the crotch… The Ravens have been alerted that their 1 PM games at home against the Eagles (11/23), Redskins (12/7) and Steelers (12/14) could be moved to Sunday night under the league’s flex scheduling.