As the Ravens hit the quarter-pole of their 2011 regular season and enjoy a well-timed bye week, I’m struck by their historic performances in the first three wins. Consider that each victory has come with accomplishments never seen before.
Week One’s satisfying demolition of the hated Steelers brought a franchise record seven turnovers created by Defensive Coordinator Chuck Pagano’s wrecking crew. Week Three’s rebound road win in St. Louis had Torrey Smith’s jaw-dropping three first quarter touchdown receptions. This past Sunday Night’s love-fest with Rex Ryan’s Jets saw the defense score three touchdowns.
It gets me wondering what they can do for an encore. It’s almost as if any victory to come that doesn’t contain some record-setting performance will be regarded as dull. That’s how high this year’s Ravens are setting the bar.
Offensively, this team has been at times inconsistent, yet contains an explosiveness that no previous edition of the Ravens has ever had. When Lee Evans is fully healed, the receiving corps will possess the ability to continue stretching the field, opening up more mismatches underneath for Ray Rice. Add the return of a healthy Ben Grubbs to the offensive line and there’s more depth and power for the running game.
And for all the worry and criticism of Joe Flacco’s play, he’s had two solid outings, while his two inconsistent games came against Tennessee’s 4-3 scheme (always a problem for the Ravens, plus the Titans are already proving to be a lot better than anyone thought) and the Jets outstanding secondary and “controlled chaos” (don’t read too far into the statistics on them; they’re an elite unit). The key for Flacco lies in becoming more consistent and accurate with his passing. I’m a firm believer that his best is yet to come.
After Sunday’s incredible performance, the defense is beginning to draw comparisons to the gold standard of the 2000 team. That may not be too much of a stretch. I wouldn’t expect them to match the points allowed record of 168, but at the current average of 14.25 points per game allowed, 228 points overall wouldn’t be too shabby. This team would have to allow an average of 9.25 points per game to match the 2000 team, and given the pass happy NFL of 2011, as good as they are, that seems unlikely.
But as we’ve seen through the first four games, Pagano is creative in his schemes and committed to getting after quarterbacks. That type of pressure is going to continue to result in a very large turnover differential. With reinforcements on the mend (Jimmy Smith, Chris Carr, Haruki Nakamura) the secondary will get better, allowing even more opportunities for sacks and quarterback pressures. They may not be quite as record setting as the 2000 unit, but I have a feeling that by the end of December they’ll be viewed as the second best defense ever fielded in Ravens history.
For me, these are truly the glory days of Baltimore football history.
I wasn’t around to enjoy the BALTIMORE Colts’ back-to-back NFL Championships of 1958-59. I clearly remember the BALTIMORE Colts of the mid-1970’s and their three consecutive playoff appearances. And the 2000 Ravens will always remain a joy and a wonder, the moment I had waited my life for, to feel the excitement and drama of a playoff run and a Super Bowl victory.
Yet John Harbaugh has this group headed for uncharted territory: A fourth consecutive playoff berth and all the possibilities that contains. The key to changing their postseason fortunes lies in staying home in January. While their road record in the playoffs is admirable, there can be no doubt the Ravens would be a very difficult out playing at M&T this year. I’ve been to plenty of games through the years, and it’s not stretching it to write that the crowds so far this season have been louder and more electric than I can ever recall.
So relax and enjoy the bye week. It’s fair to start thinking of the 2011 Ravens in historical terms. Their performances so far demand that we do. And as we look at the remaining schedule and imagine what could be, it’s fair to wonder what records they might set. Again!
Just be fair if they win without doing that.
I mean, they can’t possibly keep up the pace every game, can they?