For most of the season, the Ravens had a desire to get better, gain momentum and advance to the playoffs to make a significant leap forward.
After the Ravens beat the Cleveland Browns, 16-10, Sunday night, it was clear that they would make some progress in the final month of the season, but they likely won’t get much better. They may still have a good chance of making the playoffs because, well, the NFL is a mediocre league.
Will the Ravens be enough? Probably not, but we’ll see.
Ravens are a team that must win terribly. The injuries caused a lot of problems, but there are some that the coaching staff did not know about. So, the Ravens will have to fight, crawl, scratch, scream and scream with every victory.
They can only win ugly, which is why they played only one strong and complete game this season, beating the Los Angeles Chargers on October 16 (34-6).
But several other teams were impressive. Some of them got hot and then cooled, like the Los Angeles Rams, the Tennessee Titans and even the reigning world champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers, but no team played at a high level for a long period of time.
At this point in the season, you can predict which teams will make the playoffs. The AFC’s roster includes New England, Buffalo, Tennessee, Kansas City, Baltimore and Cincinnati. By then, many of them will start to gel and play well.
The postseason will have hot quarterbacks, great receivers and strong defenders, especially in the back end. Maybe a Cleveland-caliber team because there aren’t seven good teams in either AFC or NFC.
It was hoped that the Ravens would recover, but there are not many positive signs. Quarterback Lamar Jackson hasn’t played fully for almost a month, especially as a passer. He can play, but the Ravens’ best strategy is to get Jackson to back off, run around, make the defenders miss, and then try to find an open receiver.
He helped out his hosts too quickly, even on short routes, and held the ball for too long. The offensive tackles are struggling with the blockage and the Ravens don’t have a speedster in the back field to interrupt the run on the outside.
In defense, midfielders have improved the most. Josh Bynes gives the Crows a presence in the center, and Patrick Queen has been playing well since going from mid to weak almost a month ago. Outside midfielder Tyus Bowser appears to have turned the corner to be more consistent, and the Crows could do well on the other side when rookie Odafe Ove shares time with veteran Justin Houston.
Play in the background is terrifying. Against the Browns, the Crows dropped passes at 38, 41 and 20 yards, and that’s not even counting the four passes Cleveland threw in the reception area. Worse, Jackson made four interceptions and the Crows won anyway – he’s the first quarterback to do so since 2013. But it’s a sign of a time in a league where players can’t get the ball right and offensive line players struggle with blocking.
This is why the Ravens are intriguing. They have Jackson, the most explosive player in the game, and they always have a chance as long as he is healthy. But the Ravens also win because of the infrastructure they have.
They’re good at drafting, so they might lose the defensive ending like Kale Campbell and replace him with Justin Madubike or Broderick Washington. Both Oue and Bowser were drafted, as were Jackson, tight end Mark Andrews and receivers Rashod Bateman and Marquis Brown.
The Ravens lost both of their best defenders, JK Dobbins and Gus Edwards, in training camp due to knee injuries, but found suitable replacements with Devonta Freeman and Latavius Murray. Coach John Harbaugh preaches the teamwork and work ethic that has been the foundation of his philosophy since his arrival in 2008.
This is why the Ravens are interesting. They might not have been a good team in the NFL 20 years ago, but these days the league thrives on average teams that can keep their fans interested throughout the season.
With the Ravens, they have that little addition that can put them on top. It’s not a safe bet, but it will be interesting to see how far they can go. They win ugly, but most importantly, they win ugly championships.