Ravens' winning formula

Balance of power

Rise lies in strength on both sides of ball

November 28, 2006|By Jamison Hensley | Jamison Hensley,Sun Reporter

OFFENSE

It has averaged 27.8 points the past five games, mixing a rapid-fire passing game with a clock-eating ground attack.

DEFENSE

Seeing less time on the field, it is scoring more and giving little, yielding an average of 15.6 points the past five games.

Fresh off dismantling the Pittsburgh Steelers, the Ravens can make the argument that they are the NFL's most complete team.

Yet until they make another Super Bowl run, it seems the Ravens won't escape their own shadow.

Comparisons to the 2000 championship team crept up again soon after the 27-0 shutout of the defending Super Bowl champions, as they do every season when the Ravens are in the playoff hunt.

The Ravens could only shake their heads.

"This is a hell of a group of guys that are making a name for themselves," coach Brian Billick said.

This year's Ravens are not only more balanced than the 2000 team but they also could be the most well-rounded team in the league.

Over the past five games, only the Ravens and the Dallas Cowboys rank in the top five in the most points scored and fewest points allowed. The Ravens have averaged 27.8 points over that span while giving up just 15.6 points.

They have the ability to beat a team with the pass, whether it's quarterback Steve McNair throwing to Todd Heap, Derrick Mason or Mark Clayton.

They have the ability to control the clock because of the rejuvenated running of Jamal Lewis.

And they have the ability to win with defense, from recording a shutout to returning a turnover for a touchdown.

This is a drastic difference from the 2000 team, which rode a historic defense to the Super Bowl and simply asked its offense not to lose games.

"We've shown that we're a complete team," linebacker Bart Scott said. "We're not a defensive team. We're just a tough team."

Although the Ravens are two months removed from even advancing to another Super Bowl, they have put together a more impressive regular season than their 2000 counterparts.

Off to the best record in team history at 9-2, the Ravens would clinch a playoff spot for the first time in November with a win in Cincinnati on Thursday. The 2000 Ravens secured a postseason berth in the 15th week of the season (Dec. 10, 2000), and their other two playoff teams (2001 and 2003) didn't clinch until the final week of the regular season.

In fact, this year's Ravens could clinch a division title at the second-earliest date since the NFL went to an eight-division format in 2002. Only the Philadelphia Eagles, who won the NFC East on Nov. 28, 2004, would have done it quicker.

Clinching early "can be a negative if you don't step on the gas," said defensive end Trevor Pryce, who added that he doesn't have that concern with this team. "The last time I felt this confidence was when [the Denver Broncos] went 15-2 and went to the Super Bowl."

That confidence comes from the fact that the Ravens are so even keel in terms of mentality and production.

When the offense struggled to consistently score points earlier this season, the defense held the first five opponents to 14 points or fewer. When the defense gave up nine touchdowns in a recent four-game stretch, the offense averaged 23.7 points.

It wasn't until Sunday's rout of the Steelers that the Ravens put everything together. Quarterback Steve McNair threw a touchdown pass. Lewis ran for another score. And the defense got into the act when linebacker Adalius Thomas returned a fumble 57 yards for a touchdown.

All of this was wrapped around the Ravens' physical beating of the Steelers, the symbol of physical play last season.

"This just lets you know that we're just starting," Thomas said. "It lets you know how physical you can be."

Another difference between this year's Ravens and the 2000 team is their restraint.

In 2000, the Ravens relished their bully image and thrived in trash talking. This year, the Ravens have remained tight-lipped even when baited.

Case in point: Bengals receiver T.J. Houshmandzadeh's comments after Cincinnati lost to the Ravens, 26-20, on Nov. 5.

"We're just a better team than they are. We didn't win the game and I'm sure they'll get a laugh over that," he said. "But deep down, we know we're better than Baltimore and they know it. We've got better players than they do."

The Ravens merely shrugged it off.

"We're just going to play ball regardless of what's been said," McNair said. "We know what's happening in this locker room. We know what kind of football team we have here. We're not going to worry about anything and just let our play take care of itself and speak for itself."

jamison.hensley@baltsun.com

Jockeying for position

If the playoffs started today, the Ravens would have the second seed and a bye based on their victory over San Diego. A look at the remaining schedules for the AFC's division leaders:

Team W-L AFC Week 13 Week 14 Week 15 Week 16 Week 17 Indianapolis 10-1 7-0 at Ten. (4-7) at Jac. (6-5) vs. Cin. (6-5) at Hou. (3-8) Mia. (5-6) Ravens 9-2 6-1 at Cin. (6-5) at K.C. (7-4) vs. Cle. (3-8) at Pit. (4-7) vs. Buf. (5-6) San Diego 9-2 7-2 at Buf. (5-6) vs. Den. (7-4) vs. K.C. (7-4) at Sea. (6-4) vs. Ari. (2-9) New England 8-3 5-3 vs. Det. (2-9) at Mia. (5-6) Hou. (3-8) at Jac. (6-5) at Ten. (4-7)

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