Playoff Appearance Isn't Out Of The Question

November 27, 2009|By Mike Preston | Mike Preston,mike.preston@baltsun.com

Coach John Harbaugh was right when he declared that the season wasn't over and the Ravens still had a shot at the playoffs.

It might be a tough road for the Ravens (5-5), especially having to play the Pittsburgh Steelers (6-4), a team that beat them three times last year, twice in the remaining six weeks.

But a postseason appearance by the Ravens isn't out of the question. Fans will pore over statistics and tiebreakers and look at the future schedule to make their predictions.

But you really can't do that anymore. Because of parity in the NFL, outcomes of games are no longer predictable. One key injury can change the course of the season.

So, if you look at the teams competing for the two AFC wild-card berths, which ones scare you? Certainly not the Denver Broncos (6-4), because they need a quarterback. Houston (5-5) was coming on strong, but the Texans lost to the Tennessee Titans on Monday night.

Jacksonville (6-4), Miami (5-5) and Pittsburgh (6-4) are in similar positions to the Ravens, and on paper, the Ravens are better than the Jaguars and Dolphins.

This thing will probably go down to the wire, and that's the way the NFL prefers it. It's easy to understand Harbaugh's optimism.

"When things are going great, everybody tells you how great you are, and you get carried away that way," Harbaugh said. "Then you lose a couple games, and everybody can tell you how inept you are. You can't let it take you down that road either. We know we're a good football team. I guarantee the people that play us know the kind of football team we are."

"The difference is finding out a way to win those games," Harbaugh said. "That's our challenge against good football teams. That's what you have to do to be an elite football team in this league, and that's what we're striving for. I know we're going to be that. It's a matter of when, and we need to make it happen this week."

Harbaugh, though, went overboard when he said the Ravens were a "good" football team. Good teams find ways to win games. Good teams can beat good teams with a good quarterback.

And, as Ray Lewis would say, here's the bottom line: The Ravens are 5-5. Harbaugh and his band of mighty, mighty men from Baltimore are an average team, and they've earned their record.

Watch Webb

No offense to often-injured cornerback Fabian Washington, but it's going to be interesting to watch rookie Lardarius Webb get extensive playing time for the rest of the season.

He's fast, strong and physical enough to play man-to-man. Every time he touches the ball, you expect good things to happen because he is exciting to watch.

He has been almost as fun to watch as top draft pick Michael Oher, the Ravens' starting right tackle out of the University of Mississippi.

Tough assignments

If you thought Oher and Ravens left tackle Jared Gaither had hard assignments last week, it doesn't get any easier against Pittsburgh.

Oher has to face outside linebacker LaMarr Woodley, and Gaither has right outside linebacker James Harrison. Those two players were instrumental in the Steelers' success against the Ravens last season as they kept pressure on Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco and allowed the Steelers to drop seven players into coverage.

One of the main reasons Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome drafted Oher in April was to get a tackle who could match up with Woodley. Harrison has 10 sacks this season while Woodley has five.

On Sunday against the Indianapolis Colts, Oher and Gaither did not allow a sack to Colts defensive ends Robert Mathis and Dwight Freeney. The Ravens would like them to pitch another no-hitter Sunday.

Serious competitor

The most consistent defensive player for the Ravens in 2009 has been outside linebacker Jarret Johnson. He doesn't talk much or have a lot of flash, but week after week he is steady and comes up with a big play or two.

When it comes to Pro Bowl nominations, Johnson won't be in serious contention, but he should be.

Deep-coverage shortcomings

While on the subject of linebackers, you ever notice how the Ravens don't have any who can drop deep into pass coverage? If you haven't, teams like New England, Cincinnati and Indianapolis certainly have.

Ankle injury?

Ever since Flacco hurt his ankle in the Minnesota game, he hasn't played as well. Because Harbaugh likes to play these mind games with the injuries, we'll never know the extent of it.

But Flacco looked extremely slow moving around in the pocket against Cleveland, and some of his throws are sailing on him because he isn't stepping into them.

Butts, hips, attitude

In recent years, the Ravens have gone with more athletic guards and centers compared with the big maulers of the past. But in the past couple of games, the interior of the Ravens' offensive line has had problems containing big defensive tackles and nose guards.

Most teams don't like to shuffle offensive linemen because it ruins the rhythm, but it might be a good idea to insert guard Marshal Yanda in short-yardage situations. Yanda is big, strong and extremely physical. In those situations, it's all about big butts, hips and attitude.

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