Are Ravens legit? We'll know after they play Packers

December 01, 2009|By Mike Preston

The Ravens are back in the playoff hunt after Sunday night's 20-17 win against the Pittsburgh Steelers, but if they are serious contenders, they have to beat the Green Bay Packers on the road Monday night in a nationally televised game.

Even though the Ravens (6-5) beat the rival Steelers, they were supposed to win because the Steelers were without star quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and Pro Bowl safety Troy Polamalu. If Roethlisberger had played, the Steelers might have beaten the Ravens by 14 points.

One of the major questions coming out of the game was why it took the Ravens overtime to beat a third-string quarterback who had previously taken only one snap in a regular-season game.

If the Ravens are for real, they need to beat the Packers (7-4). Contending teams try to get on a winning streak after Thanksgiving and going into the postseason. A win over Green Bay would show some consistency from a team that has been inconsistent all season and also prove that the Ravens can beat a quality quarterback.

Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers leads a passing game ranked No. 6 in the NFL, averaging 262.8 yards a game. Rodgers has completed 249 of 380 passes for 3,136 yards and 22 touchdowns. The Packers have a good group of receivers in Donald Driver (53 catches, 845 yards, five touchdowns), Greg Jennings (47, 722, three) and tight end Donald Lee (30, 224, one).

The Ravens, meanwhile, are one of the worst offenders in the league in giving up big plays. In the postseason, a wild-card team like the Ravens might have to face top quarterbacks such as the San Diego Chargers' Philip Rivers, Indianapolis Colts' Peyton Manning and New England Patriots' Tom Brady in succession.

Even with Rex Ryan as defensive coordinator, the Ravens didn't have a lot of success against quality quarterbacks. That has to change to make a serious playoff run.

Offensive chemistry
One of the best things to come out of the Pittsburgh game was that the Ravens started spreading the ball around again on offense. In the past couple of weeks, the offense had become the Derrick Mason and Ray Rice show.

Mason and Rice both played big parts Sunday night, but receiver Mark Clayton also had seven catches for 129 yards and slot receiver Kelley Washington had one for 15. Backup running backs Le'Ron McClain and Willis McGahee both played well, combining for nine rushes and 46 yards.

Hopefully, the Ravens are going back to what has made them successful in the past. They have to become a run-oriented offense first and then spread the ball around in the passing offense.

We might see the three-headed monster from a year ago re-emerge for the remainder of the season, especially with quarterback Joe Flacco nursing an ankle injury.

The Ravens have tried to hide the injury, but it's evident the ankle is affecting Flacco. He has little mobility, and some of his passes are sailing because he doesn't step into the ball.

It's time to start pounding the rock again.

Hip, hip hooray?
It's nice that Ravens coach John Harbaugh has great energy, but sometimes he needs to cut down on the college, rah-rah stuff. He has to remember that he is dealing with men, not kids. Some of his stuff is corny, and he runs the risk of its getting old quickly.

For instance, when asked about the play of rookie defensive end Paul Kruger, Harbaugh ended with, "so hip, hip, hooray for Paul Kruger."

What?

Meanwhile, down the hall was Pittsburgh coach Mike Tomlin giving an opening statement about the loss.

"Don't talk to me about moral victories and things of that nature," Tomlin said. "That would be disrespectful to those guys in the locker room. We didn't get the job done. We came up short. We accept responsibility for that. We will not go gently. We will unleash hell here in December because we have to. We won't go in a shell. We'll go into attack mode, because that's what is required."

I love listening to Tomlin speak. He gets you fired up and ready to play.

Webb did well
Those who think the Ravens need to take a cornerback No. 1 in the draft might have to think again.

Rookie Lardarius Webb played extremely well in his first start Sunday night against the Steelers. Webb had three tackles and knocked down three passes, including one for a possible touchdown in the end zone.

He showed good closing and recovery speed and came up quickly and strong in run support. The Ravens have been in search of a shutdown cornerback, and Webb could be the answer.

He has to become more consistent in his play, but he could be the answer in the final month of the season for a secondary that has struggled all season.

Keep your fingers crossed. If he plays well, the Ravens might select a wide receiver in the first round in April without any hesitation because they will now have a cornerback.

Painful toll
Injuries might be taking a toll on the Ravens. McClain had to leave the game, reportedly with an abdominal strain, and defensive tackle Haloti Ngata played the second half despite being hobbled by an ankle injury.

Middle linebacker Ray Lewis might still be bothered by a foot and ankle injury, or the wear and tear of 14 years in the league might be slowing him. Lewis has had virtually no lateral movement the past two games. He can go straight ahead well and was the Ravens' top pass rusher against the Steelers.

Make room in doghouse
The Ravens again had problems with penalties against Pittsburgh. The Ravens were flagged nine times for 80 yards. It's time Harbaugh started putting some players in the doghouse, but there might not be enough room with outside linebacker Antwan Barnes and receiver Demetrius Williams stuck in there.

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