Ravens' balance will keep them in Super Bowl hunt

  • Ravens running back Willis McGahee flexes after scoring against the Dolphins.
Ravens running back Willis McGahee flexes after scoring against… (Baltimore Sun photo by Karl…)
November 08, 2010|Mike Preston

By now, at the midway point of the season, you would expect the Ravens to have an identity, some dominant trait that will carry them through the remainder of the season.

Sorry, that's not going to happen.

The Ravens, though, are balanced, which will keep them in the championship hunt and possibly lead them to a title.

Baltimore fans would like to be able to hang their hats on something. The Miami Dolphins had their strong running game in the 1970s at a time when the Pittsburgh Steelers had a great defense. The Ravens had their own trademark outstanding defense in 2000 when they won a Super Bowl.

So, what will it be in 2010?

It's all about balance and depth. The Ravens aren't going to thrill you, but they can beat you.

"This has been the most different year for me because we're finding ways to win games," running back Ray Rice said. "It's not like it's one guy here; everybody contributes."

We're all waiting to see if the Ravens peak at the end, if they can play that perfect game. But in the NFL, where mediocrity has become the norm, there is no perfect game.

What you see from the Ravens now you're probably going to see for the rest of the season, enough balance and depth, which are the keys in 2010 to getting to the Super Bowl.

"Yeah, far from the perfect game, but I don't know how many times you will play a perfect game," linebacker Ray Lewis said after the Ravens beat Miami, 26-10, Sunday. "There's nothing perfect about this league. The bottom line is the only thing that matters is" wins.

That's wasn't the logic about 10 years ago. We'd like to see our teams more polished on both sides of the ball late in the season in their march to greatness. But in the NFL, the top teams trade places every week, and the best one today seems to be the New York Giants, who were pathetic at the beginning of the season.

The Giants can run the ball and stop the run. They can control the line of scrimmage and pressure the quarterback with their front four. But they have the great equalizer in quarterback Eli Manning, who might throw three interceptions in a game.

That's why the Ravens are so interesting. Offensively, they don't have that superstar, but they have enough quality players to cause trouble in all areas. On defense, they don't have as much quality, but there are a few superstars who can carry the unit.

Look at the Ravens' running game. They don't have a big, game-breaking running back who can carry the ball 28 to 30 times a game, but they do have two all-purpose backs in Rice and Willis McGahee. They don't have a great, fast wide receiver, but they have enough good ones in Anquan Boldin, Derrick Mason, T.J. Houshmandzadeh and Donte' Stallworth. You simply can't cover all of them at one time.

Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco is having a good year, but he's not in the elite class and certainly doesn't need to be in the Ravens' offense.

"That's what is great about our team," Rice said. "We look at our positives, but we also look at our negatives and we try to build off of them."

It's a similar situation on defense. Opposing teams are now running on the Ravens, but they're getting enough quality plays from Haloti Ngata, Lewis and Kelly Gregg to be solid.

Local fans complain about outside linebacker Terrell Suggs, but without him, the Ravens don't have a pass rush. The Ravens' secondary will be suspect the rest of the season, but it has gotten a boost from the return of safety Ed Reed, and the team showed its depth Sunday when Josh Wilson replaced Fabian Washington at cornerback. Even on special teams, the Ravens have struggled in the return game, but they've gotten strong efforts from kicker Billy Cundiff and punter Sam Koch.

That's what we're dealing with here in Baltimore. The Ravens have some weaknesses, but they aren't glaring. There are eight games left in the regular season, more than enough time for the Ravens to show great improvement. But at the midway point, you get the impression that the Ravens have found their stride and are happy with their identity.

They aren't flashy, but they've got enough spirit, talent and balance to keep winning deep into January.

mike.preston@baltsun.com

Listen to Mike Preston on the "Bruce Cunningham Show" from noon to 2 p.m. on Monday and Friday on 105.7 FM.

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