At 9-4, Ravens are no joke, but they're still comical

December 16, 2010|Mike Preston

The Ravens win games in spite of themselves.

There were times earlier in the season when they were disappointing and frustrating to watch, but now they're comical and entertaining. Instead of throwing your beer can at the TV, having your blood pressure rise and scheduling appointments with a cardiologist, you should try a new approach: sit back, relax, laugh and see where this ends.

Based on logic, it's safe to assume that the Ravens won't make it to the Super Bowl because they've been too inconsistent. But logic gets tossed out the window every Sunday in the NFL.

At this point of the season, few teams improve dramatically. They just become more consistent in building on strengths, but not the Ravens. They've been at status quo since the first week of the season except in the return game.

So, what you have seen is what you will continue to get.

Is that enough, in the words of receiver Derrick Mason, to "get them to the Super Bowl or bust?" Probably not, and if they do, God bless the Ravens.

The Ravens are as talented as most teams in the NFL, which is why they are 9-4. They have enough stars such as Mason, Anquan Boldin, Ray Lewis, Ray Rice and Terrell Suggs that can make enough big plays each week to keep them in the second level of the top teams in the league.

But they also have a lot of weaknesses. A lot of fans want to point fingers at the coaching staff, particularly coordinators Cam Cameron (offense) and Greg Mattison (defense).

That's the easy way out, even though both Cameron and Mattison deserve criticism. I still haven't found out why Cameron doesn't put Joe Flacco in the shot-gun formation more often, and why the Ravens stay away from the no-huddle offense.

I don't know why Cameron continues to pull the plug on his offense early in the second half when the Ravens get a big lead even though it has cost him several times this season. I also don't know why the fastest players on the team, receivers Donte Stallworth and David Reed, seldom get on the field even if it is just to put fear in defenses.

At this point of the season, those questions aren't asked anymore. So on Sundays, when things go bad, I just shake my head in disbelief and smile.

There were questions for Mattison and head coach John Harbaugh, too. What's up with the three-man rush inside the red zone? Why, like Cameron's offense, does the defense play so soft after gaining a big leads? For Harbaugh, why don't you ever win a challenge, and how come you don't override your coordinators when they make bad decisions like throwing when they should run, and running when they should throw?

But you can't blame it all on the coaches. This is a team effort. They don't have a shut-down cornerback, or another top pass rusher other than Suggs. Age is starting to show on veterans such as Lewis, Kelly Gregg and Ed Reed. The Ravens have an offensive line that has several players out of position and can't knock people off the ball.

They have Flacco, who is reminding me more and more of Vinny Testaverde. He can compile numbers, but can't get it done in crunch time consistently.

The million dollar question of the season is why can't a team block a blitzing safety two weeks in a row? Some say its Cameron's fault, and others say it might be the football IQ of some of the players.

Are you listening Ozzie Newsome and Eric DeCosta?

Despite the shortcomings, though, the Ravens keep winning. It's an indictment of the caliber of play in the NFL, but also a compliment to the players. The Ravens still play hard, and those veterans looking for their first Super Bowl ring play with a lot of heart.

But it's questionable if the Ravens can overcome those shortcomings against good teams. They haven't beaten a top team since defeating Pittsburgh without Ben Roethlisberger in Week 4. Since then, the Ravens have lost to New England, Atlanta and the Steelers.

We'll get a better barometer Sunday when New Orleans comes to town. Regardless of the outcome, the new approach will remain the same. Put away the lofty expectations about a high-powered offense and the traditionally strong defense.

It ain't happening.

It is what it is, and the Ravens will play same way through December and January that they did in September. A few months ago, that was a disturbing thought.

Now, it's kind of funny. The Ravens will go as far as they can until they can't overcome themselves anymore.

mike.preston@baltsun.com

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