Projecting the rest of the Ravens' season

October 09, 2011|By Kevin Van Valkenburg, The Baltimore Sun

We've reached the quarter pole of the NFL season, and it's probably fair to say we still don't quite know what to make of this Ravens team.

They've pounded two of their rivals (the Pittsburgh Steelers and New York Jets), they've laid an egg against a team everyone assumed was rebuilding (Tennessee Titans) and they've dominated one of the league's worst teams (St. Louis Rams).

Joe Flacco has the lowest completion percentage in the NFL, and offensive coordinator Cam Cameron is still struggling to find the proper balance between running and throwing.

But the versatility of Ray Rice -- and a defense that includes four of the best players in the NFL in Haloti Ngata, Terrell Suggs, Ed Reed and Ray Lewis -- has set expectations high.

The Ravens (3-1) are young in several areas, but they clearly have the talent to contend for the Lombardi Trophy. It's just hard to predict how the rest of the year will play out, considering how good the Ravens look at times and how bad they look during others.

As difficult -- and foolish -- as the prediction game might be, we're going to attempt a lighthearted look at how the rest of the regular season might play out, both as a best-case and a worst-case scenario. Of course, the reality of 2011 will probably fall somewhere in the middle. But at least you'll be prepared for either extreme.

Game 5: Texans vs. Ravens at M&T Bank Stadium

Best-case scenario: We already know Andre Johnson will miss this game with an injury, which takes away the biggest advantage Houston might have had against the Ravens' shaky secondary. Free to continue with their blitz-happy ways, the Ravens shut down Arian Foster and batter Matt Schaub, forcing a pair of turnovers. In doing so, they keep the pressure off an offensive unit that's still finding its way, and Baltimore wins, 28-14, in front of a rabid crowd singing along to Seven Nation Army.

Worst-case scenario: Anticipating a series of blitzes, the Texans put Schaub in the shotgun and call a series of quick routes and quick throws. Jimmy Smith isn't healthy yet, and Ravens linebackers can't run with Foster, leading to a shootout. Flacco continues to look like a man casting a thousand-yard stare, and the Ravens are upset, 31-24.

Game 6: Ravens vs. Jaguars at EverBank Field

Best-case scenario: Ray Rice touches the ball 30 times and runs circles around Jacksonville for three quarters before getting a seat on the bench. Flacco comes to life, thanks in part to the return of Lee Evans, who catches a long touchdown pass. Haloti Ngata hits Maurice Jones-Drew so hard, Jay Cutler tweets his revenge. The Ravens cruise, 31-6.

Worst-case scenario: Rice touches the ball six times, which the Ravens later blame on food poisoning to protect Cam Cameron. Flacco throws three interceptions, which is immediately attributed to Cameron, to protect Flacco. Billy Cundiff misses three field goals, all of which are blamed on John Harbaugh. Ravens still win, 13-10.

Game 7: Cardinals vs. Ravens at M&T Bank Stadium

Best-case scenario: Terrell Suggs picks up the pace in his quest to lead the NFL in sacks, and Kevin Kolb is more than happy to curl into a fetal position midway through the third quarter to help him get there. Ben Grubbs is finally healthy and the Ravens feed the Cardinals a steady diet of Rice and Ricky Williams. Flacco hooks up with Anquan Boldin for two red-zone touchdowns. The Ravens romp, 35-14.

Worst-case scenario: Poor Cary Williams gets twisted into pretzels by Larry Fitzgerald, and the Cardinals stun the Ravens, 28-24, proving that the vaunted Baltimore defense is only as good as its pass rush.

Game 8: Ravens vs. Steelers at Heinz Field

Best-case scenario: Despite a vow to avenge a beating in Week 1, the Ravens prove the wheels really have come off in Pittsburgh. The Steelers' linebackers can't cover Rice in space, and when they try to spy the Ravens playmaker with an aging Troy Polamalu, it leaves Ed Dickson open for a huge day. Pittsburgh keeps it close, but the Ravens show that the era of the Steelers renting space inside their heads is truly over. 28-21, Ravens.

Worst-case scenario: The Steelers batter Flacco like a pinata, and a blindside hit (on the sixth consecutive pass called by Cameron) ends Flacco's day with a concussion. Hines Ward needles Ed Reed until he takes a swing at the smiling Steeler, and Pittsburgh holds on for an ugly 21-10 win. Rice finishes the day with seven carries.

Game 9: Ravens vs. Seahawks at CenturyLink Field

Best-case scenario: Flacco lets the rest of the league know his early-season slump is behind him for good when he throws four touchdown passes in a 35-6 victory on the road. Tarvaris Jackson spends most of his day just trying to stay alive. Pete Carroll spends all of halftime and much of the third quarter fantasizing about what Andrew Luck will look like in Seahawks colors.

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