Ravens must outwit the Ravens to gain home-field advantage

Flacco proved he's more than just a game manager against 49ers

November 25, 2011|Mike Preston

The Ravens' toughest opponent for the remainder of the season will be the Ravens.

There aren't a lot of quality teams left on the schedule so the Ravens have to find a way to motivate themselves against below average teams, something they haven't been able to do this season on the road.

The Ravens have now beaten two quality teams in a row in Cincinnati and San Francisco, but the big question remains: Will they continue to struggle against teams like Indianapolis (0-10), San Diego (4-6) and Cleveland (4-6)? The Ravens play the Browns twice, including next Sunday at 4.

No one wants to look too far ahead, but if the Ravens take care of business then they might entertain a first round bye in the postseason and possibly a home game or two.

"Well, it's probably too early, because you have five games left," said Ravens head coach John Harbaugh when asked about post-season expectations. "But it's December football, and that's when you start thinking about things like that. But the only thing we need to be focused on is getting healthy, first of all, and the Cleveland Browns.

"That's something we've struggled with on the road, and we have to go conquer that. That's going to be a really tough task. I know all of our guys are going to focus on that and take care of first things first."

This is the time of year when the good teams separate themselves from the field and go on long winning streaks. The Ravens seem to have found themselves with balance on offense, and they dominated the 49ers without Pro Bowl linebacker Ray Lewis.

If the Ravens lose to Cleveland, it would be almost like starting over again.

"That's key," said Ravens outside linebacker Terrell Suggs about playing home games in the post season. "You know, when you get home-field advantage you have a good chance of making it to the big dance. I think we have the best fans in the world. We win all of our home games and that's because it's loud and because our fans give us the energy, and we want to play well for them, so home-field advantage is key.

"We haven't had a home playoff game since coach has been here. We just want to take it one game at a time, but that's definitely an overall goal, win the division get it at home field."

More than managing

Quarterback Joe Flacco went 15 of 23 for 161 yards in the Ravens' big win over the 49ers, and some of the national experts say he has become just a "manager of the game."

If you want a game manager, turn to San Francisco quarterback Alex Smith. He has a pea shooter of an arm and 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh has built a small-ball offense around him.

Meanwhile, Flacco can make any big league throw and if the Ravens get involved in a shootout or have to come back in a hurry, Flacco has a strong arm to bring them back.

That's not exactly a game manager.

Too many stunts

One of the main reasons the Ravens had nine sacks against San Francisco was the lack of preparation time for the 49ers. Several of the offensive players said it was nearly impossible to prepare for the Ravens' defense in only three days because of their assortment of stunts.

"It isn't as much as a physical adjustment," said Smith. "But, it is tough to get ready for a defense like that. They do many different things, and they are talented all over the field. This was a tough team to prepare for in a short time."

There's depth there

When it was announced shortly before the start of the game that Ray Lewis and top backup Dannell Ellerbe weren't playing Thursday night because of injuries, I thought the game had turned significantly in the 49ers' favor.

But the Ravens mixed and matched linebackers Albert McClellan and Brendon Ayanbadejo well, with McClelland collecting four tackles basically playing in base defense, and Ayanbadejo collecting four in passing situations.

If they continue to play well, the Ravens don't have to rush Lewis or Ellerbe back to the starting lineup.

"Exactly. We all can play ball, and that's what we're showing," said Ravens inside linebacker Jameel McClain. "Through this time off, we get Ray back and a lot of people have seen the growth in the linebackers, and have seen that we can step it up, too. Now that we get Ray and Dannell back, it's going to get dangerous."

Cameron appears to get it

It appears that offensive coordinator Cam Cameron has found his groove in the Ravens balanced offense. But the temptation has overcome him on the road when he has become pass happy in Tennessee, Jacksonville and Seattle.

But here's a little reminder about how to handle the offense next Sunday in Cleveland. The Ravens didn't give up a sack against San Francisco.

"I didn't even know that," said Ravens center Matt Birk. "And, giving up no sacks speaks as much as guys getting open and Joe [Flacco] getting rid of the ball quickly as much as it does to the protection, and the play-calling as well."

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