Ravens Are Flawed … And So Are Other Teams
No doubt, the Ravens are a flawed team.
Would be nice to have everything working at the highest level, but it ain't so. Never is.
The running game is currently among the league's worst. The defense, while playing well overall, did not make some key stops at the end of games in a couple of our close losses. Our receivers sometimes struggle to get open. Opponents' receivers sometimes run free.
Can we get better in all of our phases? I believe we will. Can we fix all of our flaws? No.
Importantly, can we compete to get back into the playoffs? You bet we can. We've proven over the years that we have the type of competitors who bounce back. Our coaches have that mindset and teach it. Our players prove it regularly. And, all teams are flawed.
All Teams Are Flawed
The lead headline in Wednesday's USA Today was: "Will Contenders' Flaws Be Fatal?"
The gist of the story is that every NFL team, even the undefeated Chiefs, has issues. The reporter pointed out that the Chiefs have played the NFL's weakest schedule and against a set of mostly mid- to low-level quarterbacks. It mentioned that the 8-1 Broncos are struggling to protect Peyton Manning, who has been sacked eight times in the last three games and is now dealing with an ankle injury.
The 7-2 Patriots? Their defense is not dominant, and they've lost key starters on that side of the ball. The 7-3 Colts? USA Today reminds that they just got blown out by 30 points (38-8) by the 4-6 Rams last Sunday – in Indy!
The only people who really love all of this are the NFL officials in New York and the big TV companies that pay all of the money to the league. The NFL is trying to get all teams to 8-8. They would love that. Win more – be the only team to go to the playoffs the last five seasons – and the league will make it harder for you to win again. More difficult schedules and lower draft choices; pay the stars who helped you get to those playoffs and win a Super Bowl, and your salary cap takes huge hits. All of this makes it harder to sustain success. TV? They want close games every single game day.
That's the way it works.
Teams can survive all of this, flaws and all. We've handled it pretty well. The Ravens find ways to stay competitive and compete for championships. Can we do it again this season? We'll soon find out.
We're back in the pack, under the radar. At 4-5 with seven games left, we're sub .500. We play a wounded Bears' team Sunday. Chicago, now 5-4, needs the win badly. So do we.
ProFootballTalk, which has become the go-to source for serious football fans and many of us in the NFL, ranks us as the 21st best team in the league right now. OK. But, the added comment struck me: "The one team that none of the other AFC teams want to see in the playoffs is the Ravens."
And, how about this from another USA Today article this week quoting former NFL MVP Rich Gannon: "The Ravens are a resilient group that still has great locker room leadership. They are not going to panic. Without a great run game or offensive line, they're going to have to win ugly each week. The great thing about them is that they are a very confident group. And I wouldn't be surprised to see them play their best football over the last seven weeks."
Hey, this all sounds hopeful. Good. We're still fighting and scratching and trying to improve flaws and maximize strengths. I believe, as usual, you'll recognize the determined effort and intelligence as we battle our way through the rest of the season.
The Jones Brothers
Jon "Bones" Jones is the toughest man in the world, according to many. He's a mixed martial arts fighter and the light heavyweight champion of the world.
Take a look at this video to get an idea of his prowess.
Bones is also the younger brother of Ravens defensive tackle/end Arthur Jones. Bones visited the Under Armour Performance Center on Wednesday and spoke to the team after the morning "walk-through." Jon stressed to the team to always focus on the next opponent in preparation and the play at hand in a game. He also suggested to "Take things personally when you play. That guy across from you is trying to beat you. Don't let him do that. If everyone wins the personal battles, your team will win."
Spending time with him, you can see why Jon is one of the most popular athletes in the world. He's smart, polished, has a good sense of humor and has a presence. But, he was nervous before speaking to the team. "You guys are the Super Bowl champs. I should be listening to them. I'm not sure what I can tell them," Bones said. After I reassured him that he would do fine, he said: "Hope so. Is there a bathroom nearby where I can throw up?"
Arthur and Jon clearly enjoy each other's company. They laughed, they ribbed each other, and they talked proudly about how their parents taught them to be responsible. One thing I found funny and interesting is how Jon was physically jumpy around his big brother. Whenever Arthur would gesture toward Jon or kiddingly raise his hand to the world's toughest man, Jon would recoil and flinch.
"Once a younger brother, always a younger brother," Bones said. "He hit me when we were growing up, and he still makes me nervous." (I can relate. My Mom had five boys in seven years, and I still flinch around my brothers – or I make them flinch. That's what brothers do. I've seen John do it to his "little" brother Jim Harbaugh.)
The Hail Mary
You very seldom see Coach Harbaugh have much of a reaction to a bad play by the Ravens. Harbs goes out of his way to never throw a teammate under the bus and keeps the demeanor of, "We'll get the next one." But, after the Bengals completed the "Hail Mary" to tie us at the end of last Sunday's game, John bent to a full catcher's crouch and put his hands over his eyes for a second. He couldn't believe what he had just seen, nor could Defensive Coordinator Dean Pees, who pounded the glass in the coaches' booth.
On Saturday mornings, the Ravens' coaches show "plays of the week." These are a series of plays that serve as warnings as to what could happen in a game. Guess what one of the plays was last Saturday? Yup, a "Hail Mary." Harbs showed Nebraska beating Northwestern with a "Hail Mary" the previous week. "Guys, we've practiced how to stop this. Let's review…"
Ah, the best-laid plans. Our plan is to go to Chicago and win. Let's beat the Bears.
Talk with you next week,