Eisenberg Takes Stock Of The Ravens

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Count me among those who believe 4-2 is a nice achievement. They'll be 5-2 going into their bye week if they beat winless Buffalo Sunday. Although their schedule down the stretch is harder than advertised, with six of the nine post-bye opponents over .500 right now, they're in position to ring up double-digit wins and make a serious playoff run.

Everything they want to accomplish in 2010 is legitimately within reach. It looks like the NFL's best teams are all in the AFC this year, and the Ravens are in the conference's upper tier along with the Steelers, Jets and Patriots for sure, and possibly the Colts.

The best thing the Ravens have going for them is the way they play. The fact that they hit hard and play with their chests and chins out is what enables them to be so consistently competitive. Toughness is a quality that suits up every week, enables the Ravens to hold up in daunting road environments and knock out lesser squads. Broncos Coach Josh McDaniels admitted his team was unnerved by the Ravens' physical style in Week 5.

Another quality they have going for them is their complement of play-makers. Frankly, they have too many. It seems like every week we're hearing about someone who didn't get enough catches, touches, attention or whatever, but beyond those mini-dramas, it's a nice problem to have – too many guys who can win a game, as opposed to too few.

But having said all that, it's also clear the Ravens remain an unfinished project. We know they're good, but there's room for improvement.

Defensively, they need to do better against the run. That's right, the run. They're a mediocre 15th in the league, allowing an average of 111.5 rushing yards per game. That would stand as the second-highest average for a season in franchise history, behind the 1996 team, which won four games.

The focus has been on the pass defense, and it has its issues, but overall, it is ranked third in the league and fares about as well as a secondary can in a pass-happy league with offensive-minded rules. Getting Ed Reed back will help.

But softness against the run has cropped up in several games, causing major problems. The Ravens' inability to stop the Patriots on the ground was an underrated key aspect of their late collapse Sunday. The Patriots rushed for 38 of the 60 yards on their fourth-quarter touchdown drive, forcing the Ravens to have to honor the run while Tom Brady picked them apart.

Offensively, they have to do something when opponents play what is known as the "cover 2" pass defense. Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco seems befuddled by it. The Bengals play it and he can't beat them. The Patriots went to it late Sunday and the offense ground to a halt. Opponents are only going to use it more as they see the Ravens struggle against it. The Ravens need to adjust.

Finally, as an overall team, they have to learn to take what they've earned. Show more of a killer instinct. I don't know how you practice that, but Sunday, they were up 10 points in the fourth quarter, their opponent committed nine penalties and they had a plus-2 turnover ratio. That's a game they had to win. The loss that ensued was absolutely a give-back. I don't care how great Brady is. They can't afford to do that again.

Fortunately for them, they'd already won enough that the loss didn't really harm their playoff prospects. They're going to battle the Steelers for the AFC North title if they keep playing this way and tighten up the loose bolts on their carriage. One of their most interesting seasons looms.

John Eisenberg *covers the Ravens for Comcast SportsNet Baltimore. He worked in the newspaper business for 28 years as a sports columnist, with much of that time coming at the Baltimore Sun. While working for the Sun, Eisenberg spent time covering the Ravens, among other teams and events, including the Super Bowl, Final Four, World Series and Olympics. Eisenberg is also the author of seven sports-themed books.*

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