Ravens Still Have Time


Without a game to dissect courtesy of Baltimore's Week 7 bye, the Ravens began preparing for their next opponent, the undefeated Denver Broncos, on Monday.

And, with the Pittsburgh Steelers and Cincinnati Bengals' recent victories, this upcoming game is probably the Ravens' most important of the still-young season.

This weekend's matchup has heavy implications – at least for Baltimore.

The Ravens are coming off a three-game skid after starting out a hot 3-0. Ten wins is a safe number to reach the postseason, and with 10 games left to play, the Ravens would do themselves a big favor by taking at least seven of them.

Still, nobody in the Baltimore locker room is looking too closely at the future. There is a week-to-week mentality permeating through the team's training facility that gives the players and coaches a set of blinders.

"Playoff calculations? No, that's taboo," said head coach John Harbaugh. "You know how you make the playoffs? You win games. And that's what we need to do."

Said quarterback Joe Flacco: "All we can do right now is take one game at a time and go try to stack win on top of win and see where we are at the end of the next 10 weeks. I think as long as we do that, then we'll be all right."

It won't be easy.

Including two meetings with the Steelers, six of the Ravens' final opponents combine for a record of 29-9.

Those teams – the Steelers (5-2), Broncos (6-0), Indianapolis Colts (6-0), Cincinnati Bengals (5-2), Green Bay Packers (4-2) and Chicago Bears (3-3) – feature strengths in areas that have given the Ravens trouble this year.

Quarterbacks Ben Roethlisberger, Kyle Orton, Peyton Manning, Carson Palmer, Aaron Rodgers and Jay Cutler are all playmakers, while their respective defenses are among the NFL's best.

Meanwhile, the Ravens' pass defense is currently allowing 241.5-yards per game, as the unit has been exploited deep on multiple occasions. Their offense has been able to put up points at a steady rate, but Flacco has been sacked seven times in the past three contests.

Now that the bye week is behind them, the Ravens are moving forward to correct the things that have stung during their march to 3-3.

1) Rush defense

Issue:The Ravens are known for historically stopping the run, but giving up two consecutive 100-yard backs over the past two weeks (the Bengals' Cedric Benson and Minnesota's Adrian Peterson) snapped a 39-game streak. Against the Vikings, Peterson broke off gains of 58 and 26 yards in a 141-yard day.

Fix:Limit the big plays. "We broke down on two plays, and that's what happens," said defensive coordinator Greg Mattison. "He's a great running back. When you let him have the edge, he's going to get a big gain. Our outside guys have to hold the edge and the guys inside have to maintain gap integrity."

2) Secondary

Issue:Baltimore has been beaten 10 times on pass completions of 30 or more yards this season. Quarterbacks have had success chucking the ball downfield against Baltimore's cornerbacks, all of whom are under 6 feet.

Fix:If the Ravens could get more pressure on the pocket, the defensive backs would not have to cover for as long. But, sometimes it also simply comes down to making a play on the ball when the time comes. "They say you have to have a short memory, but you still remember those things," explained cornerback Frank Walker. "The thing you have to do is work on those specific things to improve. You can't change it. Those plays already happened, so you correct it."

3) Pocket pressure

Issue:The Ravens have made it no secret that they want to get after signal-callers more than they have been. Fourteen sacks is a solid number across the league, but it is all the more critical to get there with the recent results in the secondary.

Fix:Since Baltimore is not bringing as many exotic blitzes as it did last year, the players up front must win more of their one-on-one battles. "We look at every snap for their offense, and if a guy is one-on-one blocked it's not acceptable," noted Mattison. "Unless they are maximum protecting, there's going to be one or two guys that are one-on-one, and I think we've got to do a better job of beating that one-on-one and getting to that quarterback."

4) Flacco's protection

Issue:Flacco has taken some solid hits lately, including several in Minnesota from defensive end Jared Allen. Regular starting left tackle Jared Gaither has been sitting with a neck injury, but rookie Michael Oher filled in admirably.

Fix:Oher has played well, and Gaither is expecting to make a full recovery by Sunday. In all, the Ravens' youthful offensive line is protecting Flacco well, but watching his foot get stepped on and then seeing him come up limping (he did not miss any time) was troubling.

"The whole offensive line did a great job," Flacco said after the Vikings game. "They have a good pass rush. They have a good front seven. They're able to stop the run well. When they want to come after you, they get after you. You're going to have tough games like that, but I think our offensive line did a great job holding up."

5) Close out games

Issue:The Ravens have lost their previous three contests by a combined 11 points. All defeats were not sealed until the end of the games.

Fix:Focus, grit and a little bit of luck. "Football always takes care of itself,'' linebacker Ray Lewis said. ``Those bounces that we didn't get in the last three games, we'll get those later.''

For now, a determined Ravens squad takes solace in the fact that it is in the position to right the ship.

"We control as a football team, our destiny," Harbaugh said. "We control what we're going to be this year. That's always been the case. Because we haven't finished three games the way we wanted to finish three games doesn't mean that that's changed. That's our responsibly, and that's our challenge."

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