Ray Lewis is questionable for Sunday's matchup
En route to the playoffs, the Ravens face many tough challenges ahead. The first will be Robert Griffin III and the Washington Redskins, who are coming off a win against the defending Super Bowl champion New York Giants on Monday night.
After a loss on Sunday to the Ben Roethlisberger-less Pittsburgh Steelers, the Ravens need to stop the Redskins and the best way to do that is by shutting down their powerful rushing attack led by rookies RGIII and Alfred Morris.
Without Ray Lewis and possibly Terrell Suggs, the Ravens defense will need to step up and contain the running game if they want to avoid a losing streak.
The first step to stopping Washington is containing their star rookie quarterback
Griffin has been nothing short of incredible in his rookie season.
His passing efficiency numbers are off the charts for a rookie, throwing for 17 touchdowns to merely four interceptions and a 104.4 passer rating and a 67 percent completion percentage.
Griffin showed he is not afraid of anyone by taking it to the Giants on Monday Night Football. He is on a mission to get his Redskins into the playoffs and will take down anyone in his way.
If the Ravens want to stop RGIII through the air, they need to first take away the run. While Griffin is a very capable passer, everything the Redskins do on offense comes from establishing the run.
Griffin can be effective running on third down. Taking away the run forces Griffin into a more one-dimensional attack—in which he is still good but not nearly as dangerous as he could be.
The Ravens need to force Griffin to beat them with his arm.
Eli Manning's Giants await the Ravens two games after they take on RGIII in Washington
With four games to go, the Ravens sit two games ahead of the 7-5 Pittsburgh Steelers and Cincinnati Bengals. The combined record of their two opponents after the Redskins game is 23-13, so it will be no easy task to hold off playoff-hungry teams below them in the standings.
First, they must host MVP candidate Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos and attempt to stop one of the best quarterbacks to ever play the game. The following week their challenge will be to slow down Peyton's little brother Eli, the reigning Super Bowl MVP, and a battle-tested Giants team fighting off the Redskins in the NFC East.
In the likely event that, after these two games, the often underperforming Ravens come away either tied for the division lead or one game ahead in the AFC North, they could be in big trouble as they will have to travel to Cincinnati and fend off a Bengals team that will be able to smell the division title.
Tough games against those three teams make it all the more important for Baltimore to win in Washington and give themselves some breathing room in what could be a breathtaking finish for the AFC North.
Joe Flacco could get his chance to shine in the postseason this year
Despite making the playoffs in each of the last four years and ranking among the better teams in the AFC for the past three years, the Ravens have advanced to the AFC Championship game just once since their appearance in 2008.
Limping into the playoffs after finishing the season 2-2 or 1-3 in their final four games will not bode well for a Ravens team that never seems to step up in January. After losing to Pittsburgh last week, Baltimore needs to start the final quarter of their season on the right foot in Washington.
Losing to the Redskins will give them two consecutive losses for the first time all season and could shatter their confidence as they push toward the playoffs.
If Baltimore wants any chance of advancing to the Super Bowl for the first time since Super Bowl XXXV, it will need to build confidence and momentum heading into the playoffs. Building that confidence can be difficult, but they will have to start with stopping the Redskins this upcoming Sunday.