The Baltimore Ravens might be hosting a playoff game, but few if any saw them as real contenders to bring home a championship. They had too many holes and were playing too lackadaisical for them to compete with the best in the AFC. That will all change with the motivation of bringing home a championship for Ray Lewis, who is retiring at the end of the season.
Gauging a team's effort level is difficult, if not impossible, but from my perspective, the Ravens' effort just wasn't there at times this season.
Michael Oher could practically shut down DeMarcus Ware one week, then get whipped by the San Diego Chargers soon after. Oher held Ware to just one pressure in that game, but he surrendered five total pressures against the Chargers.
Terrence Cody would get blasted off the ball on a constant basis, despite having a 50-pound advantage on his opponent. The Baltimore Sun's Aaron Wilson blasts Cody, quoting NFL Network analyst Daniel Jeremiah:
He's not very good. He's getting blown off the line of scrimmage. He can't rush the passer, so you know that's not a strength. And getting blown off the ball six or seven yards, he's not having a whole lot of value.
I don't mean to call out any individual players, since this is a team problem, but it shows my point. The effort the Ravens have been giving this season hasn't been sufficient.
Even if the Ravens weren't purposefully slacking, and I don't think they were, the attention to detail just isn't there. Joe Flacco's accuracy issues are a result of lazy footwork. Kelechi Osemele has given up multiple sacks simply because he didn't get out of his stance fast enough. The penalties: 121 of them for 1,127 yards.
That won't be a problem anymore. Lewis won't let it be.
The Ravens will be emotional, sure. For some teams, that would lead to silly mistakes when players use their heart rather than their head on the field. The Ravens, though, are at their best in these scenarios.
Look back to some of the most emotional games the Ravens have played the past few years.
Last year against the San Francisco 49ers, the Ravens had the added motivation of playing without Lewis, not to mention going against Jim Harbaugh, brother of coach John Harbaugh. The Ravens racked up eight sacks and beat the 49ers 16-6.
Riding a three-game losing streak, one that got offensive coordinator Cam Cameron fired, the Ravens seemed rudderless heading into a home game against the New York Giants. The hyper-emotional Ravens were anything but rudderless, routing the Giants 33-14.
This roster deserves more credit than it has gotten. The talent is there. Ozzie Newsome knows what he's doing, and there are few players on the Ravens' roster that don't have the ability to be solid.
They've been holding themselves back all season. The time has come for the Ravens to step up, play their best football of the season and prove that they are an elite football team. Anything less is an affront to everything Lewis has stood for to this franchise.