The Baltimore Ravens almost blew their Week 10 game in spectacular fashion, but they managed to come out with a critical divisional victory over the Cincinnati Bengals. They kept their postseason hopes alive with the win, but they looked far from a playoff team.
In Week 11, Baltimore has the chance to build some momentum against a beat-up Chicago Bears team. Here's everything you need to know as we find out whether the Ravens truly have a run in them or whether last week's win was fool's gold.
|AFC North Standings|
|Cincinnati Bengals||6-4||vs. Cleveland Browns|
|Cleveland Browns||4-5||at Cincinnati Bengals|
|Baltimore Ravens||4-5||at Chicago Bears|
|Pittsburgh Steelers||3-6||vs. Pittsburgh Steelers|
There is no way to overstate the importance of the win against the Bengals. Cincinnati's division lead has been cut to one-and-a-half games with a Week 17 rematch on the calendar.
The Cleveland Browns are still ahead of the Ravens in the division after their bye last week. Elsewhere in the AFC North, the Pittsburgh Steelers also got a victory, but they need to string together more wins before they can think about the playoffs.
Next week, the Bengals get another tough divisional game against the Browns that the Ravens will keep an eye on.
|AFC Wild Card Picture|
|Wild Card 1||Denver Broncos||7-1|
|Wild Card 2||New York Jets||5-4|
|7||San Diego Chargers||4-5|
The victory over Cincinnati means that the Ravens still have a shot at winning the AFC North, but they are right in the mix for the second wild-card spot.
|Ryan Jensen||Broken foot|
The Ravens are fortunate to not have many injury concerns. Jimmy Smith and Corey Graham were nursing injuries heading into Week 10's game, but they both played tremendously well.
Haloti Ngata left the game with a knee injury, but he returned to finish the contest, and it doesn't look like he's going to miss any time.
What Must Improve
That may sound broad, but that's because every part of the offense has to improve.
Joe Flacco has carried the offensive load all season, but he hasn't played his best football in recent weeks. He's been inaccurate on throws all over the field—particularly on deep balls—and he easily could have thrown four interceptions last week if the Bengals had been able to make more plays on defense.
Part of the problem has been the complete lack of a running game. Last week, Bernard Pierce looked like the better runner, and head coach John Harbaugh made a point to say that whichever back is playing better "should get more carries as [they] go forward," according to Ryan Mink of BaltimoreRavens.com.
Ray Rice has been struggling all year, and it's possible that we see Pierce start to get a bigger share of the workload this week.
Despite jumping out to a 17-0 lead in the first half against Cincinnati, Baltimore's offense wasn't very impressive. It took advantage of good field position and penalties to put points on the board, but that offense dried up in the second half.
|Baltimore's Offensive Ranks|
Most of the blame will go to James Ihedigbo and defense for the game even getting into overtime, but the defense played one of its best games of the season. It was the offense's inability to put even one point on the board in the second half which caused the Ravens to almost lose the game.
Any hopes of a playoff appearance require the offense to get its act together, and it'll have a good chance to do so against a Chicago defense that isn't uncharacteristically poor this season, giving up 379 yards of offense and 27.4 points per game.
Joe Flacco's accuracy and decision-making have wavered this year, but most of the time that is because he is being hurried by oncoming pass-rushers. He's on pace to be sacked more times than ever before, but it's not just the sacks that are hurting the offense.
Plays where he's had a clean pocket to throw from have been few and far between. He's had to make more plays with his feet than we've ever seen from him, but that is an unfortunate reflection of the state of his pass protection.
Most of the blame has to go to his offensive line, where only Marshal Yanda and Eugene Monroe have positive pass-blocking grades from Pro Football Focus (subscription required), but the tight ends and running backs have also made their fair share of missed blitz pickups and poor blocking reads.
|Offensive Line Pass-Blocking Grades|
|Player||Pass-Blocking Grade||Pressures Allowed|
Next week they face a Chicago Bears defense that has only registered 14 sacks on the season (30th in the NFL) and has struggled to generate a pass rush all season. The pass protection needs to show signs of improvement against a Bears defense that has been decimated by injuries for the Ravens to accomplish their playoff goals.