2009 Ravens: Wild Card Wonder, or Just a Tease?

Daryl HenryContributor IJanuary 12, 2010

FOXBORO, MA - JANUARY 10:  Tom Brady #12 of the New England Patriots atempts to duck the pass rush of Ray Lewis #52 of the Baltimore Ravens during the 2010 AFC wild-card playoff game at Gillette Stadium on January 10, 2010 in Foxboro, Massachusetts. The Ravens won 33-14. (Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images)
Al Bello/Getty Images

Every couple of years there’s a wild card team that figures out how to fix a glaring weakness in their team and make a run in the playoffs.  Last year the Cardinals couldn’t run the ball.  Then Edgerrin James resurrects himself from football purgatory and they make a run to the Super Bowl.  The 2006 Colts couldn’t stop the run.  Then Bob Sanders comes back, and they shut down Larry Johnson of in his prime, and a Baltimore rushing attack that had propelled them to 13-3, on the way to a Super Bowl victory.  This year’s Ravens have had more up and downs than a pregnant woman has mood swings, and even after a convincing victory in New England, there’s no way they’re a contender.  Except maybe they are.

                Reasons why they could be a contender:

1.       Their Defense has hit a stride: They allowed 400 yards passing to Philip Rivers.  Writers stopped describing their defense as vaunted.  They became like Prince, “the Defense previously known as Vaunted.”  But in the last 9 games (including postseason) they’ve allowed less than 14 points per game.      

2.       Their Offense has found an identity: The Ravens started throwing the ball this season and got hooked on it.  It was like a vodka martini.  You have one, smile and say that’s not half bad.  Eight Martinis, a visit to the bathroom stall and a foul smelling cab ride later, you’re waking up in your bed with a headache swearing you’ll never have another martini.  James Bond can keep them all to himself.  The Ravens offensive gameplans have had the same feel toward the end of the year.  They’re on a passing hangover and have returned to a run game behind a young, strong offensive line.

3.        They’ve gotten key players back from injury: Ed Reed missed a month.  Terrell Suggs missed a month.  Haloti Ngata missed a game.  Jared Gaither missed a couple weeks.  They’re all back now, and it’s making a difference.  The offensive looks like they’ve communicated better the past couple weeks, and Terrell Suggs is helping them get a pass rush, something they haven’t accomplished all year long.

There’s a downside though.  The Ravens haven’t strung two wins together against quality teams since last year.  This year they’ve followed up dominating wins against bad teams with lackluster performances against quality opponents.  They've dominated in the third quarter of games, but blow it in the fourth.  The Ravens have beaten themselves consistently through penalties, turnovers an innoportune special teams all year, and even though they’ve improved on these things in the past two games, I need a third one to call it a trend.     

I’ll close by saying this: if the Ravens limit their penalties to under 50 yards on Saturday, I think they’ll beat the Colts.  If it’s over 50 yards, watch for the Ravens to keep it close, playing from behind most of the game, and then commit mental mistakes toward the end of the game that prevent them from winning.