Chad Lamasa: There are several things that I see as the keys to the Ravens success so far this year. In no particular order they are...
1. Controlling the clock. The Ravens have dominated in Time of Possession this season. This is a stat I think gets overlooked by many people. By being able to sustain drives you are keeping your defense off the field, which keeps them fresher later in the game.
Not to mention the impact to the other team. If you are controlling the ball then their defense is on the field much more, which causes them to run out of gas by the fourth quarter. Also if their defense is on the field more that means their offense isn't, and that limits the amount of scoring opportunities.
If they can't score they can't win.
2. Turnovers or lack there-of. Flacco started out the season with seven picks in the first five games. In the last four Flacco has not thrown an interception in over 100 passes. We've had a couple of fumbles in those games but have managed to recover the ball.
Many teams give games away by turning the ball over. Case in point the Houston Texans turning the ball over four times yesterday. Were the Ravens really that dominant yesterday? Partly but if not for the picks and great field position after the returns they don't put up 41 points with their offense.
3. New offensive schemes. Firing Brian Billick and bringing in Cam Cameron was probably the best thing that could have happened to the Ravens. Cameron likes to be creative and experiment with new options. You could almost set a clock by what Brian Billick would call.
3a. Spreading the ball around. 11 different players have at least one reception this season, including Flacco himself. By utilizing different receivers you keep other defenses on their toes trying to plan for 11 guys is a lot tougher than planning against one or two. I'll use the Texans as an example again. Their main receiving threat is Andre Johnson. We held him to seven catches and 66 yards. Kevin Walter had four catches for 85 yards. Most of that came on a 60-yard touchdown.
3b. Running game. The three-pronged attack we have been using has proved effective and hard to defend against. McGahee has had two 100+ yard games and rookie Ray Rice has had a 154 yard game. If you shut one of them down the one of the others will step up. Throwing McClain and Neal into the mix gives you four capable runners.
4. Defense.I think enough has been written about the Ravens' defense the last several years that I don't really need to add to that. I will say they are playing more the level of their Super Bowl winning counterparts than to the 5-12 team of a year ago. Creating turnovers and putting pressure on opposing QBs.
5. Rookies. Plenty articles have been written about the progression of Flacco over the course of the season.
Ray Rice is having a solid season this year as well, posting a 154-yard game already. Splitting time with McGahee as the featured back, he won't have a ton of 100+ yard games. Even if he puts up 50-75 yards a game and keeps McGahee fresh for later in the game that will be a huge help to the Ravens.
The defense has several rookies that have stepped up in a big way, including Jameel McClain.
Even John Harbaugh has proved that the Ravens made the right choice in giving him his first chance at being a head coach. From play calling to benching Chris McAlister, he has taken control of the team and gained their respect.
1. Flacco stays consistent
If rookie Joe Flacco can build off the momentum he's gained on their four-game win streak, then the Ravens should continue to score 20+ points a game. The problem is that the secondaries he's faced in that stretch aren't ranked very high so games against the NFC East and as well as a rematch against Pittsburgh will surely test this young quarterback's mettle.
Luckily, Flacco has all the keys for success. He has a very strong defense as well as a power-running game to lean back on. If he can learn to better read defenses and avoid the pass rush, he will be a force to reckon with.
2. Defense stays healthy
Right now, the Baltimore secondary is banged up and some of their other key defensive positions are aged. If they don't keep the rotation going and let their older players rest, we could see a drop in the productivity.
Ray Lewis is a great field general and keeps the defense in line and disciplined. Up in the secondary, safety Ed Reed has really helped the young CBs progress but there's still work to be done.
If Flacco and the offense can keep the defense off the field and rested by using a strong running game mixed with play-action, this defense should click on all cylinders.
3. The offensive line needs to keep improving
Games against Philidelphia and Pittsburgh, aka Blitzburgh, will force the offensive line to step up. If they don't, the Eagles and the Steelers will knock Flacco off balance as well as plug up the holes in the running game.
If they need to go low to cut off a rushing defender, that's what they should do. Anything to protect your QB. In the running game, they won't need to force gaping holes open for McGahee or Rice, but they do need to continue opening up whatever lanes they can so that their talented RBs and FB can bulldoze through for positive yardage. The key will be to stay focused and make good blocks.
4. Defensive line needs to keep getting pressure
Look at the NY Giants if you want a winning formula. Their offensive line holds off the pass rush and their defensive line gets into the opposing QB's face. The Baltimore "D" should continue pressuring the QB and stuffing the run up front to help their inexperienced secondary.
Led by Haloti Ngata and Brandon McKinney, this D-line has been looking fresh and aggressive every game. As long as they continue playing at this pace, it will be hard for opposing O-lines to hold them off or RBs to find open lanes.
If Terrell Suggs keeps getting pick sixes, the Ravens will be able to stay close in tough games or blowout teams they should beat.
DE Trevor Pryce may be playing his final season, so expect him to step up the productivity and begin racking up sacks.
To sum it up, the key to Baltimore's success is playing as a team. The defense needs to feed off the offense and vice versa. Not getting frustrated with one another will be the nail on the hammer in comeback games, much like the against Cleveland.