NFL Baltimore Ravens: Intangibles, Little Things Adding Up to Victories
You hear those footsteps?
The Baltimore Ravens have won four games in a row and are playing loose and fast—their brand of December football. But what is it? What makes a team like the Ravens hardened as the season progresses, while others, like the San Francisco 49ers, appear to be pretenders? In the case of the Ravens, it's a number of things.
They've been winning with their leader in street clothes! The defense hasn't missed a beat with Jameel McClain stepping in for Ray Lewis, who hasn't played and hasn't needed to. The emergence of deep threat Torrey Smith has helped further the maturation of quarterback Joe Flacco. There are also underlying reasons as to why Baltimore sits atop the AFC North and looking strong at 10-3 with three games to go.
The Offensive Line
This unit that was a work in progress early in the season is finally rounding into shape. The kind of chemistry needed to be a fluid, singular body can only be developed over time.
Bryant McKinnie and Andre Gurode were late additions to the offensive line, and then Ben Grubbs went down for six games due to the dreaded turf toe. With all the parts working in congress, Baltimore has shown marked progress since the Seattle loss, running Ray Rice like a rented generator.
The defense is the defense. This team wins when the running game stays the course, pounds the ball deep into the game and Flacco hits his spots. It all starts up front. The offensive line is gelling at the right time, allowing Baltimore to be able to do what it must to win.
Joe Flacco's Fu Manchu
Can a mustache improve team chemistry? Don't laugh. Joe Flacco's new fu manchu has done just that!
Sometimes he can be a little too chill on the field and on the sidelines, especially after a pick in a close game. Flacco doesn't exude the fire that, say, Philip Rivers displays, and some see this as a problem. That's not how "Joe Cool" does it.
His new porn star mustache is how Flacco does it. This alone has kept the locker room loose, as all of the players and coaches have an opinion on it. And it's quite a mustache. It won't show up in the game stats, but it definitely plays a part in the Ravens' recent success.
Before "the mustache" there was "the haircut." Last year for Halloween, Flacco had a teammate's barber slice and dice a design in his head that Young Jeezy would be proud of. That, too, got the team talking and helped everybody keep it light and easy.
It's turning out to be Flacco's gift.
All in the Family
When teams face adversity you start to understand just who's in that foxhole with you every weekend. Tempers flare and things are said that are sometimes stripped of that smooth veneer when teams hit a rough patch.
The Ravens had lost three games, and by the end of the third loss in Seattle, members of the defense spoke up. Both Ray Lewis and Terrell Suggs were vocal in their criticism of Cam Cameron's play-calling. Suggs in particular said, "Feed the beast," meaning give running back Ray Rice the ball. It wasn't blown out of proportion, as if the defense had some brewing feud with the offense or its coaches. It was simply a member of the family speaking up and was treated as such.
Tom Brady's meltdown with his offensive coordinator during the Redskins game was caught on camera for the football world to see. And New England won the game! The Ravens, at least, listened to their defensive leaders and made the appropriate changes that ensured success and kept the peace.
The Baltimore Ravens are 10-3 and rollin'. Ray Rice has rushed for over 300 yards in his last two games, and Joe Flacco has played well and within his means in the four game winning streak. The defense, with Jameel McClain as signal-caller, has excelled while they await the return of their heart and soul, Ray Lewis.
The schedule doesn't sting so bad, either. The Ravens can almost always count on seeing Pittsburgh, home or away, in the elements late in the season. But not this season—and that's almost a shame. Sweeping Pittsburgh early in the season suits Baltimoreans just fine. But Ravens/Steelers in late December with playoff implications on the line? That's good, meaningful football. Schedule-makers take note.
It's up to Baltimore to maintain the momentum the schedule's afforded them.