However, in the unpredictable world of the NFL, even with a loss today, the Ravens would still not be eliminated from a playoff berth. The competition for the sixth seed in the AFC is muddled with mediocrity. The leading candidates for the sixth spot are five and/or four win teams: the New York Jets, Miami Dolphins, and San Diego Chargers. The Ravens and their three wins would incredibly, not be out of the chase; albeit, more as pretenders rather than contenders.
But the story today in Baltimore is about the possible changing of the guard within the AFC North. Have the Cincinnati Bengals truly emerged as the beasts of the AFC North jungle? We shall find out today at about 4pm whether or not the AFC North power has officially shifted.
Here are today’s plotlines.
Last week’s lackluster game against the Cleveland Browns was troublesome. A prime opportunity to turnaround the season was lost.
Well, today is another opportunity for the team to put its foot down and say, “We aren’t finished yet.” Does the team have the necessary leaders to do this? This now is a valid question. I think the team has the necessary leadership. The question remains if they have the necessary personnel.
"All of our problems now are on us. We’ve got to go out there and get it done. There is no motivational speech, no action, no scheme change or anything that’s going to happen that’s going to magically make us turn it around. We’ve got to go out there and play ball. It’s really that simple.” These are the words of Torrey Smith. Reading between the lines, he actually addresses the leadership and personnel issues the team faces.
Leaders and coaches can only do so much. It comes down to whether or not plays can be made on the field when it counts the most. I agree with Mike Preston. The Ravens need playmakers more than they need leaders.
Is there life in this team?
You Can’t Stop A.J., You Can Only Hope to Contain Him
I have always loved the above phrase, “You can’t stop (fill in the blank), you can only hope to contain him,” coined by Dan Patrick in his ESPN Sportscenter anchor days (alongside the acerbic Keith Olbermann, circa mid-1990’s). Quick quiz question: Who was Patrick describing when he first used this phrase? Jerry Rice? Michael Jordan? Emmitt Smith? No, no, and no. He was referring to the “Dunkin’ Dutchman,” Rick Smits of the Indiana Pacers.
Make no mistake; A.J. Green is much more Michael Jordan than he is Rick Smits. He is a top playmaker in the entire NFL, regardless of position. He has size, speed, route-running skills, and ridiculous jumping ability. Green leads the league in total receiving yards (862 yards) and targets (104 targets). He is also among wide receiver leaders in receptions, touchdowns, and receptions of over 20 yards. Moreover, Green has one of the longest receptions this year with a catch and run for 82 yards. He is a beast. And if that wasn’t enough, Green is a likable, humble player who shies away from the spotlight, much unlike his receiver-brethren. He is hard not to like.
With several other offensive playmakers on the Bengals, the Ravens can’t zero in on Green. He will get his opportunities today. The Ravens need to contain Green, and the rest of the Bengals’ offense, by keeping the ball in front of them. They also need to hope quarterback Andy Dalton lays one of his eggs—which is very possible.
Ball Hawking at MT&T
The Ravens defense has been stout this year (minus getting off the field in key situations). The pass rush has been, for most part, menacing. However, the defense has not been able to take advantage of this. The defense has not been able to generate turnovers on a consistent basis. The Ravens are 24th in the league in takeaways, with 10 total takeaways. The Ravens actually have more fumble recoveries than interceptions, and only three teams have less than the Ravens’ four interceptions. Ouch.
The Pittsburgh Steelers have been in this predicament the last couple of years—a top-level defense in total team statistics, but not a game-changing defense in terms of generating turnovers. The Ravens would like to avoid this comparison.
The Ravens need to start carving out their own opportunities for turnovers. Though the original Raven Ball Hawk is gone, he would not be making a difference on this team. The past is the past. We live in the now. Today would be a good day to start for the current Ravens’ defense to create game-changing turnovers. Let’s bring a little ball-hawking mentality back to Baltimore.
Unsung Player to Watch, aka the “Corey Graham 2012 Postseason Award”
In lieu of a prediction of the score of the game, I will pick a Raven player each week that I think will have an impact on the game. I won’t pick an obvious player (like Joe Flacco, Ray Rice, Terrell Suggs, etc.), but a player that flies a bit under the radar. Think of this as the “Corey Graham 2012 Postseason Award.” Who would have predicted that Graham would have been last year’s postseason-player-of-the-game in Denver?
After reading the following quotes from Coach Harbaugh on the club’s official website, I am selecting Deonte Thompson as this week’s unsung player. "Yes, Deonte, hopefully, will continue to be a bigger and bigger part of what we do because he is so talented. Deonte is a very good route runner. He can run all the routes outside very effectively. So, when you have a route runner, you like to get him the ball and have him make some plays for you. If people are going to play us the way they're playing us right now, you need a route runner outside to make some plays."