Beware of Ravens during stretch run

After watching the Ravens dismantle the Panthers last week, I left the stadium very impressed with the team from Baltimore. Right now, I think they’re as good as any team in the AFC, and most importantly they’reĀ ascending.

The Ravens play what I call great complimentary football, where the offense knows how to protect the defense, and the defense knows how to defend until the offense gets going.

What the Ravens did to the Panthers was a great example. Yes, it is the Panthers, but the Ravens did exactly what they were supposed to do. The Ravens had scored only three points in the first quarter of their five road games this season, so the goal of Cam Cameron’s offense was to get going early. They did just that on the first possession on a 56-yard touchdown pass to T.J. Houshmandzadeh. That series really got the offense going.

The Ravens also played very well defensively, making big plays in their typical fashion while delivering the knock-out blows on back-to-back possessions during the fourth quarter. First it was the interception by Ed Reed, who lateraled it to Dawan Landry for a touchdown. On the very next play from scrimmage, Ray Lewis brought back another pick six.

Where the Ravens had lost fourth-quarter leads against the Bengals, Patriots and Falcons, they knew they had to close this game out, and they did it decisively. The Ravens are ready to move forward, with four of their next six games at home.

Beware of the Ravens down the stretch.

The Ravens are a well-coached team in terms of understanding where they need to improve. It’s something that John Harbaugh has his team work on weekly. I know everyone will look back at the losses to the Falcons and Patriots, but the Ravens will be an improved team when December rolls around. If you ask any of the teams they’ve played — even the ones they’ve lost to — no one will want to face the Ravens again. Their schedule sets up nicely, and after already beating the Steelers on the road, the next round is at home.

When teams are stacked up as closely as they currently are in the AFC, you have to look at where teams are going and who they will be in the final month of the season more so than where they’re at now. I’m already impressed with the direction the Ravens are going, and when it matters most in six weeks, they’re capable of being the best team in their conference.

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