Another week has past and another team is off the schedule. The Ravens didn’t have a glorious victory this weekend, but it was a victory none the less. First things first, the Ravens played horribly. Lets just get that out of the way. I am, in no shape, form or fashion, going to tell you they played a good game. They didn’t. The offense played their worst game since Jacksonville, the defense played their worst game since San Diego (both last season), but both of those games were losses. This was a win. Why?
Last year the Ravens lost 4 times, all on the road, 3 of them to teams they should have easily beaten (Jacksonville, Seattle, Tennessee). In all four games one side of the ball had a terrible performance, and the other side wasn’t enough to carry the team through. Yesterday looked like a very similar game to those four. The Chiefs were almost unanimously picked to lose (ironically the only expert to pick against them did so because of the Ravens tendency to underperform against bad teams on the road), The Ravens came in and played right into their game plan, but still somehow managed to pull a victory from the jaws of defeat.
A Big part of the reason the Ravens won was turnovers. The Ravens recovered four turnovers in the game. 2 off of fumbles, 2 off of interceptions. That number sounds fantastic, but it really isn’t as good as it looks. Only one of the four Chiefs turnovers was thanks to the efforts of a Ravens defender (Cary Williams tipped pass that led to a Webb INT). the rest were unforced mistakes. So was that the reason? I say no, bad teams turn the ball over unforced. That is a big part of why they are bad teams. The Chiefs turn the ball over an insane amount despite having an extremely talented roster, turnovers are what makes bad teams bad.
Was it the second half adjustments? The Ravens were entering halftime after allowing Jamaal Charles to rush for 125 yards and were just trying to find a way to stop the bleeding. They found it in a big big way. Charles was held to just 15 second half rushing yards, the Chiefs were held to a total of 30 second half rushing yards. Haloti Ngata was playing with more focus and was making plays. Courtney Upshaw was fantastic in setting the edge and a few times in coverage and rushing the passer (he chased QBs out of the pocket twice forcing throw-aways in the second half). Paul Kruger had his best half of the season and the rest of the D was swarming to the ball on every play. The defense in the second half looked more like the Ravens defense we have come to expect. Whatever Dean Pees did at halftime worked. The offense looked better in the second half than they did in the first, but they still weren’t very good. What they did do right, was focus on smash mouth football because the Chiefs pass rush was killing them. That came through biggest when the Ravens needed 2 first downs at the end of the game. They got the first on 3rd and 15 when Flacco took off and ran for 16 yards. After that they had to pick up 10 yards and they would win, they ran Ray Rice three times and he came through with 12 yards and the victory. The halftime adjustment was key, but I’m not sure that was the main reason the Ravens won.
I think this win is deeper than what happened on the field. I think the 2012 Baltimore Ravens have much more grit and mental fortitude than the 2011 Ravens had. Last year, down by 10 points, the Ravens abandoned their game plan and got desperate. This year, down 13-0 to the Patriots, the Ravens never flinched. Think about the Ravens 4 wins. In all four the Ravens have been tested. In three of the four, the Ravens had to drive with the last possession to win the game. Week 3 they drove all the way down the field to set up a chip shot FG for rookie kicker Justin Tucker. Week 4 they had to stop the Browns final possession from reaching the endzone. Last week they needed 2 first downs to run out the clock. All three times the Ravens were successful. Looking at last seasons numbers it is reasonable to assume the Ravens would have lost at least one of those 3 games. Last season the Ravens were 4-2 in games decided by 7 or less, this year they are already 3-1. The Ravens were 9-3 in games they were favored in, this year they are 3-0(Patriots were favored week 3). This is a team with a more determination than last years bunch had. This is a team with some backbone. Abandoning a game-plan is what a mentally weak team does, It is what the 2011 Ravens did in every regular season loss. The 2012 Ravens have yet to abandon the game-plan, they stick with it to the bitter end and thanks to that, they are 4-1. Thanks to that, they beat the Kansas City Chiefs and the New England Patriots.
The Ravens are 4-1. Teams who start 4-1 make the playoffs over 80% of the time in the past ten year. They effectively have a 2.5 game lead in the division (they only lead Cincy by 2 but have a head to head right now). In the AFC North, 2.5 games is a long way to climb back from. If the Season ended today, the Ravens are the #2 seed in the playoffs with a first round bye. Right now, the Ravens are exactly where they want to be.