Since the Ravens won two games in the span of about four days, an odd theme has been bubbling up among some fans and media – that somehow those two wins deserve the proverbial asterisk next to them.
Ben Roethlisberger wasn’t 100%!
It was the Browns!
Sitting atop of the AFC North with a 5-4 record, don’t expect the Ravens to apologize for those wins. They’ll take winning ugly over losing pretty any day.
Sure there are plenty of things we would like to see John Harbaugh’s team do better, particularly on the offensive side of the football. Joe Flacco could stop throwing off his back foot, the pass protection could be a lot better, and obviously the penalties could be fewer.
But I digress.
On Sunday, however, the Ravens have a chance to silence those doubters. If they can notch a win on the road against the Dallas Cowboys, owners of the NFL’s best record, they will officially announce their reemergence as a team to be reckoned with in December and January.
The game in Arlington will feature some key match ups, but none better than the Ravens’ number one ranked run defense against the Cowboys’ top-ranked rush offense.
“They have three first-round picks,” said Harbaugh about the key to the Dallas rushing attack, the offensive line. “I think [they are] five really good players, very well coached.
“I think they know who they want to be in terms of the type of offense they want to be, and they’re built, in a lot of ways, around that offensive line. It’s an excellent group. They have the No. 1 rushing offense in the NFL for a reason, and a lot of that reason is the offensive line.
“But, the running back [Ezekiel Elliott] is not too bad either.”
Elliot is a different kind of beast. He is arguably the best back the Ravens have faced thus far, in a group of ball carriers that includes Steelers RB Le’Veon Bell (whom the Ravens limited to just 32 yards on 14 carries).
The Ravens have been dominant against the run, and it has started up front. Brandon Williams and Michael Pierce have changed the way opposing coaches try to attack in their run game and are a major reason the defense has permitted just 71.3 ground yards per contest.
“Yes, we have our beliefs and our philosophy,” Harbaugh stated when asked why the Ravens have historically been so successful against opposing rushers. “Certainly, the Ravens, since 1996, have chased that. I think that is something that Ozzie [Newsome] certainly believes in, too.
“Ozzie and I have had many conversations about how we want to play and who we want to be and how to get there. That is something that has been here for quite a while. I think Ozzie has always drafted toward big, physical guys up front. We have always had them, and we have them now. We have had our lulls at times, where we have not defended the run, but we have always wanted to get back and defend the run well.
“We do not want to have that problem. But you know what? I’m telling you what – that article – I’m really not interested in being quoted in the article about how good the run defense is, because we have a game to play next week, and we are playing against a really good run offense. After that game, it will be another one. Until the season is over and until you can look at the stats looking back on the season, to me, you just have to keep on improving.
“Believe me, we can get better at our run defense. As well as they are playing, it can be even better, and that is what we are chasing.”
It won’t be easy on Sunday. Containing the Cowboys offense – and especially their ground game – is sure to be much easier said than done.
If the Ravens can force Jason Garrett”s offense to play their kind of football, the game will no doubt be closer than many expect.
On the other hand, if Dallas can move the ball at will with Elliott the way they’ve done all season, it could be a long afternoon for the purple & black and their fans.
Strength vs. strength.
As Ray used to say, buckle up your chinstraps.
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