In last week’s post, I took a look at some tie-breaking scenarios in the race for the AFC North division title. With the division still locked up tight and all four teams vying for the playoffs, I’ve put together my list of things that must happen over the next five weeks for the Ravens to make the Playoffs, whether via the AFC North division crown or one of the AFC Wildcard spots.
1. Big Plays From The Secondary
Most of my posts this season have touched on the secondary in some way, shape, or form with much of it having a negative slant. While most of that negativity has been warranted, this is a post focusing on positivity. With that said, the secondary must keep coming up with big plays.
In the wins against both the Saints and Titans, the Ravens have seen some improved play from members of their secondary, especially with regard to turnovers, with an interception in each game. While two interceptions doesn’t signal a change of direction toward dominance, it certainly is a trend in the right direction. More turnovers and game-changing plays, like Will Hill‘s pick-six against New Orleans, would go a long way toward counteracting any big plays given up in the other direction.
2. Steady Pressure From The Front Seven
This goes hand-in-hand with my first point. The best way to hide a secondary’s poor play and create turnovers is to get tons of pressure from the front seven of your defense. The Ravens have done a good job of that this year, especially pass rush specialist Elvis Dumervil.
Dumervil has been dominating the opposition this season with 12.5 sacks and is making a run at the single-season franchise record of 15 set by Peter Boulware in 2001. Dumervil’s dominance has had a cascading effect for other Ravens like Terrell Suggs, Pernell McPhee, Haloti Ngata, and C.J. Mosley with each getting more and more chances at getting to the quarterback. Pressure by Suggs and others set up the aforementioned pick-six by Will Hill against the Saints by collapsing the pocket and forcing a mistake by Drew Brees.
Much more of this will be needed for the Ravens to make a successful run to the playoffs and beyond.
3. Dominance By The O-Line
Before mid-season injuries to Eugene Monroe and Kelechi Osemele, the Ravens’ offensive line was in the midst of an impressive turnaround from the disappointing depths this unit sank to in 2013. With both Monroe and Osemele now on the mend, the Baltimore offensive line will need to be counted on to dominate in both the running and passing game.
We’re starting to see glimpses of this unit rounding back into form with only one sack allowed versus the Saints and creating enough running room for Justin Forsett to rack up a career-high 182 rushing yards and two touchdowns. For this offense to click, the o-line will need to make performances like this a regular occurrence.
4. Consistency From Joe Flacco
While not lighting the world on fire, Joe Flacco is in line for one of his best seasons as a pro. Currently, Flacco is on pace to throw for over 4,000 yards and 26 touchdowns. A season ending stat line with those numbers would be great, but all I’m looking for is consistency.
Throughout his career, Flacco has been incredibly inconsistent from week to week. Just this season, Flacco has thrown for over 300 yards four times and under 250 yards six times with three of those performances under 200 yards. He can look like a superstar on one throw and then make you wonder what the heck he was seeing on his very next pass attempt.
Flacco has proven that he can lead a team to a Super Bowl title when he gets on a roll and he certainly seems to play his best late in the year. With an offensive line that (when healthy) could be one of the overall best this team has had in years, Flacco may finally see clean pockets and have time to throw the football. This team will only go as far as Flacco can take them, so he will need to take advantage of every opportunity that comes his way.
When looking at the win against the Saints, one name stood out for me while deciding which player or players to give the save to: Will Hill. While I was tempted to split the save again with Elvis Dumervil (2 more sacks) or even Terrell Suggs, Hill’s play was too important not to single out. Hill did about as good of a job as a DB can do when matched up against Saints tight end Jimmy Graham. Graham finished with 47 yards receiving and two touchdowns and, despite the two scores, was largely a non-factor for the Saints. Throw in Hill’s 44-yard interception return for a touchdown late in the third quarter and there really wasn’t any question who should be awarded the save for this win.
* No save given for week 6 win at Tampa