PRESTON: Ravens have become a complete team, and rest of NFL might not be able to keep up
That’s the big question for the Ravens now. In three of the past five weeks, they have beaten some of the best teams in the NFL, winning on the road in Seattle and then defeating the New England Patriots and Houston Texans.
The resume also includes wins against three of the league’s best quarterbacks in Tom Brady, Russell Wilson and the latest casualty, the Texans’ Deshaun “I’m no longer an MVP candidate” Watson.
So, who’s next?
These are no longer statement games. They have arrived. It’s one thing to win like they have in recent years, where one play here or there makes a difference, or to have to rally down the home stretch to make the playoffs.
That’s not the case anymore.
Mauling the opposition: The Ravens are mauling folks. They’re playing old-school football with a brand of physicality from the 1960s and ’70s. There’s a mix of the new-wave passing game with crossing routes, picks and run-pass options, but the Ravens just deliver good, old-fashioned smackdowns.
That’s the scary part.
They blew up New England by 17 points, beat Seattle by 14 and crushed the Texans by 34. The Ravens still have six games remaining in the regular season, but there aren’t many teams as physical or as complete.
Actually, there is only one, and that’s the New Orleans Saints, who entered Week 11 with the No. 14 ranked offense and No. 5 defense. San Francisco might have the best defense in the league, and the 49ers’ rushing game is excellent, but their offense is limited because of quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo.
At this point, those are the only teams that can match the Ravens’ physicality. It’s reminiscent of the Ravens’ 2000 defense, which beat other teams into submission on the way to a Super Bowl title.
Excelling on both sides of ball: Only this time, the Ravens play this style on both sides of the ball. Offensively, they pound you with the NFL’s top running game and the big-play ability of quarterback Lamar Jackson. On defense, they shut down the running game and make the opposition one-dimensional.
Then they attack with their creative blitzes, and by the fourth quarter, the Ravens just grind, and grind and grind teams down. When they have a lead, they unleash running backs Mark Ingram II and Gus Edwards to close out games.
It’s an old-school approach, but it still works. The Ravens have tried to apply the formula in recent years. They had the strong work ethic and the willful mindset, but unfortunately not the playmakers.
That’s changed this season with the addition of cornerback Marcus Peters, safety Earl Thomas III, Ingram, rookie receiver Marquise Brown and the development of young players such as cornerback Marlon Humphrey and tight end Mark Andrews.
Jackson in MVP race: And then there is Jackson. He is just from another world. As long as he steps on the field, the Ravens can beat any team, anywhere, with his arms, legs or both.
The possibility of him winning the league MVP is no longer hype. If Wilson is No. 1, then Jackson is 1A. Once Watson threw that ugly interception across the field to Ravens linebacker Josh Bynes on Sunday, he should have been eliminated.
But let’s skip the Jackson highlights and statistics and talk about some other impressive characteristics of this team.
Quiet storm: The Ravens don’t have star players with high-maintenance personalities.
That might come in a couple of years, but not at this moment. There aren’t any boisterous locker room presences like Ray Lewis, Ed Reed, Terrell Suggs or Deion Sanders on this roster. The closest you might get is Thomas, who will criticize himself, as well as his teammates, if the performance drops off.
The Ravens have the chemistry for a good, quiet storm.
Some weaknesses: Like most teams, they have their weaknesses. They still lack a good pass rush but can get by because most teams in the NFL have weak offensive lines. They don’t have a legitimate No. 1 receiver, and they might need one in the postseason.
But all you had to see was Ravens rookie receiver Miles Boykin block his guy 15 yards down the field on Edwards’ 63-yard touchdown run late in the fourth quarter Sunday.
Young and hungry: The Ravens are young, hungry and have brought into the team concept. They have playmakers, and most of all, they are physical, which makes for a great combination. Unless they get hit by a rash of injuries, they are as good and as complete as any team in the NFL.
And they’ve showed it during the past five weeks.