It's been said that football can be a very simple game, and at the same time one of the most complex ever invented. You can look at it as run the ball effectively, throw the ball effectively, and prevent the other team from doing the same. If only it were that simple. The modern game of football has evolved into a chess match between offensive and defensive coordinators far more complicated then it was in the 60's,70's and 80's. The world of technology has found its way into NFL training complexes, and the quest for some type of advantage over your opponent has taken center stage. It's all in the numbers they say.
Well, there's a lot of truth to that, but it still comes down to the players on the field making plays, and trying ever so desperately to get that advantage that's called momentum. The coaches can teach all they want to, but the feeling of momentum is something that is totally reserved for the players. They feel it, and they feed off of it.
Witness the 4th quarter of the Ravens battle against the Chiefs. The Ravens offense knew they needed to score points against a Kansas City team that wasn't about to quit, and that's exactly what they did. They found that momentum and capitalized on it. The coaches may have called the plays, but it was the confidence of the players that allowed it all to come to fruition. It's team work, the coaches giving the players the knowledge they need, and the players capitalizing on that knowledge to make it all come to life.
So what do the Ravens need to do to return to the playoffs, and hopefully get to the big show? First off they need to learn to have a killer instinct. The defense has had one for years, but the offense is slow in coming around to this concept, as are the special teams. Neither has shown the ability to change a game on a regular basis, and until they do the hard work still falls to the Ravens mighty defense, a situation they know all too well. This has to change.
The offense has come a long way in just one season, but they need to learn how to finish off a team early on. They need to convert on virtually every opportunity they get in the red zone. Far too many times the Ravens offense reaches the red zone and comes up with 3 points, or no points at all. . It puts extra pressure on the defense and doesn't allow them to do what they do best, and that's wreak havoc. They need to make the other team change their game plan and then capitalize on it. They need to learn that killer instinct and go for the jugular when the situation presents itself. As Brian Billick once said, "If you go in there any other way, you're going to lose.
The special teams hasn't helped the offense or the defense very much from last season to this one. They haven't been running back kickoffs or punts effectively, nor have they created many turnovers. They've allowed far too many return yards on too many occasions, and commit far too many penalties. Was special teams not John Harbaugh's specialty? This is on par with Billick being an offensive mastermind, and failing to ever field a powerful offense, or Marvin Lewis never having had a solid defensive team since he became the head coach of the Cincinnati Bengals. It has to change, and change in a hurry, as in this coming Sunday.
The defense is not without need of improvement either. The front four just can't seem to generate any significant pass rush, and this doesn't look to have changed from last season. Blitzing linebackers and safeties on a regular basis will get you burned at some point in a game. (See the Steeler games of a year ago.) John Harbaugh decided to keep second round pick Paul Kruger inactive for the first game of the season, the reason being is that he doesn't play on any of the special teams packages. Well, with the way the special teams have been playing I'd just line him up and tell him to go get the guy with the ball, or block the guy trying to tackle your runner. I'm sure he wouldn't do any worse then the regular unit. Perhaps better. And, I believe a young Kruger could wreak more havoc on quarterbacks then an aging Trevor Pryce over the course of a season. Just who was that 45th man who was more important to make active anyway?
The Ravens are a good team, if not a great one. But in the NFL nothing stays the same for long. The success you had last season has already been dissected by the rest of the league, and they now have your number. The only thing you can do as an NFL team that wants to continue to have success is become even better then you were before. That's a tall order, but that's the reality of the game.
Can the Ravens become an ever better team then they were a year ago? I believe they can. Can they improve on special teams, which is the weakest link in their armor? They had better, or else John Harbaugh is going to come off looking like a fool. I don't think that's the way he wants himself to be thought of. The Ravens need to show improvement from a year ago, and I believe they can, and will. Every player needs to subscribe to one philosophy...
Play like a Raven!!!
That should be enough to get the job done!