It was just more than a month ago the Baltimore Ravens were mired in a three-game losing streak. They were fresh off a lopsided defeat at the hands of the Denver Broncos. Their offense was sputtering. And their defense, a unit decimated by injuries, had struggled at times against the run, looked to be vulnerable against the pass and was having trouble generating consistent pressure on opposing quarterbacks.
Just more than a month later, the Ravens are a team suddenly clicking on all cylinders. They're fresh off upset wins on the road over the top two seeded teams in the AFC and they're now just one victory away from the second Super Bowl title in franchise history.
Here are five primary reasons Baltimore finds itself in this position:
The offensive line: The reshuffled group - with Bryant McKinnie starting at left tackle, Michael Oher at right tackle and Kelechi Osemele at left guard - has yielded just four sacks in three postseason games - two of which were really coverage sacks - while paving the way for Ray Rice and Bernard Pierce to rush for a combined 402 yards and two touchdowns in those three games. McKinnie's been impressive, but it's really been the offensive line as a whole. Oher's excelled at right tackle - both in the running game as well as in protection - and the interior of the offensive line neutralized Patriots Pro Bowl defensive lineman Vince Wilfork this past weekend after after leading the way for Rice and Pierce to rush for a combined 171 yards against the Colts and for Rice to accumulate 131 yards against a stout Broncos front that allowed a league-low 3.6 yards per carry during the regular season.
Getting healthier on defense: The Ravens didn't allow a touchdown during their wild-card win over the Indianapolis Colts, held a potent Denver Broncos offense scoreless on six of their final seven possessions during their divisional round win over the Broncos and held the New England Patriots, the NFL's highest scoring offense during the regular season, scoreless during the second half of this past weekend's AFC championship game.
The change at offensive coordinator: The offense struggled in its first game under Jim Caldwell - the Ravens' December loss to the Denver Broncos - but has thrived ever since. Baltimore rested most of its offensive starters during its regular season finale, but it's posted averages of 452 yards per game and 31 points per game in the other four games since that December loss to the Broncos after averaging just 309 yards in its last nine games under Cam Cameron.
Joe Flacco: Flacco in particular has flourished since Jim Caldwell took over as offensive coordinator. He played only sparingly in the Ravens' regular season finale, but he's thrown 10 touchdowns without an interception in Baltimore's other four games since its December loss to the Broncos while throwing for an average of 291 yards in those four games. He threw for 331 yards and three scores in leading the Ravens to a dramatic double overtime divisional round win over the Broncos and threw for 223 and three touchdowns during the final three quarters of the team's AFC championship win over the Patriots while completing 20 of his final 30 pass attempts.
Coaching: Defensive coordinator Dean Pees has been consistently praised by players and coaches throughout the season, devising creative packages during the regular season to account for the rash of injuries on the defensive side of the ball and for now leading a unit that's excelled during the postseason as it's gotten healthier. The offense has thrived under Jim C aldwell. And it's hard to ever truly gauge the impact of a head coach, but John Harbaugh kept this team together despite an exorbitant amount of injuries, despite its December losing streak and despite struggles on both sides of the ball during the regular season. In addition, his brother, 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh, told CSN Bay Area last week that "I don't think there's any coach coaching in the game today that really has the full grasp of offense, defense, and special teams like my brother has."