Harbaugh confident Ravens will 'catch fire'

OWINGS MILLS - The Ravens' situation isn't all that dissimilar than it was at this same time last year.
The record is different, yes. There are different players. And some of the issues facing Baltimore are different. But before the Ravens went on the run they did at the end of the season last year, they were a team with glaring flaws through seven games and didn't begin to look like a viable Super Bowl contender until late in December.
But they got hot late and went on to win the Super Bowl, and Baltimore's players and coaches feel like this year's team has the talent and potential to make a similar run.
"I have really high hopes for this team," Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. "I've told the players that. I really believe this team is going to catch fire."
"At the end of the day, it doesn't matter how people view you," Baltimore wide receiver Torrey Smith said. "It's on us to go out there and play and prove it."
But today's game in Cleveland against the Browns is a big one for the Ravens.
In spite of all the problems it has dealt with thus far, Baltimore, even at just 3-4, is just two games back of the Bengals for first place in the AFC North.
The Ravens play Cincinnati next week. So with a win versus Cleveland today and then a win next week, Baltimore would put itself just a half-game back of first place.
But even aside from anything record-wise, the Ravens simply need to play better in all three phases - on offense, on defense and on special teams.
However, the offense in particular did make progress against the Steelers two weeks ago.
Baltimore continues to have problems running the ball. It is averaging a league-low 2.8 yards per carry and now has to replace starting left guard Kelechi Osemele.
But the pass protection was better versus Pittsburgh, which had just one sack.
Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco had a solid game, completing 24 of his 34 pass attempts for 215 yards and a touchdown.
And behind Flacco and the passing game, Baltimore scored on four of its seven offensive possessions.
"I'm one of those that have always believed in our guys, what they can do and what they can get done," Ravens offensive coordinator Jim Caldwell said. "[They] work so hard. It's impossible to work as hard and practice as well and not show it on the field at some point.
"It's impossible. It cannot happen. That kind of work and that kind of commitment, I think at some point in time, is going to pay off."
The offense will be tested against the Browns, though.
Cleveland is ranked seventh in the NFL in total defense, sixth in scoring defense and is allowing just 3.7 yards per carry, which is sixth-fewest in the league. It is also ranked third in sacks.
The Browns held Baltimore to just 14 points in Week 2, although the Ravens did win the game 14-6.
"They do a great job," Caldwell said. "They're physical group up front, and they're big. [Defensive tackle] Phil Taylor does a great job of not only just being a great run stopper, but this guy can rush the passer and push the pocket. ...
"The outside linebacking corps is very, very good - [Paul] Kruger and [Jabaal] Sheard. Their inside linebacking corps is tremendous. All around, [T.J.] Ward from the safety position - in terms of the run game - is having a tremendous year."
But it will also be interesting to see how Baltimore's defense does against Cleveland's offense.
The Browns are down to their third option at quarterback in Jason Campbell and have a 32-year old Willis McGahee at running back, but they did have some success against a highly ranked Chiefs defense last week.
Campbell threw for 293 yards and two touchdowns, and Cleveland's offensive line held the league's top pass rush to just one sack.
The Ravens, meanwhile, have struggled defensively of late.
Baltimore's pass rush is ranked among the best in the league, but the Ravens have had trouble stopping the run recently and have also had problems against the pass.
But Baltimore does have talent both offensively and defensively.
There's Flacco. There's Ray Rice and Bernard Pierce, who Pierce said this week are as collectively healthy as they have been since Rice got hurt in Week 2. There are now several viable options for Flacco in the passing game. And while the defense has struggled of late, the team still feels it can be a high level unit.
Can the Ravens catch fire and go on another late season run? They think they can. But plain and simple, there isn't much margin for error at just 3-4.
"We just need to stack wins," Harbaugh said. "And we need to get one."