Club cooking because of how it's being prepared

The Baltimore Sun

The Ravens aren't much better physically than the teams they are playing against, but they are better prepared.

You've seen it from week to week. Whether it's preparation in practice or game-day strategy, the Ravens always seem a step ahead. No one could have predicted the Ravens would be 5-3, not with a rookie quarterback and a team that finished the 2007 season with a 5-11 record and serious morale problems.

But the Ravens' coaches have done a good job of moving players around, developing the younger ones and giving the team an edge heading into games.

"It all started in the offseason when the staff came together and they decided they were going to coach and use good fundamental principles," Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome said. "But they aren't just good coaches, but good teachers.

"They are very demanding, but I think the players have come to appreciate it," Newsome said "The players see the results, and the coaches have built their trust."

But let's not crown the Ravens AFC North champions yet, because they have yet to beat a team with a winning record. The coaches have made their share of mistakes in clock management and getting the right personnel onto the field in critical situations.

The Ravens will probably run into serious problems with any team that has a strong passing game, and the special teams have been inconsistent.

But, overall, the Ravens are winning because the coaching staff is getting everything it can out of this team. There aren't any flukes. And the Ravens aren't asking their defense to bail them out every week. The Ravens find ways to win because they play with passion and are coached to succeed.

It was evident in the Ravens' 37-27, come-from-behind victory against the Cleveland Browns on Sunday. Most of the season, offensive coordinator Cam Cameron has been conservative, but, around the league, everyone knows the Browns have young cornerbacks.

Cameron turned rookie quarterback Joe Flacco loose against the Browns. He made some strong throws across the middle and into tight windows that the Ravens never attempted before. The Ravens went downfield, which opened up the running game.

A week ago, the Ravens went with trick plays and the "Suggs Package" against Oakland because they thought the Raiders had a strong front seven and two excellent cornerbacks. But because they played a lot of press coverage, the Ravens thought they were vulnerable to deception. Cameron knew the Ravens had to manufacture some points. The Ravens were right. Another win.

On defense, coordinator Rex Ryan did a masterful job of hiding cornerback Chris McAlister early in the season when McAlister played despite a knee injury. He did it by having his outside linebackers play directly over the receivers to slow them down or having safety Ed Reed roll over the top to help McAlister.

The Miami Dolphins' Wildcat offense had been successful, but the Ravens shut it down by simply cutting off any cutback lanes.

"I think our coaches do a good job in preparations, and they give our players a very realistic look of what they are going to see on Sundays," Newsome said.

But it's not just about schemes. Look how the Ravens have handled Flacco. Eight games into the season, he no longer looks like a rookie. How about rookie running back Ray Rice? He looked fresh in training camp but lost in the first two games of the regular season. On Sunday, he was outstanding.

It's just not the rookies, either. Veterans such as Marques Douglas and Brandon McKinney have worked their way into the defensive line rotation. Cornerback Fabian Washington, a bust in Oakland last year, has played reasonably well for the Ravens. The Ravens have also used fullback Le'Ron McClain as a multiple weapon. And an offensive line that looked pathetic in training camp actually looks good.

And the list goes on and on ...

There is a theory that coaches don't win games, but players do. That's so wrong. It all goes hand in hand.

Remember, this is the same team with basically the same players from a year ago. The Ravens had tons of injuries last season and have had just as many this year, with the major ones again in the secondary.

But instead of whining, the Ravens have been innovators. Coach John Harbaugh has preached the team concept from Day One. Cameron has come up with some new wrinkles like the unbalanced line and some trick plays. Ryan has gone back to his old playbook of blitzing, and when that doesn't work, blitz some more.

Except one, the Ravens have been in every game. And it's basically because the players believe that their coaches will push the right buttons.

And for the most part, they have.

Listen to Mike Preston every Monday from 4 to 6 p.m. on Fox Sports (1370 AM).


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