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Mike Preston: Despite injuries and tough schedule, Ravens are positioned well nearing quarter mark of season | COMMENTARY

When putting everything in perspective, the Ravens are in great position with a 3-1 record nearing the first-quarter mark of the 17-game regular season.

They would prefer to be unbeaten and not sharing the AFC North lead with the Cleveland Browns and Cincinnati Bengals, but the Ravens played the first four games without receiver Rashod Bateman (groin), running backs J.K. Dobbins (knee) and Gus Edwards (knee), cornerback Marcus Peters (knee) and guard Tyre Phillips (knee). Pro Bowl left tackle Ronnie Stanley has also missed the past three games after aggravating the ankle he had surgically repaired in November.

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Somehow, the Ravens are still in a three-way tie for the division lead, having beaten the Kansas City Chiefs, Detroit Lions and Denver Broncos.

“It’s kind of hard to explain, I was talking to guys about it,” Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. “To be 3-1 and playing three games on the road in some really tough environments — very challenging environments — is quite an accomplishment. Now we have got to come home and take care of business. Add on the adversity that we have faced, that’s just part of it, but that adversity is still there. We still have got to keep working through that and hopefully, we’ll get some guys back as we go. Those are our guys — that’s who they are and it’s what makes you love them.”

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The win-loss record is impressive considering the Ravens have traveled to the opposite coast twice. The Ravens’ win against Kansas City was one of the biggest in team history, but the triumph over the Broncos was the most complete of this season.

Now the Ravens play three straight home games against the Indianapolis Colts, Los Angeles Chargers and the Bengals before their Week 8 bye, and then they host the Minnesota Vikings on Nov. 7. This is the time to stack a few more wins and separate from the rest of the division.

“We just need to continue to keep our heads down and work,” outside linebacker Tyus Bowser said. “We’ve been through a lot with guys going down, but we have a lot of resilient guys that worked hard to put themselves on this team and we believe in those guys. Whoever is up next, those guys are going to come out there and play. We believe in them. We’re going to continue to execute regardless. Our mindset is keeping our heads down, continuing to work. It’s great to come out of this [away] stretch with a win and we have the next few games at home. We just want to keep it rolling. That’s our mindset.”

Ravens defensive end Calais Campbell agreed.

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“It’s always been next-man-up, and this team, our front office did a great job putting together a very talented team, and we just believe in each other,” Campbell said. “We fight for each other, and we know that everybody in this locker room is capable of helping us win football games. We would love to be 4-0, but 3-1 is not a bad spot for where we’re at right now. I like where we’re at and where we’re going.”

Part of the optimism stems from the Ravens dominating the previously unbeaten Broncos in every phase of the game. The key was balance. The Ravens had 406 yards of total offense and held Denver to 254. It was a strong effort by a defense that entered the game ranked 24th in yards allowed, having surrendered 314.7 passing yards per game. The Ravens collected five sacks against a Broncos offensive line that was depleted by injuries.

Even more impressive was that Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson delivered passes deep and outside the numbers, racking up more than 300 yards for only the second time during his four-year career. Jackson completed passes to five receivers and rushed for 28 yards on seven carries. It was a glimpse of the vision the Ravens had four years ago when they selected Jackson in the first round and then followed up with draft picks like Bateman, Dobbins, receivers Devin Duvernay, Marquise Brown and James Proche II and tight end Mark Andrews.

The Ravens wanted to complement their top-ranked running game with an upgraded passing game that finished last in the league last season. They are on course.

“It was great. It was fantastic,” Proche said of the passing game against Denver. “It was a collective [effort], just always doing our job and you love to see that because later down the road they’ve got to respect us now. All the talk on Twitter and all that nonsense, they’ve got to respect us now. It’s going to help the run game, and the defense is going to help everything. Everybody is doing their job.”

The Ravens still need to improve. Their linebackers have no physical presence in the middle of the field, and the team lacks a top pass rusher on the outside. The entire defensive unit needs to tackle better. The offensive line has suffered several injuries, and the Ravens have already shuffled tackles. The running game lacks a No. 1 back, but the Ravens can survive because Jackson is the best runner on the team.

Regardless, there is time to improve, even though the Bengals and Chargers have been playing well and Minnesota has been unpredictable.

“I just want to take it one day at a time, keep getting better, keep doing our job, keep showing up, keep making tough catches, keep bouncing back,” Proche said. “We’ve got a long season, man. First [quarter] is over, we’ve just got to keep going.”

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