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Mike Preston

Mike Preston: The streaking Ravens have made progress. How much is yet to be determined. | COMMENTARY

It’s hard to give a true evaluation of the Ravens.

After Sunday’s 27-13 win against the New York Giants, the Ravens have won four straight and can clinch a playoff berth with a victory in Cincinnati against the Bengals next Sunday.

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During this streak, the Ravens have collected a lot of style points against the Dallas Cowboys, Cleveland Browns, Jacksonville Jaguars and the Giants, and there are some who say that the Ravens are back to last year’s form when they finished the regular season with a 14-2 record.

That’s what scares me.

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They have to be better than last year, when they were eliminated from the playoffs in a divisional-round loss to the Tennessee Titans. Unfortunately, some of the same questions from a year ago are still major topics of discussion.

Can quarterback Lamar Jackson win a game under pressure in the postseason? Can he make the throws outside the numbers and win a game with his arm if needed? Will the Ravens be successful in matching up with a group of speedy receivers such as those in Kansas City? How much of a pass rush can this team manufacture without blitzing?

After four straight wins, some analysts are proclaiming the Ravens as the hottest team in the NFL, and that if they make the playoffs, no team would want to play them. Well, that’s never the case in the NFL. This is a league that has some of the biggest egos in the world and thrives on intimidation and competition.

Nobody fears anyone in this league. In fact, most of the players and coaches welcome the challenge.

There are a lot of things to like about how the Ravens are playing now compared with earlier in the season. Jackson is back to being himself, someone who can control the pace of a game with his legs more than his arm. He isn’t as worried about going through his progressions and making proper reads, but instead more instinctive and relying on improvisation.

Besides Jackson, the Ravens’ running game has evolved into a two-headed monster with running backs J.K. Dobbins and Gus Edwards, and the offensive line is in sync after playing several consecutive games together. On defense, the line appears to have tackle Brandon Williams and end Calais Campbell back healthy again, and the Ravens have used the past two games to rest injured cornerbacks Marcus Peters and Jimmy Smith.

Also, the move to have Devin Duvernay returns punts as well as kickoffs was long overdue because the rookie has breakaway ability and that could become a major factor in a close playoff game.

Overall, the Ravens are still in contention despite their own self-inflicted violations of the league’s COVID-19 protocols and several major injuries to top players.

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“To be honest, I don’t want to start overthinking,” Jackson said about building momentum. “I just want to keep the laser-sharp focus we have going right now and just focus on the task at hand, like I said before. We don’t want to [say,] ‘Oh yes, we’re doing this right. We’re doing this wrong.’ Just keep building [and] just keep stacking wins, because that’s what’s important for us right now — winning. So, that’s all we have to keep doing.”

The league deserves to be commended for having a season and playing through the virus. Considering the teams and players involved, there were few major bumps.

Yet at the same time, a lot of the play has been poor, especially the tackling and coverage in the secondary. Fortunately, the Ravens played some of the league’s worst teams at the end of the season. Dallas and Jacksonville have two of the worst defenses in the NFL; only Detroit’s might be worse.

The hope is that the Ravens have developed some confidence during this stretch, and that they won’t fall apart and start yelling at each other and the coaches, as they have in several other tight games this season. Hopefully, offensive coordinator Greg Roman won’t stray far away from running the ball and coach John Harbaugh brings his “A” game as far as clock management in possible postseason games.

On Sunday, the Ravens had 249 rushing yards and 183 passing yards as Jackson finished with a passer rating of 111.5. The Ravens converted on eight of 11 third-down situations. On defense, they held New York to 269 yards of total offense and collected six sacks.

“Yes. It’s all about staying patient — not getting too up or too down. We know — first of all — the type of players we have,” tight end Mark Andrews said. “We’ve got great players, great coaches and a mindset that we want to win. And all those combined, it’s going to equal good things. So, we just have to stay patient and know our time is coming, and it is coming. And we’re not there yet; we’re going to continue to get there. This is playoff time for us. So, we know what’s at stake.”

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That’s all that counts right now. After Sunday, their chances of getting into the postseason improved dramatically.

Once there, that will be the final barometer.


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