The Ravens' win against the Oakland Raiders on Sunday could serve as a taking-off point.
But it's not just about wins and losses. The Ravens (3-2) are expected to beat the Chicago Bears (1-4) this weekend at M&T Bank Stadium, but showing improvement is almost as important as winning.
It's called continuity. The good teams develop consistency as the season progresses, and the Ravens need to show some.
They were solid in the first two games in wins against the Cincinnati Bengals and Cleveland Browns. But they were lethargic and humiliated in back-to-back losses to the Jacksonville Jaguars and Pittsburgh Steelers. They rebounded with a strong effort against the Raiders, but now the key question is whether they can do it again.
Granted, Oakland rolls over whenever it doesn't have quarterback Derek Carr, who missed Sunday's game with a back injury. The Raiders were also without two of their top three cornerbacks as the Ravens gained 365 total yards of offense.
One former Raven had a career day, while others struggled in Week 5 of the NFL season.
By The Baltimore Sun
Oct 10, 2017 | 9:00 AM
Chicago averages 15.6 points a game, No. 30 in the NFL, and it ranks 28th in passing offense. The Bears are a little better on defense but are still allowing an average of 24.8 points. So, if the Ravens lose, that wouldn't be a good sign.
If they win, they need to get some style points. They don't have to win by a wide margin, do have to show some continuity from Sunday's victory.
In that game, quarterback Joe Flacco looked completely comfortable for the first time all season. He wasn't stiff and had good footwork, even taking a step to the right or left to avoid pressure the way Tom Brady or Peyton Manning do.
Flacco completed two deep passes to wide receiver Mike Wallace, but it was more impressive watching him connect on timing patterns such as hitches, slant-ins and out routes to wideouts Jeremy Maclin and Breshad Perriman.
After missing all of training camp and looking out of sync with his receivers in the first four games, Flacco and the offense seemed to find a rhythm. The Ravens want to have the identity of a running team, but it's more important to have a rounded offense.
Now, can they do it again against the Bears?
The challenge is out there for center Ryan Jensen and Howard as well. Both have struggled at times this year but dominated against Oakland. For the Ravens to get into the postseason, both have to play well every week, not just one in five.
On defense the Ravens had a lot of young players in the rotation on the line. Two weeks ago, the inexperience showed, but by the second quarter last week Willie Henry and Michael Pierce were standing out, and the Ravens were working in rookies Chris Wormley and Patrick Ricard. They might need to get rookie linebackers Tyus Bowser and Tim Williams more playing time.
"Definitely a game for the young guys to learn the experience and resiliency," linebacker C.J. Mosley said. "We just have to keep getting better and better."
Defensive coordinator Dean Pees might have to stay with the attacking theme this week. He came up with several new pressure packages against the Raiders, and maybe that's because the Ravens were playing against quarterback EJ Manuel.
But the Ravens didn't get much pressure on Pittsburgh quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. They didn't win enough one-on-one battles, so Pees had to be more creative.
It will be interesting to see what he dials up against Trubisky. His game plan probably won't change much, especially with his cornerbacks playing so well.
Overall, the Ravens played their best game of the season last week. They had only one penalty and didn't allow any sacks. They had a seven-minute advantage in time of possession while holding Oakland to 245 yards of total offense.
On Sunday, they need to prove it wasn't an aberration but the start of consistent play. It's the perfect time with the Bears coming to town.