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The Only Rankings That Matter

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Of course most people are just going to say the answer to the title of this story is wins and losses. Of course, that might be the only thing that truly matters but when we're talking about rankings, I'm looking at stats that go into a team's rankings in the individual offensive and defensive categories. Most teams, including the Ravens, take pride in their high rankings in a particular category. For the most part, these categories are a sign of a team's strength, but they can also be a result of the type of team that they are.

On one hand, let's take our Baltimore Ravens. Teams try as they may, but they just cannot run on this defense. The streak of not allowing a 100 yard rusher has reached 38 games, and although that streak has been challenged and might have been snapped a couple of times last season, it wasn't and is still intact. Now teams just don't try as much as therefore the ranking is always among the top couple in the league.

Then there's the complete opposite.

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Go back to the 1999 St. Louis Rams, who came out of nowhere to win the Super Bowl in January of 2000 behind a former Arena Football League QB that no one at that time had even heard of. Kurt Warner was a passing wizard and with his great receivers in Torry Holt, Isaac Bruce and RB Marshall Faulk, scoring almost at will through the air behind a pass-first offense, The Rams opened the season by beating the Ravens and never looked back, winning the Super Bowl over the Tennessee Titans. Their passing game was so prolific and they jumped out to early leads in most of their games. Therefore, teams had to abandon the run and throw the ball in their fruitless attempts to play catch up, which continually failed to happen. Without their opponents focusing on the running games, the St. Louis Rams ranked #1 against the rush in 1999.

Who really knows how good the '99 Rams were against the run? We do know that teams do indeed try to dent the run defense of the Ravens but also find it difficult to pass against the team as well. The Ravens passing attack in past years, including 2008, has ranked near the bottom of the league. While that may have been the case of just having poor personnel in that area of the game, it wasn't the case in 2008. The Ravens had a rookie QB and did not want to put this young kid under the pressure of putting the outcome of the games on his shoulders. Their running game was the best in the NFL so why fight the battle in the air when you could win it on the ground? So run the ball they did and with such success, they only needed to pass it enough to keep the defense honest, which still didn't matter as their ground game usually overwhelmed their opponents regardless of how many men the defense stacked in the box. The few times they needed to pass ended up either looking decent against the weaker teams and pretty poor against the stronger ones, due to the lack of experience of the QB among other things.

But head coach John Harbaugh and offensive coordinator Cam Cameron weren't concerned with statistics, they were just concerned with getting the wins. However, it you want to get the wins, you need to score more points than the opposition. Hence, the only rankings that truly matter are only points scored and points allowed. Offensively, if you put points on the board, which the Ravens are doing at a franchise-record pace, you put yourself in a good position to win every game, even if your defense doesn't always do their jobs (see San Diego game). At the same time, if your defense, regardless of how they're doing against either the run or the past, limits the points of the opponents, then the pressure is off the offense to have to win a shootout every week (see Cleveland game).

Having a high scoring offense and a point-stingy defense is a great combination, usually a rare one, but one that should go deep into the playoffs on a Super Bowl run. The Baltimore Ravens seem to have both this season. Sunday's game at New England versus a tough Patriots team should go a long way in determining if this is a team with that rare combination.