Throughout the early parts of the Ravens 2017 season, the need for consistency was constantly preached. The Ravens showed up as either one of two teams during the first half of the season, either one that dominated or one that was dominated.
However, in the last four games, head coach John Harbaugh and the Ravens have finally found consistency. It may not be the prettiest, but consistency, something that has been asked for all season, is present.
The consistent formula the Ravens have found is dominant defense, fantastic special teams and an abysmal offense. Sure, it’s come against backup quarterbacks and depleted rosters, but the Ravens have been winning games, and have looked good in doing so. Well, excluding the offense.
The return of Brandon Williams has done wonders for this defense. He may not have had the biggest impact in his first week back (at Minnesota), but the Ravens rush defense that struggled mightily without Williams is slowly climbing back up the league rankings. Baltimore rush defense now ranks 23rd in rushing yards allowed per game. The Ravens are second to only the Jaguars in fewest passing yards allowed, and Baltimore is home to the NFL’s seventh ranked total defense.
Sure, the Ravens defense, as was evident against the Texans, bends at times. However, it never breaks. Baltimore is allowing the second fewest points per game this year (17). In its last four games, the Ravens defense has allowed a total of 39 points. The Ravens have recorded three shutouts this season, including two in the last four games.
In addition to the defense’s great numbers, the Ravens special teams have been fantastic. Justin Tucker has made 23 of 26 field goals, two of those misses coming from 50+ yards. Tucker has made four field goals of 50+ yards this season, including a long of 57. Amazingly, this could be argued as a down year for the Ravens’ star kicker.
Sam Koch has had yet another excellent season punting the ball, something he’s had many opportunities to do given how poor the offense is, but he’s excelled in another aspect of the position: fake punts. The Ravens have converted two fake punts in their last three games, both on Koch passes. Koch’s pass to Chris Moore against the Texans gave the Ravens a spark, and it carried them over the hump and later to a victory.
The special teams unit, like the defense, has made many big plays for the Ravens of late, when the team needed them most.
What continues to not be present is the offense. The Ravens are second to last in total offense. The passing offense is dead last, though the rushing offense is actually 10th overall. The Ravens have struggled mightily on offense, especially in the passing game, and the numbers prove it. How else can a team with a top 10 rushing offense still be the second worst total offense? The offense has needed the special teams and the defense to step up and compensate for the lack of offense throughout this season.
While that may not sound like a formula for success, over the last four games, it’s worked. The Ravens have won three out of their last four games, and suddenly have become a team in pole position to make the postseason. Over this stretch, the team has gotten consistently great play from the defense and special teams and consistently bad play from the offense, but it’s been enough.
Are the Ravens going to get anywhere in the playoffs if the offense continues to falter? A month ago, maybe even over the bye week, I would have said no. I’ve said all season that the defense and special teams alone aren’t enough for the Ravens to win. Again, a lot of the recent success has come against sub-.500 teams, but you can’t do anything about who you play. The Ravens have shown that the defense and special teams, if they continue to keep their current consistency, may actually be enough.
Now, does that change the answer of whether the Ravens can get anywhere in the playoffs with no offense should they make it? Not for me, at least not yet. If the Ravens are able to keep this formula and beat a team like the Lions or Steelers (or both for that matter) that have prolific offenses, then there is something to be said for the offense being carried by the rest of the team. Until Baltimore show that it can beat a real team with the defense and special teams alone, expectations have to be kept in check. The Ravens have the schedule that will allow them to make the playoffs, and have found a consistent formula that will provide a means for the team to reach the postseason. The only question is: can the Ravens remain consistent?