The Ravens have, after their disappointing loss to the Chiefs in Week 3, been through what could turn out to be their easiest stretch of the season. And the final leg is upcoming on Sunday.
Baltimore has beaten Washington and Cincinnati already, two teams with two combined wins through 10 total games, and have Philadelphia on deck — another team with just one win. Kickoff at Lincoln Financial Field is scheduled for 1 p.m.
If the Ravens are able to beat the one-win Eagles, a game they’re favored in by nearly 10 points, they’ll head to the bye week at 5-1 with a murderer’s row of games down the pipe.
But first, they’ve got to get by the Eagles. And while it might seem that the Ravens, with the eighth-ranked offense and top-ranked defense, have been strong to start the season, much of the conversation has revolved around where they can get better.
“Everyone is going to have something to say, and you have to get used to that being part of this business,” tight end Nick Boyle said. “It’s really hard for outsiders to come and say and critique what is wrong with your team when they’re not in the meetings, when they’re not at practice, when they’re not around you 24/7.”
Through the season’s first five weeks the Ravens have, by their own admission, not played up to the standard they did a year ago and the standard they’ve set for themselves.
The offense, which still boasts a talented rushing attack with a bevy of ball-carriers, has been just a tad off on deep passing plays, or long breakaway runs. The defense, for all its success, failed the biggest test of the season against the Chiefs.
The questions are still there for the 4-1 Ravens, but at the moment, it’s simple nitpicking.
“We know what we need to get better at, we know what we’re doing well, and we know what we need to improve on going forward,” Boyle continued. “And that’s the most important thing; is that we know what we need to do. And for other people, when they say, ‘This is not that,’ I don’t think that worries us at all. I don’t think we think about it at all. We just think about what we need to get better at.”
Baltimore hasn’t won a game, or even played in one, that has been decided by fewer than 10 points since Week 14 against Buffalo last year. No win, or loss, has been in doubt in the final few minutes.
The Ravens are hoping that streak continues Sunday, with a battered Eagles team on-deck. Philadelphia has seven players declared out, including wide receivers DeSean Jackson and Alshon Jeffery and tackle Lane Johnson.
In layman’s terms, if the Ravens take care of business on Sunday, they’ll win easily.
“We’re just trying to have a better record than we did last year, and we’re still trying to chase what we want, what we always talk about in this building,” quarterback Lamar Jackson said. “Let the outside noise be the outside noise, like I always say.”
The Eagles still have a talented crop of offensive players, including Zach Ertz and Miles Sanders. Their defense, buoyed by a monster eight sack performance against the Bengals, has still posted 18 sacks so far this season.
For as much as injuries have decimated the team, they’ve still got playmakers.
“They have just a bevy of guys who can pressure the quarterback,” coach John Harbaugh said. “They’re very aggressive. [Defensive coordinator] Coach [Jim] Schwartz does a great job with teaching those guys up front in terms of getting up field and attacking the offensive scheme. So, yes, we’re very aware of that. It’s a big challenge for us.”
Should the Ravens win, they’ll enter the bye week with two weeks to prepare for a massive tilt against the Steelers that will kick off a sprint to the finish in a season that already has the finish line closer than it appears.
The Ravens will face the Steelers, Colts, Patriots, Titans and Steelers in November, a five game swing against two teams with two losses and two unbeaten teams. Those games will not only loom large in playoff seeding, but divisional races as well.
December won’t offer any reprieve either, as the Ravens will start with a game against the still-talented Cowboys offense followed by a Monday Night Football game in Cleveland.
All of that is to say that Sunday’s game against the Eagles is a game the Ravens should handle their business in. In a lot of ways, it's a game in which they need to handle their business.
At this point in the season, for a team as talented as the Ravens, it’s about stacking wins for the eventual push for the playoffs.
“I think we’re still building, but I think it started last year,” cornerback Jimmy Smith said. “We had to add some pieces to what we started last year. We added ‘The Monstars’ (Calais Campbell and Derek Wolfe) in the front — we call them — to stop that run, because that was a problem for us last year. We added pieces in our linebacker room, as well. Building all that together, we kind of assumed that we could pick up from where we left off and try to get better.”