The Ravens are in the midst of what might end up being their easiest three-game stretch this season and it feels like wins aren’t even enough at this point.
Baltimore’s last win by single digits was against Buffalo in December of last season. Since then, the Ravens have won games by 21, 16, 18, 32, 17 and 14 points, the last three of which have come this season.
But through the first quarter of the season, the Ravens know they’ve got more to offer — specifically on the offensive side of the ball.
Sunday against the Bengals will be the first look at Joe Burrow in the AFC North, it will give the Ravens another test in the secondary and it will put the pass rush on the platform during a game they should feast. In a much more real sense, though, it’s about stacking a win against likely the last-place team in the division before the year gets much, much more difficult.
“I’m getting better every week — not just myself, but my team,” quarterback Lamar Jackson said. “And no, I’m not happy, because those passes, I would like to connect with my guys on those passes. I feel like it’s a lot of yards and touchdowns we’ve been leaving on the field when we don’t connect. So, that’s’ probably why our passing is not where it’s supposed to be. But it’s still early in the season. We have 12 more regular season games, and I feel we’re good though.”
Through the first four weeks, the Ravens have been tough to get a read on. They blew out the Browns, who look more than competent through four games, in the season’s first week. But it took a while for the Ravens to get going against the 0-4 Texans a week later, and they were blown out by the Chiefs in Week 3.
Last week against Washington, there wasn’t any doubt the Ravens were the better team, or that they didn’t have the game under control. It just felt like they — even though they won by 14 points — could’ve been sharper.
“It’s only four games in,” wide receiver Marquise Brown said. “We’re still learning, we’re still building. Just get better as a whole unit. Like I said — when the opportunity presents itself, we’ve just got to hit. If we hit on a couple passes, people wouldn’t even be questioning some stuff. We’ll just take our chances and hit them when they come.”
Even with some missed opportunities against Washington and Houston, and certainly Kansas City, it’s important to remember the Ravens are still one of the league’s best and most talented teams through four games. And with the Bengals and Eagles upcoming, both games the Ravens are significantly favored in, it’s not so much about the opponent as it is playing their own brand of football. If the Ravens do that, there are not many teams in the league that have proven they can keep up.
If the Ravens are able to get to 5-1 by the bye week, as expected at this point, they’ll go through the gauntlet starting on Nov. 1 when they host the Steelers. In the following four weeks, they'll play the Colts and Patriots on the road, come home to face the Titans and then travel to Pittsburgh for Thanksgiving on a short week.
At the outset of Week 5, the four different opponents they’ll face in those five weeks have a combined record of 11-3.
That’s not to say the Ravens’ should look past Sunday’s matchup against the Bengals, who have a very talented offense that, if the Ravens aren’t careful, could pick them apart.
Burrow looks every part of the draft’s first overall selection, and with Joe Mixon, Tee Higgins, A.J. Green and Tyler Boyd as his weapons, the Ravens have their hands full.
“(He’s) a great quarterback,” linebacker Patrick Queen said. “He’s going to stay in the pocket and try to throw the ball. He’s going to take a hit and keep playing. I just look at it as, as many times as we can hit him, hit him, and try to get back to him and get some pressure on him, because he’s going to stay in there. He’s a great competitor like I said, and we just have to get after him.”
If the Ravens are able to slow down Burrow and get their offense to where they want it to be, they’ll be well-positioned to get to 4-1, and next week 5-1, as the playoff race is coming to Baltimore sooner than it might seem.