Allegany Communications Sports
Meanwhile, in 2 Hours from Everywhere football, the Baltimore Ravens are suddenly 7-2, winners of four straight and in first place of the AFC North Division. The Pittsburgh Steelers, the last team the Ravens lost to are in second place at 5-3, while in the NFC East, the Washington Commanders are in third place at 4-5, four games behind the first-place Philadelphia Eagles.
The Ravens have been a hard team to figure, though right now they’re playing as well as anybody is in the NFL. They have beaten, most times throttled, the best teams they have played — Cincinnati, Cleveland, Detroit and now Seattle. They have been anything but crisp in wins against so-so teams such as Houston, Tennessee and Arizona, and they have given away games to Indianapolis and to Pittsburgh, teams that the eye test tells us are not very good.
Until, that is, you remember that Pittsburgh is Pittsburgh.
Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson has played extremely well, though not spectacularly, perhaps because Todd Monken’s new offense hasn’t called for him to be spectacular — yet.
Jackson has the highest completion percentage in the league, but he hasn’t thrown that many touchdown passes, even though all three wide receivers and the tight ends have been very effective in the offense.
The running game, behind the offensive line and versatile fullback Patrick Ricard, has been very good with Gus Edwards between the tackles and Justice Hill on third downs; and on Sunday it was given a huge boost by first-year burner Keaton Mitchell, who burst for 138 yards on just nine carries.
What has set the Ravens apart, though, is perhaps the league’s best defense, which held Seattle to 151 yards of offense, including 87 in the first half and 50 on one pass. Baltimore also leads the league in sacks with a league-high 11 players in with at least one sack, and over their four-game win streak, the Ravens have outscored opponents 130-49.
Linebacker Roquan Smith and safety Kyle Hamilton have made such a difference in this defense. They both make everybody better.
The Ravens currently have everything clicking and have through a difficult stretch of schedule, with an even more difficult stretch coming beginning this week with the Cleveland Browns, who will be itching to make amends for their 28-3 loss to Baltimore last month in Cleveland.
The good news is the Ravens’ three remaining AFC North games will be played in Baltimore. Beginning Sunday against the Browns, though, it will be interesting to see if the team’s recent trend of laying an egg just when you think it’s ready to take off continues; or if the Ravens will, in fact, actually take off.
The Steelers continue to be near the bottom of the league in nearly every offensive category, including points per game — 16.6, which is third to last — and have been outscored and outgained in every contest.
Watching the Steelers with the ball is a challenge because not much happens; there doesn’t seem to be much to it, which is why every man, woman and child in Pittsburgh not named Tomlin, Canada or Matt is calling for the head of offensive coordinator Matt Canada. Yet the Steelers are 5-3 and right in the mix once more because they have a top-10 defense, though they do give up more yards than we’re accustomed to seeing a Steelers defense give up.
You wouldn’t think the Steelers would be such a bore to watch on offense given many of the players they have, but it’s been an ongoing struggle for them to score points. The good news is, led by the front eight of the defense, the Steelers will grind a team into a fine powder, wait around, and the next thing we know they’re leading by a touchdown or less entering the final minute.
These are not your father’s Steelers. In fact, particularly in early stages of most games, it appears nobody claims them as being anybody’s Steelers. Until the game is over, that is, and the Steelers have won another one and all is right with Pittsburgh on a late fall Sunday afternoon.
As for those Washington Commanders, just when you think the entire on-field product is ready to call it a season, they go and do something like win another game, though the wins this season have yet to be as plentiful as was anticipated amidst the new-ownership preseason enthusiasm that gripped the fanbase.
That enthusiasm should remain because there is new ownership and it has already shown it’s ready to create a new beginning for this franchise, having traded the team’s two top pass rushers in Montez Sweat and Chase Young for a second-round and a third-round draft pick, which is a very good get for a trade-deadline deal.
That might not bode well for head coach Ron Rivera’s future with the team, but what does bode well for the Commanders is their quarterback, Sam Howell, who really does seem to be The Guy the Washington franchise has needed to build around for more years than Washington fans care to remember.
Washington is going to be a team worth watching, not only through this season, but through the offseason and the coming seasons. These are new days and it is a new time. Something very good is going to happen here.
Mike Burke writes about sports and other stuff for Allegany Communications. He began covering sports for the Prince George’s Sentinel in 1981 and joined the Cumberland Times-News sports staff in 1984, serving as sports editor for over 30 years. Contact him at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @MikeBurkeMDT