By Ben Butanis
Three teams went into Week 8 undefeated: the Saints, Colts, and Broncos.
After the Ravens crushed the Broncos 30-7 on Sunday (and both the Colts and Saints barely edging their opponents), there remains only two.
Coming out of the bye week, the Ravens needed to prove they were a legitimate contender in the AFC North.
1. The Defense: After allowing two consecutive 100-yard rushers, there were questions about the toughness of the Ravens run defense -- and the ability of the secondary to stop the pass. Jarrett Johnson's big hit on Kyle Orton on the first play from scrimmage set the tone for the rest of the game. Ed Reed was flying around and hitting hard.
Fabian Washington and Dominique Foxworth have been criticized for their poor performances. Both played well and finished tackles, rendering Brandon Marshall (four catches, 24 yards) and Eddie Royal (two catches, 10 yards) ineffective.
Although Orton was only sacked twice, the blitz packages designed by Greg Mattison provided consistent pressure.
This game (hopefully) symbolizes the return of a quick, physical, and dominant Ravens defense we all remember.
2. Ray Rice: Rice continues to prove he's one of the team's most valuable players. His late touchdown definitively put the game out of reach. And with how well Joe Flacco is playing, the Ravens have a great young tandem to look forward to watching for years to come. You can't help but be impressed by this guy.
3. Special Teams: The coverage unit swarmed all over Eddie Royal and pinned the Broncos' offense back all day long. Ladarius Webb's 95-yard kick return to start the second half proves he is the most explosive kick returner the Ravens have. Steve Hauschka rebounded from his game-losing 43-yard kick against Minnesota with a 3-for-3 effort against the Broncos (from 43, 35, and 31 yards).
1. Penalties: The Ravens seem unable to stay away from penalties. This week, they amassed eight for 94 yards -- including two pass interference calls on the Broncos' only scoring drive. Derrick Mason's 15-yard unsportsmanlike conduct penalty -- while understandable -- is still unacceptable. The Ravens were rolling on all cylinders so the penalties didn't factor much into the outcome, but they can't do that against great teams.
Check back later in the week for key matchups in the upcoming Ravens/Bengals game.
Notes: Joe Flacco impressed Broncos head coach Josh McDaniels, who compared him to AFC North rival quarterback Ben Roethlesberger...Haloti Ngata left the game in the third quarter with a sprained ankle, but John Harbaugh is being quiet about the injury...it isn't expected to be serious...Baltimore Sun columnist Mike Preston believes the Ravens have re-discovered the winning formula...John Harbaugh explains benching Frank Walker against the Broncos...Steve Hauschka said missing the game-winning field goal against Minnesota better prepared him for the Broncos game...ESPN's James Walker states a good pass rush is essential for the Ravens...If you haven't seen it yet, check out Woody Paige's article about the Broncos loss...Former Ravens RB Jamal Lewis will retire at the end of the 2009 season...Apparently George Kokinis is responsible for the Browns being terrible...the Browns fired Kokinis after hiring him as their GM less than a year before.
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