The Baltimore Ravens appeared dead in the water after losing to the Pittsburgh Steelers at home back in week 9. They seemingly had lost their way.
The Ravens franchise has been synonymous with physicality and intimidation since their formation. However, early on this season they seemed anything but formidable.
Cerebral GM Ozzie Newsome and Head Coach John Harbaugh were sitting on top of the world after leading the Ravens to their second Super Bowl victory back in 2012. But what goes up must come down.
Joe Flacco had an incredible performance throughout that post season and suddenly had to be paid like a franchise QB. Flacco got his money, but has never been able to duplicate that playoff performance. While Flacco's overall play diminished, his strain on the Ravens salary cap sure didn't.
There are a multitude of reasons for Flacco's drop in production, ranging from Ray Rice's decline and suspension, to the Ravens inability to identify wide receiver talent in the draft. This ability, one of the Steelers greatest strengths, is a huge Ravens weakness. Similar to the Steelers struggles with drafting cornerback talent.
Flacco's failure to play up to his salary caused the Ravens to lose their identity. The Ravens were a ball control offense that focused on running the football, occasionally hitting the big play in the passing game, which allowed them to control the clock and dictate field position. When the offense started to sputter frequently and the Ravens were forced to play from behind on the scoreboard, Flacco was forced to throw the ball more frequently than desired, which didn't adhere to their game plan or roster skill sets.
Their once vaunted defense, while still respectable, no longer installed fear into the opposition. The days of Ray Lewis and Ed Reed were long gone and Terrell Suggs best days are in the rear view mirror. The Ravens mystic was gone.
So what did Harbaugh do with the Ravens season hanging in the balance and with a large percentage of fans and local media questioning his job security? He, along with Ozzie and the Ravens front office, created a new identity.
I must give credit where credit is due. Although it took the Ravens losing four out of five games at one point in the middle of the season to create the desperation needed to finally pull the trigger, the Ravens made the necessary switch from Flacco to rookie Lamar Jackson, and have achieved outstanding results.
They prepared for just such a day when they selected Jackson in the first round of the 2018 NFL draft, realizing the high probability that Joe Cool would continue to play more like Joe Drool again this year. So Flacco was placed on IR after the home loss to the Steelers with a hip injury, sustained when his butt was unceremoniously kicked out of the starting position, and the Jackson era had begun.
The new Ravens offense is a matchup nightmare for modern NFL defenses. Creativity play designs and formations, coupled with the most talented running QB since Michael Vick, have made the Ravens offense nearly unstoppable at times. Jackson runs the ball better than many running backs around the league, and he appears to be an underrated passer.
In a day and age where NFL offenses are striving for balance, the Ravens are now the most one dimensional offense in the league, but so far it hasn't really mattered because they do that one thing far better than anyone else in the NFL.
They have even ramped up the intensity on defense and returned to an ultra aggressive, in your face with constant pressure, attacking style.
The Ravens have lost but a single game since their QB switch and have taken full advantage of the Steelers late season swoon to takeover the division.
What once seemed impossible now seems probable in that the Ravens will win the AFC North, and knock the Steelers out of the playoffs in the process, if they win this Sunday at home against the Cleveland Browns.
All because the Ravens made the midseason changes necessary to turn their season around. That is what winners do, they find ways to win. Losers figure out new and creative ways to lose. Hopefully the Steelers still have a season to turn around after Sunday's games.