King: A Better Baltimore?

The Baltimore Ravens look like they might be pointed to the 2010 Super Bowl. Steve King reports on a Ravens head coach interested mostly in downplaying such speculation...

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Here's a scary thought not just for the Browns, or the rest of the North Division, or even just the AFC as a whole.

No, this is a scary thought for the NFL overall.

It is that the Baltimore Ravens, who meet the Browns on Sunday at M&T Bank Stadium, might be better – maybe much better – than the team that went all the way to the AFC Championship Game last year before losing to the eventual Super Bowl champion Pittsburgh Steelers.

The Ravens are 2-0 and showed just how good they are – just how good they've become – by going to the West Coast and laying a 31-26 loss on the San Diego Chargers, the team picked by many to be the one that will represent the AFC in the Super Bowl.

So, is this Ravens team truly better than the one last year?

As any good coach would do – and he is proving to be a pretty good head coach – the Ravens' John Harbaugh, in a conference call with the Cleveland media on Wednesday, smashed through that question like his future Pro Football Hall of Fame inside linebacker, Ray Lewis, smashes through blockers to get to the man holding the ball.

"The goal is always to be a better team than you were before," he said. "It's like that old Midwest football axiom that if you're not getting better, you're getting worse. We're working hard to make that happen. It's not complicated."

No, it isn't, not when you take one of the league's toughest and most physical defenses year in and year out, add Joe Flacco, one of the best young quarterbacks in the game who continues to get better every game, and a coaching staff that, with Flacco's development, now feels comfortable being as aggressive offensively as they've been defensively for the last decade, and you have a team that already looks much, much better than the Ravens club that won the Super Bowl following the 2000 season.

That team did it with defense and no offense. The Ravens went five weeks that year without scoring a touchdown.

This team can strangle a foe with touchdowns as well as takedowns.

"We have great players and great coaches," Harbaugh said. "(General manager) Ozzie Newsome does such a great job of putting a team together. And now, in our second year here as a coaching staff with these players, we have a clearer vision of what we want to be."

What the Ravens want to be are world champions, and to get there, they'll need for Lewis to keep sacking Father Time and turning in great performances, like the one he had against the Chargers. For as much as everyone wants to talk about the much-improved offense and how it makes them such a more well-rounded team and a better team, the Ravens are still led by Lewis, now in his 14th season.

"Most of the great middle or inside linebackers in the history of the game have played only nine or 10 years," said Harbaugh, a native of Perrysburg, Ohio who played at Miami of Ohio and was a long-time assistant at the University of Cincinnati. "But from having watched film of the season before I got here, Ray is a better player than he was two years ago. He's managed to defy time a little bit."

What would the Ravens do – what would they be – without Lewis?

"I try not to think about that," Harbaugh said.

It's a scary thought, just what opponents are having when they think about contending with the new-look Baltimore Ravens.


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