Ravens' offense hitting stride

OWINGS MILLS -- The Baltimore Ravens' suddenly prolific offense is about to be truly tested during encounters with five of the top NFL defenses over the next six games.

Thriving at scoring like no one else over the past month with a league-high 33.5 scoring average during that span, the Ravens will begin testing their newly-discovered efficiency Sunday against the defending Super Bowl champion New York Giants' third-ranked defense.

Then, Baltimore has upcoming games against the Philadelphia Eagles' ninth-ranked defense, the Washington Redskins' fourth-ranked defense, the top-ranked Pittsburgh Steelers and the Dallas Cowboys' 11th-ranked defense.

After exploiting the Houston Texans, Cleveland Browns, Oakland Raiders and Miami Dolphins for 41, 37, 29 and 27 points to manufacture a four-game winning streak, it's presumably about to get much tougher for the Ravens' offense.

"It feels good, but, at the same time, we aren't where we want to be yet," tight end Todd Heap said after catching two touchdowns against the Texans. "I think we're improving. We're seeing signs of what we were capable of, but, as far as all of us were concerned in the huddle, we know we can get a lot better.

"We can kind of see down the road and see what we're trying to get to. We're still working at it. I think games like this are good for us to really get in that rhythm and figure out, 'Hey we can really put it to teams.' I think this is just a sign of what we're going to see down in the future."

The Ravens have improved from 28th in scoring to 12th overall in the past month. Now, they're averaging 23.5 points per contest.

Quarterback Joe Flacco has thrown six touchdown passes with no interceptions over that span, and innovative offensive coordinator Cam Cameron has utilized a double-quarterback system with backup Troy Smith and used a committee approach at running back to generate 1,352 rushing yards and 13 touchdown runs.

"We still can grow immensely," Flacco said. "Our main goal is to improve each week and hit our stride where it counts the most."

The Giants' defense, which features pass rushers Justin Tuck (8 1/2 sacks) and Mathias Kiwanuka (six sacks) as well as linebacker Antonio Pierce, is coached by former Eagles assistant Steve Spagnuolo, who worked in Philadelphia with Ravens coach John Harbaugh.

"It's going to a huge challenge because we are going to play some of the top defenses in the league starting with the Giants this week," Harbaugh said. "They're one of the best coached defenses in the league. Steve Spagnuolo does a tremendous job with those guys. I'm pretty familiar with his style."

Over the past month, the Ravens have been hitting several more big plays, including touchdown passes of 70, 47, 43 and 28 yards.

The Ravens are no longer one-dimensional, conservative and predictable, which were frequent complaints about former coach Brian Billick's offenses.

And Flacco hasn't thrown an interception in his past four games after throwing a season-high three in a 31-3 loss to the Indianapolis Colts, a streak of 112 consecutive passes.

"The kid is playing good, he's a good-looking young man," said Texans coach Gary Kubiak, a former backup to John Elway. "He has a big arm and a great presence about him moving around. If he keeps playing that way, that football team could go a long way because they have great games on the defensive side of the ball. I am very impressed with the young man."

Plus, running back Willis McGahee is coming off a season-high 112 rushing yards on 25 carries. His two touchdown runs are the first multiple-touchdown game since joining the Ravens in a trade prior to last season.

One week after watching rookie Ray Rice steal the show with 154 rushing yards in Cleveland while McGahee rested a sprained ankle, McGahee reasserted himself and got into a rhythm.

"I'm the kind of back that has to get going," McGahee said. "The last time I busted a long run on the first play was against Syracuse at the University of Miami. Once I get going, I got that hot hand and then we can do whatever. Coming in, coming out, that isn't me."

Baltimore hasn't committed a turnover in 29 consecutive drives, and has a plus-two turnover margin.

And the red-zone offense has improved markedly with touchdowns on nine of its past 14 journeys inside the 20-yard line. The Ravens converted all four red-zone shots against the Texans.

The Ravens have averaged 35 points in their last three road games, are now ranked 16th in total offense (323.7 yards) and are third in rushing offense (150.2).

"The offense is starting to develop that attitude of, 'We're not waiting on the defense," said wide receiver Derrick Mason, the Ravens' leading receiver who is questionable for Sunday with a dislocated left shoulder. "We understand that the defense is going to do what they need to do, but we can't wait on them. We've got to go out there and start scoring points."


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