The Baltimore Ravens have been to the playoffs in each of the past four seasons, winning at least 11 games in three of those seasons (nine wins in 2009).
Currently they are on pace to make the playoffs again, but with three key defensive players out for extended time (Lardarius Webb, Ray Lewis, Jimmy Smith), Baltimore may need help from unexpected sources.
The Ravens are 7-2 while ranking No. 18 in total offense and No. 25 in total defense, which should tell you their roster is made up of high-quality players. Their stats aren't staggering, but these Ravens are really good at winning a lot of games.
Here's the key question: Do these Ravens have what it takes to get where they want to be? They know what it takes to succeed late in the season, but will they be able to execute again?
When games get tough and the margin for error gets significantly smaller, who will take charge?
To this point, Flacco is on pace to throw for 4,144 yards, which would be 522 yards more than he's ever thrown for. He's never thrown for more than 12 interceptions in a season, which is what he's on pace for this year.
In other words, Flacco is not the problem. In fact, the Ravens have been winning because of Flacco, not despite him. He's done little to suggest he won't be ready to make the necessary plays when they're needed.
Isn't it interesting that when Ray Lewis suffers a serious triceps injury, Suggs returns from a serious Achilles injury?
While he has just 10 tackles and one sack in three games this season, we knew Suggs wouldn't at full strength in his first game. It takes a few games (about a month or so) for a big linebacker to get back into football shape.
You'd figure Suggs is going to start accumulating more sacks and more pressures any day now.
Guess who he plays tonight? The Steelers, the team against which he's made the most sacks of his career (18.5, including the playoffs).
Lewis is out, and although Suggs is back, Baltimore's defense needs stability. They need someone who knows what to do and how to defend the league's best offensive players in the most critical moments.
As probably the best safety ever to play football, Reed is the guy who will need to bring this defense together for its playoff run.
There is no defensive back that has a better combination of talent, (playoff) experience and football IQ than Reed. He's a player who not only knows how to play a crucial role, but is able to elevate the play of those around him.