In John Harbaugh's first three seasons, the Ravens were very good at beating the teams they should beat.  Going into the 2011 season, Harbaugh's crew boasted a record of 18-1 against opponents with losing records.  This year, eight games in, Baltimore has lost to the 0-1 Tennessee TItans, the 1-5 Jacksonville Jaguars, and now the 2-6 Seattle Seahawks.  

It would seem this year's Ravens are a different team than the Ravens of the previous three years.  Less focused?  Less disciplined?  Ill prepared?  Last year's team didn't have "let down" games.

Last year's team also didn't sweep the Pittsburgh Steelers- in fact, this is only the second time in history that the Ravens have accomplished that feat, and the first time with Harbaugh at the helm.  Until this year, Harbaugh, Joe Flacco, and Co., had never beaten the Steelers with Ben Roethlesburger under center.  Eight games in, the Ravens have done so twice.  

So, yes,  this is a different team.

At times commanding, at times inept, the 2011 Ravens are cause for sleeplessness in opponents and supporters alike.  Considering the pre-season moves to replace veteran mainstays with young talent, this less consistent, more explosive team should be no suprise.  The surprise has been just how good- and how bad- the Ravens have looked this year.  Throughout the second half of the season, local and national fans and media will go into each week asking, "Which Baltimore Ravens team is going to show up?"

Perhaps a more far-reaching question would be "When is this Baltimore Ravens team going to grow up?"  They haven't had much time to do so, and they don't have much time left to benefit from the leadership of veterans like Ray Lewis and Ed Reed.  Joe Flacco has consistently spoken of the room for improvement in his offense.  Torrey Smith, number two wide reciever, and Laquan Williams, number three wide reciever, are both rookies, and our two second year tight ends, Ed Dickson and Dennis Pitta, took a backseat to Todd Heap last year.

The youth isn't just on the offensive side of the ball.  Pernell McPhee is a rookie defensive end who has already had an impact, outside linebacker Paul Kruger is seeing his first significant playing time with the defense, and first-round draft pick Jimmy Smith has remained green all season due to a high ankle sprain he sustained in week one.  David Reed, the kick returner responsible for two fumbles in the Seattle game, is only in his second year.  

Much of the talk after Baltimore's shockingly predictable loss to Seattle has focused on offensive play calling and the pass-run ratio.  It is hard to imagine a successful game plan in which Ray Rice carries the ball only five times, and Cam Cameron deserves the scrutiny he's been under.  

However, the difference between winning and losing in Seattle was execution: overthrown passes, dropped balls, special teams turnovers, missed field goals, the defense's inability to create turnovers or stop Marshawn Lynch.  If each Ravens player does his job even just a little better, Baltimore defeats Seattle.  Everytime.

The 2011 Ravens are more talented, more complete, and more inspired than any Ravens team in the Harbaugh era.  They've proven that against the Steelers.  The challenge now is to execute better in lesser contests.  The challenge is to take the differences between last year and this year and grow with them.