By Spike Eskin

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) – If you were to watch the Baltimore Ravens on Monday night take apart the Bengals, and watch the Eagles struggle with the Browns, you might expect Sunday’s game to be ugly. Ugly if you’re cheering for the Eagles, of course.

Joe Flacco looked like a new man, and the Ravens defense is a year older, but still looked just as good as ever.

I checked in with Bruce Raffel, of the excellent Ravens blog Baltimore Beatdown, to dig a little deeper into just how good the Raves are.

Spike: The Ravens looked like they could be the best team in the AFC on Monday night. Are they as good as they looked?

Bruce: The Ravens were one play away from representing the AFC in last year’ Super Bowl and there is no reason they can’t get back there this season. They appear to be more focused on the offense carrying its share of the road as opposed to riding the defense’s coat-tails in past years.

Spike: There’s been a lot of talk about Joe Flacco taking that “next step” this year. What’s different about him now?

Bruce: He seems more focused and in charge of the offense. Flacco seems to like the no-huddle, faster-paced offense and his confidence in his receivers is at an all-time high. In his fifth season without missing a single start in his NFL career, the game has slowed down for him, making him look more calm and poised in the pocket.

Spike: Have the Ravens abandoned their identity as a “run first” team?

Bruce: Most people don’t realize that the Ravens actually threw the ball more than they ran in 2011 and this year it will continue in that direction. However, the Ravens are still a ground-and-pound offense, be it on the ground or through the air. Baltimore remains a physical team on both sides of the ball and with RB Ray Rice being such a threat in both the running and passing game, it’s tough to defend the new-look Ravens offense.

Spike: Every year we wait for the Ravens defense to *look* as old as they are. They didn’t against Cincinnati. Can they keep this up?

Bruce: The only players that are on that “old and aging” defense in the waning part of their careers are Ray Lewis and Ed Reed. The rest are among the youngest in the league. Ray is just a freak, fine-tuning his body in a way that no one else in the league can emulate.He lost weight this off-season to move quicker and faster, and it was plainly evident on Monday night as he was easily the best defensive player on the field. What can you say about Reed, the greatest “center-fielder” in the NFL, other than he always seems to be in the right place at the right time to make the amazing plays.

Spike: If there’s a weakness for the Ravens, what is it?

Bruce: It might be hard to see one after the Ravens 44-13 beat down of the Bengals, but there was a concern that the defensive line seemed to be pushed off the ball and did not do so well stopping the Cincinnati run game. The absence of Terrell Suggs and his 14 sacks last year continues to be a concern although the Ravens put pressure on Andy Dalton this past week. Other than that, there may be some concerns on the offensive line but the biggest concern through preseason and into the regular season continues to be the inability of the Ravens kickoff coverage teams, which have given up some big returns.

It wasn’t in his official response, but Bruce took a parting shot. After I wished him luck on Sunday (not really), Bruce said “Ha, thanks! Get ready, these aren’t the Cleveland Brownies!”

You can follow Bruce on Twitter for Ravens info at @BaltimoreBeatdo.

Visit Baltimore Beatdown to get even more information on the Ravens.

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