The Ravens were able to overcome a second straight 4th-quarter defensive collapse this week, as a 46 yard Matt Stover field goal with time expiring lifted the Ravens (2-1) over the visiting Arizona Cardinals (1-2).
For the second straight game, the purple and black dominated on both sides of the ball for 3 quarters, only to see a seemingly safe lead evaporate like sweat off a brow in the sizzling temperatures at M&T Bank Stadium. The Ravens offense did what they do, with Steve McNair and Willis McGahee nickel-and-diming the O down the field, chewing up massive amounts of game clock, and ultimately coming away with field goals on all but one of their three first half red zone trips. Rookie return man Yamon Figurs provided a spark to the team and fans with a 75 yard punt return TD in the 2nd quarter, which put the Ravens up 20-3 at halftime. On defense, the boys were swarming to the ball, pressuring Matt Leinart, and holding Edgerrin James in check, allowing only a 48 yard Neil Rackers field goal in the half. This field goal, however, was converted after a drive in which Kurt Warner, not Leinart, took the reins of the Cardinals offense, and moved the ball with a no-huddle scheme. It was a harbinger of things to come.
Playing without starting cornerback Samari Rolle, the Ravens secondary was made to look pedestrian at best, and disgusting at worst, by the Cards second string has-been QB. After relieving Leinart in the 2nd quarter for a single series, he replaced Leinart permanently in the 2nd half, continuing to dissect the Ravens D to the tune of 15-for-20 for 258 yards and 2 TD. The Ravens, as they historically do with double-digit halftime leads, phoned in the second half, scoring only once, on a Matt Stover 43 yard field goal, before the final play of the game. In their defense, a 17 point lead after 3 quarters has been as secure as a Halliburton suitcase during the Billick era in Baltimore. Sunday was the first time in 5 years the Ravens have allowed 17 points in the final period, but the second time in as many weeks they have made the home town fans sweat unnecessarily in the waning minutes of a game.
Is the defense out of shape? Old? Lackadaisical? Just plain bad? There are many possible explanations for the late collapses by the once vaunted Ravens defense, last years #1 overall unit. The Ravens controlled the clock yesterday in dominating fashion, holding the ball for 38 minutes to Arizona’s 22, so there should be NO excuse for the defense simply “running out of gas” in the 4th, no matter how hot it was down on the field yesterday. We at the Nest also find it quite hard to swallow that the errors of the past 2 weeks boil down to declining play by a veteran secondary, who, while not spring chickens, should still have several years of high level play in their tanks. We will settle, for now, on the excuse that Corey Ivy just plain cannot hang with the likes of an Anquan Boldin, and the Ravens really were “surprised” by the Card’s use of the no-huddle offense. However, this should be the last time this season the team gets “surprised” by this tactic. The Bengals do it to us every time. The Jets and Cardinals have now both used it effectively. Every team on the Ravens schedule, if they have any sense, will now be going no-huddle against the Birds. Until they show they can stop the hurry-up consistently, we should expect to see it week in and week out by opposing offenses. Rex Ryan, so far this season, is coaching himself right out of a head coaching position in 2008. If he is the defensive genius that we all believe he is, he needs to come up with a way to counter the no-huddle, and quick.
A win is a win, as they say, but we here at the Nest feel a bit shaky about the team so far. They need to continue to improve as the season goes on, as right now they are simply the best of the 2nd-tier teams in the NFL.
P.S. Another good performance by backup QB Kyle Boller, who thought he was just coming in for some 4th quarter mop-up duty, and ended up having to lead a game-winning drive in the final minute. There seems to be some conflicting stories coming out of the Ravens locker room as to why Steve McNair was pulled from the game in the first place, so keep an eye out for more developments on this front.