Archive for the ‘Ravens Game Previews’ Category

Buccaneers (7-3) @ Ravens (7-3)

November 26, 2010

This week, the Ravens play their third straight game against an NFC South opponent, taking on the upstart Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Many Ravens fans had circled this game as a win coming into the season, as the Bucs were coming off a 3-13 2009 season, and have the youngest roster in the NFL. Tampa, however, has surprised so far in 2010, matching the Ravens’ 7-3 record, and look to be no walkovers on Sunday. The Ravens should still be able to pick up their eighth win of the year, but this game will be much tougher than we had hoped for when looking ahead to it back in September.

On paper, the Bucs’ offense doesn’t look too intimidating, as they are just 23rd in the NFL in yards per game. Second year quarterback Josh Freeman, though, has been deceivingly efficient, throwing 14 touchdowns to go with only 5 interceptions and 1 lost fumble, good for a QB rating of 92.0 – just 0.1 behind Joe Flacco. Rookie wide receiver Mike Williams leads the team in receiving, with 43 catches for 681 yards and 6 touchdowns. The Ravens secondary, after basically a week off in Carolina last week, will have to be on top of their game, and prove that they can at least stop a good — if not elite — quarterback.

Where Freeman and the rest of the Tampa offense should really give the Ravens and their fans a case of post-Thanksgiving indigestion, though, is on the ground. Freeman is a horse at 6’6″ 250, and can really hurt opposing defenses with his feet. He has 236 rushing yards this season, and averages over 6 every time he decides to take off. Even more dangerous is rookie running back LeGarrette Blount. Blount, the former Oregon Duck (you remember him, right?), is a 6’0 247 lb. battering ram, and is averaging 4.4 yards per carry since the Bucs started really working him into the offense about five weeks ago. Throw in Carnell “Cadillac” Williams, a big threat catching passes out of the backfield, and the Ravens front seven will have their hands full this week.

Blount is like a more athletic Peyton Hillis, who torched the Ravens in Week 3 for Cleveland. The Ravens looked like they had gotten their run defense fixed two weeks ago in Atlanta, completely shutting down Michael Turner. Last week, though, Mike Goodson of the Carolina Panthers went for 120 yards against them. The outcome of this one will depend heavily on the Ravens’ run defense, and they’ll need to perform much better than they did in Charlotte to contain the Bucs’ much more potent attack.

I had hoped to devote an entire post this week to thoughts on fixing the run defense, but I found some other things to write about instead. So I’ll have to just spitball a bit here in the preview…

First off, Brandon McKinney should be back on the field. McKinney played in seven games earlier this year, and started four, but has been a healthy scratch the last three contests. He played very well when he was in there, and could be an asset for this team down the stretch.

Who does McKinney replace?

It may be sacrilege to Ravens fans, but I’d nominate Kelly Gregg. “Buddy Lee” is having his worst season, and at this point is a liability to this defense. He’s a fan favorite, but it may be time to give #97 a game or two off.

The next guy who could help bottle up Blount is Dannell Ellerbe. Ellerbe, whose specialty is being a run stuffer at the linebacker position, has apparently made his way into the infamous John Harbaugh “doghouse,” after some special teams penalties. Ellerbe, like McKinney, hasn’t been active since the Buffalo game. Not only are these two very good at helping shut down opposing running backs, but they should also both have very fresh legs. Keep an eye on the inactive list Sunday morning – if these two are on it, I’d be very disappointed, and that much more worried.

Regardless who is active on the defense, the entire unit needs to tackle better. Freeman and Blount will be licking their chops in film study this week seeing the Ravens’ dismal tackling of late. Keeping the yards after contact down will be especially crucial on Sunday against the physical runners the Bucs showcase.

Offensively, Joe Flacco and the rest of the Ravens will look to continue the kind of performance they put up in the first half of the Carolina game, and put the second half of that contest behind them. Remember, despite the 37 points put up by the team, the Ravens managed only two offensive touchdowns against the Panthers. Fortunately, they’re generally better at home, having put up 31, 37, and 26 points in their last three at The Big Crabcake. Flacco has eight touchdowns and no interceptions at home this season (although defenders have dropped should-be interceptions on at least three occasions), and will look to continue that trend against a Tampa squad that is tied for second in the NFL with 15 picks.

The Bucs’ ability to force turnovers helps mask their deficiencies in run defense, where they rank 29th, giving up over 136 yards per game. Ray Rice and Willis McGahee should be in for big games, though at this point I’m not still delusional enough to think that Cam Cameron will come into the game with a plan of anything but something along the lines of “we’re going to pass the ball because they THINK we’re going to run it!” I can’t help but think back to the Buffalo game – the Bills came into B’More with the league’s worst run defense, and the Ravens’ first possession went: pass, pass, pass, punt. Tampa can’t stop the run, has very strong cornerbacks in Ronde Barber and Aqib Talib, and thrives on interceptions, so needless to say I expect a similar ass-backwards attack from Cam as the one we saw against Buffalo (at least prior to the Bills playing “light up the scoreboard.”) Hopefully the Ravens have enough talent running routes and throwing the football to move the ball and get into the end zone in spite of the guy calling in the plays.

With this game getting “flexed” by the NFL and moved to a 4:15 start from it’s original 1:00 slot, game time temperatures will drop significantly. Currently, the forecast calls for a high temperature of about 47 degrees on Sunday, which will likely have the mercury dipping near 40 by the time the second half rolls around. Historically, Tampa is awful in the cold; the franchise didn’t win their first game that featured sub-40 degree temperatures at kickoff until their Super Bowl season of 2002. As a Ravens fan who will be sitting at M&T Bank Stadium shivering, I’ll gladly plan on piling on an extra layer if it means the Ravens have even a slightly better chance of emerging victorious. If Mother Nature is on our side Sunday, all the better.

We’ll likely know by game time whether or not Pittsburgh pushes their record to 8-3, as they play at 1 PM. They are in Buffalo, so most likely the Ravens will need this win to keep pace in the division. Moreover, the Ravens need to win this game regardless of what the Steelers do, as the rest of the schedule doesn’t get any easier. If they can’t defeat this feisty but inexperienced (and, truthfully, overachieving) Bucs squad on their own turf, what chance do we really give them against the likes of Pittsburgh and New Orleans here, and Houston and Cleveland teams on the road?

Gotta have this one.

Ravens 27 Bucs 17

Ravens (6-3) @ Panthers (1-8)

November 19, 2010

This Sunday, the Ravens travel to Charlotte for the second of three consecutive clashes with the NFC South.  They managed a 3-1 record against the AFC East this season, and after last week’s heartbreaking loss to Atlanta, that’s the best they can hope for against the other conference this year.  The Carolina Panthers offer a great opportunity to put the Falcons’ loss firmly in the rear view, and get back on the winning side of things.

Carolina has been bitten by the injury bug in an extreme fashion in 2010.  They are down to their third string running back, having lost both members of their very potent two-headed rushing attack.  DeAngleo Williams was just this week placed on season-ending IR with a foot arch injury, and Jonathan Stewart is dealing with a concussion.  Third stringer Mike Goodson put up 100 yards against Tampa last week, but is nowhere near the dynamic talent that Williams and Stewart are.  On top of that, the Ravens looked to have gotten their run defense shored up, holding Michael Turner to just 39 yards last Thursday.

Rookie defensive lineman Terrence Cody had his best game to date, racking up five tackles and doing a great job of clogging up the middle of the line.  Brandon McKinney has been a healthy scratch for the last two games, but many Ravens fans would much rather see Kelly Gregg as the inactive DL at this point.  “Buddy Lee” is having a sub-par year, and McKinney was playing very well before sitting out against Miami and Atlanta.  With Haloti Ngata, McKinney, and now Cody playing well, running the ball against the Ravens could suddenly be, if not quite as impossible as it’s been in the past, still quite a task.  Regardless, Goodson shouldn’t find much room on Sunday.

The Panthers are also banged up at quarterback.  They lost Matt Moore for the season with a torn labrum in his throwing shoulder, and rookie Jimmy Clausen is out against the Ravens due to a concussion.  Instead of going with the other rookie signal caller already on the roster, Tony Pike from Cincinnati, Carolina head coach John Fox decided to go instead with Brian St. Pierre, signed just this week.  If St. Pierre’s name sounds familiar, that’s because he was the Ravens’ 3rd-string QB in 2005.  In his 8-year NFL career, he has thrown just 5 passes.  Needless to say, the Pierre-led Panthers present the perfect opportunity for the Ravens to rebound after being gashed through the air by Matt Ryan last week.  While shutting down St. Pierre and the Carolina passing attack won’t impress anybody, it certainly beats the alternative, which would be making him look like Johnny Unitas, as they did with Ryan Fitzpatrick back in Week 7.

On the other side of the ball, the Ravens are dealing with their continuing struggles to get on the board early in road games.  It was a popular topic of conversation around Ravens blogs and B’More talk radio all week, and at this point there is no denying their troubling tendency to come out of the gates extremely lame.  While these slow starts have been something Joe Flacco has seemingly been prone to as a whole for at least the last two seasons, the problems are even more magnified on the road, where the Ravens offense averages just 1.2 points in the first quarter over their last 11 games.  The coaching staff is obviously well aware of the problem – at this point the burden falls on them to get it fixed.  While it’s nice to see Anquan Boldin going off on his offensive teammates on the sideline when they need it – especially when it results in a touchdown on the very next possession, as it did in Atlanta – that’s not the kind of thing you want to see from a playoff-bound team.  Much more preferable would be to never see those long stretches of anemic play from the offensive unit.

Again, Carolina offers the Ravens a chance to cure what ails them.  The Panthers have trailed by a touchdown or more at halftime in five of their nine games this season.  They boast the fifth-ranked pass defense in the NFL, but let’s not kid ourselves; those numbers are a direct result of teams jumping out to a comfortable lead and then spending the majority of the second half running the ball and killing the clock.  With the #27 run defense, the Panthers offer little resistance in that area, and Ray Rice and Willis McGahee should be in for big days.

As we do every time our boys clash with a clearly inferior opponent, we have to remind our fellow Ravens fans – many of whom still have visions of Miami in 2007 dancing through their heads – that this is the kind of game John Harbaugh’s teams just don’t lose.  While they nearly wet the bed against Buffalo, that performance was much more the exception than the rule.  At this point, the Panthers are basically fielding a junior varsity NFL team.  Seriously…Brian St. Pierre.  Joe Flacco, Joe Flacco’s backup (Mark Bulger), and even Joe Flacco’s backup’s backup (emergency quarterback Anquan Boldin) would give Carolina a better chance on Sunday.  Some Panthers fans are angry because they see the St. Pierre move as John Fox basically begging for an in-season firing.

Last year, December games against Chicago and Detroit offered the Ravens a great chance to pad their record, a chance which they took full advantage of.  This December’s slate is none so kind, but these final two games in November – at Carolina and at home against the Bucs – offer a similar opportunity for the 2010 Ravens.  To solidify their position going into a grueling stretch run over the season’s final five weeks, the Ravens need to rip off wins here over the next two.

There are 30 other teams who wish they were playing the Panthers this weekend.  There is absolutely no excuse for this game to even be close.

Ravens 34 Panthers 6

Ravens (6-2) @ Falcons (6-2)

November 10, 2010

Just four days after dispatching of “the other” other quarterback taken in the first two rounds of the 2008 Draft, Chad Henne (to the point that he was benched), Joe Flacco has the chance to take on the guy with which his fortunes will be forever linked and compared, fellow 2008 first round draft pick Matt Ryan.

While Ryan is in no danger of suffering a Henne-like benching no matter how bad the Ravens may (hopefully) make him look Thursday night, it would no doubt mean a lot to Joe to take a 1-0 series lead over the Atlanta franchise savior.

Like Flacco, Ryan has started since day one, making those formerly sad-sack Falcons fans forget all about Mike Vick and his endless string of “Bad Newz.” Those old stories about the Ravens wanting Ryan, and nearly trading up to take him, in the 2008 draft have resurfaced again this week. Regardless of how much truth there is in these “war room legends,” the fact remains that both Baltimore and Atlanta are extremely satisfied with their young signal callers.

The two have nearly identical stats through their first two-plus years in the league…eerily similar, some would say:

Flacco: 8501 yards, 47 TD, 30 INT, 85.8 QB Rating, 26-14 Regular Season, 3-2 Playoffs
Ryan: 8305, 51, 30, 85.7, 26-12, 0-1

Ridiculously similar production, both in stats and in wins. The two also both became the first rookie quarterbacks to start all 16 games for their teams during a season in which they qualified for the post-season.

Enough history, though.

While “Flacco vs. Ryan” is the main event headliner that the NFL is using to drum up interest in this game, I’ve got a sneaking suspicion that the guys who are truly going to decide the outcome of this match up are the guys on the undercard. Namely….

Ray Rice/Willis McGahee vs. Michael Turner/Jason Snelling

While both quarterbacks are taking greater control of their respective offenses here in their third years, the ground games are still the straws that stir the drink in both B’More and Hotlanta.

For the Ravens, Ray Rice and Willis McGahee have combined for 1121 yards from scrimmage (837 rushing, 284 receiving) and seven touchdowns (6 rushing, 1 receiving.) Throw in Le’Ron “Spit Train” McClain and you can tack on another 146 total yards.

For the Falcons, Michael Turner and Jason Snelling have put up 1172 yards from scrimmage (974 rushing, 198 receiving) and eight touchdowns (7 rushing, 1 receiving.)

That’s some impressive productions out of the backfields for both squads.

While the Ravens inched back into the upper half of the NFL in run defense on the heels of holding the Miami Dolphins to just 73 yards, we’re not quite convinced that they’ve gotten things totally straightened out. Perhaps the Dolphins’ opening drive, during which Ronnie Brown completely gashed the Ravens’ defense, was really just a result of them knocking the rust off after the bye week, but there’s no way to really know, since Miami inexplicably had abandoned the running game by the second quarter.

Turner stands 5’10” and weighs in at 244 lbs. Think Peyton Hillis of the Browns…but faster. I’ll wait while you go get a drink…

Back with me? Alright then.

Coming out of the bye, the Ravens paid lip service to the fact that they addressed their run gap coverage and tackling issues during the extra week. Then they came out and were immediately dressed in a clown suit by Ronnie Brown. They’ll have to prove that they really did patch up those gaping holes in the ground game on Thursday, because the Falcons won’t be nearly as quick to stop feeding Turner the rock as Miami was with Brown.

Not that things get any easier once Turner is slowed down. The Falcons have one of the best wide receivers in the NFL in Roddy White. Even though he was banged up last week against Tampa and missed practice this week, White is expected to play. White at even 70 or 80% is a formidable challenge for this Ravens secondary. Josh Wilson is expected to start in place of Fabian Washington, who has found his way to the bench in each of the last two games. Wilson played strongly against Buffalo and Miami. Lardarius Webb has been uneven so far in 2010, getting beat for a long pass along the sideline by Brian Hartline last week.

The Falcons also have All-World tight end Tony Gonzalez. Although he’s getting a bit long in the tooth, Gonzalez is still a big part of what the Falcons do offensively, especially if White isn’t playing at full strength. The hope here is that Ryan is unprepared for the master ballhawk that is Ed Reed, and that Reed is able to bait him into a bad throw or two.

Just in case I have to completely spell it out for you after all that – I’m not at all convinced that the Ravens can stifle the Atlanta attack. I think holding them in the lower 20s for the game should be considered a minor victory. Now, whether or not that minor victory can translate into a true victory in the standings will rest on the shoulders of the offense.

We’ve heard since summer that this was supposed to be the year that the Ravens’ offense can step up and bail the defense out. Thursday night in Atlanta should be a prime opportunity for the O to put up or shut up.

The Falcons defense is tough to figure out. They’re small and fast on the defensive line and in the linebacking corps, leading Sun columnist Mike Preston to predict that the Ravens will have no problem pushing them around and controlling the ball, clock, and game. However, as fellow Sun writer Jamison Hensley points out, the Falcons have gone from the 26th ranked defense against the run to the 6th over their past six games. Unlike the Ravens, who so far just SAY they’ve figured out this run defense thing, with the Falcons, the numbers back up that claim.

The secondary is equally schizophrenic. They are ranked 26th, giving up over 250 yards per game. Despite that, they are tied for 3rd in the NFL with 13 interceptions. Flacco hasn’t thrown a pick in 129 passes, the longest streak of his career; however, those who watched the Bills and Dolphins games know that there were certainly a few during those 129 that could have easily been picked off. The Falcons don’t drop interceptions, so Flacco will have to earn it if he wishes that streak to continue.

This was a game that, at the start of the season, many Ravens fans had circled as a loss.  Nothing that either team has done through the first eight games can justifiably alter that prediction.  A short week, going on the road, playing against a fellow Super Bowl hopeful, with a quarterback who is 17-1 all-time in his home stadium, in an environment (dome) where they are historically dismal (2-9 all time).  If the Ravens are to win this game, they’ll have to overcome a lot of things that aren’t working in their favor.

Which will make it all the sweeter when they do.

Ravens 27 Falcons 24

Matty Ice vs. Joe Cool Preview

November 9, 2010

The Ravens have a short week this week, as they play the Falcons on Thursday night.

In this video, Goob discusses Matt Ryan’s millions, Joe Flacco’s success and how stupid it is to play another game after only four days of rest.

Stay tuned as BMoreBirdsNest.com brings you unique coverage of the next two away games –  Goob will be on the road in both Atlanta and Carolina.

Dolphins (4-3) @ Ravens (5-2)

November 5, 2010

Greetings from sunny Florida, Nestgoers.

I’m on a mini-vacation down in Ft. Myers for a friend’s wedding, so this week’s game preview will be a bit on the short side. If you’re hankerin’ for more Nest goodness though, don’t forget to check out Goob’s pregame video.

The Miami Dolphins bring their spotless 2010 road record to M&T Bank Stadium to face a Ravens team that is on a six game home winning streak dating back to last season. The Ravens haven’t lost at the Purple Palace in nearly an entire calendar year, with their last defeat coming on November 22, 2009 against the Colts.

So, what will give this week? Let’s dive into the matchups a bit.

Surprisingly enough, the Dolphins best the Ravens in just about every statistical category entering this game. Their offense is ranked 13th; the Ravens is 14th. They are #8 on defense; the Ravens are #10. However, the Ravens are doing a much better job of both getting into the end zone and keeping the other team out of it. On the one statistic that really matters – points (both for and against) – the Ravens best the ‘phins. Baltimore is scoring 21.3 points per game while allowing 18.4, and Miami is putting up just 19.0 and are allowing over 21. The Dolphins’ red zone woes are well documented, and kicker Dan Carpenter has been their biggest offensive weapon this season. Carpenter has kicked 13 field goals in just the past 3 games.

As Goob mentioned in his video, this game could possibly give Anita Marks an orgasm, as both Brandon Marshall and Anquan Boldin will be on the same field. Marks, the former Baltimore radio personality, clamored for years for the Ravens to add one of these two “big name wide receivers” to their roster. While the Ravens chose Boldin, the Dolphins went with Marshall, the former Denver Bronco. Marshall and Boldin have put up similar numbers so far with their new teams:

Marshall: 47 receptions, 588 yards, 1 TD, 12.5 average
Boldin: 38 receptions, 518 yards, 5 TD, 13.6 average

It’s safe to say that both teams are very satisfied with their new additions to this point.

The Ravens saw Marshall last season when he was with Denver, and had no problem shutting him down – he managed just 4 catches for 24 yards in his last action at M&T Bank Stadium. They will have to do a much better job of tackling this week than they did against Buffalo two weeks ago, as Marshall makes his money on yards after the catch.

The ‘phins, however, have other weapons to compliment #19. Fellow wideout Davone Bess is one of the best 3rd down receivers in the NFL. He has 39 receptions for 401 yards and three scores. Along with tight end Anthony Fasano (17-234-2), 3rd year quarterback Chad Henne has a full compliment of targets to potentially exploit a Ravens secondary that has had several tough games in a row.

So far in 2010, the Dolphins have been reluctant to “take the training wheels off” of Henne, leaving many Miami fans frustrated with the team’s conservative offensive approach?

Sound familiar, Baltimore?

Could the Dolphins, though, after seeing the ridiculous amount of success Ryan Fitzpatrick and the Buffalo Bills’ passing game had, choose this as the week that they finally unleash Henne? Or did the Ravens make the necessary adjustments in their coverage schemes during the bye week to manage another mid-season turnaround (similar to the one they displayed after the bye in 2009)?

The answers to those questions are likely to go a long way in determining the outcome of this one.

Fabian Washington will need to be 1000% better than he was against the Bills, that’s for damn sure. If if he isn’t “starting,” he will certainly be on the field at times and there is no doubt that Henne will be under orders to find #31. Here’s hoping Fabe puts the Buffalo game behind him, and turns in a performance more similar to the Denver game, when he defended four passes.

On offense, I look for Cam Cameron to have put in a few new wrinkles to the Ravens offense. The latest on Donte’ Stallworth is that he should be ready to go Sunday, giving the Ravens’ offense that deep threat that they have been sorely lacking. Fortunately for Joe Flacco, the Dolphins are more of a man-coverage team than a Cover 2 type. Miami cornerbacks Vontae Davis and Jason Allen are no slouches, but Stallworth’s presence should open things up underneath for Boldin, Derrick Mason, and Todd Heap moreso than Flacco is used to. The Ravens should be able to continue the offensive success they’ve experienced of late, with Joe Flacco being the NFL’s highest rated passer since Week 3.

A win Sunday would give the Ravens a solid 3-1 record against the very tough AFC east. They’ll be well rested after their week off, and eager to prove that Buffalo’s offensive explosion was nothing but an anomaly. B’More finally adds a blemish to Miami’s road record.

Ravens 27 Dolphins 16

Bills (0-5) @ Ravens (4-2)

October 22, 2010

We all remember the last time the Ravens and Buffalo Bills met, back in the 2007 season.

There are some unfortunate similarities between that game and this one, namely:

  • The 2007 meeting was in Week 7, as is this one.
  • Entering that game, the Bills were 1-4, and the Ravens were 4-2. This time, the Ravens have the exact same record, while the Bills are just a bit worse at 0-5.
  • In 2007, the Bills were coming off their bye week.  In 2010, the same holds true.

Let’s hope those are the only similarities, as that game was an epic embarrassment for the Ravens, and one that the ball rolling on what would ultimately be the longest losing streak in franchise history (nine games) a scenario that cost the head coach and quarterback their jobs.

Yikes.

Now that I’ve got you feeling all warm and fuzzy about Sunday’s game, let me go ahead and allay some of those fears.  I’ve, for the most part, gotten over my stereotypical Ravens fan fear of games like this…games where the Ravens have absolutely no business losing.  That mentality was beaten into us by years and years of Brian Billick teams continually playing down (or up, as the case may have been) to the level of their opponents, driving us mad with losses to teams like…well, like the Buffalo Bills.

Now, to be fair, that 2007 team was a complete mess, and the 4-2 record was a house of cards waiting to crumble for any fan that was honest with themselves.  Nobody was talking about the Ravens as true Super Bowl contenders, among the league’s elite, as they are here in 2010, even after the loss last week in Foxborough.

On top of that, as we’ve stressed here time and again, and as Ravens fans are slowly learning to become more comfortable with: John Harbaugh’s teams do not suffer those types of letdowns, and routinely beat the stuffing out of “inferior” opponents.  The Buffalo Bills are undoubtedly in that category.  Hell, there was an article on ESPN this week asking (in all seriousness) if the Bills might lose to a UFL team.  At least there’s no pressure on them right? So they got that goin’.

Moving on to the meat and potatoes of the contest, the Ravens have the edge in just about every category.  For starters, the Bills have the NFL’s worst rush defense, allowing 182.4 yards per game, and have allowed at least 200 yards on the ground in three consecutive contests.  They no doubt spent their bye week trying to figure out how to plug those gaping holes in the run defense, but nonetheless should be no match for Ray Rice, Willis McGahee (maybe?), and Le’Ron McClain (provided Pain Train knows which play is called).  After not seeing a single snap in New England, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Willis get a lot of work Sunday, with the coaching staff giving him every opportunity to have a huge day against his former team.

Their pass defense is ranked 10th in the league at 200 yards per game, but those numbers are a bit deceiving.  As discussed, teams don’t have to throw the ball against Buffalo, because it’s just so damn easy to run it.  Additionally, they have surrendered 10 touchdowns through the air in just five games, and have picked off just a single pass (by David Garrard in Week 5).  Joe Flacco has been very good in the Ravens’ two home games this season, throwing for 458 yards, 3 TDs, and no interceptions.  Bills’ staring cornerback Terrence McGee is expected to miss the game with a back injury, which should just open things up more for Derrick Mason, Anquan Boldin, and T.J. Houshmandzadeh.  Todd Heap returned to practice Thursday, and should be available despite the neck injury he suffered on that helmet-to-helmet hit from the Patriots’ Brandon Merriweather.

On offense, the Bills aren’t faring much better.  Their quarterback position has been unsettled already this season, as they played the first two games with Trent Edwards under center, before trading him to the Jacksonville Jaguars.  Former Bengal Ryan Fitzpatrick has taken over the past three games and has played reasonably well, throwing seven touchdowns to just two interceptions.  I’d be remiss not to mention though, that those three performances came against the Patriots, Jets, and Jaguars, none of whom have pass defenses ranked higher than 22nd.  The Ravens’ #3 pass defense, picked on a bit by Kyle Orton (in junk time) and Tom Brady (when it REALLY mattered) over the last two weeks, could benefit from the return of safety Ed Reed, who is expected to be a game-time decision.

The last time Fitzpatrick faced the Ravens, he was just 12/31 for 124 yards, and fumbled twice.  I have to note, however, that Fitzpatrick is a threat to scramble, as he was also the Bengals’ leading rusher in that game, with 3 carries for 29 yards.  Against the Jets a few weeks back, he carried 7 times for 74 yards, so the Ravens will certainly have to be aware of his ability to pick up yards with his feet.

If Jarret Johnson is to be believed, Fitzpatrick’s running ability is not flying under the Ravens’ radar.

“He runs around,” Johnson said. “That’s what we’ve had trouble with in the past. We didn’t expect him to scramble and he scrambled all over us. He can create some things.”

The Ravens will also be getting an emotional boost this Sunday, as the team is scheduled to honor the 2000 Super Bowl Team on their 10th Anniversary in a special halftime ceremony.  Remember back in 2007, when Pittsburgh brought back all those guys from the 1970s on the Monday Night game against the Ravens, and were up 28-0 after the first quarter or something ridiculous like that?  I expect a similar situation Sunday, with the current Ravens stepping up as Jonathan Ogden, Trent Dilfer, Jamal Lewis, Michael McCrary, Tony Siragusa and others look on.  I also wouldn’t be surprised if Ray Lewis plays absolutely out of his mind against the Bills.  As if the guy could ever play with any more emotion, seeing his old teammates gathered in one place again, especially on the field at M&T Bank Stadium, could provide a boost that will have Bills offensive players tapping out by halftime.

Not that I’m predicting an early blowout or anything.  Just saying it wouldn’t surprise me.

Ravens 34 Bills 10

Goob's Pregame Thoughts: Ravens vs. Bills

October 22, 2010

Here’s Goob Theoharris with another installment of “Goob’s Pregame Thoughts.”  In this week’s edition, he takes aim at Buffalo, with its horrible climate, Super Bowl failures, and team full of players we’ve never heard of.  We don’t really hate ya, Buffalo, but you’re next on the schedule, and you gots ta get dealt with.

Ravens (4-1) @ Patriots (3-1)

October 16, 2010

For the third time in just over a calendar year, the Ravens travel to Foxborough to take on the New England Patriots on their home turf. So will this trip end in heartbreak like the 2009 regular season meeting, or in jubilation as the playoff matchup did?

The Patriots have won 22 consecutive regular season home games.

They are coming off their bye week, a situation in which Bill Belichick coached teams are 8-2 since 2000, and have not lost since 2002.

In short, it won’t be easy, but if the Ravens play a solid game, they could have the talent on both sides of the ball to hand the Patriots their well overdue post-bye week loss.

Tom Brady is having another stellar season so far in 2010, completing 69.7 percent of his passes for 911 yards and 9 touchdowns to go with only two interceptions. In the first meeting with Baltimore last year, “Tom Terrific” was just that, going 21/32 for 258 yards and a critical touchdown to Randy Moss. In the playoff game however, a time during which Tom has been exceptional during his career, the Ravens held Brady to 23/42 for 154 yards, and picked him off three times. One area in which B’More has had success against the Patriots, though, is in pressuring Brady. They sacked him three times in each of those 2009 meetings, and Terrell Suggs especially seems to dominate Pats’ left tackle Matt Light. Even last season, when Suggs was generally playing poorly, he got to Brady and forced a fumble in both games. He, and the rest of the Ravens’ pass rush, will need to be equally effective against Brady, who has only been sacked five times in four games, on Sunday.

The Pats’ offense is also dealing with the much ballyhooed departure of All-World wide receiver Randy Moss, who was traded to Minnesota during New England’s bye week. Moss was not particularly effective against the Ravens last year (managing just 8 catches for 98 yards and 1 score total in the two games), but his presence on the field undeniably opens things up for the Patriots’ very strong underneath passing game. Guys like Wes Welker, and more recently Julian Edelman, have found great success running routes against linebackers with Moss taking the coverage deep with him. New England reacquired Super Bowl XXXIX MVP Deion Branch from Seattle, and he and second-year wideout Brandon Tate will try to pick up Moss’s slack.

Perhaps the more dangerous weapon in the Patriots’ passing attack Sunday will be rookie tight end Aaron Hernandez. Hernandez, out of the University of Florida, has 18 receptions for 240 yards already (for comparison’s sake, Moss had 9 for 139), and at 6’1″ 245 lbs., could pose a big matchup problem for the Ravens. Ravens’ linebackers struggled mightily in pass coverage in the preseason, and will have their hands full this week. As a whole, the Ravens’ 2nd-ranked pass defense will face easily their biggest challenge of the young season. Though Kyle Orton managed over 300 yards last week, the defense held him in check while it mattered, allowing the offense to build a comfortable lead through the early part of the game, before Orton racked up some yards with the game out of hand. Even sans Moss, they’ll have to play their best game of the year to beat Brady and the Patriots.

On the other side of the ball, the Ravens have a clear advantage over the Pats’ young and struggling defense. New England is 29th overall and 28th against the pass, so Joe Flacco and the Ravens’ passing game could be in for a big day. In the playoff game, of course, it was Ray Rice and the running attack that won the game, racking up 234 total yards on the ground. Flacco, meanwhile, was just 4/10 for 34 yards and an interception. I don’t expect New England to allow such a one-dimensional attack to be successful again, so B’More will have to be much more balanced from the start to have a chance. Fortunately, with the additions of Anquan Boldin and T.J. Houshmandzadeh, along with Todd Heap and Ed Dickson, the Ravens have plenty of weapons to turn to, should New England shut down the run as they were unable to do in January.

One area where the New England defense has excelled is in catching errant passes from opposing quarterbacks. The Patriots have seven interceptions, tied for third highest in the NFL, through just four games. Let’s hope Flacco leaves his patented “back foot floater” at home, or he could be in for a long day.

The Patriots’ special teams have also been a strength, as evidenced by their single-handedly costing the Miami Dolphins’ special teams coach his job two weeks ago. Brandon Tate is averaging over 33 yards per kick return, and the Patriots have blocked several punts. Fortunately for the Ravens, they have the ultimate special teams trump cards in their excellent kickers. Billy Cundiff has 11 touchbacks already this season, and Sam Koch’s incredible directional punting skills were on full display against the Broncos’ dangerous returner Eddie Royal. Although the Ravens’ return games have been disappointing as a whole in 2010, the coverage has been solid, and John Harbaugh’s special teams background could be a great asset for the team in Foxborough.

Now, when you see my prediction, some may accuse me of “flip-flopping” or of pandering to the audience earlier in the week when I picked the Patriots to win in my chat with Foxboroblog.

However, I did that interview on Tuesday, and in the days since then I have been convinced otherwise. Through listening to the local and national pundits, and watching Playbook on the NFL Network, I’m now much more confident that the Ravens can pull out a victory against the favored Patriots.

Mike Preston says he “can’t figure out how” the Patriots will beat the Ravens.

All three guys (Brian Billick, Sterling Sharpe, Joe Theisman) on NFL Network picked the Ravens.

All the Boston-area media who were guests on Baltimore talk radio this week picked the Ravens.

As you can see below, 6 of the 8 ESPN personalities picked the Ravens (even Steeler-loving Raven-hater Merrill Hoge!)

via

Bill Belichick was the one that called Steve Bisciotti nearly three years ago and told him to hire John Harbaugh. He regretted that phone call, if just a bit, last January. Let’s hope he regrets it again, just a bit, Sunday.

Goob used TV commercials to decide his pick. I’m going to be a bit more superstitious, pick the score I picked for the playoff game, and hope for the same result:


Ravens 28 Patriots 24

Goob's Pregame Thoughts: Ravens @ Patriots

October 13, 2010

As you’ll see below in his latest video, Goob is really starting to get the hang of this green screen thing, and is finding a comfort level in front of the camera.  In his latest, he hates on the Patriots, Spygate, the Red Sox, Massholes, Dunkin Donuts, and touches on Joe Flacco’s unibrow and living situation, the Ray Lewis Old Spice commercials, and last season’s epic Ravens beatdown of the Patriots in the playoffs.

Here’s Goob, with his Ravens-Patriots preview:

Scouting the Pats: A Conversation with Foxboro Blog

October 13, 2010

This week, I was contacted by the guys at the Patriots’ blog Foxboroblog about answering some questions on this week’s Ravens-Patriots game. I happily obliged, and sent them some questions as well.

Here’s what I asked Ricky of Foxboroblog, and what he had to say (see his questions and my answers here):

1. Were you surprised at the ease with which the Ravens took care of the Patriots in last year’s Playoffs? What were your expectations going into that game, and how does the result affect the way you feel going into this one?

Yes, I was very surprised because I thought even if Baltimore was going to win that game; it was going to be a close game. Baltimore dominated New England right from the get go and took the offense right out of its rhythm with the constant pressure put on Tom Brady. Not having Wes Welker proved to be a huge hinderance for this team offensively because other than him and Moss, New England did not have much to get the ball too and Julian Edelman was having his first game at being the primary wide receiver. I have seen Ray Rice from his days at Rutgers and he is a very good running back. McGahee and Rice took it to New England’s front 7 and dominated the running game to set up Flacco.

The result of last year does not affect my expectation going into this game because Belichick has had 2 weeks to prepare for the Ravens, who in my opinion, are the best team in the AFC as of right now. John Harbaugh is one of the most underrated coaches in the league and Baltimore has won on the road in tough places like New York and Pittsburgh. However, having Wes Welker can really help this offense and New England did a good job against the run against Miami’s 1-2 combo of Ronnie Brown and Ricky Williams to just 83 rushing yards.

2. What has been the biggest surprise so far this year for the Patriots? As a fan, what have you seen that you didn’t expect coming into the season?

The biggest surprise so far for the Patriots has been the play of the young rookies in the offense. Aaron Hernandez has been used as more of a downfield threat in the New England offensively this year and has helped such as in the first half of ballgames against the Jets and the Bills. They added another rookie tight end in Rob Gronkowski who has caught a couple of touchdowns as well. With Moss out of the picture, New England has gone to more multiple tight end formations than I expected. Also, the special teams has made a huge impact with the blocked punts, kicks, and Brandon Tate’s kick return ability.

Even with the new look offensively, New England has surprised me with their balanced attack and abandoning the aerial deep threats with Randy Moss. That is why Moss was ticked off with offensive playcaller Bill O’Brien at halftime of the Dolphins’ game, leading to his dismissal from the team. With this new balanced attack, the Patriots now are looking to make defenses honest allowing room to complete that intermediate pass on third down to move the chains and control the clock.

3. Colts suck! (this was more of a joke that he didn’t quite get at first – here’s his original reply:)

If you are implying this as a question, you can’t count out the Indianapolis Colts in any season as long as they have Peyton Manning. True, the timing with the receivers was way off in the 19-9 victory over the Chiefs in their last game, but I still expect the Colts to get to 10-11 wins. True, it won’t be 12 wins, but that is tough for the Colts to do in an AFC South that is going to be competitive the rest of the way. Yes, teams have ran the ball on them such as Maurice Jones-Drew and Arian Foster, but until I see Indy go on a big losing streak, I think they will be just fine when all is set and done.

And again, after I clarified the joke:

True u got that right

4. What areas of the Ravens do you think the Patriots will be able to exploit on Sunday?

I think the area where the Patriots can exploit on Sunday is if Joe Flacco turns the ball over. Remember, last year, New England’s defense was one of the top teams in the league in takeaways. True, they are missing some of the key cogs to that defense from last year (Leigh Bodden, Ty Warren), but if New England can get after Flacco, they can force turnovers. Opponents have 6 INT’s in 4 games against Flacco this year and even though the Ravens are 2nd in the league against the pass, I would not want to give Tom Brady a short field even without Randy Moss because he will make you pay.

Even with Baltimore giving up 101.2 yards per game on the ground, I think New England will be able to stay balanced because in their last two games, the Patriots have had success running a balanced attack with a running game. They didn’t have much of that in last year’s matchup with Laurence Maroney. True, they don’t have a star running back, but they have a couple good ones in Benjarvus Green-Ellis, Sammy Morris, and new sensation Danny Woodhead from the Jets’ practice squad. Also, if Fred Taylor can play in this game, his veteran presence can help as well. If New England can hang in the game, it will allow Brady to get more time in the pocket to throw with a balanced attack.

5. How do the Patriots’ strengths and weaknesses match up to those of the Ravens?

New England’s strength as of right now is taking the ball from their opponent as defense. They have had seven interceptions in four games despite giving up a ton of yards to opposing offenses. This is a young motivated defense that is able to bend but don’t break. The Ravens are 22nd in the league in points per game (18.4). If New England can force Baltimore into field goals instead of touchdowns in the red zone.

As for the Ravens, they can attack New England’s secondary early and often. New England is 28th in the league against the pass so far. If Joe Flacco can avoid turning the ball over, the Ravens can also have success throwing the ball downfield. I expect Baltimore to go after New England at the left corner position with the inconsistent play of both Darius Butler and Kyle Arrington. Devin McCourty has improved game by game particularly with his coverage skills. I look for T.J Houshmanzadeh to exploit New England over the middle like DaVone Bess did two weeks ago for the Dolphins.

6. How will the Patriots adjust their scheme to keep Ray Rice in check, after what he did to them the last time around?

Ray Rice is a tough running back to stop ever since I seen him play his collegiate ball at nearby Rutgers University. New England had trouble last time against Rice becaue of their inability to tackle Rice in the open field. The minute Rice broke through on that opening play for the touchdown; New England’s run defense was out of their rhythm. Despite the inefficiencies of the secondary, their front seven is the strength of the defense.

If New England can contain the big play in the running game like they did against a similar back in Ronnie Brown last week, Rice can be contained. Willis McGahee is also a concern for the Pats because once Rice wears down the defense, McGahee can run the ball with his power style allowing more missed tackles. Baltimore ran the ball 42 times in that playoff game to just ten passes. If New England can shut down the run game, Flacco will need to make more plays, but it will be a challenge.

7. Is too much made about Belichick’s record after a bye week? Would you feel confident after a bye week no matter who the opponent, as long as he has the extra time to put a game plan together?

The Patriots are 14-4 after a week off under Bill Belichick and I think that record helps Patriots’ fans feel confident going to into their next game. That record exemplifies the level of preparedness that Belichick gives to his players during that week. It does not matter who the opponent is because you know New England has the extra time for Belichick and his staff to look at the small differences that can change a game in his team’s favor. You also have to keep in mind that his players will be motivated because most of them were on the losing end of the 33-14 blowout in the Wild Card game last year and you know the Patriots want their revenge in this ball game.

8. Who will win the game Sunday, and why?

This is going to be a close game and I think even though New England does not have Randy Moss back in the fold, they can still have success passing the ball with the addition of Deion Branch on Monday. Branch has struggled with injuries and inconsistency since leaving New England five years ago due to a contract dispute. Branch fits in with New England’s style of their intermediate to short distance passing game. New England having Wes Welker this time around can make a huge difference in this ball game if the offensive line gives Brady the opportunity to get rid of the football.

As for the Ravens’ offense, I think they are going to be able to move the ball downfield, but they have to take advantage of their opportunities in the red zone and on third downs. New England’s defense has allowed opponents a 55% conversion percentage on third down this year which is the worst in the league. That being said, it is going to come down to who makes the big mistake. Flacco has been more turnover prone than Brady this year and I think that one turnover is the difference.

Patriots 23
Ravens 20

Click here to read Foxboroblog’s questions to me and my answers!


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