Archive for the ‘Ravens Game Previews’ Category

Broncos (2-2) @ Ravens (3-1)

October 7, 2010

When the Denver Broncos roll into M&T Bank Stadium on Sunday, history will not be on their side. Denver is 0-4 all time in B’More, the last loss being the 30-7 shellacking the Ravens put on them last season. Again the Broncos come into town with an apparent “house of cards” number attached to them. In 2009, it was their 6-0 record, which made them look much better than they actually were. This year, I’m thinking it’s their top-ranked passing attack.

You read that right.

It’s not Drew Brees’ Saints, Peyton Manning’s Colts, or even Matt Schaub’s Texans that own the top aerial attack in the NFL through four weeks…its Kyle Orton’s Broncos.

The same Broncos that are now without their leading receiver from 2009, one of the best in the game, Brandon Marshall. The same Broncos that are now throwing the ball all over the field to guys like Jabar Gaffney, Brandon Lloyd, and Eddie Royal. That’s the team that leads the NFL in passing yardage.

Again, I’m not terribly impressed.

Though those three have each had a 100-yard game already this season, the secondaries Denver has faced are not exactly the cream of the crop: Jacksonville – 30th against the pass in 2010, Indianapolis – 15th, Seattle – 29th, and Tennessee – 13th. This week, they’ll face a Ravens secondary that, despite being told all offseason that they were going to be the team’s Achilles heel, are the best unit in the NFL at the moment. Even without Dominique Foxworth or Ed Reed, the Ravens currently boast three cornerbacks playing extremely well – Lardarius Webb, Fabian Washington, and Chris Carr – another who has a track record of strong performances and should see plenty of the field this week – Josh Wilson – another who had a great preseason and appeared ready to step in and contribute – Cary Williams – and a backup safety who has proven that he can come in and cover one-on-one in a pinch – Haruki Nakamura. The Broncos don’t have a true #1 wideout, as Orton has shown that he can spread the ball around very evenly, but that could play right into the hands of the Ravens, who have 5 or 6 players who can adequately cover, despite not having a big-name “shut down” cornerback.

I could be way off base here (wouldn’t be the first time, won’t be the last), but it just looks like a good matchup for B’More to me.

Another thing – the reason the Broncos have had to fling it around so much is that they cannot run it. At all. At 55 yards per game, the Broncos own the NFL’s worst rushing attack by more than 10 yards per game (The 31st ranked team, The Bears, average 68.8 ypg.) Their #1 running back, second year player Knowshon Moreno, has missed the team’s last two games with a hamstring injury. Moreno practiced Wednesday, but not Thursday, and will be, at best, considered questionable for Sunday (though if you tell him Ed Reed isn’t playing, that may change to probable.) (Edit – Moreno is OUT) Filling in for Moreno has been former Patriots’ first round pick (and eventual bust) Lawrence Moroney. Moroney, though, has just 29 yards on 23 carries (not a typo) through his two starts.

Moreno, Maroney, whatever. It doesn’t matter – this game proves a great opportunity for the Ravens’ run defense to move up from their slightly misleading 23rd overall rank.

Now that Denver has spent all week looking at film trying to figure out how to block Haloti Ngata (hint: give it up; can’t be done.), there should be plenty of opportunities for guys like Cory Redding (who missed the Pittsburgh game due to a concussion), Kelly Gregg, and Brandon McKinney to make a few plays. Unfortunately, just as one lineman comes back, another goes out. Paul Kruger suffered a sprained MCL in Pittsburgh, and will miss 2-4 weeks. It’s a shame, as Kruger (if you excuse his penalties as a symptom of rust) showed some things last week, pressuring Charlie Batch several times and recording what would have been a sack-fumble were the play not negated for offsetting penalties. As long as those forementioned D-linemen, along with linebackers Terrell Suggs and Jarret Johnson, can find ways to get pressure on Orton, it should be a very long day for the Broncos’ offense.

As for the other side of the ball, we’ve heard this week that Ray Rice is ready to reclaim his starring role in the Ravens’ offense, after a disappointing first four weeks for Mighty Mouse. Denver, though, is not likely to be the team that he breaks out against. After allowing Maurice Jones-Drew 98 yards on the ground in Week 1, the Broncos have buckled down. In Week 2, Justin Forsett of Seattle had just 44 yards, though he did average a hefty 5.5 ypc. In Week 3, Joseph Addai of Indy managed just 29 yards and a 2.2 average. And, most impressively, they held Chris “I’m going to run for 2500 yards this year” Johnson of the Titans to a measly 53 yards on 19 carries last week. While Ravens fans are clamoring for a more balanced offense, and more touches for Rice, Denver just looks much more vulnerable against the pass.

And so, we could very well be in for another week of 200+ yards and multiple touchdowns from Joe Flacco like we saw the last time the Ravens played at home. Last year against Denver, Flacco was 20/25 (80%) for 175 yards and 1 score. While Denver may elect to put their best cornerback, Champ Bailey, on Anquan Boldin all day long, Flacco is showing more and more comfort with T.J. Houshmandzadeh, and should have all the confidence in the world in T.J. after last week. Throw Derrick Mason, Flacco’s all-time favorite target and the Ravens’ leading receiver in Pittsburgh a week ago, into the mix, along with Todd Heap and Rice out of the backfield, and the Ravens should have plenty of success moving the ball through the air even if “Q” has another relatively quiet afternoon.

The guys on the NFL Network’s great program, Playbook, were discussing how they feel the Ravens’ offense will “break out” against the Broncos. They pointed to Flacco’s 5-0 lifetime record against the AFC West, and predicted a big day from Anquan Boldin, while also forecasting that the Ravens will shut down the Broncs’ high-flying offense.

Some are making a big deal about the fact that the Ravens are just 1-3 in their last 4 games coming after a win over Pittsburgh.  That’s a combination of emotional letdown and physical beatdown after those intense rivalry matches, but let’s remember – fortunately or unfortunately, depending on how you look at it – this is just the second such occurrence during the Harbaugh/Flacco era, as last week was just their second victory against Pittsburgh.  Flacco said this week that, if the Ravens can’t put the emotion of last week behind them and move forward quickly, then they aren’t the team that they think they are.

The Ravens have a history of slapping around the Broncos, a team that our favorite columnist Mike Preston likes to describe as “soft,” when they come to town, and this week should be no different.

This assertion still applies.

Ravens 27 Broncos 13

Goob's Pregame Thoughts: Ravens/Steelers

October 2, 2010

Ravens (2-1) @ Steelers (3-0)

October 1, 2010

Some people get all pumped up at the prospect of another hard-hitting, close-fought, drag out brawl between these two hated division rivals. These people bask in the mutual hatred shared by the two fanbases, drinking in every last ounce of disdain as kickoff approaches.

Usually, I’m one of those people. For some reason this time feels a little different, though.

I can sense a few reasons for this.

One, two of the marquee guys on the teams won’t be participating Sunday, as the Steelers are without Ben Roethlisberger, and the Ravens without Ed Reed.

Second, it’s still very early in the season, so the stakes don’t seem quite as high as normal.

Mostly though, it probably has something to do with the classic psychological evaluation of people that states that we are more upset by negative outcomes than we are made joyous by positive ones. That is, if you lost $1000, you’d be more angry/sad than you would be happy if you found that same $1000.

That’s how Ravens/Steelers feels this week. The prospect of losing to Pittsburgh (again…Harbaugh/Flacco are a dismal 1-4 so far against them) is more vomit-inducing to me than a win over them is exciting. This is in no small part due, I’m sure, to the fact that the Steelers are playing with house money at this point. Even the most optimistic Steeler fan would have told you that they would be ecstatic to be 3-1 to start the season, and that the team should be more than satisfied with a 2-2 record out of the gates while their franchise quarterback, Ben Roethlisberger, served his suspension. Now, they face the very real prospect of going a ridiculous 4-0 to start 2010. The only thing standing in the way of that outcome is, of course, our Baltimore Ravens.

Should the Ravens win this game, it will be as much a relief as a reason to celebrate. Going up against a team that is on what amounts to their fourth-string quarterback is a situation from which any true contender should emerge victorious much more often than not. As for your nearest yinzer-wannabe, sure they’ll come back with “yeah, but we didn’t have BEN.” While a fair point, the fact of the matter will be that the teams will sport equal 3-1 records, and “game on” moving forward.

Lose, and all hell breaks loose. The Ravens will find themselves in a two-game hole in the AFC North after only four weeks of football. At 1-2 in the division, their best case scenario would be to end the year at 4-2 against AFCN opponents – hardly a lock to win the division crown. The Steelers would have put together a 4-0 record with basically a high school offense. And the aforementioned towel wavers? Don’t think we will EVER hear the end of it, should Charlie freaking Batch figure out a way to do enough Sunday to lead his team to a victory over the “powerful” Ravens’ defense.

Doesn’t that latter scenario sound fun? See what I mean now about a loss being more “bad” than a win is “good?”

Anyway, all that said, how do I feel about the game itself?

Uneasy, at best.

We all know that when the Steelers and Ravens match up, you can pretty much throw the stats and records out the window. However, this year, one stat that is too glaring to completely omit is that of the Ravens having the 22nd-ranked rushing defense in the league. Add to that Pittsburgh’s #3 rushing attack, and the potential for the Steelers to have more success on the ground against the Ravens than they have in nearly a decade seems all too real…on paper, anyway.

In reality, the Ravens defense hasn’t been all THAT bad. Ladainian Tomlinson ripped off a couple 21-yard scampers in Week 1 that padded his stats, but was otherwise fairly well contained. Shonn Green did nothing in the same game. In Week 2, Cedric Benson, who destroyed the Ravens in 2009, was bottled up nicely. And yes, Peyton Hillis ran wild last week, but again, most of his yards came on a few big runs, and also against Greg Mattison’s “passing situation” sub packages. The now departed Trevor Pryce was a big part of those sub packages that couldn’t stop Hillis, but he seems to have no problem trashing his former teammates, guys he was lining up with not even a week ago. Apparently the #1 clause of any New York Jets contract reads “must be a jerk at all times.”

The Ravens will be better against the run in Pittsburgh. They’ll get Terrence “Mount” Cody suited up for his first NFL action, and that, along with the need for redemption for a prideful unit, will be enough to keep Rashard Mendenhall from getting anything significant going.

With task #1 accomplished, they can focus on Charlie Batch. Batch threw three touchdowns last week in Tampa, but two of those should have been interceptions. Along with the one pick he did throw, that would be a nice 1 TD/3 INT day. Batch will make mistakes Sunday. However, if potential interceptions clang off defenders hands the way they did for him last week, or the way they did for Ravens’ defenders in Week 2 in Cincinnati, it will be another nail biter down-to-the-wire type game at the convergence of the three rivers.  Double up on the stick-em, Zibby.

On offense, the Ravens will have to play their best game of the season to date. And they’ll have to get off the bus ready to play. In the three games so far, the Ravens’ BEST first offensive play has been Ray Rice for 3 yards (twice). The other first play was the sack-fumble in New York. The SECOND offensive play last week should have resulted in six points the other way.  The Pittsburgh crowd will be amped, and the defense will be champing at the bit to make Joe Flacco’s life a living hell. This lackadaisical, dazed, slow-start business has to stop. It’s been a disturbing characteristic of the Ravens’ offense for far too long now, and if it rears its ugly head again in Pittsburgh this week, the way that defense is playing, things could get very ugly very quickly.

If you see the Ravens’ offense moseying up to the line of scrimmage with 6-8 seconds on the play clock, and by the time they put the requisite man in motion, Flacco is snapping the ball at or near 0, so the Steelers can time their jumps off the ball…you might as well just turn the T.V. off, because they don’t stand a chance.

Cam Cameron needs to get the plays in quickly, Joe needs to relay them efficiently, and the team needs to be lined up and ready to go with 10 or more seconds on the play clock. At that point, Flacco has to be able to survey the Pittsburgh defense, attempt a pre-snap read, and make the necessary adjustments.

Eight men in the box? Audible out of that running play.

Big puffy-black-haired troll looking dude bouncing around like an idiot on the left side of the line? Slide the protection left and send the right side receiver deep against man coverage.

In short, Joe Flacco and Cam Cameron need to ENGAGE in the chess match that Dick LeBeau and the Steelers’ defense are playing, instead of simply letting them flip the board over, kick sand in their faces, and shove rooks up their noses (you’ll excuse my mixed metaphors).

Against Pittsburgh’s defense, the pre-snap battles are nearly as important as the post-snap ones, and Flacco needs to start winning the former much more often to give his team any chance to succeed in the latter.

After the snap, the Ravens have the personnel to move the ball against the Steelers.  Ray Rice had over 150 total yards in both matches last year, and looks to have bounced back from his injury against the Browns to be ready to play.  Anquan Boldin caught 8 balls for 84 yards in his last game against Pittsburgh, Super Bowl XLIV.  Todd Heap had 2 TD grabs in the Steel City last season.  Derrick Mason had seven catches in each game in 2009.  T.J. Houshmandzadeh has had plenty of experience and success working against the Steelers’ secondary.  And new tight ends Ed Dickson and Dennis Pitta present new, unknown variables for Pittsburgh to account for.

It’s not 7-on-7, though.  The onus, as it always does against Pittsburgh, will fall on the offensive line’s ability to keep Flacco upright, and his ability to get the ball out quickly.  Take a sack if necessary Joe, but don’t force the ball into coverage, and don’t get stripped in the pocket.  The Steelers’ defense thrives on the sack/fumble.

(An aside: Ravens fans are all too familiar with the names James Harrison and Lamar Woodley, but keep an eye out for Lawrence Timmons this time as well – he was the one that damn near killed Mason over the middle in the 2008 home game. He’s having a very strong season in the early going.)

Of those aforementioned five games against Pittsburgh in the Harbaugh/Flacco era, only one was decided by more than four points (three, three, four, three, and nine), and two went to overtime. The simple fact is, the Steelers have made the plays down the stretch to win those ballgames, while the Ravens have repeatedly shot themselves in the foot.

Picking up boneheaded penalties to rob themselves of precious field position or take points off the board.

Dropping wide open passes in the end zone.

Failing to wrap up the quarterback for a sack despite getting both hands on him, letting him instead escape and make a big play.

These are the kinds of things that have doomed the Ravens time and again in this rivalry match.

Until they get them corrected, the results will continue, I’m afraid, to be the same.

Playing smart, disciplined, mistake-free football will go a long way to seeing the Ravens emerge from Heinz Field as the victors. On top of that, they must take advantage of the errors made by Batch, and not let speedster Mike Wallace get open down the field. That type of execution, combined with the absence of noted Raven-killers Santonio Holmes and Roethlisberger (a single Holmes touchdown ended up being the difference in 3 of the last four Ravens losses) should be enough to put them over the top.

Ravens 17 Steelers 10

Will We See "Blitzburgh" Sunday? Or More "Cover-2burgh?"

September 29, 2010

Everyone knows that Pittsburgh Steelers’ defensive coordinator Dick Lebeau loves to blitz. When he and Rex Ryan used to go up against one another in Ravens-Steelers matchups, it seemed like a contest of who could come up with the more exotic blitz package. Hell, “Blitzburgh” is a popular moniker used when describing the team’s defense by both fans and pundits alike.

But will we see that kind of scheme from the Steelers on Sunday?

It will be interesting to see whether Lebeau decides to stick with his usual inclinations to blitz, blitz, and blitz some more, or if he changes things up a bit. Joe Flacco, as can be seen in the above graphic (taken from ESPN the Magazine’s 2010 NFL Preview), was at his best against the blitz in 2009.  His nearly 11-point jump in passer rating from non-blitz to blitz situations was the 4th highest of any quarterback in the NFL (interestingly enough, his backup, Marc Bulger, saw the highest rating increase against the blitz in 2009.) Joe really was “Joe Cool” in the face of five or more pass rushers.

On the other hand, Joe’s struggles against “softer” defenses are well documented. He looked completely lost against Cincinnati in Week 2, and had similar struggles against the Bengals, and other Cover 2 defenses like Indianapolis’, in 2009. Don’t think a great defensive mind like Lebeau hasn’t noticed this just as all of Ravens nation has.

Lebeau may very well decide to start the game trying to get pressure from his front four, and dropping seven or even 8 men into coverage to force Flacco to go through all of his reads. And let’s not overlook the fact that it’s the Steelers’ personnel, as much as the scheme, that generates so much heat on opposing signal-callers. When you bring your three defensive lineman after the quarterback, and then throw in James Harrison or LaMarr Woodley as rusher #4, your chances of strong pressure or a sack may rival what other teams generate bringing five or 6 men.

Against a Baltimore offensive line that has struggled at times in 2010, and is still without one of their starting tackles, don’t be surprised if Lebeau and the Steelers aren’t blitzing as much as we’re used to seeing to start the game. Even if the line is able to hold up and give Flacco time, he will need to show that he can find his receivers and deliver the ball quickly into traffic. If he gets into a rhythm early and puts up some points, the Steelers may then go ahead and open the blitz floodgates. Also, 3rd-and-long situations will likely be met with lots of pressure as Pittsburgh tries to force the issue and generate turnovers.

The Dick Lebeau-Cam Cameron chess match has become a fun one to watch. After being schooled by Lebeau in 2008, Cameron turned the tables a bit in 2009, as his offense generated 716 yards of offense in the two contests, compared to 584 for Pittsburgh. Still, all that offensive movement resulted in just the single win. Lebeau has his favorite troy, Toy Polamalu (or something) back to play with this year as well, after being forced to operate without him for most of last season. Of course, Cam has some new weapons of his own to throw at the Steelers.

It should be a good one.

Browns (0-2) @ Ravens (1-1)

September 24, 2010


Our Ravens head back to Charm City for a football game for the first time in nearly a month this Sunday to take on the Cleveland Browns. And boy, could they use the home cookin’.

The Ravens, Arizona Cardinals, and Miami Dolphins are the only teams yet to play a home game through the first two weeks of the 2010 season. The Ravens, though, were not only on the road, but matched up with playoff teams from 2009 for both weeks, while the Cards and ‘Phins got some cupcakes at St. Louis and at Buffalo, respectively. Looked at through that lens, their 1-1 start isn’t nearly as disastrous and catastrophic as listening to sports talk radio in B’More right now would lead one to believe.

Many Ravens fans are already calling for Joe Flacco’s head after his rocky start to the 2010 campaign. As ridiculous as that may seem, I have to think it stems from such a desperate yearning for a true franchise quarterback in this town. The fierce desire for a Brady, Manning, or (gulp) Roethlisberger (the quarterback, not the gentleman) of our own, coupled with the still all-too-fresh memories of the struggles of the only other quarterback this franchise has ever drafted in the first round, combine to make Flacco’s leash, from a fan’s standpoint anyway, shorter than Ray Rice without cleats.

That Marc Bulger suddenly find himself as one of the most popular men in Baltimore, in just week 3, quite frankly embarrasses me to be a Ravens fan. Listening to the calls for Bulger, the ripping of the organization for trading Troy Smith (still just a backup, I’ll have you note), and the grumblings about firing Cam Cameron and even John Harbaugh are enough to make me actually thankful that my car radio only works sporadically these days.

Not that I’m a complete Flacco apologist at this point. His struggles through two games are certainly alarming, but far from a reason to panic and completely go back to the drawing board regarding the future of the franchise, as the vocal minority (I hope) would seemingly have Ozzie Newsome doing. Just as troubling is the play of the Ravens’ offensive line, so strong a year ago, that allowed the Cincinnati Bengals to consistently pressure Flacco with just a four man rush. This team is missing tackle Jared Gaither much more than any of us anticipated. Hopefully Oneil Cousins is able to play more this week and moving forward, which will allow Marshal Yanda to return to his much more natural position at right guard. Right now, the Yanda/Chester 2-guys-out-of-position situation taking place on the right side of the Ravens’ line just isn’t getting the job done. Add to that even Ben Grubbs struggling more than we expect from him, and it’s not really that surprising that Joe feels he has nowhere to step up TO in the pocket.

All that said, there are two schools of thought regarding the Ravens’ offensive game plan going into Sunday. The first is that the Ravens need to come out with the “ground and pound” mentality, running Ray Rice straight at the Browns, who have struggled mightily to stop the run through two games. This scenario would hope to get the offensive line in a rhythm, put the ball in the hands of the team’s top playmaker as often as possible, and remove the burden from Flacco to try to do too much, lest his struggles continue.

The other idea is that the Browns present the perfect opportunity to get Joe on the same page with his receivers and feeling comfortable throwing the ball again. Coming out with the no-huddle offense that Joe has been so successful with in the past, with the quiet home crowd on his side and the ability to change plays at the line could be just what the doctor ordered for Flacco, his o-line, and his receivers. Looking ahead to Week 4, the Ravens are certainly going to have to move the ball through the air to win in Pittsburgh (the Steelers just held Chris Johnson to 30 yards or something ridiculous), and so there is a bit of urgency to righting the offensive ship.

Whichever of these strategies Cam Cameron decides to employ early in the game Sunday, it would be great to see the Ravens come out firing, and avoid the type of slow start that has become par for the course here in the Flacco-Cameron era. In the first quarter this season, the Ravens have had four drives – two fumbles and two punts. They were shut out for the first 30 minutes in Cincy. It’s like its 2009 all over again (think Minnesota, New England, etc.) With the way the defense is playing right now, an offense that scores early and often would have the Ravens quickly flying as high as so many had predicted for them in the preseason. Getting up early on this Browns squad will quickly sap the wind from their sails, feed the frenzied M&T Bank Stadium crowd (it is the home opener, remember), and have the home team coast to a comfortable win. Turning the ball over in the first half, unleashing a barrage of punts, and letting them hang around could spell disaster.

The Browns offense will likely be headed up by quarterback Seneca Wallace this week, with Jake Delhomme dealing with an injured foot. Wallace threw for 229 yards against Kansas City last week, with his favorite target being Joshua Cribbs. Cribbs, who has hurt the Ravens returning kicks in years past (though they bottled him up well in 2009), can also be an effective weapon running the Browns’ version of the Wildcat offense. Now he is showing that he can catch passes as a receiver, and he is undoubtedly the one guy who can turn this game in Cleveland’s favor Sunday. Expect the Ravens defense to be keying on Cribbs, and let’s hope Billy Cundiff can continue his strong season this week with some more touchbacks.

Without Cribbs, the Browns don’t have much. Their running game consists of Peyton Hillis, who came over in a trade from Denver, and Jerome Harrison. Second year player James Davis could also get some touches this week. Hillis is the kind of straight-ahead runner that the Ravens will eat up at the line, especially if Terrence Cody is back this week as he is expected to be. Harrison, though he finished 2009 on a strong note, has been ineffective so far this season, with just 85 yards on 25 carries. Mohammed Massaquoi is the team’s deep threat, but he doesn’t seem to have much chemistry with Wallace as of yet (1 reception, 9 yards against KC).

The Ravens defense, despite being gifted two of them last week, is still looking for their first interception of 2010. They have picked off Browns’ quarterbacks in 11 consecutive games though, so things are looking up in that department. This is another area where building an early lead and forcing the Browns to play catch-up with a mediocre quarterback could lead to a nice little turnover-fest for the purple D. Again, not looking past Cleveland, but looking FORWARD to Pittsburgh sans Roethlisberger, and the get-up-early, play-from-ahead strategy should pay excellent dividends.

John Harbaugh’s teams have a long resume of winning the games that they are “supposed” to win, and this one should be no different. Unfortunately, it will only lead to another week of “so they beat the Browns, so what?” talk on the local airwaves, but that’s not for the team to worry about.

The M&T Bank Stadium crowd will be jacked up for this game, and the Ravens are ready, willing, and able to take out some frustrations on the Cleveland Browns. Ravens win big.

Ravens 31 Browns 6

Ravens (1-0) @ Bengals (0-1)

September 17, 2010

Next up in the “teams whose head coach owes their job to Ray Lewis” are the Cincinnati Bengals. Now we just need the Jacksonville Jaguars (Jack Del Rio) and the 2005-2008 San Francisco 49ers (Mike Nolan) to complete the “#52’s head coach’s tree.” Marvin Lewis’ team is still licking their wounds from that 38-24 drubbing at the hands of the New England Patriots (a game that wasn’t nearly as close as the score) in Week 1, and will look to rebound against a team that they had plenty of success against in 2009.

Those 2009 losses to Cincy were especially surprising for the Ravens and their fans not necessarily because of the outcomes, but because of the manner in which the Bengals were victorious. Running back Cedric Benson rad roughshod over B’More’s usually stout run defense, breaking their streak of 40 consecutive games without allowing a 100-yard rusher on his way to 120 yards in Week 5, and duplicating the feat with 117 yards just four weeks later. Benson managed just 43 yards on 15 carries in Week 1, but his opportunities were quite limited due to his team getting blown out of the water early and being forced to play catch-up.

The Ravens will be looking for some revenge against Benson Sunday. If rookie defensive tackle Terrence Cody is able to suit up (he practiced this week), it will go a long way to exacting said revenge. Along with Haloti Ngata and Cory Redding up front, Benson will be hard pressed to find even a sliver of daylight. Even without Cody, the Ravens did well against the Jets’ vaunted rushing attack last week, as RBs Shonn Green and LaDainian Tomlinson managed 80 yards on 16 carries.

“Well, wait a minute, that’s 5 yards per carry,” you might be saying. The stat is a bit misleading, as Tomlinson ripped off two 21-yard runs in the game. Take away those two, and the numbers drop to 38 yards on 14 carries, a 2.7 ypc average. Of course, you can’t just “take away” big plays – the Ravens need to avoid giving up similar big plays to Benson and Bengals’ “change-of-pace” back Bernard Scott.

Which of course, isn’t to say that stopping the run = Ravens win. Quarterback Carson Palmer has always done well against our Ravens, putting up a career record of 8-3. Even after throwing a pick-6 to Ed Reed last year, Palmer bounced back and led his team to a last-minute game-winning touchdown in Baltimore.

Palmer threw for 345 yards and 2 touchdowns last week in New England, but again – they were in catch-up mode all day after falling behind 31-3. He again has a full compliment of weapons to throw to, including two reality TV stars.

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Along with those two, rookie WR Jordan Shipley is dangerous, and Andre Caldwell (though I ripped Mike Preston earlier this week for bringing him up) is set to return from a groin injury and has hurt the Ravens in the past.

Just as getting Cody back could help the run defense, a return from injury in the secondary could greatly improve the Ravens’ chances Sunday. Lardarius Webb has been removed from the injury report, but is still “working out the kinks,” after ACL surgery. With Webby in there, the much maligned Ravens’ secondary is instantly better. Without him, newcomer Josh Wilson and safety Haruki Nakamura will be forced to line up against the Bengals’ receivers,  matchups that favor Cincy.

The Bengals also gave the Ravens fits on defense last year, holding them to 14 and 7 points, respectively, in the two meetings. This despite Ray Rice racking up 143 and 135 yards from scrimmage (mostly receiving). The problem was that Rice was the team’s leading receiver in both games, as cornerbacks Leon Hall and Jonathan Joseph gave Joe Flacco and the Ravens’ wideouts fits.

2010 is a new year, though, and now Hall and Joseph have to deal with Anquan “Q” Boldin and former teammate T.J. Houshmandzadeh, who weren’t there last year. Hopefully Housh can also bring some “insider info” to the Ravens in practice this week – the offense and defense could both use all the help they can get after being swept last season. Tom Brady had no trouble finding his wideouts last week, as both Wes Welker (8 catches, 64 yards, 2 TD) and Randy Moss (5, 59, 0) had better days than any Ravens WR had against the Bengals in 2009.

Of course, he’s Tom Brady. While Flacco looked like Brady on occasion last week, skillfully avoiding the Jets’ pressure and converting key 3rd-and-long situations, but looked downright awful at other times, holding the ball too long in the pocket, overthrowing a wide open Le’Ron McClain in the end zone, and throwing from his back foot. To show that he really is ready to step into the next tier of NFL quarterbacks, as so many experts see him doing, Joe needs to start beating quality QBs – not just the likes of Mark Sanchez and Jay Cutler – in head-to-head matchups. He has the weapons to do it now, so the time for excuses is over. In his defense, he had a perfect touchdown pass dropped last week (by Todd Heap) and another likely touchdown just flat out missed (by Derrick Mason). But he also underthrew Mason on another deep route, underthrew Boldin from his back foot, and missed Ray Rice on a slant that would have given the Ravens a 1st-and-goal inside the 5. We know he can make the throws. What we need to see now is consistency from #5.

The Ravens have revenge on their minds after being embarrassed by Cincy in 2009. The Bengals have redemption on theirs, after being blown out in Week 1.

I think the Bengals do bounce back this week…just not quite high enough.

Ravens 24 Bengals 20

Ravens @ Jets

September 12, 2010

Well, if the Atlanta Falcons weren’t the worst team ever in the history of teams, the Ravens could be sitting in first place in the AFC North this morning without having yet even played a down in 2010. The Bengals came out looking like the Bungles of old against the Patriots before getting things together in the second half and making the final score a respectable 38-24, and the Browns were undone by two Jake Delhomme interceptions (raise your hands if you’re surprised…anyone? anyone?) down in Tampa. Pittsburgh, however, pulled another one out of their rear ends, winning despite going four full quarters without scoring a touchdown.

So the Ravens miss out on the ridiculously meaningless chance to enter their Monday Night showdown with the Jets with an early 0.5 game lead in the AFC North. No matter. At this point its all about results on the field anyway.

And those results will come after a week of jabber-jawing between these two teams, smack talk which is sure to continue well after the opening kickoff. The Ravens and Jets would be wise to keep the extracurriculars to a minimum, however, as the officiating crew set to watch over this one is the same group that was on the field for the FLAGSFLAGSFLAGSFLAGS Game, which saw an incredible 310 collective penalty yards. I think about 270 of those were Frank Walker’s though, so maybe we’ll be ok.

As long as the zebras let them play, this game could easily be the most smash-mouth, hard-hitting contest of Week 1. They say familiarity breeds contempt, and if that holds true, the hate will be palpable on the field in East Rutherford Monday Night. The Jets’ roster and coaching staff are, as has been well documented, littered with former Ravens.

However, some important things have changed since guys like Rex Ryan, Bart Scott, and Jim Leonhard left B’More. Most notably are the emergence of Ray Rice as a budding superstar, and the addition of some other quality weapons to Joe Flacco’s arsenal, including wide receivers Anquan Boldin and T.J. Houshmandzadeh, and tight end Ed Dickson. The threat of the 3-headed monster Ravens’ backfield still exists as it did when Rex was still going up against the Ravens’ O in practice every day, but the Ravens have since obviously put much more effort into becoming a team that can more efficiently move the football through the air.

Moving the ball in general Monday night, whether through the air or on the ground, will prove difficult against Rex’s Jets.

New York had the #1 defense in the NFL in 2009, #1 against the pass and #8 against the run. That scary-good pass defense has the potential to be even better in 2010, having been bolstered by the offseason acquisitions of cornerbacks Antonio Cromartie and Kyle Wilson, a rookie out of Boise State. As everyone has heard 10,000 times by now, they will also be with Darrelle Revis, thought by many to be the best CB in the league. Flacco and all his fancy new weapons will have their work cut out for them.

Surprisingly, even with Rex’s complex blitz schemes, the Jets had only 32 sacks in 2009, the same number as the Ravens (tied for 18th in the NFL). While the numbers don’t really back up the reputation of the Jets as a get-after-the-passer type team, the Ravens have some questions on the offensive line that make us uneasy regardless. Jared Gaither’s back issues will keep him out, and Oniel Cousins is still dealing with some headaches after suffering a concussion in the preseason, but is expected to start at right tackle. If his noggin starts to hurt, or if his play is poor, the Ravens will likely move right guard Marshal Yanda to right tackle, and insert Chris Chester at right guard. This may be the safest course of action anyway, but the Ravens seem willing to start with Yanda in his more natural spot. If Cousins is effective, this is easily the Ravens’ strongest offensive line alignment in Gaither’s absence.

The Ravens have shown a fair amount of the “slow-hurry” no-huddle offense during the preseason, and Flacco looked very comfortable doing so, especially against the New York Giants. This is something that Ravens fans can attest Rex Ryan’s defenses always struggle to defend against. The issue will be whether or not Flacco can run this offense in what is sure to be an extremely loud New Meadowlands Stadium. He has used a silent snap count in the past, and while it will be a challenge, it could still be the best kryptonite to counter the Jets’ defense.

On the other side of the ball, its surprising how everyone is still talking up the Jets’ rushing attack, which was also #1 in the league last year, despite leading rusher Thomas Jones departing for Kansas City. Sure, Shonn Green may be able to step in and seamlessly continue Gang Green’s dominant ground attack, but let’s make him prove it before we go ahead and just assume they will be as effective this season as last. I’d feel much better about the Ravens defense against this Jets rushing attack were rookie Terrence “Mount” Cody playing. Cody will miss the game with knee issues, and Kelly Gregg will have to play like the Buddy Lee of old to make up for the giant rookie’s absence. Stopping the Jets running game, especially if the offense can jump out and put some points up early, will put the game squarely on the shoulders of second-year quarterback Mark Sanchez, which, conventional wisdom suggests, plays right into B’More’s hands.

Sanchez was just good enough as a rookie, getting his team to the AFC Championship despite throwing 20 picks to just 12 touchdowns, with a QB rating of 63.0. This preseason he hasn’t looked any better, throwing 2 scores and 2 interceptions. Much ado has been made of the Ravens’ issues in the secondary, but it hasn’t looked all that bad so far in the “fake” games. With the potential return of Lardarius Webb, a game-time decision, the chance is there for the Ravens to lock down the Jets’ passing game, which will be missing perennial Raven-killer (while he was in Pittsburgh) Santonio Holmes, who is suspended for the first four games.

More concerning has been the play of the linebackers against the pass. Jets’ tight end Dustin Keller caught 45 passes in 2008, and could cause the Ravens problems. The best defense against Keller may be to crank up the pass rush on Sanchez, so that they are forced to keep their tight ends in to block, much as the Ravens have been forced to do with Todd Heap in the past.

The build-up to this game has been a bit extreme, and admittedly probably tiresome for fans that don’t quite care for these two teams (which, if we’re honest, is MOST NFL fans). Like Ray, we’re all just ready to see them “strap up their chinstraps” at this point.

The Jets seem all too willing to take the torch from the Ravens as the league’s most brash, heaviest trash-talking, and generally universally despised team. What better way to officially pass said torch than to treat the Nation to a very public shutting-up of Rex and his yet-to-win-anything squad?

Ravens 20 Jets 13

Preseason Game 1: Panthers @ Ravens

August 11, 2010

Ravens Cats

For the second consecutive year, we Ravens fans enter the preseason eager to wipe the bitter taste of a postseason loss to a hated rival out of our mouths. Last year, it was the 2008 AFC Championship game in Pittsburgh we were looking to push out of our memories. This year, the 2009 AFC Divisional game in Indianapolis is, unfortunately, our most recent football memory. Thus, it is with wide open arms we welcome in the 2010 NFL season, even if it is just in preseason mode at the moment.

So, besides the elation that comes with watching our purple and black take the field for the first time in nearly seven months, what should we be watching for on Thursday night? Here’s my far-from-exhaustive list:

Wide Receiver

Is there really any question that watching #81 catch passes at M&T Bank Stadium is what has most Ravens fans salivating most at the moment? Anquan Boldin gives the Ravens’ passing attack the kind of legitimacy it hasn’t had since Vinny Testaverde was heaving pigskins to Michael Jackson and Derrick Alexander in the team’s infancy.

Boldin has already been putting on a show at training camp, so expectations certainly haven’t fallen since his arrival in B’More. The naysayers will point out that Boldin’s strong camp has “only been against the Ravens’ weak secondary.” Boldin has had little trouble regardless of his opponents throughout his career, but Thursday will be his first chance to show us Ravens fans what he can do as a member of our squad.

Is he in sync with Joe Flacco yet?

Does his presence open up space for Derrick Mason and Todd Heap?

These questions obviously won’t be answered this week, as Boldin and the rest of the starters are likely to play no more than a quarter, but it’s something to watch as the march to the regular season continues.

Boldin, of course, isn’t the only wide receiver on the roster. Along with old faithful (emphasis on old) Derrick Mason, the Ravens will trot out Mark Clayton and Dante Stallworth, who are fighting for the #3 spot. By all accounts, Stallworth is putting on a show at camp, but Clayton is also thriving from the slot position, which is the more natural for a player of his particular skill set. While they are both likely to make the roster, the competition has them both trying to push their games to the next level, which only benefits the team as a whole.

Kicker

For the second straight year, the Ravens kicking game is in flux as the preseason opens. However, the two men in the competition this year are much more established NFL performers than their 2009 counterparts were. Nobody is confusing Billy Cundiff and Shayne Graham with Graham Gano and Steven Haushka. Graham is expected to win the job by most, but Cundiff is conceding nothing.

Originally, the coaching staff had said that each kicker would get a half in the preseason games, but that has changed. John Harbaugh now plans to rotate the two on each field goal attempt, to try to ensure them equal opportunities as the final decision approaches.

Remember to keep an eye on their kickoffs as well – not just how far they fly, but on how the opponents return games fair against each. The hang-time and directional placement of kickoffs has a lot more to do with kick coverage success than many fans realize.

Offensive Line

The Jared Gaither saga has made the O-line into a drama that was not supposed to be.  I’ll be very interested to see who the team starts at right tackle opposite Michael Oher.  The staff knows that, if needed, Marshal Yanda can more than adequately fill that role, with Chris Chester moving inside to Yanda’s guard spot.  However, I think they may want to give third-year man Oniel Cousins the chance to win the job in Gaither’s absence.  Cousins’ mistakes in the second Pittsburgh game last year were detrimental to the team, but reports have been positive on the 315-pounder so far this summer.

None of us really have any idea how the Gaither thing will wind up playing out.  Luckily, the team has a ton of quality depth at both the guard and tackle positions.  It’s definitely worth watching to see how this group plays in the preseason, both in opening up lanes for Ray Rice and in keeping Joe Flacco on his feet.

Inside Linebacker

In another mirror image of 2009, the battle for the right to line up next to Ray Lewis on Sundays is one to watch. Last year, rookie Dannell Ellerbe came out of nowhere to win the starting job by the end of the season. He was expected to start again in 2010, but it has actually been Jameel McClain getting the majority of the snaps with the first team in Westminster. McClain, in his 3rd season out of Syracuse, had 2.5 sacks as a rookie in 2008, but didn’t do much in 2009. He had a great offseason though, and now finds himself with the edge over Ellerbe and Tavares Gooden. Practice is one thing though – McClain will have to show that he can perform in game situations to keep his name atop the list.

McClain may also have an edge, as he is considered the best of the three at getting to the quarterback. Which brings us to our next item…

Pass Defense

I say “pass defense” here and not just “secondary” for a reason (and I thank Rob Long of Fox1370 for driving home this point today). Ravens fans are extremely worried about the team’s secondary, with Domonique Foxworth out for the season already, Lardarius Webb and Fabian Washington both coming off ACL injuries of their own in 2009, and the continually up-in-the-air status of Ed Reed. The team’s starting corners on Thursday are likely to be Cary Williams and Travis Fisher – not two names that exactly inspire confidence.

However, the success (or lack thereof) of the Ravens’ secondary this year will hinge heavily on the other aspect of pass defense, the pass rush.

Quick, name the four starting cornerbacks on last year’s two Super Bowl teams, the Colts and Saints.

Some of you may have done it, but I’m guessing many of you couldn’t. And even if you could, there are no “big name” CBs like Champ Bailey, Darrelle Revis, or Nnamdi Asomugha on those rosters. What the Colts and Saints have in spades that helps their respective secondaries is a consistently strong pass rush, especially from their front four.

The Ravens’ pass rush will be the key in 2010. If they hang those backup-quality DBs out to dry for 5-6 seconds at a time, we are in trouble. As we are if it takes 6- and 7-man blitzes to get pressure.

Haloti Ngata says he has been focusing on getting to the passer this offseason. He will need to greatly improve that part of his game to take the next step as an elite DL in the NFL.

Newly acquired DT Cory Redding posted back-to-back 10-sack seasons in 2006 and 2007, while playing in the football wasteland of Detroit. If having a Haloti Ngata and Terrell Suggs lining up around him can rekindle performances like that, the Ravens may be in decent shape.

Speaking of Suggs, keep an eye on #55 as well. All reports out of training camp indicate that you’ll like what you see from the lean-and-mean Sizzle. He won’t suddenly be asked to put his hand in the dirt and rush the QB every play like he was at the start of his career, but when he does rush, take note of whether or not the Panthers try to double-team him, and how he does against any one-on-one blocking he faces.

Again, this list is far from exhaustive, but hey, it’s only the preseason. Most of you will check out after the first quarter or so, along with the starters. If you stick around though, the Ravens’ depth will be on full display. Guys like Demetrius Williams and Marcus Smith at the WR position, who haven’t had to fight for roster spots in the past, will be doing just that to try to keep their jobs. Players who would likely be starting on other teams, like a Brandon McKinney or Marc Bulger, will have the chance to beat up on the Panthers’ reserves.

I don’t bother predicting scores of preseason games (not that I could do much worse than I do for regular season and playoff games though), but I do expect the Ravens to win on Thursday. They are an extremely deep team, as Tony Lombardi tells us, everywhere except cornerback.

Divisional Playoff Preview: Ravens @ Colts

January 15, 2010

Ravens Colts Playoff

Ravens Colts Stats 2

Another season, another trip to face the AFC South winners, holders of the #1 overall seed in the AFC. Can the Ravens repeat the huge upset they pulled last year in Nashville against the Titans? Methinks yes. Let’s look at the reasons why…

Peyton Zulu

1. The Colts’ regular season dominance will again hurt them in the postseason

The Colts won more games than any other team 00’s. However, as of right now there are two teams who have won more Lombardi Trophies than they did (Pats, Steelers) and three others who have won just as many (Ravens, Buccaneers, Giants). All their regular season victories have not translated into January and February success. In fact, at times they have been so dominant during the regular season that they have locked up the #1 seed early enough that their last game or two has been meaningless. Every time that such a scenario has played out so far, they have lost their first playoff game. That’s right; Peyton Manning and his Colts are 0-3 in the Divisional Round during years in which they had a bye during the Wild Card round. Their only Super Bowl win came in 2006, when they were forced to play a Wild Card game.

This year, the Colts wrapped up the AFC’s #1 seed on December 13th (Week 14). They then played to win one more time, four days later in Jacksonville. They did this only to set the record for most consecutive regular season wins (Edit – they had already broken this record the previous week.  So, Bill Polian is not only a shithead, but he can’t count either). Since then, they have played a game “in anger” exactly zero times. They took their starters out in Week 16 against the New York Jets, and promptly lost any chance at an undefeated season they may have had (more on that later), and laid a stinker in Buffalo in Week 17, finishing up at 14-2. Tack on last week’s bye, and it will have been one day short of a full month since the Colts last tried to win a football game.

The Ravens, on the other hand, have been fighting for their Playoff lives all season. Under intense pressure to win, they came out on top in three of their last four in the regular season and then pounded Tom Brady and the Patriots in the Wild Card round. If not for a few costly drops in Pittsburgh in Week 16, the good guys in purple would be riding a nice little five game winning streak.

It will take the Colts at least a quarter to get re-acclimated to game speed, and part of me believes they will not be able to match the Ravens’ intensity at any point during the 60 minutes. If the Ravens can start fast like they did in New England (not necessarily 24-0, but 10-0 or 14-0), the thought of “here we go again” will force itself into the Indy psyche.

2. Ray Rice, Willis McGahee, and Le’Ron McClain

The Colts were 24th in the NFL stopping the run, allowing 126.5 yards per game. Sure, these three managed only 100 yards combined in the Week 11 meeting, but that was back when the Ravens still had no offensive identity. Now that they are fully committed to being a pound-it-down-your-throat running team, they should have much less trouble pushing around the Colts’ undersized front seven. In four of the last five games, one of the Ravens’ rushers has topped the century mark – Ray Rice three times (166 vs. Det, 141 @ Pit, 159 @ NE) and Willis McGahee once (167 @ Oak).

The formula for success against Peyton Manning is the same as it’s been pretty much his entire career – keep him off the field as much as possible, and when he is on it, move him off his “spot.”

The Ravens’ running game will go a long way to fulfilling the first ingredient in that recipe. As far as the other…

3. The return of the Ravens’ pass rush

There is no denying that the Ravens have had trouble getting to the quarterback at times this season. However, over the last several games, they seem to have figured things out a bit.

In Week 16, they sacked Ben Roethlisberger four times – 3.5 came from defensive linemen
In Week 17, they sacked Jamarcus Russell three times and caused him to fumble once – all 3 were from defensive linemen
Last week, they sacked Tom Brady three times and caused him to fumble once – Two of 3 were from defensive linemen

So, not only are the Ravens now getting to quarterbacks, they are doing it without being forced to blitz the house. This latter point is huge against Peyton Manning, who eats blitzes for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Peyton Manning BEGS you to blitz him. If the Ravens can pressure him, get his feet all nice and happy, and move him off of his spot, he will become very average very quickly.

Guys like Dwan Edwards, Kelly Gregg, Haloti Ngata, Terrell Suggs, and Antwan Barnes, who have picked up their games recently, need to keep it up Saturday night at Lucas Oil Stadium.

Throw in the occasional well-timed blitz by Ray Lewis (who is much better served rushing the passer than say, trying to keep up with Dallas Clark in the middle of the field), and hopefully the Ravens will be making Peyton very familiar with the turf.

3(b). The Ravens’ Secondary

This point goes hand-in-hand with the last one. Since the Ravens’ front has been getting to passers, their formerly dreadful secondary has suddenly come alive. Dominique Foxworth has started to live up to his huge free agent contract over the last month or so. Chris Carr, filling in for the injured Lardarius Webb, has improved every single game since becoming a starting CB. Hell, even Frank Freakin’ Walker was making plays last week in New England. When Walker is batting down passes, instead of having flags heaved in his direction, you know things are going well.

The Ravens picked off Manning twice in Baltimore in Week 11. They won’t have the advantage of crowd noise that they enjoyed in Charm City, but the play of the aforementioned guys, along with Dawan Landry, has improved dramatically since even that mid-season contest. If they continue their strong play, that should more than make up for the fact that Manning will be operating in his cozy home confines.

4. Michael Oher and Jared Gaither

These two won our “Play Like a Raven” award in Week 11, as they kept the Colts’ fearsome twosome of Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis completely shutout of the stat sheet. We all know from those investment commercials that past success is no indicator of future performance and all that, but it’s good that the Ravens’ young tackles will have some confidence going up against such an intimidating opponent.

Freeney, who said at the end of “The Blind Side” (book, not movie), “You tell Michael Oher I’ll be waiting for him,” will have another chance to back up those words.

Unfortunately, as far as the Ravens are concerned, he may have a much higher number of chances than he did in the previous meeting.

Freeney usually lines up on to the quarterback’s left (the “Blind Side,” naturally), while Michael Oher has spent the majority of his rookie season playing right tackle. However, Jared Gaither’s status for Saturday is still up in the air. If Gaither cannot go, Oher would again move to the left side. What happens on the right side would then also be undetermined – the Ravens could put Oneil Cousins at right tackle OR move Marshal Yanda from right guard to right tackle, and reinsert Chris Chester at right guard.

Gaither did fully practice on Thursday, but would not talk to reporters about his injury. Cross your fingers that he is able to go.

And now, for some silly reasons:

5. Karma

The Colts’ brass’ decision to forego the chance at a perfect season really sucks. It sucks for their players. It sucks for their fans. It sucks for fans of football in general. It sucks for anybody who gets sick of seeing that old curmudgeon Mercury Morris vindicated every damn year. It just…really sucks.

The Colts’ players were visibly distraught on the sidelines in Week 16 after the starters had been removed. Watching their chance at history go up in flames obviously did not sit well.

Understandably so.

Imagine being Peyton Manning. You’re constantly compared with Tom Brady. You hear all the time how the two of you are 1-2, in some order, among quarterbacks of this generation. Those that argue for Brady point to his postseason success as the deciding factor. Tom Brady was two minutes from posting a historic 19-0 season. He failed.

Now, you have the chance to be the one that goes 19-0. If you can win your second Lombardi Trophy, and go 19-0 in the process, something ol’ Tommy was unable to do, you’ll win. YOU will be the one that did what Tom could not. YOU will now be the undisputed best.

And then Bill Polian goes and takes all that out from under you.

How would you feel if you were Peyton? Deflated, I’d say, to put it mildly.

The other 44 guys wearing horseshoes on their helmets Saturday might not be dejected to quite that level, but they’ll still be a bit less motivated, to one degree or another, than they would have been had they finished the regular season 16-0.

Aside from that, the Colts NEED to lose at some point this postseason for the sake of football fans everywhere. If they win the Super Bowl, after deciding to rest their players and not try for 19-0, it will deprive us of the chance to see any team try to be perfect in the future. The Colts CANNOT be allowed to set the precedent that resting your players, even with the perfect season on the line, is the way to go, or other teams will surely follow.

Roger Goodell says there is “no solution” to teams resting starters. Yes there is: BEAT THE HELL OUT OF THOSE TEAMS. Prove, time and time again, that you cannot just turn the competitive edge on and off like a light switch.

SOMEONE needs to beat the Colts this January, for football fans everywhere. Might as well be the Ravens.

Oh, and of course there’s those whole stole-our-team then knocked-us-out-of-the-playoffs-in-2006 karma that needs to be repaid.

6. Nestminder in da house

Finally, the Ravens will win because I’m going to my first postseason road game. I’m ridiculously pumped to go to Indy, and judging by the fact that I had to book my flight out of Dulles, due to all Baltimore-Indianapolis flights being booked, I am very eager to see just how well the purple is represented in the Midwest.

I’ll be at the WNST pre-game tailgate party at the Rock Lobster, and if you’re in Indy, you should be to. Hope to see you there.

I’ll have plenty of pictures, and hopefully some videos, of the trip next week. Hopefully (come on, come on, COME ON) they will be celebratory in nature.

Ravens 24 Colts 20

Wild Card Playoff Preview – Ravens @ Patriots

January 8, 2010

Ravens Pats Playoff

Ravens Pats Stats

For the second time in as many years, the Ravens head on the road for Wild Card weekend to take on the AFC East Champs, who are quarterbacked by the NFL’s Comeback Player of the Year. A season ago, it was Chad Pennington and the Miami Dolphins. This time around, Tom Brady and the New England Patriots – a bit of a step up, no?

Tom Brady and Bill Belichick were 8-0 in Foxboro this season, and have NEVER lost a home playoff game together.

Whoopdie do.

The past is the past, and as Ray Lewis says, the Ravens aren’t going to play “the mystique of the Patriots,” they are going to play the Patriots. The Patriots, who, by the way, are not the 3 Super Bowls in 4 years team of earlier this decade. Look no further than the fact that they are even playing on Wild Card weekend to prove that they weren’t as dominant in 2009 as they have become accustomed to. Mike Vrabel, Rodney Harrison, and Tedy Bruschi are nowhere to be found on the defense. Their leading receiver, Wes Welker, was injured in Week 17 and will miss the entire postseason. They were only one game better than the Ravens this season, and if Mark Clayton could have held onto that fateful pass, the records of these two teams could easily be reversed.

None of this is to say that the Ravens will go up to Foxboro and make mince meat out of the Pats. Of course not. However, there is more than a glimmer of hope for our purple and black.

Adding to that hope is the fact that the Ravens have played the Patriots extremely close in their last two meetings, only to fall short in the waning seconds. They don’t seem, for instance, to present the kind of match-up problems that the Colts historically have for the Ravens.

Still, the Ravens will likely need a perfect game from all 53 players (and however many coaches) on Sunday to advance to the AFC’s divisional round.

As Drew Forrester points out, Joe Flacco and John Harbaugh will need to be on point.

The running game will be crucial – ball security and yards after contact from Ray Rice and Willis McGahee will go a long way.

The Ravens’ receivers will have to get open, and not have balls bouncing off their hands in critical situations (see: the aforementioned Clayton, Derrick Mason in Pittsburgh).

The pass rush and secondary will need to come together. Without Welker, the Ravens will be able to turn their attention to Randy Moss. Doubling Moss all day will obviously be the way to go, as the Ravens have no defensive backs who can even dream of containing #81 one-on-one. Welker’s replacement though, rookie Julian Edelman, is no slouch. Edelman caught 37 passes for 359 yards and one score this season, and is basically Wes Welker Light. He doesn’t worry me nearly as much as Welker would, but if the Ravens’ corners, especially Dominique Foxworth, have another bad day tackling, the WR screen to Edelman could prove plenty effective for Brady.

Blanket Moss

As far as the pass rush, there have been signs of life recently (3 sacks in Oakland, 4 in Pittsburgh). Bringing down Brady though, is a bit more difficult than tracking down Fat Ben and Ja-suckus Russel. He went down only 16 times in 16 games this season. The key won’t necessarily be sacking him a bunch of times, but forcing him to throw before he is ready, and, hopefully, making those (rumored) injured ribs just a bit more painful. If Brady has time to throw, it won’t matter how many guys the Ravens put on Moss, or how many torn ligaments Patriots receivers have – he will CARVE UP this secondary. If the Pats are facing a 3rd-and-15 or something equally preposterous, and Greg Mattison again decides to bring his patented 3-man rush…well, Ravens fans might as well just turn off our TVs.

All of the Ravens will have to keep their heads in the game and focused to avoid stupid penalties. B’More ended the regular season as the most penalized team in the NFL, showing that through two years of John Harbaugh, the zebras still see Brian Billick’s band of thugs when they see those purple jerseys. Of course, some of the same guys that were getting stupid penalties under Billick are still doing it under Harbaugh, so they are to blame more than the coach is.

Terrell Suggs and Haloti Ngata, we’re looking at you. There WILL BE a roughing the passer flag on Sunday. Bank on it. When it comes, accept it and move on. Don’t argue about it. Don’t change the way you are playing. Just move on to the next play, and hit him again.

As far as Joe Flacco, well, if Natty Joe’s day resembles in any way the afternoon he had in Oakland, he’d better have his golf clubs ready. Flacco will need to do a much better job of recognizing the blitz, moving in the pocket, and above all, GIVING HIMSELF SOME TIME AT THE LINE. It’s been a season-long issue, so there is really no reason to believe it will be corrected this week, but, when the Ravens’ offense is huddling, there are routinely 5-8 seconds on the play clock by the time they reach the line of scrimmage. Methinks this is another reason that Joe does so much better in the no-huddle – he has TIME to make reads at the line. When the play clock is winding down, you can tell that he doesn’t even scan to see where the pressure is going to come from. Without turning it into a hurry-up (which could hurt the cause of keeping Brady on the sideline as much as possible), Cam Cameron should plan to use plenty of the no-huddle on Sunday.

If the Ravens can put a full game together – control the clock with an effective running game, move the chains on 3rd down, keep Flacco upright, make sure tackles, avoid stupid penalties, be smart with timeouts – there is no reason they can’t go up to New England and keep their season alive.

Brady and Belichick have another gear for the Playoffs. It’s time for Harbaugh and Flacco to prove that they do, too, by taking what has been an underachieving, up-and-down team, and hitting their stride at the perfect time.

Ravens 28 Patriots 24


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