Archive for the ‘Ravens Game Recaps’ Category

Falcons 26 Ravens 21 (The HEARTBREAKER IN HOTLANTA Game)

November 15, 2010

Three days after Thursday night’s loss in Atlanta, and I can finally bring myself to think about the game without the uncontrollable urge to throw the laptop through the window…well, for the most part.

Perhaps the most infuriating thing about the game can be said for not only this game in particular, but the 2010 Baltimore Ravens season as a whole to this point. This team has flashes of absolute dominance, when they look like they could be as good as any team in the NFL, but they cannot, for whatever reason, put together a full four quarters of their best football.

Between the first halves in Cincinnati and now Atlanta, and the fourth quarter collapses in New England and against Buffalo, the Ravens time and time again sabotage themselves by sleepwalking through large portions of their games. It’s a disturbing phenomenon, and it’s happened enough now that it can’t be dismissed as a trivial thing.

Against the Falcons, the Ravens’ offense did absolutely nothing for three quarters, and the defense, while not allowing Atlanta to rack up an insurmountable lead, was absolutely atrocious in getting off the field on third downs (Atlanta was 12/20 on 3rd down). It took Anquan Boldin having a Ray Lewis-esque sideline huddle, screaming in the faces of the entire offense, to break the O out of their funk. After that, they racked up three touchdowns in 1.5 quarters, and nearly stole a game that they didn’t deserve at all.

The fact that they did, in fact, nearly escape Atlanta with a victory despite playing absolutely terrible for about 35 minutes is, again, a testament to just how good this team has the potential to be. At 6-3, and with four of their final seven games at M&T Bank Stadium (along with very winnable road games in Carolina, Cleveland, and Houston), this team can still very much accomplish what they set out to at the outset of the season – but these kinds of slow starts, which leave the game hanging in the balance (and, to an extent, the hands of the officials) in the waning moments have the potential to catastrophically derail the lofty ambitions of division titles and playoff byes.

Return Woes

The Ravens are dead last in the NFL in punt returns, and nothing that happened Thursday night will get them out of the cellar. Ed Reed returned one for nine yards, and Lardius Webb one for seven before fumbling it away to Atlanta. David Reed broke a 31-yard kickoff return (HUGE for this team), but his decision to bring the final kickoff of the game out of the end zone was extremely ill advised, and did the Ravens no favors in what was already a very bleak situation.

At this point, there isn’t likely to be an “a-ha!” moment on special teams, where the Ravens suddenly find a guy who can be dangerous back there. Webb’s fumble may have shaken both his own confidence and that of the coaching stafff, and returning punts does nothing positive for Ed Reed’s already precarious health. Perhaps Donte Stallworth will get in on the action here in coming weeks.

Stallworth the RB

Speaking of Stallworth, he has still yet to see a pass come his way in two games back from injury. He did, however, have runs of 19 and 15 yards on Thursday night, showing that the coaching staff is very interested in finding creative ways to get him the ball. Still, it would be nice to see Flacco start looking for #18 on some deep balls moving forward.

Joe Cool vs. Matty Ice

The much hyped Flacco vs. Ryan match up didn’t disappoint, with both quarterbacks leading late touchdown drives resulting in a heart-pounding finish. Flacco’s touchdown pass to Todd Heap with 1:05 remaining, of course, wasn’t enough, as Ryan needed just 45 seconds against the porous Ravens’ defense to put Atlanta back on top for good. Each quarterback had very impressive numbers, with Flacco going 22/34 for 215 yards and 3 scores vs. Ryan’s 32/50 for 316 yards and 3 touchdowns.

Despite what Mike Preston and Joe Theisman (who disgustingly slobbered over Ryan for the entire broadcast) may think, I don’t think Ryan appreciably outplayed Flacco. The main difference between the two, in my eyes, was their protection. Flacco was under constant pressure throughout the game, as his offensive line had one of their worst performances of the season. Ryan, on the other hand, was very well protected, thanks in part to Greg Mattison’s insistence to bring 3-man pressure constantly.

Burner Extinguished

Going into the game, I stated that I was more worried about Falcons’ running back Michael Turner than I was about Matt Ryan.

Well, the Falcons game plan was obviously based around exploiting holes they saw in the Ravens’ secondary, and not around having Turner replicate what Browns’ RB Peyton Hillis did to the Ravens earlier in the year. “The Burner” carried 17 times for just 39 yards. Up front, Haloti Ngata and rookie Terrence Cody were fairly immovable, and Atlanta’s running game was never really a factor.

Unfortunately, despite forcing them into repeated 3rd-and-long situations, the Ravens defense couldn’t get off the field. Ryan-to-Roddy White was lethal, and Webb was even benched for Fabian Washington for a stretch in the first half, after being repeatedly picked on during the Falcons first couple drives.

“Whop?” Pssssh.

Again, safety Dawan Landry failed to live up to his nickname (“whop,” given to him for the sound coming from his hard hits during training camp), as he was ran over by Jason Snelling on the Falcons first touchdown. Although Landry made contact with Snelling at about the 7-yard line, he barely slowed the running back down. Landry’s tackle attempt was pathetic, diving straight for Snelling’s shoelaces before being dragged for a few yards then completely shaken free.

The next time Dawan Landry makes a play this season will be the first.

Officiating Adventures

I’d probably be forced to turn in my Ravens fan card were I not to complain about the referees after a loss, so here goes.

If we’re honest with ourselves, the Ravens have come out on the good end of plenty of questionable calls this season. Thursday night served to right the ship a bit. On top of the no-call on Roddy White shoving Josh Wilson to the ground on his game-winning touchdown, there was the pass interference on Tavares Gooden just one play prior. The pass was tipped at the line, so Gooden’s tackle of tight end Tony Gonzalez was completely legal. The flag flew though, so instead of being forced to either go for it on 4th-and-10 or try a game-winning 58-yard field goal attempt, Atlanta was given another first down.

Then, of course, there was the facemask call on T-Sizzle. The play in question occurred on a 3rd-and-10 from the Ravens’ 33, so instead of a 4th-and-10 long field goal try, the drive ended in a touchdown. This was the facemask call that went AGAINST Suggs:

Awesome.

Three plays later, the Falcons led 20-7.

Don’t put the game in the hands of the officials. It’s as simple as that.

The Ravens now have a nice little “half bye week” with 9 days off before traveling to Charlotte to face the 1-8 Panthers. The terrible taste of this loss should be fresh in their minds, and hopefully they can come out and dominate a clearly inferior team – as they were unable to do against the Buffalo Bills a few weeks ago.

Ravens 26 Dolphins 10 (The RETURN OF RAY RICE Game)

November 8, 2010

Sure, Ray Rice was never “gone,” per se, nor has he missed any significant time with injuries, but the 2010 Ray Rice had, through seven games, looked a bit different from the 2009 version.  Due mostly in part to opposing defenses scheming heavily to stop him (but also some other factors, such as too much dancing in the backfield and Joe Flacco sometimes forgetting that he isn’t 7 feet tall), Rice was well off his 2000+ yards from scrimmage pace of a year ago.

Well, the Miami Dolphins apparently see no reason to pay any special attention to Ray Rice when preparing to defend the Ravens’ offense.  Asked after the game if they had shadowed or spied Rice out of the backfield, linebacker Karlos Dansby had this to say:

“No, for what?” Dansby said. “Why would we shadow him? He didn’t do anything. They checked down to him, but he was the last resort. Why would we need to shadow him?”

He didn’t do anything?

Ok, Karlos.  If seven receptions for 98 yards on the day (along with 83 yards on 22 carries) is “[not] anything,” than I’d be damn happy with “nothing” from Rice every week from here on out, wouldn’t you, Ravens fans?

The 180 total yards from scrimmage were Rice’s most since week 14 of last year against Detroit, when he racked up over 200 total yards from scrimmage.  The Ravens had 402 yards of offense against Miami.  Rice accounted for 45% of those yards.

That, as they say, is a whole lotta “nothing.”

Red Zone Woes

The 402 yards of offense were great to see from a Ravens offense that B’More has been waiting on to “click” all season long.  The news wasn’t all good though, unfortunately.

Miami was the team that came into this game with the reputation of red-zone futility, but it was the Ravens who were forced to settle for field goals instead of touchdowns far too often on Sunday afternoon.  On seven trips inside the Miami 20 yard line, the Ravens produced…ONE touchdown.

One-for-seven.  Unacceptable.

Granted, the final one of those was at the end of the game when John Harbaugh elected to kick a field goal from the 1 to push the lead to 2 touchdowns and 2 two point conversions at 26-10.  There are no excuses for the other six red zone tries.

On the second, following a Lardarius Webb interception and return all the way to the Miami four yard line at the start of the second quarter, the Ravens put together what may well have been the absolute worst red zone series in franchise history.  It went like this:

  1. 1-4-MIA 4 (13:25) 23-W.McGahee right guard to MIA 5 for -1 yards (91-C.Wake).
  2. 2-5-MIA 5 (12:47) 5-J.Flacco sacked at MIA 15 for -10 yards (96-P.Soliai).
  3. 3-15-MIA 15 (12:08) (Shotgun) PENALTY on BLT-5-J.Flacco, Delay of Game, 5 yards, enforced at MIA 15 – No Play.
  4. Timeout #2 by BLT at 11:41.
  5. 3-20-MIA 20 (11:41) (Shotgun) 5-J.Flacco sacked at MIA 20 for 0 yards (91-C.Wake).
  6. 4-20-MIA 20 (11:00) (Field Goal formation) 4-S.Koch FUMBLES (Aborted) at MIA 30, and recovers at MIA 30. 4-S.Koch to MIA 30 for no gain (30-C.Clemons).

Run for negative yardage? Check.

Delay of game penalty in your own home? Check.

Wasted timeout? Check.

TWENTY yard sack? Check.

Fumbled field goal try (now from 37 yards out)? Check.

Points? Nope.

To use tired internet language, that is some EPIC FAIL.

What Happened to Ronnie?

Dolphins running back Ronnie Brown started the game out with a bang, as his first two carries went for 12 and 14 yards.  Flashbacks to Peyton Hillis in Week 3 were filling the heads of fans all through M&T Bank Stadium.  On that drive, which he capped with a 12-yard touchdown scamper, Brown ran 6 times for 45 yards.  Despite reportedly spending the bye week focusing on fixing their run defense and tackling, it looked like the Ravens were going to have a long day dealing with the Dolphins’ rushing attack.

Then, Brown just kinda…disappeared.

After picking up those 45 yards on 6 carries on the first drive, Brown finished the day with just 59 yards on 9 carries.  Fellow running back Ricky Williams ran just twice for a total of a single yard.

In a game that saw the two teams separated by a single point at halftime (and which the Dolphins had a great chance to be leading at the break), Miami inexplicably abandoned the running game.  Twelve of the Dolphins’ last 14 plays of the first half were passes.

Quite puzzling.

And I’m hardly convinced that the Ravens issues stopping the run are suddenly a thing of the past.  Atlanta will not be nearly as quick to go away from Michael Turner on Thursday night.

Feasting on Chads

The last time these two teams met was in the 2008 playoffs.  The results then were eerily similar to yesterday.  In a 27-9 Ravens win, B’More picked off Miami QB Chad Pennington four times.

Yesterday, in a 26-10 win, it was a new “Chad,” but the same old results.

The Ravens intercepted Chad Henne (Pennington is now the backup) three times, with Ed Reed, Lardarius Webb, and Josh Wilson (after he again replaced a benched Fabian Washington) all getting in on the action.

On Reed’s, Brandon Marshall exhibited a severe case of “alligator arms,” with Ray Lewis closing quickly.  I’ll get a separate post up with screen caps of the play.  It’s pretty embarrassing for Marshall how scared he was of being “Dustin Keller’d,” or “Kellan Winslow’d” by #52.

Special Teams Gaffes (and Redemption)

I already mentioned the botched field goal attempt at the start of the second quarter.  I’ll have to go back and watch the play again, but it appeared on first glance as though it was a good snap by Morgan Cox.  Sam Koch just botched it, something he has rarely (if ever) done during his tenure as holder for the Ravens.

Koch would later make up for it in a big way.

With just under three minutes remaining in the 3rd quarter, Koch lined up for what would have been his first punt of the day.  On the play, though, it was Miami who made a big special teams mistake.  They left gunner Cary Williams uncovered, Koch saw it, and threw a bullet to Williams, who went 13 yards to convert the fourth-and-10.  The Dolphins’ special teams coach was flying down the sideline trying to get a timeout, but did not get it called in time.

Koch never punted during the game, something that has happened only one other time since he has been a Raven (the other being in the 27-13 loss at Cleveland in 2007).

Sam Koch isn’t a “punter.” He’s a football player who happens to punt.  Remember Dallas in 08, when he took off running and converted a fourth down off a fake field goal try?  Add “amateur quarterback” to “impromptu running back” on Koch’s resume.

Oh, but of course the special teams problems weren’t done for the day.  The same drive that included Koch’s first career pass completion ended in a Billy Cundiff missed 37-yard field goal try.

Dolphins Miscues

The Ravens are without a doubt a better team than the Miami Dolphins at this point, but that doesn’t mean this game couldn’t have went the other way.  There were a few plays that, had they went the other way, could have kept Miami’s road winning streak alive.

First, there was the 3rd-and-goal from the Ravens’ 1 at the end of the first half.  Chad Henne had tight end Anthony Fasano wide open in the end zone, but the ball fluttered over Fasano’s reaching hand.  Had they connected (as I’m sure they have on that play countless times in practice), the Phins would have led 14-13 at the half.

The Ravens were also helped by Dolphins cornerback Shawn Smith’s stone hands.  Smith jumped in front of a Joe Flacco pass intended for Anquan Boldin late in the third quarter.  Smith would have walked into the end zone and pulled the Dolphins to within 20-17.  Instead, two plays later came the Sam Koch pass.

And, one play after THAT came…

“Spat Gate”

I saved this for last because I hate that it’s even a thing.  Dolphins linebacker Channing Crowder is accusing Le’Ron McClain of spitting in his face during an altercation at midfield after Crowder had called a time out.

Earlier today, I posted a video that seems to back up Crowder’s claims.

This is incredibly similar to the incident in 2008, when friend of the Nest Frank Walker was seemingly caught by cameras spitting on Steelers’ punter Mitch Berger.  That one was easier to digest. That was Frank Freaking Walker, who all Ravens fans hated anyway, and who we all hoped wouldn’t be long for this franchise.

Pain Train is a different story.  He has become a fan favorite with his twitter jibberish and “MCCLAIN 4 RB” campaign.  He has twice made the Pro Bowl, and is having another outstanding season.  McClain could very well be the best all-around fullback in the game today.  He SHOULD be with the Ravens for a long, long time.

However, this incident would mark the second time this season that McClain’s emotions have gotten the better of him in the heat of battle.  His unsportsmanlike conduct penalty in overtime in New England didn’t lose the game for the Ravens, but it certainly didn’t help.  Now this.

When the NFL sees the video of the spit, McClain should at least be fined.  If not by the NFL, then by the Ravens.  However, he could also be suspended.  The Ravens do not have another fullback on their roster, so that would put the offense in a very awkward position for whatever game McClain may end up being forced to sit out.  The Ravens would unquestionably be hurt by McClain’s absence, and for something that is nobody’s fault but his own.  That sort of thing won’t sit well with anybody in the organization, from his teammates all the way up to Ozzie Newsome and Steve Bisciotti.

Play Like a Raven – Week 7

October 26, 2010

PlayLikeaRayRice

Ray Rice had a solid, if unspectacular, day Sunday, rushing for 72 yards on 16 carries (4.5 ypc). Mike Preston wrote on Monday that Rice seems to be a bit slow hitting his holes, making too many cuts trying to find the “home run.”

Running back Ray Rice carried the ball 16 times for 72 yards against the Bills Sunday, but he is still slow hitting holes.

Rice had a similar problem the week before against the New England Patriots. The Ravens are opening holes, but Rice is hesitating, trying to bounce outside or cut back for the home run instead of just blasting through the hole.

Additionally, in the fourth quarter, when the Ravens could have really used some yards on the ground to put the game away, Rice was nowhere to be found, for the most part. His fourth quarter touches:

3-7-BAL 10 (9:09) (Shotgun) 5-J.Flacco pass short right to 27-R.Rice to BLT 11 for 1 yard (59-A.Coleman).
1-10-BUF 44 (4:54) 27-R.Rice right guard to BUF 43 for 1 yard (99-M.Stroud, 90-C.Kelsay).
2-9-BUF 43 (4:15) 27-R.Rice left guard to BUF 40 for 3 yards (95-K.Williams, 20-D.Whitner).

I still maintain that Rice is the most important piece to this offense, but his follow-up to his Pro Bowl 2009 season has been a bit disappointing. Let’s hope he picks things up in the second half of the season.

Played Like a Raven – Ed Reed

Mr. Reed made his triumphant return to the gridiron against the Bills, and had a huge say in the outcome of the game. Eddie picked off two Ryan Fitzpatrick passes and caused a Roscoe Parrish fumble. The Ravens had only two interceptions in six games without #20, and that total was already doubled after just 45 minutes of football with Reed on the field.

I’m imagining Tom Zbikowski standing on the sideline, muttering to himself “they never throw the ball to me like that, mehhhh…”

The goofy faction of Ravens fans that maintain the delusion that the secondary is better without Reed (due to his “wreckless” play) will point to the four long touchdown passes as evidence that their claim still holds water. To those people, I’d remind them of the big touchdown passes by Denver in Week 5, and the horrendous play by Ravens’ cornerbacks all day against Buffalo. The bottom line is, if Ed Reed doesn’t play Sunday, the Ravens are very likely 4-3 today.

Honorable Mentions: Ray Lewis, Todd Heap, Marshal Yanda

Did Not Play Like a Raven – Rest of Defense

Holy shitballs. Where to start?

Let’s go down the list, excluding the two players (#20 and #52, of course) named above.

Fabian Washington: “Toast” was burned again and again, to the point that, by Fabe’s own admission, Ryan Fitzpatrick was calling him out via audibles at the line of scrimmage.

“Once they start going after somebody, you’ve got to get them off you then,” said Washington, who wears No. 31. “[Sunday] was, ‘check, check 31.’ That’s what it was. This week, they got me, but please believe I will be back.”

After his great day against Denver, Washington has fallen off a cliff. In New England, he was simply ineffective, and, against the Bills, he had likely his worst game as a pro. Fabe looked completely shell-shocked by the end of his day, which came midway through the fourth quarter when he was benched in favor of Josh Wilson following Fitzpatrick’s final touchdown pass.

Haloti Ngata, Terrell Suggs: These two are counted on by the Ravens’ defense to be playmakers. Do you remember hearing either of their named called on Sunday? Suggs and Ngata can NOT be invisible, or this defense is in more trouble than any of us realize. Ngata’s play is somewhat excused by the rest of his body of work so far in 2010. Suggs needs to step up down the stretch, it’s just that simple.

Edit: Some guys that know a lot more about football than me say that Sunday was actually Suggs’ best day rushing the passer since the Washington game in 2008, despite his not recording a sack.

The seven total pressures (a hit, six pressures) Suggs recorded in this game was the most since he recorded eight (a sack, a hit, six pressures) in Week 14 of the 2008 season against the Washington Redskins.

Lardarius Webb: He was slowed by a groin wrap, but Webb was the one beaten on the 33-yard touchdown to Stevie Johnson.

Webb said he had his groin wrapped as a precaution, but took it off after Johnson beat him for a 33-yard score in the second quarter.

“That’s not an excuse,” Webb said. “I’m still supposed to make that play. I took it off then, and didn’t have any problems. I’m thinking I never should have put it on in the first place. It’s the NFL. Everybody makes plays.

Webbie also whiffed on several tackle attempts.

Dawan Landry:  Sure, he had 9 tackles, but how many did he miss? Unfortunately, they don’t keep that stat on NFL.com (well, fortunately for Dawan). Landry has been sub-par in pass support, run support, and general tackling all season. Maybe during his week off, he can go work out with, and get some pointers from, his brother LaRon, who is having a stellar season down in Landover for the Redskins.

Jarret Johnson, Paul Kruger, Brandon McKinney, Terrence Cody, Cory Redding: Buffalo averaged 3.8 yards per rushing play for the day, and had 132 total yards on the ground. Fitzpatrick was sacked only once, and it was hardly a true sack (he rolled out on a 4th-and-1 bootleg, and was stopped behind the line by Lewis). Nobody on the defense escapes blame for the Bills’ 64% 3rd-down conversion rate on the day.

Just an ugly, ugly performance all around.

Ravens 37 Bills 34 OT (The SHOULD HAVE SUITED UP THE 2000 DEFENSE Game)

October 25, 2010

On Sunday at M&T Bank Stadium, the Ravens honored the 2000 Super Bowl team with a “homecoming” of sorts.

Maybe they should have let those guys play a bit. Even though most of them haven’t stepped foot on a field in nearly a decade, they certainly couldn’t have been any worse than the current Ravens were yesterday.

I’m pretty sure Tony Siragusa could have plugged up the middle and slowed down Buffalo’s rushing game more aptly than Haloti Ngata, Kelly Gregg, and co. were able to.

I’m fairly certain that Duane Starks would have held his own against the Bills’ wide receivers better than Fabian Washington and Lardarius Webb did.

Fabian “Toast” Washington was burned repeatedly

And I’m damn positive that Kim Herring could have stepped in and given Dawan Landry an absolute clinic on how to make a tackle.

On a day when members of the greatest defense of all time were in the house, the Ravens did little to make the former Super Bowl champs proud.

The Buffalo Bills came into Baltimore and ran roughshod over the Ravens’ defense, doing pretty much anything they wanted to all afternoon. They entered the game averaging just 251 yards of total offense per game, and had more than doubled that output (506 total yards of offense) by the time Billy Cundiff’s 38-yard field goal gave the Ravens the 37-34 victory. In overtime. Against, of all teams, the freaking Buffalo Bills.

Buffalo also sported the worst 3rd-down conversion percentage in the NFL entering the game. At the end of the day, one of the two teams was just 2/11 on 3rd downs, while the other was a stout 11/17 on their way to holding the ball for more than 38 minutes. The latter, of course, however inexplicably, was the Bills.

Quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick put an end to the Bills league-worst 58 consecutive games without a 300-yard passer, and did so emphatically; he threw for 374 yards and FOUR touchdowns. Not to be outdone, receivers Lee Evans and Stevie Johnson ended Bills streaks of their own, as each surpassed 100 yards receiving, something no Buffalo Bill had managed in 11 games.

Not that it was a complete aerial assualt – Buffalo also put up 132 yards on the ground for the day.

And yet…as bleak a picture as all of those numbers paint – not only on the day, but moving forward as well – the Ravens still eked out the win.

It was up to the offense to bail the defense out yesterday, and Joe Flacco, Anquan Boldin, Todd Heap, and company were up to the challenge. Finding themselves in a 24-10 hole after Evans’ second touchdown with 5 minutes remaining in the first half, the Ravens’ offense – with an assist from the great Ed Reed (more on him later) – ripped off 17 points in just 71 seconds of game clock to take a 27-24 lead.

The final 7 of that 17 came on a beautiful flea flicker, a play that I would bet the Ravens haven’t hit on in at least five years. From the Buffalo 34, Joe Flacco handed to Willis McGahee, who lateraled back to Flacco, and Joe launched a gorgeous touchdown rainbow to Anquan Boldin.

While Joe didn’t have his best day, he made enough plays to win the game. He connected on just 16 of his 31 throws, but the ones he did hit, he made count: 250 yards through the air was the final result, with three touchdown strikes of 26, 14, and 34 yards.

Ed Reed. The man just makes plays. Even though Reed looked a half-step slow at times during the day, his uncanny nose for the football just will not be suppressed. On the Bills’ first series, when it looked like they were about to pick up a 3rd-and-8 from the Ravens’ 32, Reed came up and put his helmet right on the ball, jarring it free from wideout Roscoe Parrish. The Ravens didn’t recover, but Buffalo lost 12 yards on the play, and the ensuing punt set the Ravens’ up to take their short-lived 3-0 lead. On Buffalo’s very first snap of the second half, Reed, off a tipped pass from Ray Lewis, intercepted Fitzpatrick to set up the aforementioned flea flicker score. And, at the end of the third, with the Ravens holding a 34-24 lead, just a single play after he came up a little lame and CBS analyst Steve Beuerlein noted that Reed looked a little slow, #20 AGAIN intercepted Fitzpatrick, this time returning the pick 40 yards to the Buffalo nine.

That play should have effectively won the game for the Ravens. Unfortunately, Willis McGahee and Joe Flacco botched the handoff on the ensuing snap, and gave the ball right back to the Bills. Instead of a 17-point lead early in the fourth quarter, the defense was faced for the second straight week with a 10 point lead at the same juncture in the ball game. And, just like in New England last week, they would cave.

Buffalo put together a 63-yard touchdown drive and a 59-yard field goal drive – the latter starting at their own 9 yard line with just 3:26 to go in the game – in the fourth quarter, while the Ravens managed just a single first down in the final period. It’s distressing that just a week after blowing a fourth quarter lead, both units – offense and defense – again choked when given the chance to put the game away.

Facing the worst run defense in the league, and having gained nearly 5 yards per carry all day, the Ravens’ fourth quarter play selection was the following:

1st drive: Run (fumble)
2nd drive: Pass (incomplete), Run (6 yards), Pass (1 yard), Punt
3rd drive: Pass (incomplete), Pass (36 yards), Run (1 yard), Run (3 yards), Pass (incomplete), Punt

And in overtime (the drive that didn’t START in field goal range): Run (5 yards), Pass (incomplete), Pass (sack), Punt

Five runs, seven passes.

Now, some will argue that Cam Cameron was just doing exactly what Ravens fans were blasting him for NOT doing after last week’s New England loss – that is, being aggressive and not “going conservative.” To those people, I’d offer this rebuttal: the difference is, in both instances, Cam went AWAY from what was working. Last week in New England, it was the intermediate passing game that was having success – and in the fourth quarter the Ravens decided they were going to play it safe. Against Buffalo – again, the WORST run defense in the league – Ray Rice was having a fairly good day and Willis McGahee was outstanding (besides the fumble), averaging nearly six yards per carry. Add in that Flacco, as mentioned earlier, was erratic on the day (he should have been intercepted at least once, if not twice), and the decision to skew the playcalling towards the pass in the fourth quarter and overtime becomes even more perplexing.

I suppose I just don’t understand NFL playcalling. I’ll leave it at that for now, so I don’t drive myself insane.

Two additional points I’d be remiss not to address: First up, Ray Lewis. With his former teammates watching, is it any surprise that #52 would say, “enough of this bullshit, we’re not losing,” and just straight up maul the football from Bills tight end Shawn Nelson? Make no mistake about it, Ray won the game with that play, as the Ravens had very little hope of stopping the offensive juggernaut that stole the Buffalo Bills’ jerseys and wore them in Baltimore.

The second point, which piggybacks right off of that one – the officials. I’ve complained about the refereeing enough on this blog over the years that I’d be quite hypocritical to not acknowledge that the Ravens were aided monumentally at least once yesterday by the guys’ in stripes. So, referee Pete Morelli and crew: thank you for not blowing the whistle on that play.

In fairness, former NFL VP of Officiating Mike Pereira says the refs made the right call.

The other curious ruling came two plays before Flacco found Heap to pull the Ravens to within 24-20 at the half. Flacco had appeared to have found Bills cornerback Reggie Corner (great career choice BTW Reggie!) for an interception that would have kep the deficit at 11 points at the break. However, luckily, Corner was ruled out of bounds even after review – and Boldin was not flagged for offensive pass interference (though either player could have been called for P.I.)

The Ravens have problems on both sides of the ball, and on special teams, and we’ll get into those problems deeper here during the bye week. But for now, let’s just thank our lucky (after yesterday, that word bears repeating) stars that the Ravens go into the off date at 5-2 and right where they need to be…record-wise, anyway.

Play Like a Raven – Week 6

October 19, 2010

PlayLikeaRayRice

On Sunday in Foxborough, Ray Rice was again the Ravens’ most important weapon on offense, as evidenced by his 36 (!!) touches. However, all credit must be given to Bill Belichick and the Patriots defense, who figured out a way to keep Rice from going buck wild on them despite getting the ball nearly 40 times. His 28 carries went for only 88 yards (a 3.14 average), his longest run of the afternoon was 8 yards, he managed just 38 yards on 8 receptions (4.75 ypc), and he never really sniffed the end zone.

So, with Rice having a bit of an off day, who stepped up to pick up the slack?

Played Like a Raven – Derrick Mason

The 36 year old wide receiver notched his first 100-yard performance since Week 11 of last year, when he caught 9 balls for 142 yards in a loss to the Colts. Sunday, D-Mase was the Ravens’ most consistent weapon, catching 8 passes for exactly 100 yards. It appeared that he may have made the play that was ultimately going to lead to a win for the Ravens when he had his biggest gain of the day, a 20 yard reception down the left sideline with about 10 minutes left in the overtime period. That reception set the Ravens up at their own 48 yard line, where another two or three first downs (or one big play) would have put them in long Billy Cundiff field goal range.

Unfortunately, that was not to be the case, as the Ravens’ next three plays went:

1-10-BAL 48 (9:37) 27-R.Rice left guard to BLT 48 for no gain (55-B.Spikes).
2-10-BAL 48 (8:59) 5-J.Flacco pass short middle to 27-R.Rice to NE 48 for 4 yards (50-R.Ninkovich, 55-B.Spikes).
3-6-NE 48 (8:16) (Shotgun) 5-J.Flacco pass incomplete deep right to 86-T.Heap (32-D.McCourty).

One knock on Mason’s day, however: If he hauls in that likely touchdown pass on the first play of the fourth quarter, the Ravens are probably 5-1 right now.

Honorable Mentions: Joe Flacco, Haloti Ngata, Todd Heap

Did Not Play Coach Like a Raven – John Harbaugh, Greg Mattison, Cam Cameron

This isn’t the first time the coaches have found themselves in this spot. The last time I decided to pin some blame for a loss on John Harbaugh & Co. was the aforementioned Indianapolis game in Week 11 of 2009. That day, it was clock management from Harbaugh, and short-yardage failures from offensive coordinator Cam Cameron that drew my ire.

As for this loss to the Patriots, no coach escapes blame.

My buddy Glenn Clark damn near gave himself an aneurysm this morning on “The Morning Reaction” on WNST, going off on the “idiotic” notion that the Ravens lost the game due to conservative playcalling on both sides of the ball.

Well, I’m going to respectfully disagree here and instead side with the long list of people who are chalking this loss up to the Ravens “taking their foot off the pedal” after going up 20-10 early in the fourth quarter.

From the fishy situation of not giving Willis McGahee a single snap, to punting on 4th-and-a-football-length from the New England 47 late in the first half, to punting from their own 48 with 9 minutes to play, Harbaugh clearly made some questionable decisions Sunday.

As for Mattison, well…when Tom Brady knows you only have one of two defenses that you play in a given situation (third-and-goal), you clearly need to switch things up:

“They either blitz you or they play eight guys in a zone.”

Mattison had the perfect blueprint to work with on how to beat Brady – the one he engineered in the Wild Card Playoff game in January. Pressure, pressure, and more pressure. However, in the fourth quarter and overtime, the Ravens were routinely bringing only 3 or 4 men at Brady, and he easily dissected the secondary as a result.

Mattison’s game plan wasn’t the only one the Patriots had figured out, though. According to 105.7 The Fan’s Casey Willet, the Patriots secondary has said in the days following the game that by the fourth quarter and overtime, they knew exactly what routes the Ravens’ receivers were going to run. They switched to Flacco’s kryptonite, the Cover 2, shut off those routes, and the result was the endless train of fruitless checkdowns to Ray Rice.

How the hell do the Ravens and Cam, after 2.5 years of Flacco struggling against this defense, not have a “OK, they’re in Cover 2, let’s use this package and tear that shit up” plan?  Boggles the mind.

Even if you agree with Harbaugh’s assessment (and Clark’s mouth-frothing rant) that the Ravens did NOT get too conservative, when the other team comes out and says that they knew pretty much exactly what you were trying to do on both sides of the ball, there is no denying that you were thoroughly out-coached.

This one, like the one last November, is as much on the guys in polo shirts as the guys in jerseys.

Dishonorable Mentions: Michael Oher, Le’Ron McClain

Patriots 23 Ravens 20 OT (The GOTTA PLAY/COACH ALL FOUR QUARTERS Game)

October 17, 2010

On Sunday, the Ravens lost.

They lost to a very good football team.

They lost to a very good football team with a Hall-of-Fame head coach.

They lost to a very good football team with a Hall-of-Fame head coach and a Hall-of-Fame quarterback.

They lost to a very good football team with a Hall-of-Fame head coach and a Hall-of-Fame quarterback, who had two weeks to rest and prepare.

They lost to a very good football team with a Hall-of-Fame head coach and a Hall-of-Fame quarterback, who had two weeks to rest and prepare, on the road.

All of that, I can deal with.

What makes this loss so difficult to stomach is what I neglected to mention above…

On Sunday, the Ravens lost to a very good football team with a Hall-of-Fame head coach and quarterback, who had two weeks to rest and prepare, on the road…in a game in which they held a double-digit lead in the fourth quarter.

Yeah. That last point is the inexcusable part. For the first 45 minutes of the game, the Ravens beat the Patriots up and down the field, building a 20-10 lead with 14:57 remaining. What was unfortunate, and what ultimately proved to be the difference in the game, was that in the four plays prior to Billy Cundiff’s 25-yard field goal gave the Ravens what would be their final points for the day, Ravens’ receivers dropped two potential touchdown passes. On the first, Anquan Boldin was separated from the ball by a New England safety after a perfect strike from Joe Flacco from 20 yards out. On the second, Derrick Mason heard footsteps and couldn’t haul in what should have been a seven-yard score.

Sure, both plays would have required impressive, if not spectacular, catches. But both Boldin and Mason got two hands on the ball, and in the NFL, those passes should have been caught – especially by veterans like those two. If they are, this recap likely has a much different tone.

Compounding the problem was that, after that series, the Ravens offense (both playcalling and execution) seemed to climb aboard the plane back to Baltimore. With the exception of an 18-yard pass from Flacco to Boldin on the opening play of their next drive, the Ravens offense went 3-and-out, 3-and-out, 3-and-out on their next three possessions of regulation and overtime. The aforementioned Boldin completion came with 10:24 left in the fourth. The Ravens would not pick up another first down until the 10:17 mark of overtime – over a full quarter of play.

Three plays after that 10:24 first down, a sequence that could likely be pointed to as the pivotal one of the game unfolded.

On 3rd-and-1 from their own 47, leading 20-17, Cam Cameron called for a quarterback sneak. A play which, for anyone watching, was obviously doomed from the start. Flacco attempted to go through Pats’ defensive linemen Vince Wilfork and Greg Warren, and didn’t have a prayer.

The talk radio lines will no doubt be lighting up this week with people blaming Cameron for the odd call, and Flacco for not recognizing the defense and audibling out of the play. What is likely to be an even greater point of contention this week in B’More, though, is what happened next.

Facing 4th-and-the length of the football, Coach John “you have to put teams away when you have the chance” Harbaugh elected to punt. To punt the ball back to Tom Brady and the Patriots offense, who were fresh off an 8-play, 60-yard drive where they faced only a single third down, in that situation…puzzling, to say that least. To say a bit more, it was the kind of decision that we just aren’t used to seeing from Harbaugh, who has proven during his 2+ years as the head coach, that he has plenty of “balls” in those type of situations. This time, though, he went timid, and the Ravens paid dearly.

It wasn’t just Harbaugh that went into a shell in the fourth quarter and overtime though. He took the entire Baltimore coaching staff with him.

Cam Cameron stopped picking on the Patriots’ secondary.

Greg Mattison gave Brady the short underneath stuff in the passing game, and Brady took it eagerly.

Now, give New England credit. As mentioned, they have a great coaching staff of their own, and those guys made the necessary adjustments. They took away Flacco’s passing lanes. They threw quick screen after quick screen on offense. They did what was necessary to win the game. What the Ravens’ coaches were up to is anybody’s guess.

Flacco played very well all day, going 27/35 for 285 yards and two touchdowns. I don’t know if the Ravens’ coaches’ tentative mentality was preached to Joe on the sideline during the fourth quarter or what, but he wasn’t the same after those two dropped touchdown passes. He seemed much more willing to check down to Ray Rice, even though Rice was routinely swarmed by New England linebackers.

That’s another area where New England must be commended – they were not going to let Rice destroy them like he did in the two 2009 meetings. Although there seemed to be some nice holes on the Ravens’ opening drive, ultimately Rice ran the ball 28 times for just 88 yards, and his long of the day was just eight. He added eight receptions for 38 yards, but really wasn’t a major factor in the game.

Which brings us to the next puzzling thing about the gameplan of the Ravens’ staff…

Where the hell was Willis McGahee???

McGahee did not see a single touch in Foxborough, and I’m not even positive he was at the stadium. Sure, I was calling for Rice to take over goalline duties from Willis, but to just leave #23 on the sideline all afternoon? Especially considering the relative lack of success that Rice was having? It just makes absolutely no sense to me that McGahee was never even inserted as a sort of change-of-pace, and I’ll be anticipating how Cameron and Harbaugh explain that fact this week.

Before we wrap up, we can’t excuse the Ravens’ defense or special teams here either. While it’s commendable to hold New England to just 23 points, after they had put up 38 in each of their prior two home games, there were some disturbing signs from the “D.”

First off, what the hell is it with the Ravens’ inability to stop white running backs? We all remember Peyton Hillis running roughshod over them in week 2, and in Foxborough, Danny Freakin’ Woodhead had 63 yards and 5.7 per carry. They also had a hell of a time tackling Wes Welker, Aaron Hernandez, and Deion Branch, allowing the Pats to rack up an incredible amount of YAC, after doing such a great job against the Denver Broncos last week.

Next, Mattison’s insistence to only rush three men so often is starting to cost the team. By now we know not to expect the kind of blitzes that we saw when Rex Ryan was in town, but giving Tom Brady 5 or 6 seconds to find a receiver down near the end zone isn’t a recipe for success in any universe. I don’t care if the Ravens emptied the bench and put 12 guys in the end zone covering Pats’ receivers, if Brady can basically take his helmet off back there and stand flat footed, he’s going to find someone. And that’s exactly what he did to get New England to within 20-17. With the exception of Haloti Ngata, the Ravens’ pass rush was disturbingly non-existent, especially considering the past success they have had against the Patriots.

Finally, we come to special teams. While they never came up with the huge game-breaker that we feared, and that they used to beat Miami in week 4, New England was clearly the superior unit on Sunday.

Jalen Parmele needs to be out of a job. His indecision/terrible decisions cost the Ravens a good bit of field position on at least two occasions.

Neither Chris Carr nor Tom Zbikowski can generate anything on punt returns. And when it seems like they just MIGHT, it’s always because someone else is illegally blocking or holding. On top of that, their refusal to come up and field punts that aren’t hit directly to them cost the team additional field position several times. It’s a sad state of affairs for the Ravens’ return games.

Even Billy Cundiff, despite his three touchbacks, had a costly gaffe. After going up 20-10, Cundiff’s ensuing kickoff squirted out of bounds at about the two yard line…two yards too soon, which resulted in the Patriots starting at their own 40-yard line.

The Ravens outplayed the Patriots for three quarters Sunday. Despite the Pats having two weeks to prepare, the Ravens appeared ready to take their best shot and bring a 5-1 record back to B’More.

Unfortunately, they were outplayed and (thoroughly) outcoached during the final quarter and the overtime period, and 4-2 is the result.

Still not a terrible place to be, after four tough road games, and with only a home game against Buffalo standing between us and the bye week.

Oh, and a certain guy who wears #20 is rumored to be coming back this week.

Things could be worse.

Let’s not melt down like a bunch of complete morons, please (these comments make me embarrassed to be a Ravens fan).

Play Like a Raven – Week 5

October 12, 2010

PlayLikeaRayRice

Long-time readers of the site will know that last year, we changed the name of our weekly “best Raven” award to “Play Like a Ray Rice,” after a string of having to give the honor to #27 week after week after week. He started 2010 off slowly, but Rice looked like his old self again on Sunday, racking up 150+ total yards and two touchdowns. If it were up to us, he’d also be the team’s default goalline back moving forward, as he fared much better in such situations against Denver than either Willis McGahee or Le’Ron McClain.

Anyway, it was fairly obvious that Rice was the best player on the field Sunday. It’s not uncommon for that to occur, so we’ll just name the award after Rice again, and move on to honoring another guy who had a great afternoon.

Played Like a Raven – Fabian Washington

After teetering on the edge of being the “Did Not Play Like a Raven” in Pittsburgh the previous week, Fabe bounced back with a vengeance against the Broncos. It would still be nice if the guy could catch even a little bit, but Washington batted down four Kyle Orton passes when it seemed like ol’ Neckbeard was trying to pick on him. I’ll give him a pass for the dropped picks though, as Fabe has never been an interception guy (his career high is 4, with Oakland in 2006, the only time in his career he had more than one in a season; he hasn’t picked off a pass since week 12 of 2008 against Philadelphia.) Still, this was the player the Oakland Raiders thought they were getting when they used the 23rd overall pick on Washington in the 2005 NFL Draft – a quick cover corner with the ability to shadow guys all over the field and break up passes when given the opportunity.

Fabe looks to be fully recovered from his ACL injury and to be rounding into top form as the season approaches it’s midway point. If he keeps getting his hands on a few passes a game, an interception or two is sure to materialize. In the meantime, it’s great to see #31 making plays on the back end.

Especially since….

Did Not Play Like a Raven – Safeties

Maybe try it with helmets next time, fellas?

Both starting safeties for the Ravens are going to catch my ire here this week. Dawan Landry and Tom Zbikowski were each directly responsible for one of the two Denver touchdowns on Sunday.

When the aforementioned Washington was singled up on Broncos’ receiver Brandon Lloyd, Lloyd was largely ineffective. However, on his 42-yard touchdown catch at the end of the first half, the Ravens were in a Cover 2 look, and Washington passed Lloyd off to Landry, who had deep responsibility on that half of the field. Landry was caught completely flat-footed by Lloyd, who raced past him easily and caught the score, with Dawan never even looking back for the ball (not that it would have made a difference.)

It’s been a fairly disappointing season for Landry as a whole. While not terrible, he hasn’t done much to separate himself from “random disposable safety” either. In training camp this year, he earned the nickname “Whop” from his teammates, as it seemed like a hard hit from #26 was putting a new Raven out of practice every other day. So far though, I can’t think of any instance where Landry has come up and laid wood on an opposing ball carrier to the point that I even noticed, let alone was compelled to stand and cheer. Apparently the guy saves his hardest hits for his teammates. And now he’s getting burnt in coverage too? Super.

Not to be outdone though, fellow safety Tom Zbikowski would be picked on for Lloyd’s second touchdown, a 44-yarder in “junk time” of the game. While cornerback Josh Wilson was also responsible for Lloyd on the play, Zibby was playing over the top and failed miserably to give Wilson the help that he obviously required.

This was a play that never happens with Ed Reed on the field. The same can’t be said for the first touchdown, as Landry was the safety on that side of the field.

Still, getting Reed back in the lineup will go a long way towards stopping these kind of deep strikes. It would be great if the schedule had worked out to where the Ravens were playing the Buffalo Bills at home this week, and at New England in week 7, when Reed is available…but dem’s da breaks.

Even without Randy Moss, Tom Brady will be ecstatic to not have to account for Reed every time he drops back to pass.

Mike Preston today suggested that the Ravens give Haruki Nakamura another look at safety in passing situations, with Landry and Zibby both struggling to varying degrees.

As always, I agree with Mike Preston.

Ravens 31 Broncos 17 (The ANOTHER HO-HUM BRONCO STOMPING Game)

October 11, 2010

Just like they always seem to do, the Denver Broncos rolled in and promptly rolled over at M&T Bank Stadium yesterday afternoon. Their defense put together an impressive goalline stand on the Ravens’ opening drive, stopping the Ravens on 2nd, 3rd, and 4th at 1 on what should have been an 89-yard touchdown drive, and you thought, “hey, maybe Denver came to play today…”

That would be the end of that, though.

The Broncos punted the ball back to the Ravens after picking up just 14 yards on their first drive, and Joe Flacco easily moved the ball down the field again, going 73 yards on 9 plays. Not to be denied this time around, Flacco punched the ball into the end zone himself, giving the Ravens a 7-0 lead. Denver managed just 18 yards on their second drive before again punting. This time, it was a 5-play, 72-yard touchdown march for the good guys, capped off by a 1-yard Ray Rice touchdown run, and the rout was on.

On the ensuing kickoff, backup linebacker Jason Phillips blew up Denver kick returner Demaryius Thomas, Edgar Jones stripped the ball out, and Ken Hamlin fell on it to give the ball right back to the offense. Though they went 3-and-out, a Billy Cundiff field goal made the score 17-0 Ravens with 9 minutes to play in the first half. While the game could have easily been 28-0 at this point, and REALLY over, for all intents and purposes the 17 point lead was plenty to seal the Broncos’ fate for the afternoon.

Though Denver would score on a 42-yard touchdown strike from Kyle Orton to Brandon Lloyd with just under a minute left in the half, the game was never close. It was the longest pass play against the Ravens this year (until a 44-yard Orton-to-Lloyd TD in junk time – a play that never happens if Ed Reed is in the game), and it was safety Dawan Landry who was victimized, getting caught flat-footed as Lloyd raced past him and beat him to the spot in the back of the end zone. It was a disappointing end to a half in which the Ravens’ secondary had, to that point, kept the Broncos’ high-flying aerial attack in total check. Even if it was disappointing that his stone hands couldn’t pull in at least one interception, cornerback Fabian Washington had perhaps his best game as a Raven, batting down several passes. At one point in the first half, Baltimore had outgained Denver by a 219-42 margin.

Sure Kyle Orton ended up with yet another 300-yard passing performance, which is likely to knock the Ravens out of their #1 pass defense ranking, but they don’t truly belong there anyway. And more importantly, the majority of Orton’s yards came long after the Ravens had jumped out to a three-score lead and the game was well in hand.

Perhaps the most promising development of the game for Ravens fans and fantasy football players around the country was that Cam Cameron remembered he has Ray Rice on his team. Rice had 31 touches (27 carries, 4 receptions), 159 total yards and two touchdowns, showing that his bruised knee suffered against Cleveland is fully healed, and that, when “fed the rock,” Rice can be every bit the dominating back he was in 2009. Not only that, but he may (should) have taken Willis McGahee’s job as the goalline running back. On the aforementioned failure from just outside the Broncos end zone, McGahee was twice stopped dead at the line of scrimmage. When given the same opportunities later in the game, Rice was 2 for 2. Not to be completely outdone though, McGahee showed that he still has some home runs left in him, racing for a 31-yard touchdown scamper to round out the Ravens’ scoring.

As a team, the Ravens rushed for 233 yards, with McGahee totaling 67 and Le’Ron McClain adding 13 in addition to his crushing blocks opening holes for the other guys all day. Even Flacco got in on the act, showing Tim Tebow who’s boss, rushing for 20 yards on 5 carries, at least one of which was a designed quarterback draw. He ran with power, lowering his head and punishing Denver linebacker D.J. Williams on one play, and finesse, giving Renaldo Hill a Mike Vick-esque ball-fake and leaving the Broncos’ safety in the dust.

It was an encouraging thing to watch, as the running game showed up to carry the offense through a stretch during which, in most of the 2nd and 3rd quarter, Denver decided that they were going to do everything they could to stop the pass, and Flacco missed on 9 or 10 consecutive throws. Anquan Boldin had only one catch for 8 yards, Derrick Mason and T.J. Houshmandzadeh were largely invisible for most of the day…and the Ravens still won going away.

The balanced attack that we all know the Ravens have the potential to possess, with all their weapons complimenting one another beautifully, may be starting to materialize (although, after giving all of Baltimore a huge scare when he went down momentarily in the end zone, perhaps Haloti Ngata shouldn’t be used as one of those “weapons” too much going forward).

Also meriting mention was that the Ravens again played a very clean game. Their 5 penalties for 66 yards were dwarfed by the Broncos’ 10 for 90, on a day where the officiating crew on the field was the most flag-happy bunch in the league coming into the matchup. The Ravens have had fewer penalty yards than their opponent in every game so far in 2010, an encouraging sign that the days of undisciplined play costing the teams wins are now firmly in our rearview. John Harbaugh’s emphasis on proper technique and his practice of bringing in officials to watch training camp and practices seem to be paying very tangible dividends.

A final word on the game: Billy Cundiff = BEAST. Four of his six kickoffs on the day were touchbacks, and another was ran out from a few yards deep in the end zone. He has become a great Ace-in-the-hole for B’More’s special teams unit.

Some Ravens fans will be perturbed about losing the #1 pass defense ranking, but we need to get over that mindset as a fanbase. Think back to the New York Giants game in 2008, where they ran for nearly 300 yards on the Ravens, but some fans still hung their hat on the fact that no single Giant ran for more than 100 yards. The true irrelevance of the streak of not allowing a 100-yard rusher was on full display that day, and Orton’s 314 yards Sunday are an equally empty statistic. Hanging our hat on #1 rankings and statistics are thing that we had to do when we had a team that ran hot-to-cold from one year to the next, a team that would contend one season and be doormats the following. With Harbaugh and Flacco, and the perennial contenders that they look like they are, and that we hope to have for years to come, a team that routinely dominates lesser teams, we can instead point to much more significant numbers: wins and losses.

Yes, it was Orton, not Flacco, who had the big “fantasy” day, throwing for over 300 yards and a couple touchdowns.

But whose team won the game? Whose team is currently 4-1?

The team in purple and black.

Recalibrate your expectations. Expect to win. When you win, you don’t have to pull out other numbers to convince yourself that your team is good. Point to the scoreboard. Point to the standings. That’s where the important numbers lie.

4-1 after three extremely tough road games and now with a half-game lead along with a head-to-head win over the Pittsburgh Steelers, and a full two game lead on the now 2-3 Cincinnati Bengals in the AFC North. It’s a good place to be, much better than say, 3-2 with the #1 pass defense or #1 run defense or best turnover ratio or blah, blah, blah.

Play Like a Raven – Week 4

October 5, 2010

PlayLikeaRaven

A win against the Pittsburgh Steelers, especially in their house – something the Ravens have only done 5 times in their history – always requires a full team effort, even more so than the typical NFL victory. There were a few Ravens, however, that stood out and deserve to be recognized in this week’s “Play Like a Raven.”

Played Like a Raven – Haloti Ngata

The big man was everywhere on Sunday, wrapping up Steelers running back Rashard Mendenhall at the line of scrimmage, chasing him down when he broke outside, sacking quarterback Charlie Batch, nearly picking him off, and tackling receivers down the field after catches.

Here in Baltimore, we’ve always known what a special player Haloti is and is certainly going to be, but he has been slow to receive the kind of National attention which he deserves. He finally broke through last year and made his first AFC Pro Bowl team, after being stuck behind guys like former Tennessee Titan Albert Haynesworth and Kris Jenkins of the New York Jets for the first few years of his defensive dominance.

After his performance in the marquee matchup of Steelers-Ravens last Sunday, he is seeing his star grow even further. For instance, Sports Illustrated’s Peter King has Ngata on his short list of potential NFL MVP candidates, virtually an unheard of honor for a defensive lineman (its happened only once, in 1971).

Haloti finished with a team high 11 tackles and a game-high 8 solo on the day, and was a disruptive force for the Ravens defense all afternoon. For much of the game, he lined up as a defensive end, as opposed to at his usual tackle position, where he took on Steelers’ offensive tackles Flozell Adams and Max Starks. Despite being blocked by tackles, supposedly more athletically superior players to the guards and centers he is used to clashing heads with, Ngata was still the best football player on the Heinz Field Sunday.

It’s times like these that I like to remember ESPN’s Mark Schlereth blasting the Ravens on Draft Day 2006 for taking Ngata, a guy he called lazy and accused of taking plays off.

Wrong, guy-with-a-hot-daughter.

Honorable Mention: Joe Flacco

I’d be remiss not to give props to Flacco here as well. As great as Haloti was on Sunday, I’ve only went back on the DVR and re-watched his hit on Mendenhall once or twice, while I’ve watched the Joe-to-T.J. game-winning touchdown pass a good half dozen or more times over the last two days.

On second thought, I’ve probably watched that particular play closer to a dozen times.

The entire drive, I’ve seen more like 6 or 7.

Hell, I can recite the entire series from memory at this point: (no peeking, I promise)

1st and 10 at the PIT 40: Flacco to Boldin across the middle for 9 yards
2nd and 1 at the PIT 31: Flacco to Boldin on a quick out for 2 yards. Boldin steps out.
1st and 10 at the PIT 29: Flacco to Houshmandzadeh on a right sideline throw to the PIT 18. Housh steps out.
1st and 10 at the PIT 18: FLACCO TO HOUSHMANDZADEH FOR THE TOUCHDOWN

/checks NFL.com play-by-play to see how I did:

# Baltimore Ravens at 01:08
# 1-10-PIT 40 (1:08) 5-J.Flacco pass short left to 81-A.Boldin ran ob at PIT 31 for 9 yards.
# 2-1-PIT 31 (:42) (No Huddle, Shotgun) 5-J.Flacco pass short left to 81-A.Boldin ran ob at PIT 28 for 3 yards.
# 1-10-PIT 28 (:38) (No Huddle, Shotgun) 5-J.Flacco pass short right to 84-T.Houshmandzadeh pushed ob at PIT 18 for 10 yards (20-B.McFadden).
# 1-10-PIT 18 (:34) (Shotgun) 5-J.Flacco pass deep right to 84-T.Houshmandzadeh for 18 yards, TOUCHDOWN.

Yeah, I’ve watched it a few times.

I make no excuses, either. That was the kind of drive we’ve been waiting to see from Joe for over two years now. Although it was his sixth career game-winning drive in the fourth quarter or overtime, none of the previous five were nearly as dramatic. As proof of this, look no further than the fact that Sunday was the FIRST TIME the Ravens have won a game on a last-minute touchdown since Steve McNair-to-Todd Heap beat the San Diego Chargers back in 2006, when Joe was just starting his junior year at Delaware. The fact that he was finally able to put everything together in the final minute against a great defense like the Steelers, a defense that has given him fits throughout his career, and in THEIR HOUSE…was all just icing on the cake.

That last drive (and the previous one, to a lesser extent) excused Joe for some erratic play earlier in the game, especially the play where he again broke out his good ol’ “back foot floater,” and cornerback Ike Taylor intercepted him. He didn’t “Play Like a Raven” all afternoon, no. But he did it when it mattered most. And after years of watching Ben Roethlisberger look like absolute dog shit against the Ravens’ defense for 58 minutes, only to solve them in the final two, it was a great feeling of poetic justice for B’More fans.

Did Not Play Like a Raven – n/a

Honestly, I can’t come up with anyone here. Like I said at the top, it was a total team effort. For every boneheaded or poor play somebody made, they either redeemed themselves later, or played solidly enough otherwise that I can’t justify grading them so low here.

Billy Cundiff missed an early 33-yard field goal attempt, but let’s not forget that he was kicking towards the open end of Heinz Field, probably the toughest place to make a field goal in the NFL. Jeff Reed, who kicks there more than anybody, missed twice Sunday. And Cundiff’s 5-yards-deep-in-the-end-zone kickoff following the Ravens’ late go-ahead touchdown negated any prayer the Steelers had of a big special teams play getting them back in the game.

Cam Cameron would find himself in the “Didn’t Coach Like a Raven” hot seat this week, had the unsuccessful 3rd and 4th downs from the Steelers’ 2-yard line inside the final 3 minutes proved to be deciding factors in the game. He made up for it on the next drive, though, so Cam is in the clear.

Flacco threw an interception, but he did that other thing too…so he’s cool.

The player who I could most build a case for here is Fabian Washington. He got burned by Antwaan Randle El on a 34-yard pass to set up the Steelers’ first touchdown. He also curled into the fetal position rather than go after an interception off a Paul Kruger tipped pass, as a collision with the aforementioned Ngata may have been the price to pay – and Fabe would have certainly come up on the losing end of that one – so we’ll excuse that as well, considering the outcome of the game. On the whole though, Randle El had only 2 catches on the day, and the secondary allowed just 141 passing yards, so Washington’s day wasn’t a complete waste either.

Still riding the high from that win, we’ll just skip “Did Not Play Like a Raven” for Week 4. Great job, all in purple in black.

Ravens 17 Steelers 14 (The JOE AND T.J. MAKE THE YINZERS CRY Game)

October 4, 2010

Look at all those sad pandas!

Did we just witness the maturation of Joe Flacco as an NFL quarterback?

That’s what many of the talking sports heads in the media are saying this morning – that Joe, by virtue of his game winning touchdown drive during the final minute of yesterday’s win over the Pittsburgh Steelers, has now vaulted into the upper echelon of professional signal callers.

Indeed, it was a thing of beauty. Flacco and the Ravens offense went 40 yards on just four plays in 36 seconds of game clock. On the drive, they never faced a 3rd down situation. Hell, the only faced a single second down, and even that was just second-and-one. There wasn’t even the drama of a third-and-long or fourth-and-game situation as Joe faced down the beast that has been his nemesis since he entered the league, Dick LeBeau’s stifling Steeler defense, and came out on top.

On the play, T.J. Houshmandzadeh ran a great route, faking to the sideline as Flacco pump-faked, before turning towards the end zone and potential victory. When he got there, a win was indeed waiting for him, in the form of a gorgeous pass that he ran under and hauled in, in the process sending all those rabid Steeler fans home from Heinz Field using their terrible towels to wipe away their copious tears.

Joe was finally able to do what Ben Roethlisberger and the Steelers have been doing to the Ravens for years – breaking their hearts with a last-second drive to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat. That it happened at Heinz Field, which has for so long been a house of horrors for B’More, makes it all the more satisfying. It was the Ravens’ first victory in Pittsburgh since 2006, and it not only served to keep their hated rivals from starting the season at 4-0 and with a commanding lead in the AFC North, but it catapulted them to first place in the division and gave them an early tiebreaker over the Steelers.

The game had, to that point, been the prototypical Ravens/Steelers match that we’ve come to expect stomach ulcers from each and every time these two clash heads. The Steelers took an early lead on a Rashard Mendenhall run at the goalline, and the Ravens responded with a Willis McGahee touchdown run of their own. From that point on, midway through the second quarter, no more than four points would separate the teams at any point during the game. The Ravens led by a score of 10-7 at halftime, and by the same margin after the third quarter came to a close.

It felt all too familiar. Leading after the second and third quarters means absolutely nothing, and far too many times we’ve seen Pittsburgh dominate the final quarter and make the plays down the stretch to eke out a win. And when Mendenhall scored his second touchdown with just over seven minutes remaining, it seemed the game was taking a twist we’ve all seen far too many times before. Taking a 14-10 lead had Pittsburgh and their fans, with that defense playing at home, feeling comfortable. A bit too comfortable, as it turned out.

The Ravens took possession and went 65 yards on 10 plays on the ensuing drive…problem was, they needed 67 yards. Third-and-goal and fourth-and-goal from the Pittsburgh 2-yard line both resulted in incomplete passes, and AGAIN it looked like the Steelers would survive.

They were too conservative on their ensuing possession though, afraid to let Charlie Batch take any chances that might result in a turnover. Aided by a penalty, the Steelers went three-and-out, and Daniel Sepulveda punted from the back of his own end zone. Another penalty, this one during the punt, moved the ball to the Pitt 40 yard-line for Flacco’s penultimate drive. A drive that Ravens fans will be remembering fondly for many years to come.

For the first time in the Flacco-Harbaugh era, the Ravens won at Heinz Field. And you couldn’t write a more perfect script of how it came to pass.

Give credit to Todd Heap and Ray Rice on that final play as well. Both picked up Steelers’ blitzers from Flacco’s blind side, Heap coming all the way across the formation to stonewall Troy Polamalu.

The Ravens defense had another strong day, holding Rashard Mendenhall to just 79 yards on 25 carries, an average of just 3.16. His longest carry on the day was 11 yards, lending credence to the theory that last week’s gashing by Cleveland’s Peyton Hillis was more a matter of effort than ability. The run defense is fine.

As for the secondary, they were again fairly untested, but held up well. Charlie Batch took his shots down the field, but connected on only one, a deep ball down the right sideline to Antwaan Randle El that set up the Steelers’ first score. He tried Mike Wallace deep several times in the fourth quarter, only to be foiled each time by cornerback Lardarius Webb, who had a spectacular game. On one, Wallace got both hands on the ball in the end zone before Webb stripped it out and nearly came away with the interception himself.

Still, some interceptions would be nice to see from this group at some point soon (even if Haloti Ngata is about to destroy you if you catch it…FABIAN!)

Speaking of Ngata, he was a beast Sunday, racking up a game-high 8 solo tackles, and team-high 11 total. He made all of Heinz Field hold their breath, and all Ravens fans exclaim an “ooooooooh” when he planted Mendenhall about 3 feet deep into the turf on one short run. Ngata also registered a sack, as did Terrell Suggs, who played a strong game despite drawing double teams for most of the day. Suggs’ sack was big because it pushed the Steelers back on a long field goal attempt from Jeff Reed, and the kick ended up clanging off the right upright.

“Skippy,” as he is known in Pittsburgh, deserves special mention here. Thank you, Jeff Reed, for going out and getting hammered Saturday night, or whatever else you did to make you forget how to kick inside your own stadium. Reed missed two field goals Sunday, both going towards the open end of Heinz Field, which continues to prove impossible to master. The swirling winds on that side of the field also pushed an early Billy Cundiff attempt wide right.

It was also nice to see the Steelers being the ones beating themselves for most of the day as well, as opposed to it being the Ravens as we’re used to witnessing. While the penalties were fairly even throughout most of the game, in the end the tally was 7 for 52 yards for the Ravens, and 11 for 88 for Pittsburgh. Three of Pittsburgh’s came in the final 5:03 though, making them extra costly. Some Steelers fans are complaining about the refs this morning, so to them I’ll just say this – doesn’t feel so good when your team is on the short end, does it?

The other argument from yinzers and yinzer-wannabes alike will be this: “We didn’t have Ben.”

Well, that’s true. But Ben doesn’t play defense. TROY was out there. So were James, and Lamarr (both of whom were held extremely quiet by the Ravens’ offensive line all day).

“But the game wouldn’t have been that close if BEN was there.”

Fact: Roethlisberger has played in 4 of the 6 Ravens/Steelers games in the Harbugh-Flacco era.

Fact: ONE of those games was decided by more than four points. Stop assuming that it would have been a blowout if #7 was on the field. History doesn’t back that up.

Anyway, it was an awesome, awesome win for our Ravens, and it sets them up wonderfully moving forward. I’m not ready for the fun to end though, so let’s look at some more screencaps from the game, shall we?

Let’s play “WHAT’S MIKE TOMLIN THINKING??”

Steelers fan response:

Ready to go drown his sorrows with Skippy:

Do you watch The League on FX? If so, you’ll get this. If not, you should watch The League on FX.

“Token black coach” response:

And finally, here’s a “make your own caption/photoshop” of Charlie Batch. Have at it, Nestgoers:


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