Archive for November, 2010


November 23, 2010

Despite leading by just a single touchdown two plays into the fourth quarter, the Ravens dominated the Carolina Panthers over the final ten minutes of play, and two defensive touchdowns gave B’More a comfortable 24 point victory.

The defensive touchdowns were the Ravens’ first two of the 2010 season, an oddity for a unit that has historically had no problem finding the end zone. The first came on an Ed Reed interception (his fourth in four games this year), but it was Dawan Landry who ultimately crossed the goalline, after receiving what may well have been the prettiest lateral of Reed’s lateral-happy career. It looked almost like an offensive option play, the way Reed hit Landry in perfect stride. For all the headaches he induces with those flips of the ball, when it works to perfection like it did yesterday, we hardly have any room to complain.

The second defensive score, on the Panthers’ very next play from scrimmage, was by the other Hall of Famer, Ray Lewis. It was Ray’s first touchdown since 2007 against Cleveland, and his 30th career interception. That puts Ray-Ray into the 30 sack/30 interception “club.” I say “club” in quotes because the only other member is former Patriot Rodney Harrison. Thats right, Lewis and Harrison are the ONLY NFL players to ever amass 30 interceptions and 30 sacks in a career. Watching Lewis get to waltz into the end zone one more time was a great sight for Ravens fans, who know that the sun is (slowly) setting on #52’s time on the field.

While the defense provided the points to finally put the game away, special teams nearly provided the nail in the coffin much earlier in the contest. Rookie David Reed took the opening kickoff of the second half 84 yards to the Carolina 18-yard line. Although he didn’t score on the play, Reed’s return was easily the Ravens’ best of the year, and it looks like the speedy first year player out of Utah has finally brought some stability to the kick return position.

Had the Ravens’ offense been able to capitalize on the great field position, the game would have been effectively over. A touchdown at that point would have put the Ravens up 24-3, and with Brian St. Pierre floundering under center for the Panthers, that would have been all she wrote. Unfortunately, we saw those same old red zone woes rear their ugly head, as Joe Flacco and Co. managed just 3 yards on 3 plays before settling for a 33-yard Billy Cundiff field goal.

It seems like the Ravens’ offense is just completely determined to sleep-walk through at least some portion of games these days. Last week a big deal was made about how they always start so slow in games played outside of M&T Bank Stadium. Well, that problem was solved quickly yesterday, as Flacco hooked up with T.J. Houshmandzadeh for a 56-yard touchdown on the team’s second offensive snap. After one quarter, the Ravens led 10-0, and looked to be moving the ball at will against Carolina’s defense. They racked up 258 yards of offense in the first half, and led 17-3.

Then they went into the locker room at halftime and…

took naps?

got deep tissue massages?

hung out in the sauna for 8 minutes?

Whatever the cause, they came out extremely lethargic after the break, looking nothing like the team that had dominated the first half. Taking possession with 9:40 left in the game, the Ravens had amassed just 63 total yards of offense in the second half.

What was most disappointing to me was their complete inability/refusal to run the ball.

Listen, I’m as big a Joe Flacco fan as you’re going to find. Two and a half years into his tenure, I am as “Wacko for Flacco as ever.” But holding a lead in the second half on the road is the time to pound the football, unleash the offensive linemen, and get “downhill” on your opponent.

Not in the mind of Cam Cameron, I suppose.

In the third quarter, the Ravens ran 17 plays – 12 passes and 5 runs.

That’s playcalling. That’s on the coaching staff.

Those 5 runs went for a total of 18 yards (3.6 ypc).

That’s execution. The blame there goes on the offensive line and running backs.

It’s obvious that this team just doesn’t have the make up or mentality to totally stomp on inferior teams – at least not on offense. While frustrating, that’s not necessarily a fatal flaw. What it is though, is a call for the coaching staff to realize it, and stop trying to keep throwing the ball all over the field when the team is leading. Especially as we get into the colder weather here in December, it would be nice to be reassured that the Ravens have the ability to “take the air out of the ball” when they get up, and use their running game to effectively hold onto leads.

Another sign that the Ravens may not have been 100% into the game mentally was the severe case of “fumbleitis” they experienced throughout the day. It started when Flacco and Rice botched a hand off at the Panthers’ 11-yard line midway through the second quarter (Flacco stated that it was his fault; the play was supposed to be a reverse, not a handoff to Rice). It then continued with normally very sure-handed guys like Anquan Boldin and Todd Heap. On the day, the Ravens put the ball on the ground a total of four times, and lost two of those. With three of their next four games against teams with winning records, those types of things could be detrimental to the Ravens’ chances.

Although they provided the knockout punches, it was hardly a dominant effort overall from the Ravens defense. Third string running back Mike Goodson ran 22 times for 120 yards, including a long of 45 (in fairness, 22 of those came in junk time when John Fox should have had his team taking a knee). It appeared the Ravens had gotten their run defense straightened out after back-to-back strong performances against Miami (to a degree) and Atlanta (vintage Ravens run-stuffing), but the gaping holes were there again yesterday. Against a team whose starting quarterback was literally a stay-at-home dad two weeks ago, and who can do next to nothing (88-yard touchdown passes notwithstanding), there is no excuse for a team to run wild like that. I have some ideas for things the team can try to plug up those holes, and I’ll write about that later in the week. For now though, suffice to say that Tampa Bay running backs LeGarrette Blount and Cadillac Williams will be licking their chops looking at film this week.

The Ravens are now 7-3 – their best record through 10 games in the John Harbaugh era – and have four of their final six games at M&T Bank Stadium, along with two very winnable road games. While Ravens fans seem to be eternal pessimists, the fact of the matter is that everything this team set out to do is still well within their grasp.


Tailgate in Charlotte with Goob!

November 19, 2010

Have you ever wanted to party with a ton of Ravens fans at an away game?

Do you like watching Goob make an ass out of himself?

Do you want to be in the next video?

If you answered “yes,” to these questions….WELL HERE’S YOUR CHANCE!

Where: 225 S. Mint St. Charlotte

Parking Cost: $25 (according to the lady on the phone)

Ravens Roost 6008 (Goob’s Raleigh Ravens group) will be taking a trip down to the Queen City to get great videos and root on the Ravens. It seems that half of Baltimore is making this trip down to Charlotte (besides Nestminder) and it should be a great time.

We will be meeting at 225 S. Mint St. in Charlotte just a few blocks away from the stadium. For those of you who haven’t been there before, the stadium is right in the middle of downtown and there is plenty of tailgate lots around it. Please try your best to come to this lot and hopefully we can have a great time. I just found the location online and it should be good to go.

Ravens (6-3) @ Panthers (1-8)

November 19, 2010

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ravens 34 Panthers 6

Lookalikes! Panthers Edition

November 18, 2010

This is the first time the Ravens have met the Carolina Panthers in regular season action since 2006. As this blog has only been in existence since 2007, this marks the first chance for us to go through Carolina’s roster and pick out the goofy and/or familiar looking faces. So, what treasures of ugliness lie buried in the Panthers’ depth chart? Let’s see…

First up, we have rookie defensive end/linebacker Eric Norwood, who looks like he stepped straight out of that Avatar movie:

A movie which, by the way, I’ve still yet to see. I’M BUSY, OK?!

Long snapper J.J. Jansen should be glad this game is being played in Charlotte, and not in Baltimore. He bears a striking resemblance to a guy that many in B’More still loathe to this day, for refusing to put on a Baltimore Colts uniform:

He may be too young to be confused with Elway, but that guy could definitely have come from one of John’s patented “run and shoot” offense plays with some groupie about 25 years ago.

Next on our list is tackle Jordan Gross. Something tells me Gross is going to be prettyyyyyy pissed off Sunday when Terrell Suggs mistakes quarterback Brian St. Pierre for the pot o’ gold at the end of the rainbow that is the Panthers’ offensive line, and makes that pot o’ gold his own.

we *may* have doctored Jordan’s photo just a tad

Finally, we come to (injured) rookie quarterback Jimmy Clausen. While searching for pictures of Clausen, it became abundantly clear that there were many who came before us on the “Clausen looks like a goofy ass douche” bandwagon. Seeing as how he played his college ball at the most divisive college in the country, Notre Dame, and also due to the fact that he looks like…he does, this came as no surprise. As a result, we’ll just share some of these older Clausen lookalikes with you…

Hmm…I like where they were going with this, but Jimmy’s eyes strike me as being too close together, as opposed to too far apart, a la Sid from “Ice Age.”

The ostrich combines the silly hair with the googly eyes, to nice effect.

Of course, sometimes the funniest pictures are the ones that require no further explanation or allusion to other images…

Go Ravens.

Play Like a Raven – Week 10

November 17, 2010


Ray Rice had about as quiet a 100-yard performance as one can ever have on Thursday night. The Ravens offense was again shut out for the first 30 minutes of a road game, and was largely ineffective until very late in the game, but this was not Rice’s fault. Rice had 59 yards on 12 carries (4.9 average) and added another 43 yards on just 3 receptions. This gave him 102 total yards from scrimmage on just 15 touches (6.8 average).

Rice came out very strong, picking up 11 and 13 yards on the Ravens’ first two offensive snaps. It looked to be a very good sign for the B’More offense…but we all know what happened next. Inexplicably, Rice would get just two more touches the entire first half – runs of 5 and -2 yards.

In addition, Rice’s 24-yard screen pass reception on the Ravens’ final drive was both a blessing and a curse. While it did set them up at the Falcons’ 11-yard line with just over a minute remaining in a game that they trailed 20-14…it also set them up at the 11-yard line with over a minute remaining. To that point, the Ravens had shaved nearly two minutes off the clock in the process of moving the ball from their own 28-yard line in 5 plays. Looking back, a more methodical approach was probably necessary, so as to avoid leaving Matt Ryan so much time to answer Todd Heap’s 11-yard touchdown reception.

Not that any of the blame for the loss goes on Ray Rice’s shoulders. Just saying…

Played Like a Raven – Terrell Suggs

T-Sizzle was a man Thursday night. Suggs had two sacks, four hits, and three pressures on Matt Ryan. It was the 11th multi-sack game of Suggs’ career – and the first that the Ravens have lost.

Suggs gets a lot of heat around Baltimore for not putting up the big sack numbers that many tend to associate with the defensive end/linebacker position, especially a guy who is as well paid as Sizzle. However, Suggs is having an outstanding season, and were it not for #55, opposing quarterbacks probably really could have a cup of coffee and a doughnut each and every time they dropped back.

Suggs was flagged for a facemask penalty, a call that was pivotal in Atlanta’s second touchdown of the night – but we’ve already been over what complete BS that was.

Hopefully Suggs can build off his performance from Thursday night, though. As great as it is to have a well-rounded linebacker such as the one he has become, it is becoming more and more obvious that the pass defense really could be the undoing of this team, and some additional contributions from #55 in the pressuring-the-passer area could help immensely.

Honorable Mention – Anquan Boldin

Did Not Play Like a Raven – Michael Oher

Holy crap, “Big Mike,” WTF was that?

On a night where Oher finally met the man who portrayed him in the film “The Blind Side,” Quinton Aaron, for the first time, it looked as if Aaron had actually replaced the second year tackle on the field for much of the night. You half expected Sandra Bullock to run out on the field to slap some sense into him.

While the entire offensive line was pretty horrendous, Oher is going to get the lion’s share of the blame here. He was absolutely awful, getting completely abused and confused by Falcons’ defensive end John Abraham again and again.

The guys over at Pro Football Focus (quickly becoming one of my favorite websites) agree with me, and state that it was Oher’s worst game of the season.

We go from great to god awful and the noticeably bad performance of Michael Oher (-6.1). His run blocking wasn’t great and he couldn’t handle whoever the Falcons put at right end, constantly beaten when guys would delay their attack or move inside him. He gave up a sack, two hits and four pressures — his worst day of the season.

Matt Ryan came out of Thursday night looking like the clear better quarterback of he and Joe Flacco, but a great deal of that impression was due to the play of the QB’s respective offensive lines. Ryan had all day to throw, while Joe was running for his life time and time again.

Let’s hope that Oher and the rest of the line were simply hit with the perfect storm – done in by a multitude of factors ranging from lingering fatigue from the Miami game just four days earlier, to unfamiliarity with the surface at the Georgia Dome, to whatever else you want to throw in to make yourself feel better. The line needs to shape up, and quick. This week, they face a Carolina Panthers defense that is 26th in the league with just 13 sacks, which could be just what the Doctor ordered.

Dishonorable Mentions – Rest of offensive line, Lardarius Webb


November 15, 2010

Not only did we have the best time ever tailgating in Atlanta (if you haven’t seen the video, click the previous post) but I also got hooked up with on field passes. This was easily one of the coolest things to ever happen to me.

I got to meet Gerry Sandusky and Qadry Ismail before I got onto the field. I was surprised by one of my favorite Ravens while we were walking out and Mrs. Goob and I got to meet Quentin Aaron who played Michael Oher on “The Blind Side”. Willis McGahee and T-Sizzle slapped my hands and we also got to thank a ton of troops for their service on Veterans Day.

In non Ravens sightings, actor Jason Bateman and the NFL Commish were walking around as well. During all filming, no one wanted to wear my beak hat and get a picture with me 😦

Ravens Fans Invade Georgia Dome

November 15, 2010

On Thursday, I, along with thousands of other Ravens fans, invaded the Georgia Dome to watch the Ravens hopefully beat the Falcons. Unfortunately, we all know the way the game turned out but I seriously have to say, this was one of the most fun times I’ve ever had a football game.

I would have to say that about 20% of the stadium was filled with Ravens fans and our tailgate by far dominated the Falcons. Check out my video to see for yourself how awesome it was.

Special thanks to G.P. from “The Ravens Roost of the South” for creating such an event. It was one for the ages and we hope to do it again next Sunday against the Panthers on the road.

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:


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.

Goob Chilling with Flacco Pre-Game

November 12, 2010

Here’s Goob Theoharris debuting at his new gig, working the sideline for NFL Network:

Ravens (6-2) @ Falcons (6-2)

November 10, 2010

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

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

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

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

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

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

Enough history, though.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Back with me? Alright then.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Which will make it all the sweeter when they do.

Ravens 27 Falcons 24