Ravens Clinch Playoff Berth Despite Loss
December 18, 2012 in Observations
The 9-5 Baltimore Ravens lost their third straight game to the 11-3 Denver Broncos by a score of 34-17. This loss marked the most lopsided home loss for the Ravens under head coach John Harbaugh and is their first 3 game losing streak since October of 2009. It also makes 9 straight games that QB Peyton Manning has beaten the Ravens (including playoffs). However, they were able to clinch a playoff berth since the Pittsburgh Steelers lost to the Dallas Cowboys.
Flacco made history yesterday against the Broncos but not in the right way. His QBR from the game was 0.4, the only performance that has been worse this season was his week 7 game against the Houston Texans. He also became the first QB to have two games in a season with a QBR under 1 since Jets QB Mark Sanchez, who did this in 2009. Since this is Flacco's contract year, he needs to be playing his best game, not a record setting bad performance. If you want a big, new contract, then you don't need your name to come up with Mark Sanchez's in terms of stats. There were two plays that were absolutely atrocious. The first came on the Ravens first drive. It was a 3rd and 1 and Flacco ran a QB sneak. He had the first down but, on his way to the ground he fumbled the ball and the Broncos recovered. This not only allowed the Broncos to set the tone defensively, but Flacco gave Peyton Manning the ball at midfield. Even if the Ravens had all their defensive players healthy, it wouldn't be good, let alone when 4 of your top 5 tackles are out and your top CB is out. The second play occurred when the Ravens were inside the Broncos 5 yardline. Flacco tried to throw a quick out route to WR Anquan Boldin but Broncos CB Chris Harris jumped the route and returned the ball for a touchdown. This happened with 15 seconds left in the half and the Ravens were about to go into half with the momentum after a good drive. They had the possibility to go in down 10-7 but instead went to half down 17-0. A 14 point swing is never good, but it is even worse when you are about to go into halftime and your team will get the ball to start the second half. The only real credit that Flacco deserves for this game is he was able to chase down Harris on his return. Flacco dove and tripped Harris up but, Harris was able to dive into the endzone. For a playoff team, this is not what you need your QB's best play to be.
While some people may say that new offensive coordinator Jim Caldwell called an awful game because Rice only carried the ball 12 times, consider this. On those 12 carries, Rice only averaged 3.2 yards and when you factor in his 3 catches for 3 yards, he averaged 2.7 yards per touch. You can't blame Caldwell for trying something else. In my opinion there was nothing wrong with Caldwell's play calling. There was, however, a massive problem with execution of these plays. The offensive line couldn't block anyone and Flacco was, well Joe Flacco this season. One of Rice's catches did go for a first down but that was his only real impact on the game because the Broncos were able to contain him very well, so credit them.
The Broncos were able to contain Pierce as well as Rice but, Pierce was able to do a little more damage with his few touches. He had 5 rushes for 20 yards with a long of 14. This 14 yard run was the Ravens first, first down of the game. This may not sound like much but, when you consider that it came with 8 minutes left in the 2nd quarter, then it matters. As I said earlier, there was a massive execution problem and this is why it took so long to get a first down. Even then, on the next play, Pierce had a similar run but it was taken away by a holding penalty. Pierce left the game with a concussion and never returned.
If there was one positive on offense, then it was Pitta. Even he had his faults though, as he uncharacteristically dropped 2 passes including 1 that would have been a first. The other would have been 16 yards short of a first with defenders around him so it wouldn't have mattered. To give him credit both were semi-difficult catches but, he got both hands on the ball each time. On one play he had a diving catch but came up 1 yard short on this 3rd and 10. Of his 7 catches, only 1 went for a first down but, he had 1 touchdowns. The first touchdown was a diving catch on a seam route on a 2nd and 25. The other was a 5 yard out route which was wide open. The impressive part of this play was that Pitta broke 3 tackles, including one with a spin move, while running down the sideline for the touchdown. By far, this was the play of the day for the Ravens. In the end, he finished with 7 catches for 125 yards with 2 TDs, on 10 targets.
His impact was felt more in the return game than on offense. He returned 4 kickoffs for 112 yards and had a long of 50 yards. This set the Ravens up with good field position multiple times. His main offensive play was a 43 yard leaping catch which put the Ravens in Broncos territory on the first play after the 2 minute warning in the first half. Flacco would throw his interception a few plays later but Jones gave the offense hope. In the late 3rd quarter, he left with an injury but came back after missing 2 plays.
Due to a concussion to Torrey Smith, Doss was able to get lots of playing time. Doss had 2 catches for 28 yards on 4 targets. Both of these catches went for first downs and he was overthrown on a comeback route where he was open which would have been another first down. Lastly, he had one punt return and made the most of it as he returned it for 40 yards which led to Pitta's first touchdown catch. Over the last few games, Doss has been going back for returns near the Ravens endzone. This is probably because the Ravens trust him to catch it more than Jones. The Ravens have previously done this with S Ed Reed and CB Lardarius Webb.
Your offense starts in the trenches and, if they don't play well, the offense as a whole won't play well. On almost every pass play, they gave up pressure. At the end of the 3rd quarter, the had given up 15 QB hurries, 8 knockdowns on 33 pass plays. Based on my count, they finished with 18 hurries, 10 knockdowns, 3 sacks (not counted as knockdowns), and 1 roughing the passer for a hit to the head. These stats are completely unacceptable. If you want Flacco to succeed, then he needs to be protected as he needs to worry about finding the open receiver, not thinking about where the pass rushers will be breaking through this time. In the running game, the line wasn't much better. They couldn't get any holes for Rice and Pierce. They were either getting no push, or they were missing blocks. Individually, C Matt Birk had 1 holding call and it took back a 15 yard run by Pierce which stalled the drive. Left guard Jah Reid gave up 1 sack. Veteran RG Bobbie Williams played for the injured Marshal Yanda and allowed 1 sack and had a holding in Denver territory which stalled that drive. Overall, their play was downright awful and needs to improve by next week.
If Pitta was the bright spot on offense, then McClellan was the bright spot on defense and special teams. When he was in punt coverage, he had a hard hit which forced a fumble but the returner was down first. On the Ravens first kickoff in the 2nd half, he forced fumble but, like last week, the ball went out-of-bounds before anyone could recover it. On defense, he had one of the Ravens two sacks of Manning. McClellan's sack came on 1st down and went for a loss of 10 yards. This stopped the Broncos drive after they had gotten multiple first downs already. He finished with 6 tackles and was playing through a hamstring injury.
Making his first start, Bynes played how I expected him to. He led all defensive players with 13 tackles and has had a QB hit and a pass deflection. Most of his tackles came more than 5 yards downfield though. This was predictable as he barely has any experience at the NFL level. On Broncos RB Knowshon Moreno's TD run, Bynes got blocked to the ground. His best play came on the Broncos first drive of the game. The Broncos had a 3rd and 11 and Manning threw an underneath pass to a RB. Bynes was able to stay with the receiver and stopped him 4 yards short of the first down. If he doesn't make the tackle, the Broncos would have gotten the first down and more. Overall, Bynes showed some potential but also showed why he started the season on the practice squad.
In what was supposed to be a big matchup, Reed was burned by Manning multiple times. I don't have the number of how many times he was beat but it was enough to know that Manning wasn't afraid to go after him like a lot of quarterbacks are. On Eric Decker's 51 yard TD catch, Reed came up like he was expecting an out route. After the play he was visibly upset and threw his helmet. It is unknown if he was upset at himself or at CB Cary Williams who was covering on the play and seemed to give up. Reed also didn't have a good game in run support as Moreno hurdled him despite Reed being almost vertical. Reed later had this to say about that play, “I was not expecting him to jump, honestly. I couldn’t react because I was just dealing with a lot of sickness early in the game. I just wasn’t all the way into it, honestly. I was dealing with flu symptoms and everything. I just kind of watched him jump over me. I wasn’t expecting that at all.”
Like most of the Ravens, Williams had an underwhelming performance. He allowed 6 catches and 3 of these were for first downs and 1 was for a touchdown. As stated above, on the touchdown, he seemed to give up once the ball was in the air. This is not acceptable, especially when you are in your contract year and trying to prove that you are worth a lot of money. He did have 2 nice pass breakups including one in the endzone. Williams was called for an unnecessary roughness penalty for a late hit. This was also unacceptable as the receiver was way out-of-bounds. In run defense, Williams was able to make a tackle for a loss though.