Ravens Clinch Second Straight AFC North Title
December 24, 2012 in Observations
The 10-5 Baltimore Ravens beat the 8-7 New York Giants 33-14 in a game that never seemed in doubt. In fact the defense held the Giants to 186 total yards which is a season best for the defense. This was the regular season home finale and the win makes 10 straight wins for the Ravens in these games, the NFL's longest active streak. Another home win streak that continued was the Ravens record against NFC teams where the Ravens have won their last 13 including all 10 under head coach John Harbaugh. Over the course of the season, the Ravens set a record for most points scored at home with 254, which averages out to 31.8 points per game. Most importantly, the Ravens clinched the AFC North title with this win. This marks their second straight title and their fourth all-time (2003 and 2006). Next week the Ravens will head to Cincinnati to face the 9-6 Bengals.
Ever since the replacement referee fiasco ended, there hasn't been much to talk about concerning the referees in Ravens games, until now. I think CBS's Jason La Canfora said it best with this "The officiating in this Ravens/Giants game has been laughable." There were multiple bad calls in this game and some times when they got the call right, it was originally called wrong. Lets start with the worst call, when they overturned a touchdown catch by Jacoby Jones. Jones caught a pass and then turned and extended the ball across the goal line. When he hit the ground, the ball came lose. The explanation given was that Jones didn't perform "a second act." As Fox does on most reviews, they brought in Mike Pereira, who is the former vice president of officiating. He believed it was a touchdown catch and had this to say, "On this play, since Jones reached the ball out to break the plane before he hit the ground, he is deemed to perform an act common to the game — or as officials call it, a second act. This should have remained a touchdown and not have been overturned. There was clearly not indisputable evidence to overturn the ruling." You can watch the play here and decide for yourself. There was more than just this play though.
Both teams had phantom holding calls go against them. The funniest call of the game came when Ravens LT Michael Oher was called for a false start. This doesn't sound like much but if you watched the play, you could clearly see that three New York Giants jumped across the line and Oher was just reacting to them. It was this play that prompted La Canfora's tweet. A call that could have gone either way was when Ravens OLB Paul Kruger hit Giants QB Eli Manning and the ball came lose. It was ruled an incomplete pass but it looked like a possible fumble. Going against the Giants, was a pass interference on CB Corey Webster, who had a very rough day. The pass looked uncatchable but the referees called pass interference anyways. In a call that you don't see often, Ravens WR Torrey Smith was called for a blindside block when he hit the defender in the shoulder which is completely legal. This took away a first down pas to TE Ed Dickson. Last, is the helmet-to-helemt hit on Ravens S Ed Reed. Reed clearly led with his shoulder which hit Giants WR Victor Cruz. At no point does Reed hit Cruz with helmet on the play. This play is very important to the Ravens as the NFL could suspend Reed for another "helmet-to-helmet" hit. However, reports are saying Reed won't be suspended.
After recording an awful QBR of 0.4 last week, Flacco had a QBR of 94.4 which is his second best of the season. In the game, he also set a career high, a team record, and tied a team record. He set a career high in pass yards in a season. He currently has 3,783 yards and his old record was 3,622 which came in 2010. The team record that he set was for completions of more than 25 yards. Flacco currently has 40 of these completions and will probably add to this next week. Lastly, the team's record he tied is for most 300 yard passing games in one season. Vinny Testaverde is who Flacco is now tied with. They have 5 games with over 300 passing yards. Testaverde achieved this in the Ravens inaugural season back in1996. Odds are Flacco won't break the record next week as in his four career games at Cincinnati, he has averaged 190 yards per game. In their game earlier in the season, he threw for 299 yards though.
One of the main reasons Flacco was successful yesterday was the Ravens running a hurry-up offense and he was moving around more. What I mean is there were more rollouts called for Flacco. The offense line has been inconsistent this year allowing lots of pressure. These rollouts allow Flacco to get outside of the pocket which gives Flacco more time to find the open receiver. Even more unexpected was an option play on 3rd and 1. While Flacco never looked to run and pitched it back to Ray Rice right away, it adds variety to the offense and causes defenses to prepare for something other than a run up the middle in a short yardage situation. In Flacco's rookie year, the Ravens ran a little bit of the option because despite being 6'6" he is a good runner. Expect a lot more of the rollouts in the playoffs as it worked very well yesterday. We can finally see the influence of Jim Caldwell after this game because of the rollouts and hurry-up offense. The hurry-up was expected but the rollouts were a little unexpected. If Caldwell can get Flacco to play like this he will keep his offensive coordinator job and probably will become a head coaching candidate.
In the game, Flacco showed some good awareness. During the first drive, he was able to make the Giants call a timeout with his pace in the hurry-up offense. On his touchdown pass to Torrey Smith, Flacco correctly read the Giants blitz and threw a quick slant to Smith. It was man coverage on all the receivers and Smith was in the slot. In situations like these, the slot receiver is the hot read and Flacco went right to him. Since it was man coverage, all Smith needed was step on the defender to be open, and he was. Flacco also showed great touch on deep passes and overall, showed that when he has time to throw, he can be a dangerous quarterback.
You know the Ravens are having a good game if Rice doesn't lead the team in rush yards, and that was the case yesterday. Pierce ran 14 times for 123 yards. Two plays standout for Pierce from this game. The first was an 18 yard run down the sideline for a first down. The second was his 78 yard rush in the 4th quarter. Pierce ran behind the right side of the offensive line. The key block that sprung him was by FB Vonta Leach. This cleared the hole and allowed Pierce to get into the second level of the defense. He then was able to accelerate away from the defenders but was caught at the one yardline. This run was the longest run of the season for the Ravens. It also gave Pierce his first career 100 yard rushing game.
There is not going to be any complaining about Rice's touches this week. He had 24 rushes for 107 yards and had 6 catches for 51 yards with a TD on 7 targets. This means he had 30 touches for 158 yards which is an average of 5.27 yards per touch. This is the kind of stat line that you want for your star running back. With this 107 yard rushing game, Rice now has 17 career 100 yard rushing games. On his touchdown catch, Rice started out of the backfield. He then ran an angle route, starting to the outside and then cutting to the middle. Flacco hit him in stride and Rice stayed on the line from the route to the endzone. On the way, two people dived and missed, meaning Rice went untouched into the endzone.
Boldin was automatic all game long. He was targeted on 7 passes and caught all 7 of them for 93 yards. Six of theses 7 catches went for first downs. The two most impressive of these were a 39 yard catch on 3rd and 18 and a diving catch for a first down inside the Giants 20. On this play he injured his shoulder and never returned. Since the game was already won, there was no reason to put him in the game. There have been no updates on his injury. He was called for a holding penalty but it didn't look like much. This penalty took away a 10 yard run by Pierce.
Another solid game from Pitta, as he had 4 catches for 56 yards on 5 targets. Of these 4 catches, 2 of them went for first downs including one great play. It was a 3rd and 20 and Pitta ran deep. Flacco was able to thread the needle between two defenders and Pitta made the diving catch. Catches like these have become common for Pitta this season.
Fun fact of the day: all 8 of Smith's touchdown catches this year have come in Ravens victories. He caught 5 passes for 88 yards and 1 TD. However, he was targeted 11 times. Of his 5 catches, 3 went for first downs and he was able to draw a pass interference call for another. I talked about his touchdown catch above but, that wasn't his only good play of the day. He made a leaping catch for a 43 yard gain which put the Ravens on the Giants 1 yardline. He also had a leaping one handed catch on a back shoulder fade for 21 yards. It wasn't all good as he had a drop on a play where he went for a one handed catch when he could have used both hands. He was also called for a blindside block, as talked about above.
Last week, the offensive line was absolutely atrocious. This week, they were amazing. They allowed 0 sacks and only 2 QB hits. Last week, they allowed about 3 sacks and 10 hits. Overall, the line gave Flacco plenty of time to throw the ball and opened good holes for the running backs. Individually, the only player with a penalty called on them was LT Michael Oher, who had three, on the same drive. The first was the false start talked about earlier. The second was a holding call and the third was a chop block. Oher now is second on the Ravens with 9 penalties this year, only Boldin has more.
This has been an underwhelming season for Ngata but he played good against the Giants. The statline reads 4 tackles and 1 sack. The sack came on a first down play after the Giants seemed to be getting on the right page. Ngata sacked Eli Manning for a loss of 15 and this stalled the drive for the Giants. In the run game, Ngata was responsible for a few run stops and got good penetration on a few plays.
Starting ILB Dannell Ellerbe returned this week so Ayanbadejo didn't play as much, but when he did, he made the most of it. He finished with 4 tackles and 1 sack. The sack was for a loss of 7 yards on a first down. This stopped the Giants from accomplishing anything on their final drive before halftime. On a 3rd down play, he was able to pressure Manning into throwing the ball away. On the negative side he was called for an illegal block in the back on a punt return though.
The cornerbacks played great all game long for the Ravens. They held Manning to 14 completions and not all of the completions were on cornerbacks. Cary Williams gave up 2 passes for 1 first down. The first down was a 43 yard pass which set up the Giants first touchdown. He tipped 2 passes including one that Reed almost intercepted. The only other corner that gave up more than one completion by my count was nickel back Chykie Brown. He gave up 2 passes and they were for 1 first down and 1 touchdown. He played nickel back over Jimmy Smith for a reason that is unknown. In his place Brown played great as he had 4 pass deflections, a tackle for a loss, and drew an offensive pass interference. The most important thing that the cornerbacks did was contain Giants WRs Victor Cruz and Hakeem Nicks. Cruz had 3 catches for 21 yards on 5 targets and Nicks had 0 catches on 3 targets.
Three safeties were able to impact the game for the Ravens. Starting SS Bernard Pollard didn't play due to injury which let James Ihedigbo play in his place. He had a pressure on Manning on a 3rd and 13 which caused a bad throw. In pass coverage he gave up 1 catch for a first down. On special teams he was called for a holding while blocking on a punt. Ihedigbo finished with 4 tackles. Star S Ed Reed finished with 3 tackles and 3 pass deflections but he almost intercepted 2 of those deflections. The first one went right through his hands but Reed probably didn't expect the ball to get to him. The other was much tougher as Williams tipped it up and Reed got his left hand on it. Reed had too much momentum to be able to intercept the ball. Lastly, backup Omar Brown had a sack on a 3rd and 10 where he was unblocked. This went for a loss of 9 yards and Manning almost lost the ball on the play. I was very high on Brown in the preseason and it is good to see him make an impact in a regular season game and get is first career sack.