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Ravens Receive Four Compensatory Picks

March 24, 2014 in News, NFL Draft

The Baltimore Ravens have received four compensatory draft picks today for losses sustained in free agency last year.

These four picks come in the third (No. 99 overall), fourth (Nos. 134 and 138) and fifth round (No. 175). The maximum number of compensatory picks that a team can receive is four. The addition of these four picks––which can't be traded––push the Ravens total pick count in the upcoming draft to eight.

Joe Flacco

Courtesy of ICON SMI

Ever since the NFL has implemented the compensatory pick system in 1994––two years before the Ravens were established in 1996––the Ravens have led the league in total compensatory picks awarded with 41. The next closest are the Green Bay Packers and Dallas Cowboys who each have received 33.

General manager Ozzie Newsome loves compensatory picks as they are "free" draft picks. This shows in the numbers above.

Teams are awarded compensatory picks for losing more or better free agents than they signed during the free agent period. Players cut by teams don't count in this equation and there is a cut-off date for signings to have an impact on the compensatory draft pick formula.

Last offseason the Ravens lost outside linebacker Paul Kruger (Cleveland Browns), inside linebacker Dannell Ellerbe (Miami Dolphins), safety Ed Reed (Houston Texans) and cornerback Cary Williams (Philadelphia Eagles) in free agency.

According to the formula, the Ravens signed zero free agents that effected compensatory picks. The outside linebacker Elvis Dumervil, safety Michael Huff and defensive end Marcus Spears were all cut by their prior teams. Inside linebacker Daryl Smith was signed after the deadline for signings to impact compensatory picks.

It comes as no surprise that the Ravens received four compensatory draft picks as this was expected. The actual picks that the Ravens received represented the best case scenario for the team as it was thought they would receive two fourths, one fifth and one sixth by many people––including me.

Ravens Keys To Victory vs. Broncos

September 5, 2013 in Baltimore Ravens, JOE FLACCO, KEYS TO GAME, What to Look For

The Baltimore Ravens begin the 2013 campaign tonight, as the NFL’s only team to earn a playoff berth in each of the last five seasons. Due to a scheduling snafu with the Baltimore Orioles, the Ravens are in Denver for the league opener, which will start at 8:30 p.m. ET on NBC Sports at Sports Authority Field at Mile High.

These teams met in January on the same field in the AFC Divisional Playoff. In the fourth-longest game in NFL history, the Ravens won, 38-35, in double OT. Highlights from that dramatic contest included return specialist Trindon Holliday’s two TD returns (90-yard PR and 104-yard KOR) and a spectacular TD catch by WR Brandon Stokley (now a Raven) for the Broncos. Baltimore countered with a pair of INTs by CB Corey Graham, one for a TD (39 yards), as well as two QB Joe Flacco-to-WR Torrey Smith TDs (59 and 32 yards).1186878_10151639497666229_70833975_n

And who will forget the famed Flacco-to-WR Jacoby Jones 70- yard score that tied the game with just .31 seconds to play. The Ravens will take the field with a very different looking roster, especially on defense, than the one that snatched victory from the jaws of defeat last January. Gone are future Hall of Fame defensive standouts Ray Lewis (retired) and Ed Reed (Houston). In addition, no longer on the team is center Matt Birk, who also retired and WR Anquan Boldin, who was traded to the 49ers. Linebackers Dannell Ellerbe (Mia.) and Paul Kruger (Cle.) cashed in on their playoff success and the Ravens parted ways with safety Bernard Pollard (Ten.). Cornerback Cary Williams signed with the Eagles.

No other defending Super Bowl champion has endured as much turnover as the Ravens did this past offseason but the Ravens got younger and faster on defense. Baltimore added key free agents in hopes of re-establishing a defense that fell out of the top 10 for the first time in nine seasons last year. The Ravens ran more on reputation that actual play, as they finished ranked 17th in total yards allowed in 2012. The once stout run defense finished 20th, which prompted GM Ozzie Newsome to reconstruct his defense.

Here are the key offseason additions to the Ravens Roster: DE Chris Canty (NY Giants) – 9th Season, Career: 299 tackles, 19 sacks, 12 PD– OLB Elvis Dumervil (Denver) – 8th Season Career: 3 Pro Bowls, 264 tackles, 63.5 sacks, 17 FFs  LB Daryl Smith (Jacksonville) – 10th Season Career: Jaguars all-time leading tackler (1,096), 21.5 sacks, 9 FFs  DE Marcus Spears (Dallas) – 9th Season Career: 314 tackles, 10 sacks, 12 PD.

The Ravens also added depth in the draft with Florida Gators safety Matt Elam and Kansas State linebacker Arthur Brown. Both are likely to be key contributors—if not starters sometime in 2013. The Ravens lost TE Dennis Pitta for at least the first eight weeks of the season on the second day of camp with a hip injury but signed TE Dallas Clark (Tampa Bay), who is in his 11th Season. Clark is a former Pro Bowler who has amassed 474 catches, 5,322 rec. yards and 50 TD’s. With no WR other than Torrey Smith clearly stepping up in camp, Newsome signed former Ravens draft pick (1999) Brandon Stokley, who played in Denver last season and has 384 catches, 5,224 rec. yards and 39 TD’s. in 15 seasons.

Baltimore has won its last five season openers, producing the second-best current streak behind the Patriots’ nine in a row. Their opponent tonight, the Broncos are 33-19-1 in openers, which is an NFL-best .635 winning percentage. The 47 Super Bowl winners have a 38-8-1 record in Kickoff Weekend games of their title seasons.

Here are the Ravens keys to victory vs. the Broncos tonight:

  1. Limit penalties: The Ravens finished last season with the most amount of penalty yards and second most number of (Redskins) penalties. They did not do much better in the preseason. The fans will be loud and this will have the feel of a playoff game for the Broncos. Expect a physical contest but one in which the Ravens must remain disciplined.
  2. Be aggressive on defense: The Ravens did not pressure Peyton Manning very much in the first half last January, as a consequence, he had time  and found receivers throwing two of three TD’s in the first half. In the second half, the Ravens blitzed Manning, sacked him three times, and forced the interception that set up Justin Tuckers GW field goal. The Ravens corners must also play physical at the point of attack with Thomas, Decker and Welker. Thomas and Decker are tall and strong and if they get their body on the Ravens corners and safeties first, it’s over.
  3.  Communication in the secondary: Communication was a problem during several preseason games with the Ravens new defense, specifically in the secondary– but there were also times where they looked dominating. There will be mistakes, as this unit takes time to find cohesiveness They must limit those mistakes against what is likely the best trio of receivers since the days of the Rams greatest show on turf.
  4. Joe Flacco’s continued growth: The Ravens signal caller has an awful lot of pressure for a guy that just won the Super Bowl and the game’s MVP award but he does. After signing a $120 million contract, Flacco looked his usual regular season consistently inconsistent self during the preseason, which started the talk of elite or not elite. If he proved anything last year during the playoffs, he showed he is not afraid of the big stage or conquering it. He must once again be equal to the task tonight in Denver.
  5. Play Calling & Ray Rice: Ravens offensive coordinator Jim Caldwell is a big reason why the Ravens won last January in Denver. RB Ray Rice had just six carries for 23 yards in the first half—he finished with 130-yards and 30 carries. Caldwell did what previous OC Cam Cameron would not have done, he stuck with the running game and it paid huge dividends. The 24-second half carries allowed the Ravens offense to stay on the field and Manning on the sidelines. Not to mention, Rice and the Ravens offensive line wore down the Denver defense. Baltimore finished just four minutes behind the Broncos in T.O.P after trailing by a 2-to-1 margin in the first half.  While Flacco has been given the blessings of his coaches to change plays at the line of scrimmage, he cannot deviate from an offensive plan that likely has Rice touching the ball at least 30 times tonight between rushing and receiving.

Three Matchups to Watch:

Ravens Torrey Smith Vs. Chris Harris: Champ Bailey is out and that may not be a bad thing for Denver. Smith tortured the future HOF CB in January with two TD receptions covering 91-yards. Enter Chris Harris. He is not as physical or crafty as the veteran Bailey is but he has the speed to stay with Smith. Still, the edge goes to the Ravens WR

Broncos LT Ryan Clady vs. Ravens OLB Elvis Dumervil; During the 2008 draft, the Denver Broncos had the 12th pick and selected Boise State tackle Ryan Clady, a 6-foot-6, 315-pounder. Since then, Clady has played in all 80 of the Broncos' regular-season games. Only cornerback Brandon Carr, now with the Dallas Cowboys, and Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco, who was taken six spots after Clady can boast the same claim. However, Clady has battled a shoulder injury throughout training camp and although he has been practicing fully, that and left guard Chris Kuper's ankle problem will make holding off Dumervil, as well as Terrell Suggs a very daunting assignment. Dumervil likely knows how to beat him after facing him in practice for the past five years, so this edge goes to Dumervil.

Broncos Center Manny Ramirez vs. Haloti Ngata; Ramirez moved to center after J.D. Walton had a second surgery in the offseason and Dan Koppen tore his ACL. Ngata has not dominated as much in games as he used to earlier in his career, mainly because he has battled injuries—but he could have an opportunity to do so tonight. Edge Ngata.

Prediction: Other than the WR position and QB, the Ravens probably have more talent man for man than does Denver. With that said, stopping the Broncos offense is the key tonight, which I believe the Ravens will do enough to win the game. Look For Flacco and company to establish Ray Rice early on the ground. There will be a lot of short passes to help the Ravens offense establish a rhythm and Flacco a little confidence– many of those could also end up in Rice’s hands. Remember, when Rice touches the ball more than 25 times, the Ravens win almost 80 percent of the time. They are 5-0 in openers with Flacco under center and will make it 6-0 tonight.

RAVENS 30 BRONCOS 24

Ravens Advance To Super Bowl XLVII

January 22, 2013 in Observations

In a rematch of last years AFC Championship Game, the Baltimore Ravens outlasted the New England Patriots by a score of 28-13.  At halftime the score was 13-7 to the Patriots.  Once the second half started the Ravens had a new offensive scheme, pass the ball.  This worked as it led to 21 second half points.  The defense rose to the occasion and shut the Patriots out in the second half.  In the first half, the Ravens were out played but, in the second half, the Ravens outplayed the Patriots.  Before this game, the Patriots had won 71 games in a row under head coach Bill Belichick when leading at half, including a 67-0 record when the quarterback is Tom Brady.  Now the Ravens will head to New Orleans to play in Super Bowl XLVII.  They will have the San Francisco 49ers who are coached by the brother of Ravens head coach John Harbaugh, Jim Harbaugh.  The game will take place on February 3rd and kickoff is at 6:29 pm Eastern time.

The Red Zone
The Ravens play in the red zone, on offense and defense, is what won them this game.  On offense, they made it to the red zone four times and, scored four touchdowns.  This offensive efficiency can make an offense almost unstoppable, as long as they can actually get to the red zone. On defense, they allowed the Patriots to make it in to the red zone four times but, they only scored one touchdown.  The Patriots also got to the Ravens 24 and 22-yard line but, the Ravens were able to force interceptions both times.  This red zone defense describes this years Ravens Defense.  They are not the best in the league anymore however, once the other team makes it to the red zone, they dig in and stop the offense. It is very hard to lose a game when you have these two stats on your side.

Joe Flacco
For Flacco, it was almost like two different games.  In the first half, he went 6-of-12 for 81 yards with 0 TDs or INTs.  This isn't bad quarterbacking but, it also isn't how an elite one plays.  In the second half though, he went 15-of-24 for 159 yards with 3 TDs and 0 INTs.  For the game, he went 21-of-36 for 240 yards with 3 TDs and 0 INTs.  His QBR was 80.2 and his QB rating was 106.2 compared to Tom Brady's QBR of 45.1 and QB rating of 62.3.  Brady also threw 2 INTs.  So, for the third time in as many games, Flacco has outplayed Tom Brady and, two of these games have been the AFC Championship.

As stated above, the Ravens offensive strategy in the second half changed.  In the first half they had been doing a lot of run plays, especially on first down.  The offense just looked really conservative in the first half.  At halftime, there were some changes as the Ravens came out throwing in the second half.  In fact, Flacco accounted for 70% of the Ravens offense in the second half.  With this change, the offense started to move the ball.  Soon they had taken a 14-13 lead and they never looked back after that.

On to more game specific things, Flacco never really got the deep ball going as his longest completion of the game went for 26 yards to Anquan Boldin.  The lack of a deep passing game can be attributed to the weather as it was very windy on the field with the wind at around 20 mph if I remember correctly.  All of Flacco's touchdown passes were good but the one that stood out to me was the first to Anquan Boldin.  The first was a play action jump ball.  After the fake, Flacco threw the ball up where only Boldin could get it.  Flacco also had one rush attempt where he scrambled and picked up 14 yards and a first down.

Joe Flacco

Ravens QB Joe Flacco celebrates throwing one of his three touchdown passes against the Patriots.

Ray Rice
Starting with his performance in the passing game, Rice had 3 catches for 22 yards on 4 targets.  Of these three catches, two of them went for first downs.  The most memorable was a 15 yard screen pass.  The Patriots originally had the screen covered but, Rice got away and Flacco threw it.  Rice broke three tackles on his way to the first down.  Now to the run game.  While Rice had 19 rushes, he only ran for 48 yards which is an average of 2.5 yards per carry.  Three of these rushes went for first downs.  One was a 5 yard run that put the ball on the Patriots 2-yard line after he ran for eight yards the play before.  Another of his first downs was a short run on a 2nd and 2 which put the ball on the Patriots 3-yard line.  The last of his first downs was a 3rd and 1 run with five minutes left in the game which helped run more time off the clock.  Along with his 48 rush yards, Rice also had a rushing touchdown.  He only went for two yards but, he broke two tackles on the way.  The play called for Rice to run up the middle but, like most of the game, there wasn't running room in the middle.  So, Rice bounced the run outside to the left and scored. The only negative from Rice is he had a false start on a 3rd an 8 from the Ravens own 29-yard line.  This was early in the game so it can probably be accounted to nerves.

Bernard Pierce
While couldn't get much going on the ground, Pierce had much more success.  On 9 carries he had 52 yards.  Three of these carries went for first downs.  One of them was a 2nd and 5 run for nine yards which put the ball on the Patriots 22-yard line and another was a 3rd and 2 draw that he was able to bounce outside for a gain of eleven, the longest rush by any running back in the game.  Pierce also had 1 catch for 8 yards.  This also went for a first down; it was a 2nd and 8 swing pass that just barely was enough for the first.

Torrey Smith
Unlike the Denver game, Smith wasn't able to catch a deep pass but, he still had an impact on the game.  Most of his catches were in the intermediate range due to the wind.  He had 4 catches for 69 yards on 9 targets.  He had three of these go for first downs.  The first was a 25 yard catch on play action on a 2nd and 6 which put the Ravens on the Patriots 15-yard line.  The second was a 2nd and 14 conversion that went for 23 yards.  Lastly, he had a 16 yard catch on a first down.

Anquan Boldin
This was another record setting game for Boldin.  With his two touchdown catches, Boldin became the Ravens all-time postseason receiving touchdown leader.  He had 5 catches for 60 yards with 2 TDs on 8 targets.  All of these catches came in the second half and only one wasn't a first down or touchdown.  One of these first down catches was a 3rd and 9 for 26 yards and the other was on 2nd and 10 that put the ball on the Patriots 10-yard line.  Boldin's first touchdown was on the first play of the fourth quarter.  The other touchdown (the first was discussed with Flacco), was on a 2nd and 4 and was for 12 yards.  Boldin lined up in the slot and ran a seam route, Flacco threw it up and Boldin caught it for another touchdown.

Anquan Boldin

Ravens WR Anquan Boldin celebrates a touchdown with WRs Torrey Smith (left) and Jacoby Jones (right) nearby.

Dennis Pitta
For the second game in a row, Pitta had 55 receiving yards.  This week he did it on 5 catches with 7 targets.  Three of these catches went for first downs, one for a touchdown, and the other was in the red zone.  Starting with his first down catches, Pitta had a 3rd and 4 catch from deep in Ravens territory, a 2nd and 10 catch for a gain of over 20 yards, and a 2nd and 4 catch that put the ball on the Patriots 13-yard line.  His touchdown was on 2nd and goal from the 5-yard line and was a quick pass.  Lastly, his other catch occurred on the play before his touchdown.  It was first and goal from the ten and he went over the middle.  Pitta caught the ball and took a big hit but still was able to hold on to the ball.  On the negative side, Pitta had a diving catch go right through his hands on a 3rd and 8.

Offensive Line
Yet again, the offensive line performed great.  They only gave up two sacks for a combined loss of five yards which is nothing in terms of sack yardage.  The first sack was given up by LT Bryant McKinnie on a 3rd and 6 from inside the Ravens own 10-yard line. The other sack was more of a coverage sack and Flacco was starting to scramble so it wasn't really the fault of the offensive line.  It only went for a loss of one so it was basically a failed run play.  None of the offensive linemen were called for a penalty which is very impressive.  In the run game, they got some movement but for the most past, there never were any big holes to run through.  Of the offensive line can protect Flacco like this for one more game, they could be tough to beat in the Super Bowl.

Haloti Ngata
Ngata may have only had four tackles but, for a defensive lineman in a 3-4 defense, that is good.  One of these tackles was a run stop for no gain.  The part of the game that Ngata was the best at yesterday was rushing the passer.  Ngata finished with three of the Ravens seven QB hits (they didn't record a sack but seemed to have a fair amount of pressure).  On a 4th and 4 play from the Ravens 19-yard line, Ngata had pressure with Terrell Suggs which caused Brady to throw the ball away.  Once the Ravens made this stop, it seemed like the Ravens were going to win and make it to the Super Bowl.  This play is an attribute to Ngata's speed as Brady had an open field in front of him but didn't run because he probably wouldn't have made it.  Ngata also had pressure on another play which caused a throw away.  The last play where Ngata caused a throw away was with two minutes left.  Ngata had pressure which caused Brady to throw the ball away.

Pernell McPhee
So how does a defensive lineman without a tackle make it here?  Simple, deflect two passes (including one that leads to a touchdown) and say that you have discovered Tom Brady's flaw.  First, McPhee batted away a pass in the fourth quarter that Dannell Ellerbe was able to intercept. After this interception, with seven minutes left in the game, it seemed like the game really was over as the Patriots never got the ball back until there were two minutes left.  The other pass deflection came with under two minutes left in game.  On to him discovering Brady's flaw, McPhee says "He throws all of his balls low."  When asked about how Brady has been so successful despite this McPhee said "He just throws it fast and he always gets good pockets.  But I tried to stay in front of him after watching film and knowing where he likes to go and how he likes to do it.  So that was my best advantage, just get my hands up."  This strategy clearly worked for McPhee as he had his two pass deflections at the line.

Pernell McPhee

Ravens DE Pernell McPhee batted down two passes at the line-of-scrimmage.

Ray Lewis
As usual, Lewis recorded double digit tackles with 14 but, according to Pro Football Focus, only two of those were defensive stops (runs for little or no gain).  Lewis was flagged for a helmet-to-helmet hit which was the right call even though it was pretty obvious that he didn't mean to do it. Lastly, after the game, Lewis fell to the ground and started saying "Hallelujah."

Dannell Ellerbe
Starting with pass coverage, Ellerbe gave up three catches for one first down.  With about seven minutes left in the game, Ellerbe intercepted Brady off of McPhee's tip.  This came the next play after Wes Welker caught a 56 yard pass.  The last positive for Ellerbe was a pressure on Brady which caused a bad deep pass that ended up going out-of-bounds.  Also on this play, Ellerbe was able to take down Brady.  On the negative side Ellerbe was flagged for an unnecessary roughness penalty after slapping a Patriots offensive lineman when a play was over. Ellerbe was retaliating to a late block but, you can't do that in the NFL and he was flagged, even if his slap barely was anything.

Terrell Suggs
While Suggs is though of as a pass rusher, he is actually quite a good run defender and this was on full display yesterday.  Suggs had two run stops for no gain including one on a 2nd and 1.  In the pass rush department he wasn't able to record a sack (like all of the Ravens) but, still had at least two pressures.  The first was on the 4th and 4 with Haloti Ngata as already discussed.  The other was with under two minutes left where he hit Brady as he threw causing an incompletion.

Walking off the field, Suggs was overheard saying "Tell them to have fun at the Pro Bowl. Arrogant f—ers" and "These are the most arrogant pricks in the world starting with Belichick on down."  He also said "That's funny, ever since SpyGate they haven't been able to win" though I don't know if he said this one to reporters or if he was overheard like the other two.  He did respond to reporters saying "All BS aside they are a hell of a ball club … They have the right to be arrogant."  While he may believe this, there is no reason to say this but, on the positive side, he didn't come out and say it to the media, he was just overheard.  Either way, the Ravens don't need publicity like this, especially after these two controversial things about the Patriots.

Bernard Pollard
It seemed like Pollard was all over the field going full speed all night.  He finished with 9 tackles, 1 pass deflection, and 1 forced fumble.  In the run game, Pollard had a run stop for a gain of two yards.  In pass coverage, he only gave up one pass.  On a blitz he was able to bat down a pass at the line-of-scrimmage.  This batted pass came on 1st and goal from the Ravens two-yard line.  On a 3rd and 4 from the Ravens 19-yard line, he had great coverage and forced an incompletion.  Pollard had a big hit on a receiver but was called for a helmet-to-helmet hit.  However, he led with his shoulder on the play and his shoulder hit the receiver on his head so I am going to call this one a bad call.

Lastly is the play we all remember, his hit and forced fumble on Patriots RB Stevan Ridley.  Pollard hit Ridley hard and they both lowered their heads on the play so it was a helmet-to-helmet hit but since it was a running back it isn't a penalty.  Ridley was unconscious before he hit the ground and on his way down, the ball came out of his hands and was recovered by DT Arthur Jones.  Ravens head coach John Harbaugh said "That [Pollard's hit] was the turning point of the game. A tremendous hit, football at its finest."  This play goes in line with Pollard's history with the Patriots.  In 2008, it was Pollard that hit Brady when he tore his ACL.  In 2009, it was Pollard that Welker was trying to avoid when he tore his ACL.  In 2012, it was Pollard that injured Rob Gronkowski ankle which limited him in the Super Bowl.

Bernard Pollard

Ravens S Bernard Pollard goes in for a tackle.

Cary Williams
Williams had a solid performance last night only giving up four completions and one first down.  He also had a deflection on a 3rd and 2 that went right to Paul Kruger but, since the deflection took a weird bounce off of Williams, Kruger dropped it because he wasn't expecting the ball to come to him.  Lastly, Williams intercepted Brady in the end zone with 1:06 left in the game.  After this interception the Ravens just took a two knees and the game was over.

Corey Graham
Like Williams, Graham gave up four completions, however, three of his went for first downs and the other was for the Patriots only touchdown of the game.  The touchdown was on a 3rd and goal from the one.  After the play, Graham and Chykie Brown were upset because they didn't communicate well after the Patriots motioned a receiver over.  This led to Welker being open for the touchdown.  Graham was also beaten on the first drive on a 3rd and 2 but Welker dropped the pass.  On a pass that Welker didn't drop, Graham was beat deep for 56 yards.  He bit badly on the double move leaving Welker wide open.  Ending on a positive note, Graham had a run stop for a loss of one on a 3rd and 2 which forced a field goal by the Patriots.

Jimmy Smith
This game was the first time in a while that Smith received substantial playing time.  Brown started as the nickel corner and then Smith took it over.  By the end of the game it seemed like they were being rotated.  This could have been part of the game plan to put Graham on Welker instead of Brown doing that.  This would mean that Graham would be in the slot.  Since Smith is better on the outside than Brown, he would come in when in nickel.  This is just a speculation so it will be interesting to see who is the nickel corner in the Super Bowl.

John Harbaugh

Ravens head coach John Harbaugh celebrates the Ravens win in the locker room.

Ravens Stun Broncos in Double OT

January 13, 2013 in Observations

In the first double overtime game since the 2003 divisional playoffs, the 4th seed Baltimore Ravens beat the 1st seed Denver Broncos 38-35 in the 4th longest game in NFL history.  The 35 points given up by the Ravens are the most in franchise playoff history.  On the offensive side, the Ravens had an amazing 479 yards of offense.  Coming into the game, almost nobody gave the Ravens a chance to win but, they came together as a team to win this one.  The Ravens will play in the AFC Championship game on Sunday at 6:30 ET on the road against the winner of the Patriots Texans game today.

Coverage Units
If the Ravens lost this game, most of the blame would have gone to the punt and kickoff coverage units.  On the first punt of the game, they allowed Broncos returner Trindon Holliday to go 90 yards for a touchdown.  On the return, there was one Ravens player on the far side of the field (from a TV perspective), other that P Sam Koch.  Holliday just took the punt down the far side of the field and scored.  Brendon Ayanbadejo missed a tackle and Holliday was gone.  Giving up a punt return for a touchdown is one thing but, having about nine players on the wring side of the field is another.  Some of them should be their for contain but not nine of them.

They weren't done after allowing that punt return either.  To start second half, the Ravens kicked off.  Holliday took the ball out of his endzone and ran it 104 yards for a touchdown.  On this play, Holliday just found a hole and made the most of it.  He touched but, there wasn't a good tackle attempt on the return.  With these two plays, Holliday had the longest punt and kick return touchdowns in NFL postseason history.  After these two plays, Holliday never really had a good opportunity to return a punt or kick because the Ravens did the right thing and kicked away from him.

Referees
I just want to make a quick note about the referees.  Throughout the game there were questionable calls that went against both teams.  They also took a long time to make some decisions and what to call.

Joe Flacco
In the regular season matchup against the Broncos, Flacco had a QBR of 0.4.  This week, Flacco led a late comeback to tie the game in regulation and then played good in overtime.  With this win, he now has five playoff road wins and will play in his 3rd AFC Championship game in only five seasons.  Starting with the stats, he went 18-of-34 for 331 yards, 3 TDs, 0 INTs, 1 fumble, a QBR of 65.3, and a QB rating of 116.2. Throughout the game, Flacco's snap count was good as he was able to get the Broncos to jump offsides at least three times.  He was also aware enough to snap the ball when the Broncos had twelve men on the field.  Part of the Ravens gameplan was to throw the ball downfield and Flacco was able to do this.  He was able to accomplish this by averaging 18.4 yards per completion.  Early in the game he had a perfect deep pass to Torrey Smith for a 59 yard touchdown.  A little bit later, Flacco overthrew Smith who had a few steps on his man again.  This also would have been a touchdown.  In overtime, he had a great pass to Dennis Pitta on 3rd and 13 for a first down.  On the negative side, he fumbled a snap at midfield and the Broncos were able to recover it.  With four minutes left in OT, he had an interception dropped near midfield.

The play that impressed me the most was the 70 yard touchdown pass to Jacoby Jones with 31 seconds left in regulation.  Not only did this tie the game up, Flacco did a great job on this play.  It was a 3rd and 3 and as soon as the ball was snapped, Flacco was under pressure from the outside.  Due to this pressure, Flacco stepped up in the pocket and threw it about 55 yards in the air.  This was a great play because Flacco rarely steps up into the pocket and makes a pass.  This is the sign of an elite quarterback.  If you watch Peyton Manning, you will notice that he steps up in the pocket most of the time when he feels pressure.  This is a great thing to be able to do as a quarterback.

Overall, Flacco's performance is the sign of an elite quarterback.  He was able to led his team on a game tying drive with about one minute left, on the road, against the number two defense in the NFL, in the playoffs.  He was also able to outperform one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL, Peyton Manning, who finished with 2 interceptions and 1 fumble.

Joe Flacco

Ravens QB Joe Flacco celebrates his game tying touchdown pass to Jacoby Jones.

Ray Rice
After fumbling twice last week, Rice turned in a great performance.  On 30 carries, Rice was able to gain 131 yards and 1 touchdown.  It seemed like most of his carries came in the second half and overtime.  At one point in overtime, almost every first down play was a run to Rice.  Of his 30 rushes, 3 of them went for first downs (by my count).  The first of these was the Ravens first 3rd down conversion in the game.  The second of these was a 32 yard run that put the Ravens inside the Broncos 5-yard line.  On the ensuing 3rd and goal, Rice was able to run for the touchdown from one yard out.  This touchdown gave Rice his five career postseason touchdowns which is a Ravens team record.

Anquan Boldin
Boldin continues to be a first down machine for the Ravens offense.  He had 6 catches for 71 yards on 11 targets.  Of his 6 catches, 5 went for first downs.  One of these first downs was on the final drive in the 1st half.  Another first down was on the first drive of overtime.  Every time the Ravens needed a first down, Flacco would look for Boldin.

Torrey Smith
While Boldin is a first down machine, Smith is the big play receiver.  He had 3 catches for 98 yards and 2 touchdowns on 6 targets.  Each of his catches was for a touchdown or a first down.  The first touchdown was for 59 yards on 2nd and 2.  Smith went deep and just ran right past Broncos star CB Champ Bailey.  This touchdown was needed because the Broncos had just returned a punt for a touchdown.  This touchdown is the 2nd longest passing play in Ravens postseason history.  The second touchdown was with 36 seconds left in the 1st half.  Smith went deep on Bailey again and again scored on him.  Flacco threw the ball a little behind to try and give Smith a better opportunity.  Smith was able to stop his momentum and catch the ball while Bailey couldn't.  With his second touchdown, Smith became the first Ravens player to have two receiving touchdowns in a playoff game.  In overtime, Smith was able to draw a pass interference on a 3rd and 5 play on the Ravens first drive.  This drive didn't result in points but it helped in the field position battle.  Throughout the game, Smith was beating one of the best cornerbacks in the game, Champ Bailey, on the deep passes.

Jacoby Jones
Before his 70 yard touchdown catch, Jones wasn't having a good game.  On a kickoff, he wasn't able to catch it properly and after he got the ball, he was only able to get the ball to about the 6-yard line.  Even worse than this, was his drop on 3rd and 5 with 3 minutes left.  Flacco put the pass right in hands and Jones dropped it.  After the Ravens couldn't convert the 4th down play, it looked like the game was over.  However, Jones more than made up for his drop with his 70 yard touchdown catch with 31 seconds left.  Before this play happened, the Broncos had a 97.2% chance of winning according to ESPN Stats and Information.  On the play, Jones was able to run past the cornerback and the safety took a bad angle and run under the pass.  Once Jones caught it he had a free run to the endzone.  Other than that play, he had 1 catch for 7 yards on 4 targets.

Jacoby Jones

Ravens WR Jacoby Jones catches his game tying touchdown.

Tight Ends
In the first meeting between these two teams, backup TE Ed Dickson was injured and didn't play.  This meant the Ravens couldn't run many two TE sets.  These week he was healthy and the Ravens ran many two TE sets.  Dickson had 3 catches for 29 yards on 4 targets.  Two of these catches went for first downs.  Starter Dennis Pitta had 3 catches for 55 yards on 5 targets.  He had three first downs including one on the final drive in the 1st half and a 3rd and 13 from their own 3-yard line in overtime.

Offensive Line
There aren't enough good things that I can say about the offensive line after that game.  The biggest key on offense was the offensive line.  The line stood up to the challenge and gave Flacco lots of time to throw all game long.  They allowed 1 sack but that was a coverage sack as Flacco just couldn't find anyone to pass to.  In the running game, they opened up holes all game long.  While the longest run was only 32 yards, there were lots of runs for about 5 yards.  The line was only called for one penalty and that was a false start on LG Kelechi Osemele.  The other guard, Marshal Yanda, was very impressive because of two plays.  The first was Rice's touchdown run.  Yanda pulled and took out his guy, pushing him down into the endzone.  This block allowed Rice to score.  The other play was the last play of the first OT.  Rice ran the ball and was being held up but, Yanda came over and pushed the pile for about 2 yards which was enough to get the first down and, more importantly, put the Ravens in field goal range to win the game.

Pernell McPhee
McPhee's name was only called once yesterday but it was for a great play.  On a 3rd and 11, McPhee, as well as a few others, was able to get pressure on Peyton Manning.  McPhee was able to hit the ball out of Manning's hand.  The Ravens recovered this fumble at the Broncos 37-yard line.  McPhee finished with 2 tackles but, this play was huge for the Ravens as they hadn't been getting any pressure on Manning.  In fact, in the 1st half, the Ravens didn't get any pressure on 22 passes but, in the 2nd half, they had 10 pressures on 24 passes.

Terrell Suggs
Let's continue with the Ravens who had sacks.  Suggs had the Ravens other two sacks.  The first was a complicated sack of Manning.  On the play, Manning fumbled and it looked like the Ravens recovered.  However, it looked like Manning's knee was down on the replays that were shown.  This didn't even end up mattering because both Suggs and Cary Williams were called for illegal use of hands to the face.  The call on Suggs was ticky tack and there never was a replay to show what Williams did.  Despite all this, Suggs still got credit for a sack and a forced fumble.  This was the first time that Suggs ever sacked Manning.  The second sack came on a 3rd and 4 on the Broncos drive after Rice scored his touchdown.  Suggs pushed his lineman back right into Manning.  In pass coverage, Suggs gave up one completion.  Suggs was able to finish with 10 tackles and his two sacks were the first for him since week 12 against the Chargers.

Terrell Suggs

Ravens LB Terrell Suggs celebrates one of his two sacks against the Broncos with teammate DE Pernell McPhee.

Paul Kruger
While Kruger didn't get a sack yesterday, he still had pressure and recorded 2 QB hits.  One of these was on the Broncos first offensive play in overtime and the other was on the play were Manning threw his last interception, which set up the Ravens to win the game.  This second pressure was very important.  Kruger forced Manning to scramble out of the pocket and Manning then tried to throw across his body but, it was intercepted. On McPhee's sack, Kruger had some pressure and was able to recover the fumble.  In the run game, Kruger had a run stop for a loss of one.  In the passing game, he gave up one completion and was able to blow up a WR screen.  He forced Manning to just throw the ball into the ground on this play because Kruger was right in the way.

Dannell Ellerbe
Like the last few weeks, this was another solid game for Ellerbe.  He allowed 4 catches for 1 touchdown.  The touchdown came when he had to lineup at cornerback because of the Broncos formation.  Therefore, you can't exactly blame Ellerbe for this as he never has to play out there.  He was able to breakup a 2nd and 5 slant route which would have been a first down.  In run defense, Ellerbe stopped a 2nd and 1 run play for no gain with 2 minutes left in overtime.  Earlier in the game, he was called for a facemask on a play where his hand just grazed the helmet of the ball carrier.  Ellerbe finished with 9 tackles and 1 pass defense.

Ray Lewis
When you look at the box score, one stat that sticks out is the 17 tackles that Lewis had.  This is an amazing total, especially for a 37 year old linebacker.  Lewis is giving it his all to make it back to the Super Bowl for one last time.  When in pass coverage, Lewis gave up 3 completions for 1 first down.  He was also called for a pass interference call.  However, the pass interference probably was better than what would have happened if the receiver caught the ball as there was an open field behind Lewis.  Lewis made one great play in run defense.  He broke through the line and stopped the running back for a loss of 3 yards after Courtney Upshaw slowed him down a little.  Most importantly, Lewis was able to get the defense to stop the Broncos and not let them run the clock out at the end of the 4th quarter.  Even though they gave up a first down almost right away, they didn't give up another and gave the offense about one minute to score.

Corey Graham
If you had to pick a defensive MVP for this game, it would be Graham.  This is because of his two interception.  First though, lets talk about the other things he did.  He allowed 3 completions for 1 touchdown.  The touchdown was just a great pass by Manning and there really wasn't much that Graham could have done.  Graham blitzed a few times and on one of them, he was able force Manning to throw the ball away.  Now on to the interception.  The first came on a 3rd and 7 and was Manning's second pass of the game.  Chykie Brown had good coverage on the play and was able to deflect the ball right to Graham who then went untouched for a 39 yard touchdown.  This gave the Ravens a 14-7 lead only 5 minutes into the game.  His interception for a touchdown is the fifth in Ravens playoff history.  The second interception was just as important as the first. There was 51 seconds left in the first overtime. Kruger's pressure forced Manning out of the pocket and Graham was able to step in front of Manning's pass.  Since there was no return, the ball was at the Broncos 45-yard line.  With the second interception, Graham became the 6th player to have a two interception game in the past five postseasons.  Interestingly, he becomes the 3rd Raven to do this in the same span along with Ed Reed and Lardarius Webb.

Corey Graham

Ravens CB Corey Graham intercepts a pass and this sets the Ravens up at the Broncos 45-yard line with 51 seconds left in the first overtime.

Cary Williams
All four of the passes that Williams allowed went for first downs.  He also had two penalties that gave first downs to the Broncos.  The first was an illegal hand to the face and the other was a holding call.  The holding was on a 3rd and 3 and negated a good pass breakup by himself.  A positive for Williams was a nice hit that broke up a pass.

Chykie Brown
As said above, Brown had great coverage on Graham's interception return for a touchdown.  In pass coverage, Brown allowed 2 catches for 1 first down.  The only other thing of note was that he was called for a helmet-to-helmet hit when his helmet hit the receiver in the facemask.

Ed Reed
All throughout the game, Reed's name wasn't called much.  However, that was actually a good thing for the Ravens, and not because Reed isn't good.  The reason is that Manning wasn't passing it downfield very much.  Almost all of the Broncos passes were either in the short or intermediate range.  Manning obviously didn't want to test Reed in such an important game.  Other than this, Reed was late coming over on Knowshon Moreno's touchdown run and missed an tackle on Demaryius Thomas's touchdown catch.

Justin Tucker
Now Tucker has his first game winning kick in the playoffs.  He kicked a 47 yard field goal in the second overtime to win the game for the Ravens.  This was the 4th longest overtime field goal in playoff history and was the longest kicked by a rookie.  Tucker said that in warmups, he made a 67 yard field goal.  During the break between the first and second overtime, Tucker went out to take a few practice kicks because the Ravens were close to getting a field goal.  I have never seen this happen before and according Mike Pereira, there is no penalty for this but, referees are told to not allow this to happen.  These practice kicks were important to Tucker because they helped him gauge the wind in the stadium.  After the game, when asked about the game, Tucker said "Nobody wavered, we were all confident in each other."  The decision to keep Tucker over veteran Billy Cundiff looks even better now.  Nobody knows what Cundiff would have done in the same situation but, his miss in the AFC Championship game last year would have had to be in the back of his head.

Justin Tucker

Ravens K Justin Tucker celebrates his game winning 47 yard field goal.

Do The Ravens Really Have A Chance?

January 10, 2013 in What to Look For

After beating the Indianapolis Colts last week, the Ravens will travel to Denver to face the 1st seeded Broncos.  These two teams faced back in week 15 and the Broncos won a blowout in Baltimore.

1.  Do The Ravens Have a Chance?
Ever since the Ravens beat the Colts, everyone has been saying they will lose to the Broncos.  ESPN got into the action early, posting this main headline.  If you don't want to click the link, the headline reads "Thanks for the Memories" … and has a subhead saying, "…because Sunday was your final NFL win, Ray Lewis. Your career will end in Denver."  Denver Post columnist Mark Kiszla got into the act next saying "If this Rust Belt town needed a bib to catch all the sentimental tears shed at the last home game of iconic linebacker Ray Lewis, how is Baltimore going to handle the emotional breakdown when the Broncos force him into retirement as a loser?" and "Like Lewis, their very passionate but washed-up warrior, the Ravens now seem better at striking a pose than striking fear in the hearts of a foe."  These are just two of many examples of what most of the media is saying.

Ravens CB Cary Williams offered his opinion on this by saying "You see it everywhere.  Every time you turn on the [darn] TV you see somebody talking about the Broncos and the Patriots in the AFC championship game.  It’s great [sarcastic]."  He added "That’s fine [being an underdog]. We appreciate it. We love that.  People are counting us out.  We like that. We love being the underdog.  You get to go out there and prove people wrong"

The only person I could find who would pick the Ravens is FOX Sports's Peter Schrager.  He said "Yes, I like the Ravens to upset the Broncos in Denver on Saturday afternoon. And it’s not even because I am blown away by Baltimore. Truthfully, I’m just not sold on Denver."  He also said The Ravens are no doubt battle tested. Denver? They’ve been in cruise control since October,” he wrote. “If Saturday’s game is close in the second half, are we certain the Broncos will respond under pressure? I know Baltimore’s been through those wars this year."

Now, for my opinion on this matter.  All of the teams left in the playoffs deserve to be here and, despite what everyone is saying, both the Ravens and the Texans have chances to upset the Broncos and Patriots, respectively.  Oddsmakers don't believe in the Ravens making them a 9.5 point underdog.  I get why everyone is saying the Broncos will cruise to victory but, in all honesty, they aren't looking deep enough.  When these two teams played, yes, the Broncos demolished the Ravens.  However, the Ravens had almost half of their starters on the injury report and many didn't play.  The Ravens are now healthy enough to put up a fight.  Next is the Ray Lewis factor.  I know this doesn't sound like much but, if you give any football team enough bulletin board material they will play way better than expected, especially if Ray Lewis is their leader.  The last reason is the offensive line but we will look closer at this a little later.  I am not saying that the Ravens will win this game but, they will play the Broncos a lot closer than most people think and, in a close game, anything can happen.

2.  Peyton Manning vs Ray Lewis
This isn't a performance matchup, this is an audible matchup.  Manning will change the play at the line all the time based on what he sees in the defense.  Back in week 15, the Ravens had Josh Bynes starting at ILB who started the season injured and then on the practice squad.  Now, the Ravens have Ray Lewis back who can go audible-to-audible with Manning.  Lewis is definitely the player he used to be but, his mind is still just as good, if not better from all his experience.  Manning has won an astounding nine straight times so it will be interesting to see how Manning does against the Ravens when they have Ray Lewis.  This will also be the last time these two will face each other due to the retirement of Lewis.

Peyton Manning (left) and Ray Lewis (right)

Peyton Manning and Ray Lewis will face each other for the last time.

3.  Offensive Line
Last week the Ravens offensive line finally looked good as a unit.  They only allowed one sack and that was on a naked bootleg.  Its not just sacks either, the line didn't allow much pressure.  Last time the Ravens played the Broncos, the Broncos defensive line had a field day getting pressure on almost every play.  Quarterback Joe Flacco never had a chance to throw the ball as he was running for his life.  In the running game, the line had no push all day long against the Broncos.  Against the Colts last week, the line opened up some big holes allowing the backs to run for 170 yards.  If the Ravens offensive line can play like it did last week then they should give Flacco enough time to find the open receiver downfield.  Even if they play like last week, it might not be enough as the Broncos defensive line is better than the Colts' line.  The most important player to contain is LB Von Miller who has 18.5 sacks this year.

4.  Pass Rush
The best way to disrupt Manning is to get pressure on him.  I think everyone knows he isn't a mobile quarterback at all.  If you can get pressure on him, it will force him to make faster decisions and will eventually lead to him making a mistake and throwing the ball to the wrong spot. Manning has been blessed with a great offensive line this year which has only given up 21 sacks, good for 2nd best in the NFL.  The bad news for Manning is the only team that has allowed less sacks is the New York Giants and, the Ravens were able to get 3 sacks on Manning's younger brother, Eli.  Also going for the Ravens, is Paul Kruger.  Kruger now has 10 sacks in his last 9 games.  He is also coming off a 2.5 sack game against the Colts.  Also in this game, Kruger had an amazing 5 QB hits.  If the Ravens can't get pressure on Peyton Manning, they will have a very tough time winning.

Paul Kruger

Ravens OLB Paul Kruger will need to have another great game to try and neutralize Broncos QB Peyton Manning.

 

Ravens Advance To Face Broncos

January 7, 2013 in Observations

In a very emotional Wild Card matchup, the 4th seed Baltimore Ravens defeated the 5th seed Indianapolis Colts by a score of 24-9 in what was Ravens star LB Ray Lewis's last home game.  Lewis will retire at the end of the season.  With this win the Ravens final record at home when Lewis plays is an amazing 81-36-1.  That works out to be a winning percentage of .686, to put this in perspective that is an 11-5 record if it was for one season.  On the offensive side, the Ravens set a single-game playoff team record for total yards with 441.  This win marks the 5th straight year that the Ravens have made it to the divisional playoff round.  Next week the Ravens will travel to Denver to face the 1st seed Broncos on Saturday at 4:30 pm ET.

Joe Flacco
With the way the defense was playing today, Flacco did exactly what he had to do to win this game.  The defense may have allowed 419 yards but, they only allowed 9 points which made Flacco's job way easier.  All he had to do was not lose the game and, he did better than that. Completing 12-of-23 passes, Flacco threw for 282 yards, 2 TDs, a QBR of 89.5, and a QB rating of 125.6.  His 52 completion percentage may not look good but, he was able to throw for 282 yards on his 12 completion which is an average of 23.5 yards per completion.  Flacco did have an interception dropped early in the game but this was his worst play.  On his touchdown pass to Dennis Pitta, Flacco did a good job of escaping the pressure and finding Pitta.  Throughout the game, Flacco was able to throw the deep ball well and was lofting it in very well, especially to Anquan Boldin.

Ray Rice
This was a very uncharacteristic game for Ray Rice.  In the regular season, Rice only had one fumble and that was against the Steelers in week 11.  Against the Colts, Rice fumbled not once, but twice.  Both of these fumbles occurred inside Indianapolis territory, once at the 15 and the other at the 40.  Thankfully for the Ravens, and Rice, neither of the fumbles led to points for the Colts.  These fumbles led to backup Bernard Pierce being used more in the game than the gameplan probably called for.  Rice finished with 15 carries and Pierce had 13.  On Rice's 15 carries, he went for 70 yards.  In the passing game, Rice only had one catch on 4 targets but, it was a very important catch.  It was a screen pass that went for 47 yards and put the Ravens at the Colts 2-yard line with under 1 minute left in the 1st half.  On the next play, FB Vonta Leach ran in for the touchdown.  Overall, Rice will need to hold on to the ball if the Ravens want to make it far in the playoffs.

Ray Rice

Ravens RB Ray Rice fumbles the ball.

Bernard Pierce
Pierce was the beneficiary of Rice's fumbles.  These fumbles allowed Pierce to be in the game and, as usual, he made the most of it.  He ran for 103 yards on 13 carries with a long of 43 yards.  Of his 13 carries, 4 of them went for first downs.  One of these was a nice 18 yard run that put the Ravens inside the Colts 10-yard line.  His other great run was the 43 yarder.  It was a 3rd and 1 run to the right side.  he received a few good blocks and was off to the races.  With his play, Pierce keeps showing that he could be a starting running back in the NFL.

Torrey Smith
If you go by the box score, Smith didn't have much of an impact on the game but, in fact, he did have an impact.  The box score says he had 2 catches for 31 yards on 4 targets which is pretty uneventful.  One of these catches was for a first down and, it was a leaping catch for 22 yards. I still find it hard to see how he was able to jump high enough to catchup the ball.  Smith was able to get another first down by drawing a pass interference at the Colts 15-yard line.  Thats not all, Smith also had some good block, which is rare for a wide receiver.  On Rice's screen pass, Smith was blocking way downfield and had his guy engaged all the time until Rice passed him.  This downfield block allowed Rice to get to the 2-yard line.  The other good block by Smith came on Pitta's touchdown catch.  At around the 5-yard line, Smith blocked his man which allowed Pitta to get into the endzone.

Anquan Boldin
One word to describe Boldin's performance: record-setting.  Ok that may be cheating but, he still had a great game.  Before the game, Boldin felt he was going to have a great game.  He went up to Flacco and said he felt like 200 yards today.  How big of a day did Boldin have?  Well, he set the Ravens single-game receiving playoff record with 145 yards.  This 100 yard game is only the 3rd time a Ravens receiver has gone over 100 yards in the playoff.  The last Ravens receiver to do this?  Anquan Boldin.  All of his 145 yards came in the 2nd half of the game despite having 2 targets in the 1st half.  These 145 yards in the 2nd half are the most in the playoffs since Jerry Rice had 157 in Super Bowl XXIII.  Boldin had 5 catches for those 145 yards which is an average of 29 yards per catch.  Of these 5 catches, 4 went for first downs, and the other went for a touchdown.  One catch was on a 3rd and 19.  Boldin went deep and caught a 50 yard pass.  He ran an out and up on another play for 46 yard where Flacco placed the ball perfectly over Boldin's shoulder.  Boldin's touchdown catch was for 19 yards.  It was a jump ball and the cornerback had his hand on the ball but, Boldin still corralled the ball.

After the game, Boldin said "I just wanted to go out and give everything,” Boldin said. “I think everyone in this locker room wanted to make sure this wasn’t our last game. I think we all have a goal in mind and we’re focused in on that goal. The only way we’re going to get there is if we go out there and give our all on the field."  He also said "I was real motivated [today],” Boldin said. “I’ve said it before, I came to Baltimore to win a championship. That’s my goal."

Anquan Boldin

Ravens WR Anquan Boldin goes up for a pass that he will catch for a touchdown.

Tight Ends
While both tight ends for the Ravens may have combined for 3 catches, all of these catches were important.  Lets start with the starter, Dennis Pitta.  He had 2 catches for 27 yards.  One of his catches was a 7 yard first down.  The other was a 20 yard crossing route that went for a touchdown.  Ed Dickson only had 1 catch for 24 yards.  This catch was the Ravens first, first down of the game and got the Ravens rolling on offense.

Offensive Line
Overall, the offensive line played well, especially when you consider the Ravens never used this line during the regular season.  Due to starting LG Jah Reid being out, the line go shuffled up.  Normal RT Kelechi Osemele went to LG, normal LT Michael Oher went to RT, and Bryant McKinnie came in at LT.  The line only allowed 1 sack for a loss 13 yards.  On this play, the pass rusher was never blocked on a play action pass.

On Pierce's 18 yard run, both C Matt Birk and RG Marshal Yanda had great blocks.  Yanda pushed his man 10 yards downfield and Birk probably blocked his man 7 yards downfield.  Yanda also had a great block on Pierce's 43 yard run.  Pierce ran behind him and Yanda blocked his man down (to his left).  Along with Oher's great block to the outside, this springed Pierce for the big gain.

Speaking of Oher, that play was probably his best of the game, as the rest goes downfield.  He twice allowed pressure which caused Flacco to throw the ball away.  Penalty wise, he was only called for one.  It was a 2nd and 10 on the Colts 15-yard line and Oher was called for a false start.

McKinnie had a great game.  He played good enough to question what the line will look like next week.  Obviously is Reid can't play, it will stay like this.  If Reid can play, it will be interesting to see if the coaches go with this line because it played so good or if they go with the normal line.

Paul Kruger
One word to describe Kruger's performance: domination.  Recently, Kruger has been on fire and the playoffs did nothing to stop that.  With his 2.5 sacks yesterday, Kruger now has 10 sacks in his last 9 games after only getting 1.5 in his first 7 games.  These 2.5 sacks don't give enough credit to Kruger for how he played.  There were two other instances when Kruger failed to bring down Andrew Luck for a sack.  After the first time this happened, Kruger made up for it later in the drive with his first sack.  It was a 3rd and 5 on Ravens territory on the drive after Rice's first fumble.  Kruger was able to knock the ball out of Luck's hands.  Pernell McPhee was then able to recover the fumble.  His next sack was his half sack were he split it with Corey Graham for a loss of 6.  Finally, his last sack was on a 3rd and 10 where he just ran right past the offensive lineman.  This was for a loss of 8.  If this isn't enough, Kruger had pressure on almost every pass play, and finished with an amazing 5 QB hits, exactly half of the Ravens total for the game.  On one of the few plays that Kruger dropped into pass coverage, he was able to knock down a pass.  The only negative note for Kruger was an offsides penalty on a 2nd and 10.  The Ravens will let this slip though due to his amazing performance, whats even more impressive is both of his solo sacks came on 3rd down.

Ray Lewis
I think it was fitting for the Ravens to not give up a touchdown in Lewis's final home game.  He will be remembered for being a great defensive player and for leading one of the greatest defenses ever.  Therefore, giving up no touchdowns is the perfect end.  It is also fitting that Lewis led the team with 13 tackles.  He played all 87 snaps and had one great play that made everyone remember what made him great.  On the snap, Lewis knifed through the offensive line an stopped the running back for a loss of 1.  This is exactly the type of play Lewis would make all the time a few years ago.  In pass coverage, Lewis allowed four first downs on four passes.  He was also helped out by a dropped pass.  One play that he will never live down was his dropped interception.  Haloti Ngata tipped the ball at the line-of-scrimmage and it went right to Lewis.  Somehow, the ball hit Lewis right in the hands but he wasn't able to catch it.  After the game, he blamed his arm brace for the drop.  But, this game wasn't about his performance.  It was about his last game in Baltimore.  To give out one last memory, Lewis went in on the final kneel down of the game.  This marked the first offensive play he has ever taken part of.  Even better, after the snap, Lewis did his introduction dance for one last time in the middle of the field.  You can see his final introduction here and the dance at the end of the game here.

Ray Lewis

Ravens LB Ray Lewis does his pre-game dance for the last time.

Dannell Ellerbe
Over the course of the season, Ellerbe has shown he is a great blitzer, and nothing changed yesterday.  On a 3rd and 7, Ellerbe flushed Luck out of the pocket on a blitz.  Luck had to try and run for the first down and he was stopped well short.  The next example of this was on a 2nd and 10. His pressure forced Luck to try and throw the ball away.  Since the ball didn't make it back to the line-of-scrimmage, Luck was flagged for intentional grounding.  This caused a loss of down, loss of 16 yards, and took 10 seconds off the clock because there was only 22 seconds left in the half.  Lastly, Ellerbe blitzed on a run play and tackled the running back for a loss of 2 yards.

Cary Williams
Williams only gave up 3 catches yesterday but, 2 of them were for first downs.  The first was a 3rd and 4 which put the Colts near midfield.  The other first down completion was much more important.  It was the play after Ellerbe forced the intentional grounding.  The penalty put the Colts out of field goal range.  As they were just on the edge of field goal range before, they needed to get about 25 yards to get a field goal.  This is exactly what Williams allowed setting up a 52 yard field goal which Adam Vinatieri made.  On the positive side, Williams had an interception on a 4th and 1 very late in the game.  Corey Graham tipped the pass and Williams was there to catch it.  However, on the return, Williams was chased down by Luck which has to be embarrassing.

Corey Graham
As stated above, Graham tipped a pass on a 4th and 1 inside the Ravens 20-yard line with time running down.  Other than this, Graham also had a half sack with Kruger for a loss of 6 yards.  Graham allowed 3 passes for 1 first down.  The one first down was for about 20 yards with 30 seconds left in the 1st half.

Ray Lewis (52) Jacoby Jones (12) Torrey Smith (82)

Ravens LB Ray Lewis does his dance for one last time after the game while teammates Jacoby Jones (12) and Torrey Smith (82) look on.

Chykie Brown
The two most memorable plays for Brown were penalties, never a good sign.  He was called for an illegal contact on a 2nd and 10.  The other penalty was on a punt return.  He was called for a hold which lost the Ravens 16 yards.  On defense, he gave up 1 pass for 1 first down.

Ed Reed
Even Ed Reed got into the pass rushing.  He blitzed on a 3rd and 9 and tipped a pass on the Colts first drive.  Just like his good friend Lewis, Reed dropped an interception.  Luck was under pressure and just trying to throw the ball away but he never saw Reed.  Reed jumped in front of the receiver.  He did everything right, except catch the ball, which is kind of important.  He just straight up dropped it.  It was a diving catch but, the Ed Reed of a few years ago makes the play.

Bernard Pollard
Just like Brown, Pollard was called for two penalties but, these two are a little more controversial.  The first was a "blow to the head of a receiver."  On this play, you can clearly see that Pollard led with his shoulder.  Its not like his shoulder hit the receiver either.  His shoulder hit the receiver in the arm and chest.  The only part of Pollard to touch the receiver's head was his facemask and the facemask barely grazed the helmet of the receiver.  This is just another example of the bad helmet-to-helmet calls throughout the NFL right now.  On the next play, Pollard was called for a taunting penalty after the play against the Colts bench.  After the game, Pollard said a Colts assistant cursed at him and then a player shoved him.  While the Colts shouldn't have done this, Pollard shouldn't have reacted.  After each of these two plays, the stadium united with more "bulls***."  Unfortunately, I couldn't find the video this time.  Other than penalties, Pollard broke up two key passes.  The first was a 3rd an 2 play where the Colts receiver already had the first down but was hit right away by Pollard.  The receiver dropped the ball and it was ruled that he never had full possession of it.  The other play stopped another first down.  Pollard also finished with 4 tackles.

Ray Lewis

Ravens LB Ray Lewis takes a victory lap to thank the fans after the game.

Battle For Playoff Momentum

December 28, 2012 in What to Look For

Baltimore Homepage

This week the 10-5 Baltimore Ravens travel to Cincinnati to face the 9-6 Bengals.  These two teams played in week one and Baltimore won a blow out 44-13.

1.  Playoff Scenarios
Both the Ravens and Bengals have already clinched playoff berths.  The Ravens have clinched the AFC North and the Bengals will be a wild card team.  While the Bengals are locked in as the 6th seed, the Ravens seeding is still up for grabs.  Currently, they are the 4th seed which will see them play the Indianapolis Colts next week.  For the Ravens to improve their playoff position, they need the New England Patriots to lose to the Miami Dolphins which seems unlikely.  Along with the Patriots losing, the Ravens will need to beat the Bengals.  If these scenario plays out, the Ravens will become the 3rd seed and play the Bengals for the third time this season next week.  Since it is unlikely the Ravens improve their seed and the Bengals can't improve their seed, this game becomes a battle for momentum heading into the playoffs.  The Bengals have won 6 of their last 7 and their only loss was on a field game as time expired.  The Ravens have lost 3 of their last 4 and but their win was utter domination of the defending Super Bowl champions, the New York Giants.  Based on their currents streaks, the Ravens seem to need this game more than the Bengals, especially when you factor in the possibility of becoming the 3rd seed.

2.  Containing A.J. Green
Originally, I named this stopping A.J. Green, but then I realized it is impossible to stop Green, you have to contain him.  Earlier in the year, Ravens head coach John Harbaugh said Green might be the best wide receiver in the NFL.  Green is currently in the top 10 for receptions, targets, receiving yards, receiving touchdowns, receiving yards per game, and first downs on pass plays.  In the week one matchup, Green had 5 catches for 70 yards on 11 targets.  In order to contain Green, Ravens CB Cary Williams will need to be on top of his game.  Williams has been "consistently inconsistent" this season, allowing many big plays but making many pass breakups and interceptions as well.  The 6'1" Williams has the best size in the secondary to matchup with the 6'4" Green.  Jimmy Smith is 6'2" but he is still recovering from his sports hernia injury and hasn't looked the same since returning.  Expect the Bengals to try and go deep to Green multiple times to try and take advantage of the Ravens injured secondary.  This means S Ed Reed will need to come ready to play this week.

A.J. Green (18)

The Ravens led by star S Ed Reed (20), will need to contain Bengals WR A.J. Green (18).

3.  Who Plays?
Despite each team not having much to play for, they will both play to win.  This is because both teams want momentum heading into the playoffs and, it is a divisional game.  With the way the AFC North is, no players would want to miss a divisional matchup.  Even though both teams said they will play to win, that doesn't mean a few players won't play, especially for the Ravens.  If I were the Ravens, I would hold out the key players who are questionable, DE Haloti Ngata, G Marshal Yanda, and WR Anquan Boldin.  Also, the Ravens the disadvantage of the Patriots playing at 4 pm.  If both games were played at the same time, the Ravens would be able to see the score and take out key players if the Patriots started to pull away.  On the Bengals side, head coach Marvin Lewis said "I don’t really have any beat-up guys.  So, the only thing that is at stake is you go out and play to win the game every time we go."  In fact, the Bengals only have 6 plays on the injury report, three are probable, one is out, and the other two are questionable.  Expect both teams to do what they said, and play to win.

4.  G Marshal Yanda vs. DT Geno Atkins
Here is a perfect example of an AFC North matchup.  While I did say Yanda was questionable, he is expected to play, just like last week.  Yanda has been the best lineman for the Ravens this year, allowing only 3 hits and 8 hurries on 516 pass blocking plays.  He is also one of two guards to allow 0 sacks so far this season.  In the run game, he has opened up holes all season long.  This week he will meet his match in Geno Atkins. Atkins has 12.5 sacks this year which ranks 5th in the NFL and leads all 4-3 DTs in sacks.  He isn't just a pass rusher either, he has been influential in stopping the run game for the Bengals this year.  In week one, Atkins got the best of the Ravens, recording 2 sacks.  If the Ravens want to be successful on offense this week, they will need to neutralize Atkins.

Marshal Yanda

Ravens G Marshal Yanda draws the tough assignment of stopping Bengals DT Geno Atkins.

Ravens Clinch Second Straight AFC North Title

December 24, 2012 in Observations

Baltimore Homepage

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.

Referees
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.

John Harbaugh

Ravens head coach John Harbaugh wasn't happy with some calls in the win against the Giants.

Joe Flacco
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.

Bernard Pierce
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.

Bernard Pierce

Ravens RB Bernard Pierce runs away from the Giants defenders.

Ray Rice
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.

Anquan Boldin
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.

Dennis Pitta
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.

Torrey Smith
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.

Torrey Smith

Ravens WR Torrey Smith celebrates his touchdown catch.

Offensive Line
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.

Haloti Ngata
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.

Brendon Ayanbadejo
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.

Cornerbacks
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.

Safeties
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.

Omar Brown

Ravens S Omar Brown recorded his first career sack.

Ravens Clinch Playoff Berth Despite Loss

December 18, 2012 in Observations

Baltimore Homepage

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.

Joe Flacco
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.

Joe Flacco

Ravens QB Joe Flacco on the field after giving up a pick 6. It basically sums up the Ravens day.

Ray Rice
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.

Bernard Pierce
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.

Dennis Pitta
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.

Dennis Pitta

Ravens TE Dennis Pitta runs after catching a pass.

Jacoby Jones
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.

Tandon Doss
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.

Offensive Line
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.

Ravens offensive line

The Ravens offensive line was very disappointing yesterday.

Albert McClellan
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.

Josh Bynes
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.

Ed Reed
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.”

Cary Williams
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.

Cary Williams (purple)

Ravens CB Cary Williams (purple) is beat by Broncos WR Eric Decker for a touchdown.

Ravens Blow Late Lead

December 11, 2012 in Observations

The 9-4 Baltimore Ravens lost 31-28 in OT to the 7-6 Washington Redskins on a 34 yard field goal by Kai Forbath.  For the second time in two weeks, the Ravens blew a late lead.  This time it was an 8 point lead with 4:47 left in the game.

Coaching
While the offensive play calling was good this game, there were two situations where I disagree with what the Ravens coaching staff decided. The first was after the Ravens scored their last touchdown with 4:47 left in the game, they kicked the extra point.  This put the Ravens up by 8 points. The Redskins had to go down and score a touchdown and score a two-point conversion to tie the game.  If the Ravens went for a two-point conversion and made it, they would have been up by 9 points which is a two possession game.  Even if they didn't get the two-point conversion, the worst that would happen would be overtime as the Redskins would kick the extra point if they scored.  The other two situations were at the end of each half.  At the end of the first half, the Ravens had the ball with about 45 seconds left.  While the ball was on their own 13 yardline, they only needed about 40 yards to get into range for a 63 yard field goal.  With 45 seconds left, this should be very feasible but instead the Ravens ran it twice and threw 2 short passes and gained a total of 18 yards on 4 plays.  At the end of regulation the Ravens had the ball at their own 20 with about 30 seconds left.  They just took a knee and went into overtime.  This is more understandable as the offense hadn't done good over the last few drives.  These two decisions are rumored to be one of the reasons for offensive coordinator Cam Cameron's firing.

Defense
Just a few general things about the defense before we go player-by-player.  Overall the tackling was atrocious.  You can definitely give some credit to the Redskins ballcarries but you also have to blame the Ravens as there rarely was a play where the Redskins went down on first contact.  Most of the 15 completed passes against the Ravens came when they were in zone defense.  More specifically, they came in-between the linebackers and the safeties.  This is always a weakness in zone defenses but linebackers can usually get deep enough before a receiver gets there.  The Redskins were able to exploit this with play-action passes.  These plays completely confused the linebackers sometimes creating big holes in the middle of the defense.  Even when it wasn't play-action, the linebackers were looking for run more than pass and they were taking a few steps towards the line-of-scrimmage.  This needs to be fixed for next week as Broncos QB Peyton Manning excels at play-action passes.

Cary Williams (29)

Ravens CB Cary Williams (29) tries to tackle Redskins WR Pierre Garcon (88).

Joe Flacco
It was almost like Flacco played two different games against the Redskins.  The first half was almost perfect for Flacco as he threw for 3 touchdowns and each pass was great.  On the first, Anquan Boldin ran an out-and-up.  Flacco pump faked the out and then threw a perfect pass to Boldin in the endzone.  The next one was also to Boldin but was an even better play.  After looking at the Redskins defensive alignment, Flacco audibled to a different play.  On the play, Flacco looked left and pump faked to WR Torrey Smith on a slant.  He then looked right and threw a great pass to Boldin for the touchdown.  The last touchdown pass was an out route to TE Dennis Pitta in the endzone where Flacco placed the ball where only Pitta could get it.  Against the blitz, Flacco really struggled.  Both of his turnovers came against the blitz and he seemed to not recognize some of the blitzes.  His fumble wasn't really his fault but the interception was his fault.  The Redskins had 6 rushers and the Ravens only had 5 blockers.  He either has to bring a blocker into the backfield or get rid of the ball right away.  He finished 16-of-21 for 182 yards with 3 TDs and 1 INT.  His QB rating was 121.4 and QBR was 54.2.

Running Backs
Both Ray Rice and backup Bernard Pierce had outstanding games.  Rice had 121 yards on 20 rushes with a TD.  He also had his longest run this season, 46 yards.  Rice was able to average 6.1 yards per carry and Pierce had 6.8 on 8 carries for 53 yards.  Due to this success in the run game, Flacco only attempted 2 passes in the whole 3rd quarter.  This was also the quarter where Flacco had his two turnovers so the Ravens didn't get any points.  Both Rice and Pierce had an impact in the passing game.  Rice had 3 catches for 15 yards on 4 targets and Pierce had 2 catches for 11 yards on 2 targets.

Dennis Pitta
As I have said before, an easy way to tell if the Ravens offense is doing good is look at Pitta's stat line.  He finished with 5 catches for 46 yards and 1 TD on 6 targets.  What is most revealing to me is he had no first down catches.  Pitta is usually a first down machine.  His touchdown was on a 3rd and 10 though so you can give him a small break.

Anquan Boldin
Despite the Ravens only completing 16 passes, Boldin had a great game.  He caught the ball every time he was targeted and had 3 catches for 78 yards and 2 TDs.  Both of his TD catches were described above and his first one put him over 10,000 career receiving yards.  His other catch was on a 3rd and 4.  He caught it 8 yards downfield and then carried CB DeAngelo Hall for 20 more yards and was finally tackled at the 7 yardline. On the next play, Ray Rice scored on a 7 yard run.  So he scored 2 TDs and set up another.  The only negative for Boldin was he got called for a holdin penalty which negated a 4 yard run.

Anquan Boldin (81) and Jacoby Jones (12)

Ravens WR Anquan Boldin (81) celebrates one of his two touchdowns with WR Jacoby Jones.

Offensive Line
One Rice's long run, the offensive line dominated the Redskins defenders.  They blocked down and pushed the Redskins defensive line way away from the play.  On the touchdown pass to Pitta, Flacco had all day to find a receiver.  They also had great blocks on Rice's TD run.  Now for player specific notes.  Jah Reid had another false start.  Kelechi Osemele had a false start on a 1st and 10 inside the Ravens own 20 which really set back the drive.  Michael Oher had the worst game of all lineman.  He allowed a QB hit on Flacco inside the Redskins 20.  If he had given Flacco an extra second he would have hit WR Jacoby Jones for a TD.  Oher also gave up the strip sack of Flacco which occurred around midfield which is huge in field position terms.

Arthur Jones
Jones continued a trend of making his impact plays in bunches.  Two of his three impact plays came back-to-back and all 3 came at key situations.  After a good Sam Koch punt was downed at the Redskins 14, Jones went to work.  On first down, he stopped a run for a loss of 3 yards.  The next play he came in and sacked Redskins QB Robert Griffin III.  This was the first time that Griffin was visibly injured.  He stayed down for a moment but then got back up.  These two plays helped the Ravens get the ball back at the Washington 47.  However, the offense went 3 and out.  The last impact play made by Jones was a half sack with Paul Kruger.  This sack came on the Redskins final drive in regulation. On 1st and 10 from the Washington 36, Jones and Kruger sacked Griffin for a loss of 9.  This was the play before Griffin had to come out injured. With this performance, Jones now has 4.5 sacks in the last 3 games.

Paul Kruger
Just like Jones, Kruger extended his his sack streak to 5 games and now has 6.5 sacks in that period.  Kruger's sack came on a 1st down. Griffin was slowed down by DE Haloti Ngata on the play and Kruger was able to finish him off for a loss of 8.  This sack stalled the Redskins drive There were also other QB pressures from Kruger throughout the game.  As stated above, his sack that was split with Jones came on the last drive of regulation.  He also was in the right place at the right time as he recovered a fumble for a gain of 9 yards.  This put the Ravens at the Redskins 14 yardline and then three plays later, Dennis Pitta scored his touchdown.

Ed Reed
Unlike normally, Reed could be credited for 2 touchdowns against him.  He also made no impact plays.  The first touchdown came when the Ravens were in zone coverage.  Reed seemed to know the ball was going to WR Joshua Morgan as he followed him all the way across the endzone but wasn't able to stop the pass.  The second touchdown could be credited to either Reed or CB Chris Johnson.  It looked like they were in zone again on this play.  The receiver on the play, Pierre Garcon, ran a corner route and split the zone.  Reed was over the top and Johnson was underneath.  The throw was just over Johnson's outstretched arms and Reed couldn't close the distance in time.  Reed will need to be on his game next week against Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos as the last time the Ravens won against Manning was in December of 2001.

Ed Reed

Ravens star S Ed Reed had an underwhelming game against the Redskins.