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Ravens Escape With Thanksgiving Victory

November 29, 2013 in Observations

In a thriller of a game, the Baltimore Ravens defeated the Pittsburgh Steelers 22-20 on Thanksgiving night. Entering the game, both teams were 5-6 so the win brings the Ravens to 6-6 and the loss drops the Steelers to 5-7.

A typical Ravens-Steelers game, this was physical throughout and went down to the wire. Nine out of the last ten games have been decided by three points or less now including five straight.

Just 90 seconds into the game, the first fight broke out and there were three total in the first quarter alone. Eventually things settled down, but a few minor scrums still broke out.

The Ravens struck first with a touchdown pass to Torrey Smith six minutes into the game and carried a 10-0 lead into halftime. The Steelers came alive in the second half for three touchdowns including one with one minute left in the game. In order to tie the game, the Steelers needed a two-point conversion, but wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders dropped the pass.

Under head coach John Harbaugh, the Ravens are now 8-1 at home on national television and they are now 12-4 when scoring first against the Steelers.

Joe Flacco
Leading the Ravens to victory was Flacco, the much maligned quarterback. After weeks of sub-par play, Flacco produced arguably his best performance of the season.

He went 24-of-25 for 251 yards, one touchdown, zero interceptions (neither team had a turnover) and had a quarterback rating of 98.6.

Known for having a strong arm, Flacco has excelled at throwing deep passes in his career. These deep passes helped key the Ravens Super Bowl run last season. However, he had struggled with these passes this year.

Against the Steelers, he started off the game with an under thrown deep pass to Jacoby Jones on the first offensive play for the Ravens. After this though, Flacco was on target for the rest of the game and threw his best deep passes of the season.

Later in the Ravens' opening drive, he hit Smith deep for a gain of 54 yards putting the ball at the Steelers' one-yard line. On this pass, Flacco hit Smith right in stride. Three plays later, Flacco threw a perfect pass to Smith in the end zone for a touchdown to give the Ravens a lead that they would never surrender — though the game was close throughout.

Most of the passes that Flacco threw looked sharp and were on target for the most part. This is something that he has struggled with all season.

Earlier this week, he talked about how he didn't like the Wildcat offense where backup quarterback Tyrod Taylor came in that the Ravens ran against the New York Jets last week for a few plays. This sent him out to wide receiver where he just stood there. Unsurprisingly, there was none of this against the Steelers and Flacco performance was enough so that it wasn't needed.

Channelling his inner Taylor, Flacco scrambled for a gain of nine on third and eight. This kept a drive alive and moved the ball to the Steelers' 16-yard line and led to a field goal for the Ravens.

Torrey Smith
Going up against the Steelers' number one cornerback Ike Taylor all game long, Smith was still able to have a good game — though he made a few mistakes.

Totaling 93 yards, Smith caught six passes on 10 targets.

Torrey Smith

Courtesy of ICON SMI

Starting with the good, he got the Ravens going early in the game with a 54-yard catch on the Ravens' opening drive. On this play, Smith ran a post route and split the cornerback and safety to get open. He was tackled at the one-yard line. A few plays later, he caught a slant on third and goal from the seven-yard line and scored the Ravens' only touchdown of the game. Taylor shaded Smith to the outside knowing that he had help to the inside in the form of a defensive lineman. Smith created separation from Taylor at the line-of-srimmage and Flacco's pass was just passed the outstretched arms of the defensive lineman, giving the Ravens a touchdown.

Only one catch (a four yard screen pass) didn't go for a first down or touchdown. The other two first downs both came on third and eight where he ran shallow crossing routes — one for a gain of eight and the other for 10.

He also drew a 26-yard pass interference call on Taylor giving the Ravens the ball at the Steelers' 27-yard line.

On to the bad, Smith dropped two easy passes. The first was an out route that would have gone for a gain of about eight yards. The other drop came on a crossing route inside the Steelers' five-yard line. He tried to make a sliding catch, but couldn't haul it in. Both times, Flacco's pass his Smith right in the hands.

For the second game in a row, he was called for a false start. This can't happen to wide receivers — especially at home. In fact, the Ravens had a total of five false starts.

Jacoby Jones
Now that Jones is fully healthy after spraining his MCL in week one, he is providing a constant big play presence for the Ravens like he did last year.

Early in the game, he left with a knee injury, but he quickly returned.

On offense, he caught four passes for 53 yards on seven targets and two of these catches went for first downs. The first was a gain of 10 on a curl route and the second was a gain of 34 on a crossing route. On the latter play, Flacco had all day to throw the ball as the offensive line provided great protection. Jones started out running a crossing route, but once he reached the middle of the field, he reversed to head back to the sideline to try and get open when he saw that Flacco was still looking to throw the ball.

An excellent return man, Jones' big play came on a kickoff return. The kick was near the far sideline and he took it up this sideline and received good blocking. Importantly, this kickoff was from the Steelers' first touchdown so he made sure the Ravens — not the Steelers — have the momentum. He was caught from behind at the Steelers' 27-yard line and this field position led to a 38-yard field goal.

Right before he was caught from behind, Steelers' head coach Mike Tomlin stepped in the way of Jones on the field. This subtle  step from Tomlin caused Jones to move a little to the inside of the field (he was running right down the sideline) and he was then caught. (The play can be viewed here.)

An official was right there, yet he didn't flag Tomlin for interfering with the play — which he clearly did. This should be a 15-yard penalty for unsportsmanlike conduct. Also, the officials can award a touchdown to the team that was interfered with if they feel the interference from the sideline stopped a touchdown from occurring. The NFL has already announced that they will investigate the play. It is likely that Tomlin will be fined for his actions as he looks like he intentionally did this.

Offensive Line
Allowing two sacks, the Ravens' offensive line looked good (with one exception) last night in pass protection. Running the ball, the Ravens suffered the same problem as they gained 74 yards and averaged three yards per carry.

The one exception was right tackle Michael Oher who allowed one sack and had three false starts. His sack came on a second and nine where the Steeler beat him to the outside and slapped Oher's hands away. The hit on Flacco forced a fumble which right guard Marshal Yanda was able to recover. A few plays later the Ravens kicked a field goal so this recovery from Yanda saved three points.

Oher's three false starts at home are inexcusable. The crowd is quiet at home so the snap count is audible, yet he jumped three times. Each of these false starts came in key situations. The first was with less than a minute left in the first half. After the penalty, the Ravens ran the clock out to halftime after looking like they would try and get some points. The second game in the red zone and the third came inside the Steelers' 25-yard line.

An impending free agent, Oher isn't making a case to stay in Baltimore. Left tackle Eugene Monroe is also a free agent and the Ravens likely won't be able to pay both of them. Monroe had another solid game last night and play a more important position than Oher. Right now, it looks like the Ravens will attempt to re-sign Monroe and not Oher.

Left guard A.Q. Shipley was also called for a false start.

Terrell Suggs
Going up against the Steelers backup left tackle for most of the game, you would have expected Suggs to have a big game. Especially as it was against the Steelers, a team he historically plays well against.

Heading into each game against the Steelers, he is the player who hypes the game up the most, yet he was invisible for most of the game. In the box score, he recorded one tackle and one quarterback hit. I can't remember the tackle, though I do remember the quarterback hit and it didn't force Steelers' quarterback Ben Roethlisberger to throw before he wanted to.

With 15.5 career sacks of Roethlisberger, Suggs has the most of any player on Roethlisberger, but he wasn't able to take him down last night. I had him down for one pressure all night long. It did look like he was held a couple times that weren't called though.

Still, as the Ravens best pass rusher, Suggs needs to show up in these games. He should feast off a patchwork offensive line like the Steelers had last night. He now has gone four straight game without a sack.

Elvis Dumervil
Playing across from Suggs at the other outside linebacker position (during mostly passing downs) is Dumervil.

While he didn't play as good as he should have, he played better than Suggs — though that isn't saying much.

He had three tackles and one of these was a run stop for no gain that he shared with defensive end Arthur Jones.

Rushing the passer, Dumervil had two pressures based on my count. One of these pressures forced a bad pass from Roethlisberger which went for an incompletion.

On a third and seven, Dumervil jumped offsides which gave the Steelers a new attempt which they converted. The Steelers' drive kept going, but they were eventually forced to punt.

Going up against a weakened offensive line, he, like Suggs, should have had a better night then he did.

Daryl Smith
Part of the Steelers' game plan must have been to attack the Ravens' middle linebackers in coverage as Smith allowed four catches, Josh Bynes allowed five and Jameel McClain allowed one.

Of the four passes that Smith allowed to be completed against him, one went for a first down and one went for a touchdown. On the touchdown, the Ravens were in zone coverage and Roethlisberger scrambled out of the pocket to the far sideline. Smith shifted to that side in his zone, without knowing that Sanders was behind him running the other way trying to get open. Roethlisberger saw Sanders open was threw it to him for a touchdown.

Late in the third quarter, Smith had man-coverage on Steelers' running back Le'Veon Bell who ran a wheel route from the slot while the outside receiver went inside to try and get Bell open. Smith stuck with Bell the whole way and his tight coverage forced Roethlisberger to throw to far in front of Bell for an incomplete pass.

Smith's coverage has been his best attribute this season as he is one of the best middle linebackers in pass coverage according to Pro Football Focus.

In run defense, Smith hasn't been as good and he got blocked out of the way on two important runs last night. The first was a 43-yard run by Bell, the longest run the Ravens have allowed all season. Smith got caught up in the middle and was on the wrong side of the hole when Bell ran though it. On Bell's one yard touchdown run, Smith got blocked out of the way, allowing Bell to get in untouched.

Finishing with six tackles, Smith had a decent game with a few bad plays and some good ones.

James Ihedigbo
Leading the Ravens with 10 tackles was Ihedigbo, the starting strong safety who has enjoyed a great season (seventh best safety according to Pro Football Focus) after not starting at all last season.

Early in the game, he was blitzing often to as the Ravens played a more aggressive style of defense. In the second half of the game though, Dean Pees, the Ravens' defensive coordinator, called a much more conservative game. Most plays saw just a four man pass rush (that generated no pressure) and had the other seven defenders drop back into zone coverage. This has happened many times this season and the defense has always had more success when playing aggressive.

In pass coverage, Ihedigbo had a great game. He allowed one catch to be completed against him (a gain of four on second and two) and broke up two passes.

The first of which came on a second and 10 from the Ravens 27-yard line. Roethlisberger threw to his receiver who was open running a corner route to the near sideline. He lofted a pass up and Ihedigbo made a leaping pass deflection as Roethlisberger just under threw the pass. If Ihedigbo doesn't make that play, the Steelers' receiver walks into the end zone for a touchdown.

With the game on the line and the Steelers on the Ravens' one-yard line with a third and goal down eight points, Ihedigbo made a great play to force fourth and goal (which the Steelers scored on). The Steelers ran a short pass play to the near sideline and Ihedigbo had the fullback in coverage. Roethlisberger threw to the fullback, Will Johnson, on a quick out route and Ihedigbo hit Johnson as soon as he caught the pass, forcing an incompletion.

This performance against the Steelers by Ihedigbo is another example of the great season that he is having.

Cornerbacks
An overall good performance by the Ravens' cornerback helped slow the Steelers' offensive. The Steelers did seem to try and target the middle of the field more where the cornerbacks weren't.

Lardarius Webb allowed three catches for 23 yards and one first down. The first down that he allowed was a gain of eight on third and five.

On the play, he missed a tackle that would have brought down the receiver short of the first-down marker. Later in the game he was flagged for defensive holding in pass coverage on a play where the pass didn't go to his receiver.

As always, he was active in the run game. He recorded a run stop for a loss of two on the Steelers' second offensive play. He also had a run stop for no gain when the Steelers had first and goal from the Ravens' one-yard line with the game on the line.

Jimmy Smith

Courtesy of ICON SMI

Over the last few weeks, Jimmy Smith has really stepped his game up and has had great coverage and this game was no different. He allowed one pass to be completed against him and that was a wide receiver screen which he stopped for a two-yard gain.

His one pass breakup came on a back-shoulder fade — a pass that is very difficult for a cornerback to defend. Wide receiver Antonio Brown had the ball for a split-second but Smith ripped the ball out of Brown's hands as they was falling to the ground.

On the second and goal play after Webb's tackle, Smith came up in run support and tackled Bell for no gain. This play was initially ruled a touchdown, but was overturned as Bell's helmet came off before the ball was in the end zone. Both Bell and Smith left with likely concussions after this play and never returned.

Allowing the touchdown pass on fourth and goal was Corey Graham. For the game, he gave up three catches for 25 yards. Two of the catches went for first downs and the other was the aforementioned touchdown.

On the touchdown, Graham lined up against the outside receiver and Webb had the slot receiver. At the snap, the outside receiver ran a slant and the inside receiver ran a quick out the try and clear space for the slant. Seeing the route combination, Graham switched to the outside receiver and expected Webb to do the same to the inside receiver. However, Webb stuck with the inside receiver. I don't know who was to blame, but a miscommunication like his can't happen on the most important play of the game.

Other than this play, Graham had a good game. He had a nice pass breakup on a deep pass and had good coverage on another that forced an incompletion. Like Webb and Smith, Graham got involved in run defense and stopped a run for a loss of one.

Seeing a couple of snaps due to injury was the fourth cornerback, Chykie Brown. When Graham went out for a play due to a likely stinger, Roethlisberger targeted Brown on a deep pass. Brown tried to press the wide receiver at the line-of-scrimmage, but he completely whiffed and the receiver was open and picked up 19 yards.

With Smith out after the second and goal play, Brown came in to replace him. He wasn't targeted on the third and fourth down passes, but he was on the two-point conversion. Roethlisberger threw a quick fade to Sanders in the corner of the end zone and Brown had tight coverage. Sanders had the pass hit him, but he dropped the ball giving the Ravens the victory.

Justin Tucker
Already named the AFC Special Teams Player of the Month for November before the game, Tucker continued to shine as he scored 16 points for the Ravens.

Connecting on five field goals and one extra point, Tucker was perfect on the night. Adding the four field goals he had last week, he has nine field goals in this last two games.

By making five field goals, he tied a Ravens record for most field goals made in a game. Matt Stover did this four times and Billy Cundiff did it twice.

Tucker's five field goals came from 43, 34, 38, 45 and 48 yards out. His first field goal gave him 23-straight field goals made which gave him sole possession of the second longest streak in Ravens history. Stover has the record at 36-straight.

Currently he has 27-straight field goals made which is the longest such active steak in the league.

The only negative on the night for Tucker was a kickoff out-of-bounds that helped lead to the Steelers' second touchdown.

In a game that was decided by two points, Tucker was huge for the Ravens.

Injured Players Are Key: Ravens vs Bengals

November 9, 2013 in What to Look For

In a key AFC North battle, the 3-5 Baltimore Ravens will host the 6-3 Cincinnati Bengals tomorrow. The Ravens are coming off a 24-18 loss to the Cleveland Browns last Sunday and the Bengals are coming off a 22-20 loss to the Miami Dolphins on Halloween. Currently, the Bengals sit in first place of the AFC North with a two-game lead over the second-place Browns and a 2.5 game lead over the Ravens. If the Ravens win this game, it could spark a second-half resurgence for the struggling team, but if they lose, it would make it very hard for them to bounce back and win the division.

1.  Injuries
This week's injury report features key players from both teams being out, doubtful, or questionable. Also, there are multiple players that have recently suffered season-ending injuries.

Jimmy Smith

Courtesy of ICON SMI

Starting with the Ravens, they have three starters listed as questionable (S James Ihedigbo, LB Daryl Smith and CB Jimmy Smith) and a key backup as well (nickel CB Corey Graham). Also, the Ravens placed starting left guard Kelechi Osemele on injured reserve this week with a back injury.

All four of these questionable players were limited at practice on Friday which is a good sign. However, they still could not be ready to play on Sunday. Losing any of these four players would be a significant blow to the Ravens' defense. Ihedigbo has had a great start to the season, Smith has been all over the field from his middle linebacker spot and the Ravens lack cornerback depth behind Smith and Graham. (Over the last few weeks, the Ravens have only had one other cornerback on the roster, Chykie Brown, but they activated Asa Jackson this week after he served his eight-week suspension.)

For the Bengals, starting middle linebacker Rey Maualuga is out with a knee injury, backup linebacker Michael Boley is doubtful, rookie sensation Giovani Bernard, a running back, is questionable and starting tight end Jermaine Gresham is also questionable. Out for the season are star defensive tackle Geno Atkins (torn ACL) and star cornerback Leon Hall (torn Achilles tendon).

The injuries to Maualuga and Boley at linebacker means that Vincent Rey will get the start at middle linebacker. This will be just his third start in his career (fourth season) and his second in as many weeks. Against the Dolphins last week, he had five tackles and he has 17 for the season.

Bernard will probably play though on a limited basis as the Bengals won't want to risk injuring his ribs even more. This means BenJarvus Green-Ellis will probably start and see most of the workload. The Ravens will need to be ready for the electric Bernard when he comes in though.

If Gresham can't play, it will be a big hit to the Bengals offense as they love to run two tight end sets with him and first-round pick Tyler Eifert.

Lastly, starting left tackle Andrew Whitworth missed last week's loss with a knee injury, but didn't show up on the injury report this week.

2.  Joe Flacco vs Andy Dalton
Or better known as the battle of inconsistent quarterbacks, Flacco and Dalton will face off tomorrow.

Flacco led the Ravens to a Super Bowl victory last season with a historic playoff performance. He tied Joe Montana's record of 11 passing touchdowns and zero interceptions in the a single postseason. Also in the playoffs, Flacco passed for 285 yards per game and had a quarterback rating of 117.2. In Super Bowl XLVII, he went 22-of-33 for 287 yards and three touchdowns, leading the Ravens to a 34-31 victory over the San Francisco 49ers.

This year though, has been a whole different story. Playing eight games, he has thrown for 2,167 yards (271 per game), 10 touchdowns, nine interceptions and has a quarterback rating of 79.3, a career worst. He is also on pace to thrown a career high in interceptions (18) which is well above his career high of 12, which he has done three times.

Dalton has led the Bengals to the playoff in his first two seasons in the NFL, but there has been talk that he isn't good enough to take a team all the way to a Super Bowl. This season was viewed as key for him to take the next step. So far this season, when he has played well, the Bengals have won; when he hasn't played well, they have lost. In their six wins, Dalton has thrown 14 touchdown passes and four interceptions. In their three losses, he has thrown two touchdown passes and six interceptions.

His inconsistency was on showcase in October. In the Bengals first four games (all wins) he threw for 311.5 yards per game, 11 touchdowns (including five in one game), one interception and had a passer rating of 112. After being named the AFC Offensive Player of the Month, Dalton went 32-of-53 for 338 yards, zero touchdowns, three interceptions and had a passer rating of 55.4 against the Dolphins on Halloween. He was off target all night long and one of his interceptions was returned for a touchdown. He was also sacked for a safety in overtime which won the game for the Dolphins.

Both of these quarterbacks have been inconsistent recently. Whoever plays the better game, will probably lead their team to victory.

3.  Fast Start
Other than their week one game against the Denver Broncos, the Ravens have struggled to score point in the first quarter and the first half of games this season.

In their last seven games, the Ravens haven't held a lead at the end of the first quarter. The reason? They have scored 16 first quarter points and average 55.7 yards in the first quarter according to ESPN.

As you would expect, the Ravens' opening drive of games are lacking as they have gone three-and-out five times and have not scored a touchdown. In fact, they have only scored one time on an opening drive — a field goal against the Dolphins in week five. Even worse, the Ravens' offense has only scored one touchdown in the first quarter, and that was in week one.

When the Ravens don't score first, they have trouble winning games. Under head coach John Harbaugh, the Ravens are 41-8 when they score first and 16-23 when they don't.

This season, the Bengals have scored first six times and have won five of them. In the games when they don't score first, they are 1-2.

Looking at these stats, it is fair to assume that the team who scores first will win this game. With the way the Ravens are playing this season, that will probably be the Bengals.

4.  Stopping A.J. Green
As the NFL's leading receiver, Green is one of the best receivers in the league and is backing that up with his performance this season.

His stats are near the top in the league in many receiving categories: 57 catches (tied third), 862 receiving yards (first), 104 targets (first), five touchdowns (tied 14th), 10 catches of 20 plus yards (tied eighth), 95.8 yards per game (fifth) and 38 first downs (third).

Since entering the NFL in 2011 as the fourth overall pick with Dalton (35th overall), Green has been Dalton's favorite target and has put up big numbers. Last season, he caught 97 passes for 1,350 yards and 11 touchdowns.

With an average of 9.6 targets per game in their 40 career games together, Green is clearly Dalton's favorite receiver. This season, Green is seeing 11.5 targets per game which is a full target more than last season, despite additional coverage from defenders and better secondary receivers for Dalton to throw.

When Green sees more than 10 targets this season, the Bengals are 2-3 — and one of those wins was in overtime. This shows that Dalton forces the ball to Green more when the Bengals are losing — which isn't a good thing. When Green sees less than 10 targets this season, the Bengals are 4-0, as the ball is getting spread around more.

If the Ravens are able to limit Green, they will likely see the bad Dalton, not the good one. With Smith and Graham, the number two and three cornerbacks, listed a questionable, this could be a tall task. Especially as Lardarius Webb, the number one cornerback, is having a rough season.

Ravens vs Steelers Injury Report

October 19, 2013 in Injury Reports

Ravens

Haloti Ngata

Courtesy of ICON SMI

Out
LB Josh Bynes (Thigh and Finger)

Doubtful
C Ryan Jensen (Foot)
WR Brandon Stokley (Thigh)

Questionable
CB Chykie Brown (Thigh)
DT Terrence Cody (Knee)
LB Albert McClellan (Shoulder)
DT Haloti Ngata (Elbow)
LB Courtney Upshaw (Foot)
CB Lardarius Webb (Thigh)

Probable
DE Chris Canty (Thigh)
LB Jameel McClain (Neck)
DE Marcus Spears (Knee)

Steelers

Out
TE Richard Gordon
WR Markus Wheaton (Finger)

Questionable
LB Jarvis Jones (Concussion)

Probable
OT Marcus Gilbert (Quadricep)
DE Brett Keisel (Abdomen)
TE Heath Miller (Not Injury Related)
LB LaMarr Woodley (Knee)

Ravens vs Packers Injury Report

October 12, 2013 in Injury Reports

Ravens

Jacoby Jones

Courtesy of ICON SMI

Doubtful
DT Terrence Cody (Knee)

Questionable
CB Chykie Brown (Thigh)
WR Marlon Brown (Thigh)
C Ryan Jensen (Foot)
WR Jacoby Jones (Knee)
LB Albert McClellan (Shoulder)
NT Haloti Ngata (Hip)
G Kelechi Osemele (Back)
RB Bernard Pierce (Thigh)
DE Marcus Spears (Knee)
WR Brandon Stokley (Thigh)

Packers

Out
CB Casey Hayward (Hamstring)
LB Brad Jones (Hamstring)
LB Clay Matthews (Thumb)
RB James Starks (Knee)
G Greg Van Roten (Foot)

Questionable
CB Jarrett Bush (Hamstring)

Probable
LB Andy Mulumba (Ankle)
DT Ryan Pickett (Hand)

Ravens vs Texans Injury Report

September 21, 2013 in Injury Reports

Ravens

Out
C Ryan Jensen (Foot)
WR Jacoby Jones (Knee)

Ray Rice

Courtesy of ICON SMI

Doubtful
LB Arthur Brown (Chest)
DE Chris Canty (Thigh)
RB Ray Rice (Hip)
WR Deonte Thompson (Foot)
DT Brandon Williams (Toe)

Questionable
CB Chykie Brown (Knee)

Texans

Out
OT Duane Brown (Toe)

Questionable
TE Garrett Graham
S Ed Reed (Hip)

Probable
LB Brian Cushing (Knee)
TE Owen Daniels (Not Injury Related)
RB Arian Foster (Calf)
WR Andre Johnson (Concussion)
CB Jonathan Joseph (Not Injury Related)
LB Joe Mays (Quadricep)
CB Brice McCain (Knee)
C Chris Myers (Back)
OT Derek Newton (Knee)
WR Devier Posey (Achilles)
LB Darryl Sharpton (Hip)
G Wade Smith (Knee)
RB Ben Tate (Shoulder)

Super Bowl XLVII Recap

February 11, 2013 in Observations, Super Bowl XLVII

Exactly one week ago, the Baltimore Ravens defeated the San Francisco 49ers 34-31 in Super Bowl XLVII.  Since it has been one week, it is time to look at some important things that occurred.  The play of Joe Flacco has already been looked at here.

Ravens Coaching
The Baltimore Ravens coaching staff did a good job preparing for this game.  The team came out strong and was able to execute what we can assume was the gameplan.  Two key moments for the coaching staff stick out from this game.

First, was the power outage during the game.  For 34 minutes, the lights on half of the stadium went out.  This allowed the 49ers to recuperate and come out attacking.  Before the power outage, the Ravens led 28-6.  After the power outage, the 49ers outscored the Ravens 25-6.  The coaching staff obviously didn't do enough to keep the players ready to play.  The 49ers were able to get their players ready to play.  Maybe the players were thinking that this game was already decided due to the big lead, I don't.  But what I do now is that the team wasn't the same after this stoppage of play.

In my opinion, the best decision by the coaching staff was to take a safety with about ten seconds left in the game.  The Ravens were up by five points and had the ball on their own 8-yard line on a 4th and 7.  Instead of just punting the ball away, P Sam Koch took the ball and ran around in the endzone.  He was able to run off eight seconds before the 49ers figured out what was going on and pushed Koch out-of-bounds.  This made the Ravens have to do a free kick and the coverage unit was able to stop the return as time expired.

So, instead of allowing a possible blocked punt or a punt return for a touchdown on a short field, the Ravens played it safe.  It is easier to defend a return when the returner is fielding the ball from farther away from the endzone.  More importantly, it ran off eight seconds which guaranteed that the return would be the last play of the game.  If the 49ers had any return, they would have been able to throw a hail mary pass or, if they got a good return, would have been able to run a regular play.  By taking the safety, Ravens head coach John Harbaugh played the odds perfectly and set up the Ravens victory.

Bernard Pollard
One the first play of the game, Pollard re-broke six ribs.  According to the Ravens website, Pollard broke initially broke these six ribs one multiple occasions in the season.  The first three were broken when OLB Courtney Upshaw hit him during the week 2 game against Philadelphia.  Two more broke when CB Chykie Brown hit him in practice in November.  Lastly, Pollard broke the sixth when S Ed Reed hit him on the first play of the game in week 14 against Washington.

Pollard was able to play through the pain but he wasn't his normal self.  He looked weaker in pass coverage all game long.  Obviously, the injury isn't serious and he will be ready for next season with plenty of time to spare.

Haloti Ngata
Just like Pollard, Ngata got injured in the game.  However, Ngata's injury was more serious and, had a bigger impact on the game.  Ngata left the game with a knee injury and never returned.  It has been confirmed that Ngata only sprained his knee, so there will be no effect on his play next season.

In game, this effected the Ravens big time.  As soon as he went out with the injury, the 49ers were able to run the ball more effectively.  This is one of the reasons why the 49ers had much more success in the second half on offense then they did in the first. If Ngata, hadn't got injured the 49ers wouldn't have been able to run as well since Ngata is one of the top run stuffers in the NFL, let alone the Ravens best.

Underrated Play Of The Game
Certain plays like the touchdowns and the defensive stop at the end of the game get all the publicity but, there are still great plays that go unmentioned.  In this game, the underrated play of the game was a 3rd and 1 pass by the Ravens.

More specifically, it was a 3rd and 1 pass to WR Anquan Boldin with under nine minutes left.  Originally, the Ravens called for a run play but, Flacco audibled once he saw how the 49ers lined up on defense.  He called for a back shoulder fade to Boldin, who was in one-on-one coverage. On the route, Boldin was covered very well and it was a tough throw to make.  However, Flacco placed the ball perfectly and Boldin was able to hold on for the catch.

This play put the ball on the 49ers 40-yard line and one play later, the Ravens were in field goal range.  This field goal, by K Justin Tucker, put the Ravens up by five points with under five minutes left in the game.  If this pass is dropped or falls incomplete, the 49ers would only have been down two points, which means instead of having to score a touchdown at the end of the game, they would have only needed a field goal.

Underrated Player Of The Game
This goes to LG Kelechi Osemele.  I said, if the Ravens stop 49ers DE Justin Smith, they will win the trenches on offense.  Osemele did just that for the Ravens.  He was able to single team Smith which allowed more blockers to go to other pass rushers which neutralized the 49ers defensive front.

Player Of The Game
Last, is my player of the game award.  I think that the voters got this right when the gave it to Flacco.  He played an excellent game going 22-of-33 for 287 yards and threw 3 TDs.  Without Flacco's performance they wouldn't have won this game.  Coming into the game, the only real threat I saw to Flacco winning the award (if the Ravens won the game) was LB Ray Lewis.  If Lewis had a big impact on the game (i.e. forcing a big turnover), the voters might have given him the award because this was his last game in the NFL.
Runner Up:  WR/KR Jacoby Jones

Joe Flacco

Super Bowl MVP Joe Flacco throws a pass.

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.

Dannell Ellerbe Questionable

January 19, 2013 in Injury Reports

Ravens

Dannell Ellerbe

Ravens starting ILB Dannell Ellerbe is questionable with ankle and back injuries.

Out
CB Asa Jackson (thigh)

Questionable
LB Dannell Ellerbe (ankle and back)
FB Vonta Leach (knee and ankle)
RB Bernard Pierce (knee)
WR David Reed (thigh)

Probable
RB Anthony Allen (head)
WR Anquan Boldin (shoulder)
CB Chykie Brown (shoulder)
DT Terrence Cody (ankle)
C Gino Gradkowski (head)
DT Arthur Jones (thigh and knee)
LB Ray Lewis (triceps)
LB Albert McClellan (shoulder)
DE Pernell McPhee (thigh)
DT Haloti Ngata (knee)
S Bernard Pollard (chest)
S Ed Reed (shoulder)
CB Jimmy Smith (abdominal)
WR Torrey Smith (back)
LB Terrell Suggs (achilles and biceps)
G Marshal Yanda (shoulder)

Patriots

*Note*  Earlier this week the Patriots placed TE Rob Gronkowski on injured reserve.

Probable
CB Marquice Cole (finger)
DE Chandler Jones (ankle)
OL Nick McDonald (shoulder)
DE Trevor Scott (knee)
RB Danny Woodhead (thumb)

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.

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.