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Steve Spagnuolo Named Secondary Coach

January 29, 2014 in Coaching Staff, News

Today, the Ravens have filled another vacancy on their coaching staff by naming Steve Spagnuolo as their new secondary coach.

He takes over this position which has been open for a while after Teryl Austin––the former secondary coach––was named the defensive coordinator of the Detroit Lions. He joined the staff of Jim Caldwell who was named the Lions' head coach after being the Ravens' offensive coordinator this season.

Last season, Spagnuolo was a senior defensive assistant with the Ravens and he helped defensive coordinator Dean Pees study opponents and provided ideas for game plans.

Steve Spagnuolo

Courtesy of ICON SMI

Prior to being with the Ravens, Spagnuolo has been a defensive coordinator and a head coach. From 2007-2008, he was the defensive coordinator of the New York Giants. He turned this gig into a head coaching job with the St. Louis Rams which lasted from 2009-2011. After this he was the defensive coordinator for the New Orleans Saints for the 2012 season. He then joined the Ravens staff after being fired by the Saints.

With the Giants, he engineered the defense that gave the record-breaking offense of the 18-0 New England Patriots fits in Super Bowl XLII. His defense is the main reason that the Giants won that game.

After this though, he found less success going 1-15, 7-9 and 2-14 in his three seasons in St. Louis for a combined record of 10-38. With the Saints his defense allowed the most yards in a single season in NFL history. Naturally, this led to his firing.

In his time as a coach, he has spent time coaching all positions on the defense. His experience with defensive backs comes at the University of Connecticut (1987-1991––with 1990 and 1991 being spent as defensive coordinator as well), University of Maine (1993), Rutgers University (1994-1995), Bowling Green University (1996-1997) and with the Philadelphia Eagles (2001-2003).

The Ravens' secondary features good, young talent with Lardarius Webb and Jimmy Smith at the starting cornerback positions. Last year's first round pick, Matt Elam, started at free safety this season and is expected to transition to strong safety this season––his more natural position. The team is expected to be looking for a true free safety this offseason, whether it be via free agency or the draft.

Ever since Austin left the Ravens, Spagnuolo was the favorite for the job. It is likely that the team made it their priority to hire an offensive coordinator before a secondary coach. Since Gary Kubiak was hired as offensive coordinator two days ago, it was time to move to other vacancies in the staff.

Playoff Spots On The Line: Ravens vs Bengals

December 27, 2013 in What to Look For

With playoff spots on the line for each team, the 8-7 Baltimore Ravens take on the 10-5 Cincinnati Bengals in Cincinnati where the Bengals are undefeated this season.

Having already clinched the AFC North, the Bengals are guaranteed a playoff spot, but their positioning is still up for grabs. If the playoffs started today, they would be the third-seed, but there is still a chance that they can earn the second-seed and the first-round bye that comes with that. This would happen is the Bengals beat the Ravens and if the New England Patriots lose to the Buffalo Bills. This would put the Bengals and the Patriots at 11-5 and since the Bengals won the head-to-head matchup, the second-seed would go to the Bengals.

Moving to the Ravens, they are in a four-way battle for the sixth and final seed in the AFC with the Miami Dolphins, San Diego Chargers and Pittsburgh Steelers. Between these four teams, there are 16 different playoff scenarios and seven of them belong to the Ravens. No team controls their own destiny as everyone needs and win plus help to get in.

In order to make the playoffs, the Ravens need to beat Cincinnati and have either the Dolphins (vs New York Jets) or the Chargers (vs Kansas City Chiefs) lose. Another way to make the playoffs would be if the Dolphins, Chargers and Steelers all lose.

The last time that the Ravens faced the Bengals was in week 10 when the Ravens played host. The Ravens jumped out to a 17-0 halftime lead and seemed to be in charge, but then the Bengals made a late comeback which was capped by a 51-yard Hail Mary pass which was caught by A.J. Green for a touchdown as time expired. This led to overtime and the Ravens won 20-17 on a 46-yard field goal from Justin Tucker.

1.  Joe Flacco
As always for the Ravens, the play of Flacco, the quarterback, will be important if they are to win the game.

Joe Flacco

Courtesy of ICON SMI

After winning the Super Bowl MVP in February and signing $120.6 million contract in March, he has underperformed this season. In fact, he set a new career-high in interceptions with 19 (his previous high was 12 which he had done three times). These 19 interceptions are tied for the most in a single-season in Ravens' franchise history. Vinny Testaverde also threw 19 interceptions in the Ravens' inaugural season in 1996.

Currently, Flacco his playing with a sprained MCL in his left knee. This injury was suffered two weeks ago in Detroit on Monday Night Football when he took a low hit just below his knee. Last week against the New England Patriots he wore a brace to protect the knee and the injury clearly bothered him as he went 22-of-38 for 260 yards, zero interceptions and two interceptions. His accuracy was off all night and he should have thrown more than three interceptions. He was especially unable to accurately throw deep passes as he under and overthrew these passes by significant margins.

He will wear the brace on his knee again this week and will take on the fifth-ranked defense in the NFL. Allowing 211.3 passing yards per game, the Bengals are the sixth-best in pass defense, but have suffered multiple injuries at cornerback this season.

In the week 10 matchup, he went 20-of-36 for 140 yards, two touchdowns, two interceptions and had a quarterback rating of 60.0 while being sacked five times. This stat line perfectly sums up his season as there have been great moments and bad ones which is shown by the touchdowns and interceptions. He has also been under pressure a lot of the time as the offensive line has give up 46 sacks this season which is tied for fourth-worst in the league and the five sacks from the Bengals' game show this.

If the Ravens are to win this game and advance to the playoffs, then they are going to need a big game from him. With his bad knee, it is unknown how likely this will be. However, he wasn't listed on the injury report this week.

2.  Pressuring Andy Dalton
At quarterback for the Bengals will be Dalton who, like Flacco, has been very inconsistent this season. When Dalton is good, he is very good and when he is bad, he is very bad.

This was evident during the game against the Ravens earlier in the season as he went 24-of-51 for 274 yards, two touchdowns, three interceptions and a quarterback rating of 52.2 while being sacked five times. The Ravens were able to effectively put pressure on him and this caused him trouble.

Expect the Ravens to try and bring the pressure again this week with various looks and alignments to confuse him. The Ravens Defense has been at its best when running an aggressive defense. When they shift to a conservative zone defense, opponents have had success. This is what happened when playing the Bengals earlier in the season. In the first half, the defense was blitzing way more than in the second half. Dalton had much more success in the second half when the Ravens were running the conservative style defense.

Two players that have had success blitzing this year for the Ravens have been middle linebacker Daryl Smith and strong safety James Ihedigbo so expect them to come blitzing early in the game.

Getting the five sacks of Dalton in the week 10 matchup were defensive ends Arthur Jones and DeAngelo Tyson (one apiece) and outside linebacker Elvis Dumervil who had three. Jones is questionable with a concussion this week and hasn't practiced all week so it is up in the air if he will play of not. If Jones can't play, then Tyson would be trust into a bigger role and he has impressed this season and is beating out third-round pick Brandon Williams for playing time right now. Dumervil is second on the team with 9.5 sacks this season, but has gone three games without a sack.

Playing opposite of Dumervil is Terrell Suggs who leads the team with ten sacks. Recently though, he has struggled to put pressure on the quarterback as he has one sack in the last seven games. This one sack came last week against the Patriots.

Despite being able to sack him five times in their prior matchup, the Bengals actually have a good offensive line and they have allowed only 29 sacks this season which is tied for fourth-best in the league.

In order to stop the Bengals' offense, the Ravens will need to apply pressure on Dalton to force him to make quick decisions which can lead to turnovers.

3.  Torrey Smith and A.J. Green
The best receivers for their teams (Ravens and Bengals respectively) both Smith and Green could be looking at big games on Sunday to finish off the regular season.

Starting with Smith, he leads the Ravens in all receiving statistics except touchdowns. He has 62 catches for 1,101 yards and four touchdowns on 131 targets. Entering the season he was mainly used as a deep threat, but he has developed into a more rounded receiver this season.

After a hot start to the season where he went over 80 yards in the first five games (92, 85, 92,166 and 121 yards). Since then though, he has topped 80 yards once and that was against the Steelers in week 13. Against the Patriots last week, it took until the third quarter for him to record a catch.

When the Ravens faced the Bengals earlier in the season he had five catches for 46 yards and one touchdown.

With his 1,101 receiving yards, he is just 100 yards away from the franchise record for most receiving yards in a single season. Michael Jackson set this record of 1,201 in 1996 — like Testaverde. If Smith's recent production holds true, he will be held just short of this record. However, expect the Ravens to target Smith often during this game as he is their most explosive receiver.

Switching to Green, he leads the Bengals in all receiving categories and is near the top in these categories for the entire league. He is tied for fifth in catches (94), third in targets (170), fourth in yards (1,365) and tied for eight in touchdowns (10).

Against the Ravens in week 10 he had eight catches for 151 yards and one touchdown. This touchdown came on a Hail Mary as time expired in the fourth quarter and forced overtime. He was able to catch the ball after Ihedigbo tipped the ball up right to Green.

With 97 more targets than the next receiver on the Bengals, he is by far Dalton's favorite target this season. This isn't just a one season thing either as Green averages 9.78 targets per game in 46 career games (him and Dalton came into the league together in 2011) and had 70 more targets than other receivers last season and 12 more in his rookie year.

Covering him for the Ravens will be a combination of Jimmy Smith and Lardarius Webb. Smith has really improved this season and held Calvin Johnson — one of the few, if not the only, wide receiver better than Green — in check two weeks ago. Therefore, expect Smith to align over Green more than Webb. The Ravens don't usually rotate their cornerbacks based on receiver, they usually just keep them on a certain side, but they would be wise to keep Smith on Green.

4.  Ravens' Offensive Line
As mentioned a little earlier, the Ravens' offensive line has had trouble this year with pass protection, but they also have struggled to create holes in the run game.

Michael Oher

Courtesy of ICON SMI

There has been some change throughout the season on the line as starting left tackle Bryant McKinnie was traded away after the Ravens traded for Eugene Monore. Left guard Kelechi Osemele has missed most of the season with a back injury and has been replaced by A.Q. Shipley. Center Gino Gradkowski was the only new starter coming into the year, but the turnover on the left side has changed that. The right side of the line has stayed the same all season with Marshal Yanda at guard and Michael Oher at tackle.

Starting with pass protection, the line has allowed 46 tackles which is tied for fourth-worst in the NFL. The line has struggled the most with blitzes and the Bengals took advantage of this the last time these two played. Backup linebacker Vincent Rey had three of the sacks and defensive end Carlos Dunlap had two. These blitzes usually resulted in unblocked pressure on Flacco and there is not much that he can do when a defensive player has a free run at him.

With 41 sacks on the season (tied for 11th best in the league), the Bengals have a formidable pass rush which the Ravens' line will have their hands full with.

Last time against the Bengals the Ravens averaged 2.8 yards per carry and this falls to 2.25 yards per carry on rushes from running back Ray Rice and Bernard Pierce and fullback Vonta Leach. All game long, these backs had no holes to run though agains the now sixth-best run defense in the league (99.8 yards per game and four yards per carry).

These run game woes are likely to continue for the Ravens in this game as the run game hasn't improved since then. The pass protection has improved over the last few weeks so it will be interesting and very important to see how the Ravens' offensive line holds up — especially with an injured Flacco at the helm of the offense.

Patriots Dominate Ravens

December 23, 2013 in Observations

In the worst loss under head coach John Harbaugh, the Baltimore Ravens were dominated at home by the New England Patriots in a 41-7 loss. The loss drops the Ravens to 8-7 and severely damages their playoffs chances. The win for the Patriots makes them 11-4 and they clinched their division prior to kickoff with a loss by the Miami Dolphins.

The Ravens were beaten in all aspects of the game and the team showed no sense of urgency despite the fact that they were fighting for a playoff spot.

This lackluster play led to the largest home loss in team history (34 points). The previous worst was 27 points to the Kansas City Chiefs back in 1999.

How bad did the Ravens play? Even the ever-reliable kicker Justin Tucker missed a field goal (37-yards) breaking his streak of 33-straight makes.

The Patriots jumped out to an early lead at M&T Bank Stadium and never looked back. Two first quarter touchdowns put them up 14-0 at the end of the first quarter and they tacked on a field goal before halftime. This 17 point deficit for the Ravens was the largest halftime deficit of the season and the largest since 2011.

At halftime, the Ravens almost had as many penalty yards (65) as total yards on offense (71). The offense never got anything going and the first time they made it into Patriots' territory was in the second half.

Finally, the Ravens scored with 9:21 left in the fourth quarter on a quarterback sneak from Joe Flacco. This put an end to the Ravens' streak of seven quarters in a row without scoring a touchdown as they scored no touchdowns last week and went three quarters this week without one.

Ray Rice

Courtesy of ICON SMI

By then though, it was too late as the score was 20-7 and after the Ravens failed on a fourth down play with just under seven minutes left in the game, it was over.

The Patriots proceeded to march down the field on eight run plays and scored a touchdown with 2:05 left. After this, the Ravens admitted defeat and sent in backup quarterback Tyrod Taylor.

Things got worse for the Ravens then as the first snap that Taylor took he wasn't able to bring in and the Patriots recovered it for a touchdown. A few plays later, Taylor threw an interception that was returned for a touchdown as well making the score 41-7.

Entering the game, the Ravens had won 10-straight regular season home finales which was the NFL's longest active streak.

Joe Flacco
Contributing to the Ravens' poor performance was Flacco who didn't look himself all game long.

The reason for this is that he was playing with a mild MCL sprain in his left knee. This injury forced him to wear a bulky breach on his knee. The injury and the brace clearly effected him throughout the game and is one of the reasons why the Ravens' offense was never able to find any rhythm.

For the game, he went 22-of-38 for 260 yards, zero touchdowns, two interceptions and had a quarterback rating of 56.9.

On the second play from scrimmage for the Ravens he under threw a wide open Torrey Smith on a deep pass. Smith had to slow down and wait for the pass after beating the cornerback that was covering him. This time waiting allowed the deep safety to come over and breakup the pass. A good throw here likely goes for a touchdown which would have given the Ravens an early 7-0 lead making it a completely different game.

Flacco's first interception came when he tried to loft a pass over a linebacker to Jacoby Jones. Flacco wasn't able to get the pass over the leaping linebacker. This linebacker deflected the pass and the cornerback, who was a step or two behind Jones, was able to corral the pass. Jones had his man beat, but Flacco wasn't able to get the pass to him. This interception came on the drive after the Patriots first touchdown and gave them the ball on their own 47-yard line. This led to the Patriots second touchdown of the game.

The second interception came on a third and two quick pass to tight end Dennis Pitta. Flacco threw the pass just slightly to the outside of Pitta and it looked like Pitta was expecting a pass to the inside. The ball bounced off of Pitta's hands and right to a Patriot. The blame on this interception can be spilt because Flacco was slightly off target, but Pitta still needs to be able to catch that pass. This game the Patriots the ball on the Baltimore 43-yard line and led to a field goal.

With those two interceptions, Flacco now has 19 on the season. This is tied for the fourth-worst in the league and is by far the most that he has thrown in one season. His previous high was 12 which occurred in 2008, 2009 and 2011.

He also had another interception dropped when he overthrew Jones by about five yards on a deep pass. The ball hit the safety right in the hands, but he wasn't able to bring it in. Jones was double-covered by a cornerback who was stride-for-stride with him and a safety over the top, so I don't know why Flacco even threw the pass.

On a fourth and three play on the Ravens' first drive of the second half, he threw to Jones on an out route, but it was broken up. On the play, he had Pitta wide open underneath for the first down and it is not like Flacco couldn't have seen Pitta as he was in the same area as Jones, just not as far downfield. It looked like Flacco made his mind up before the ball was snapped on who he was going to throw to on this play.

He was sacked four times on the day so the offensive line didn't give him much help, though one of the sacks is on him. This occurred on a third and five where he couldn't find anyone to throw to (a common theme in the game). So, he started to move around in the pocket, but he lost his footing and fell. It was his left leg that went out from underneath him — the one that has an injured knee. He admitted after the game that this is what caused him to slip and fall.

Lastly, he scored the Ravens only touchdown of the game on a one-yard quarterback sneak on second and goal. This is his first rushing touchdown of the season and the first in five games for the team.

Overall he, like the rest of the team, had a bad game. The Ravens are going to need to put this one behind them and bounce back as they try and make the playoffs while facing the Cincinnati Bengals this week in Cincinnati. The Bengals have already clinched the AFC North, but are still playing for seeding.

Ray Rice
Going up against the second-worst run defense in the league, Rice had a chance for a big game, but he wasn't able to produce the way he would have liked.

Carrying the ball 11 times, he ran for 40 yards — an average of 3.6 yards per carry.  One of his rushes went for a first down: a gain of four on second and three. This came the play after he gained seven yards on first down. On a fourth and one run from the Patriots' four-yard line late in the third quarter, Rice came up inches short.

In the passing game, he caught two passes for 23 yards. One of his catches went for a first down as well: a gain of 10 on a second and eight. His other catch was a gain of 13 on a second and 19 screen pass.

With his two catches, he now has 51 catches on the season. This marks the fifth-straight season for him with 50 catches. A sixth-year veteran, Rice has been the starter for the last five years. This streak is tied for the second-longest in Ravens' history with tight end Todd Heap. The record is six-straight seasons which was set by wide receiver Derrick Mason.

Torrey Smith
Catching three passes for 69 yards on eight targets, Smith led the Ravens in receiving yesterday.

However, his first catch didn't come until midway through the third quarter. A likely reason for this is that the Patriots had cornerback Aqib Talib covering him for most of the game. He is the Patriots' shutdown cornerback and they have him follow their opponent's best receiver around the field.

All three of his catches went for first downs. His big play of the game came on a third and six where he gained 42 yards on a curl route. He caught the pass and then stiff-armed a defender away. This allowed him to sprint up the sideline for a big gain and put the ball on the Patriots' 13-yard line. His other two first down catches were gain of 10 on second and six and 17 on second and 10.

He also drew a pass interference call that put the ball on the Patriots' two-yard line. This penalty gave the Ravens 23 yards and two plays later, Flacco scored on his quarterback sneak.

Marlon Brown
At the other receiver for most of the game was Brown who recorded four catches for 51 yards on seven targets.

Three of his four catches went for first downs: a gain of 14 on second and five, a gain of six on third and eight and a gain of 21 on on second and three. On this gain of 21, he ran a shallow crossing route along with Pitta. He bumped into the player covering Brown by mistake (he didn't see him until it was too late). This freed Brown up for yards after the catch as there was no defender trailing him. He was going to make the catch regardless, but this contact freed him up for a much bigger gain.

On this catch, Brown hurt his hip on the tackle. He landed on this hip as he fell to the ground. This injury caused him to miss the rest of the drive, but he was back in on the next drive.

A problem for the Ravens' receivers this season has been getting separation from defenders and this game was no different. Smith, Brown and the other receivers have problems creating separation and this is one of the reasons for the offense's struggles this year.

Offensive Line
Giving up four sacks and averaging 3.28 yards per carry on designed rushes, the offensive line again struggled this week.

Three of the four sacks are the responsibility of the offensive line as Flacco fell on one which was talked about above.

All three of these sacks came from the right side of the line which is manned by right guard Marshal Yanda and right tackle Michael Oher.

One sack came on a third and eight and resulted in a loss of seven. It was a simple cornerback blitz and Oher blocked the defensive lineman that crashed to the inside after lining up over him. The cornerback then came into the area vacated by the lineman. Oher needs to see this and block the cornerback while allowing Yanda — who was blocking nobody on the play — to take the defensive lineman.

Another sack came on a first and 10 where Oher allowed fast pressure off the edge which forced Flacco to step up in the pocket. By stepping up to avoid the pressure from the outside, he went right into the lineman that Yanda was trying to block. This sack went for a loss of seven as well and put the ball on the Ravens' three-yard line.

The last sack was solely on Oher. It came on a third and six and he was beaten on a bull-rush. The defensive lineman just overpowered Oher on the way to sacking Flacco for a loss of five.

Center Gino Gradkowski snapped the ball wide right of Taylor who was in for his first snap. This bad snap was recovered by the Patriots for a touchdown. Yes, the game was already over when this happened, but this is and inexcusable mistake.

Left guard A.Q. Shipley has flagged for illegal use of hands to the face.

Arthur Jones
One of the the breakout performers of the season for the Ravens has been Jones who was expected to start at defensive end, but wasn't being counted on to produce the way he has.

Currently, he leads the defensive linemen in tackles with 53 and he had another good game against the Patriots in run defense.

He totaled eight tackles, tied for the second most on the team, and four of them were for run stops. These run stops were for gains of zero, negative two, two and three. The last two were shared with Haloti Ngata and Terrence Cody respectively. The most impressive ones — gains of zero and negative two — were solo though.

On the negative side, Jones was penalized for illegal use of hands to the face. He also left the game with an apparent concussion and didn't return. This is something that should be monitored as the Ravens prepare for the Bengals. Earlier in the season against he Bengals he had four tackles and one sack.

Haloti Ngata
Next to Jones on the defensive line is Ngata, who plays the all-important nose tackle in the Ravens' 3-4 defensive scheme.

With the second most tackles on the defensive line with 45, he is having a good season as a run defender, but his pass rushing has suffered since moving over from his defensive end spot that he play last season.

Against the Patriots he had six tackles and three of them were run stops (two were shared). On a first and goal run play for the Patriots, he stopped the play for a gain of two. He also had a run stop for a gain of two which was shared with Jones and a run stop for a gain of one which was shared with Chris Canty, the other starting defensive end.

For the second straight game, and the third time this season, Ngata got his hands on a pass at the line-of-scrimmage. This pass deflection came on a first and 10 pass play.

Terrell Suggs
After recording nine sacks in the first eight games of the season, Suggs had gone six-straight games without a sack entering the game yesterday.

Terrell Suggs and Haloti Ngata

Courtesy of ICON SMI

Late in the third quarter, he beat the left tackle with a hesitation move on third and two inside the Patriots' 15-yard line. Patriots' quarterback Tom Brady saw Suggs coming and fell to the ground to avoid getting hit hard. Touching Brady down, Suggs had his first sack since week nine against the Cleveland Browns which was Nov. 3.

This sack gives him 10.0 on the season and this is the fifth time in his 11 seasons that this has happened. (The other times were 2003, 2004, 2010 and 2011).

Along with his sack, he had five tackles and two quarterback hits.

Three of his tackles came in the form of run stops. These were for a loss of three and two gains of two. The second of which was shared with middle linebacker Daryl Smith.

On another run play, Suggs had good penetration and was in line to make the play for little to no gain, but the Patriot trying to block him was flagged for holding, the correct call.

Daryl Smith
Leading the team, and the game, in tackles by three was Smith who has done this plenty of times this season. With these 11 tackles, he set a new career high. He entered the game with 107 which was his career high set in 2009 and tied again in 2011.

During the Patriots second drive, he left the game with an injury and missed the rest of the drive. He was able to return the next time the Patriots had the ball though.

As usual, he blitzed multiple times during the game and — as usual — he had success, recording half of a sack, his fifth of the season. This sack came on a third and nine and resulted in a loss of eight. He, along with outside linebacker Courtney Upshaw, got to Brady and took him down. Originally, the officials threw a flag for defensive holding on one of the Ravens rushing the passer. However, the flag was waved off and no number was ever given.

In pass coverage, he allowed two passes to be completed for 14 yards and one went for a first down. On the one that went for a first down, Jameel McClain forced a fumble as the receiver, Danny Amendola, went to the ground. This was recovered by cornerback Lardarius Webb. However, this play was reviewed and replay showed that Amendola's forearm was down before the ball came loose. Smith also had a pass defensed on a second and seven play.

Moving to run defense, he had two run stops and both of them are shared. The first was a gain of two which was shared with McClain and the other was a gain of two which was shared with Suggs.

Cornerbacks
Brady and the Patriots' passing attack didn't do much damage to the Ravens as he went 14-of-26 for 172 yards and one touchdown. However, he was efficient and had a quarterback rating of 87.3.

Webb allowed two of these passes to be completed for 10 yards and neither of these two plays went for first downs. He had good pass coverage on a deep pass on second and 10 and was rewarded was a pass defensed, his 21st of the season which is a new career-high. Entering the game he had 20 which was his previous high which was set in 2011.

He had four tackles and one of them was a run stop for a gain of two. He has always been a willing run defender which is something you don't see in most cornerbacks. On the negative side, he was called for two penalties. The first was for illegal contact and the other was a personal foul for unnecessary roughness with just over two minutes left in the game. The game was already decided by then so it wasn't needed. CBS never showed a replay of this penalty so I don't know what he did to warrant the flag.

After going up against Calvin Johnson last week, Jimmy Smith allowed three catches for 38 yards and three first downs. One of these first downs came on a third down. Along with giving up these catches, he had four tackles and was called for two penalties. The first was a pass interference in the end zone which gave the Patriots the ball on the one-yard line. This penalty was for 34 yards and the Patriots scored the next play. He grabbed wide receiver Julian Edelman so this was the right call. The other penalty was a personal foul on a punt return which pushed the Ravens back to their own seven-yard line. Again, CBS didn't show a replay so I don't know what Smith did.

As the nickel cornerback Corey Graham was tested in this game and only allowed one catch which went for 15 yards and a first down. He missed a tackle on the play which allowed the receiver to pick up extra yards.

Tucker Kicks Ravens To Victory

December 17, 2013 in Observations

On the Baltimore Ravens only appearance on Monday Night Football this season, they defeated the Detroit Lion 18-16. The win gives the Ravens a record of 8-6 and drops the Lions to 7-7.

With this win, the Ravens have now won four straight games after starting the season 4-6. At that point in time, it looked like they wouldn't make the playoffs, but now if they win their next two games (home vs New England and at Cincinnati), the Ravens will win the AFC North. They can also clinch a playoff berth next week with a win along with a loss from Miami and a loss or tie from San Diego.

Entering the game, the Ravens had a losing record on Monday Night Football games, but the win makes their all-time record 9-9. Under head coach Johns Harbaugh, the Ravens are 5-3.

In my post previewing key aspects of the game, I said that the game would come down to the fourth quarter and that turnovers would be key. Well, the game did come down to the fourth quarter as the Lions scored a touchdown with 2:21 left and after a two-point conversion failed, they were up 16-15. The Ravens then drove down the field and kicked a game-winning 61-yard field goal with 38 seconds left in the game.

The Ravens also won the turnover battle, forcing three interceptions and never turning the ball over.

Justin Tucker
Carrying the Ravens to victory by kicking the said 61-yard field goal was Tucker, the second-year kicker out of Texas.

Sam Koch and Justin Tucker

Courtesy of ICON SMI

In the game, he did more than just kick a 61-yard field goal though as he scored all 18 of the Ravens points. These 18 points came on field goals from 29, 24, 32, 49, 53 and 61 yards. By kicking six field goals in a game, he set a new franchise record and he became the first kicker in NFL history to make field goals in the 20s, 30s, 40s, 50s and 60s in the same game.

His most important kick of the night almost didn't happen. It was fourth and eight from the Lions' 43-yard line. Originally, the Ravens lined up to go for it on fourth down, but they called a timeout and trotted him out to attempt a 61-yard field goal.

The snap and hold were perfect, and he got just enough of the ball to kick it through the uprights. The ball sailed into the bottom right corner of the goalposts and barely made it over the crossbar.

This field goal is the second-longest on Monday Night Football and is the longest field goal made in an indoor stadium. It is also the longest kick in franchise history — five yards longer than the 56-yard field that was the previous record (set by Wade Richey in 2003 and tied by Tucker last year).

On the ensuing kickoff he blasted the ball well out of the end zone — presumably energized by his kick just minutes prior.

With his six field goals he totaled 248 yards. To put that in comparison, the Ravens passed for 215 yards and the Lions passed for 230.

By kicking six fields, he extended his streak of consecutive field goals made to 33 in a row. This is the longest active streak in the league and is just a few away from the Ravens' team record of 36 which was set by Matt Stover.

Yet again, Tucker was the reason for the Ravens' victory as he bailed out the Ravens' offense that couldn't score touchdowns. He now leads the NFL in field goals made with 35.

Joe Flacco 
Orchestrating the Ravens' game-winning drive for the fourth time this season was Flacco, but this drive was much different than the previous ones.

What was different this time was he led the drive while clearly hurting. Earlier in the fourth quarter, he took an illegal hit just below his knee.

Lions' linebacker DeAndre Levy burst through the line and dove at Flacco. Levy's helmet hit just below Flacco's knee. These are the type of plays where players tear knee ligaments (hence why these hits on quarterbacks are supposed to be flagged). However, there was no flag on the play (just one of many questionable calls throughout the game). Anyways, he stayed down for a little bit, but eventually got up and continued to play.

When he returned to the sidelines, the trainers taped his knee up and he didn't miss a snap. Looking at the play, it seemed like he could have hurt his MCL as he was hit on the outside of the knee. However, the Ravens don't plan on getting a MRI on the knee so it clearly isn't a serious injury. It did effect him for the rest of the game though. You could clearly see that he was throwing off his back foot and trying to not put that much stress on his left knee.

On the game-winning drive, he was 2-of-5 for 27 yards, but was able to get the job done.

Throwing for 222 yards, he went 20-of-38 with no touchdowns or interceptions and had a passer rating of 70.3. From the start of the game, he looked good. He was on target and was throwing a very tight spiral with good velocity.

When the game was on the line, he yet again led the Raven to victory with a game-winning drive. He can look average for an entire game, but when the game is on the line, he has been great.

Jacoby Jones
Another key player on the Ravens' final drive, for two different reasons, was Jones. Along with performing well on the final drive, he also led the Ravens in receiving.

He caught six passes for 90 yards on nine targets and converted three of these catches into first downs. The punt that he returned he gained 24 yards and almost broke free for a touchdown.

On the final drive, he took kickoff from the Lions three yards deep in the end zone ran it back 36 yards to the Ravens' 33-yard line. This set the Ravens up with good field position on their final drive.

After a false start and an incomplete pass, the Ravens faced third and 15 from their own 28-yard line. Enter Jones, who gained 27 yards over the middle and put the ball at the Lions' 45-yard line.

These two plays set up Tucker to kick his 61-yard field goal. Without Jones, the Ravens likely aren't able to score in the final minute and they lose the game.

Torrey Smith
While Smith may not have had a big role in the final drive like Jones (one target and zero catches), he did set a new franchise record and reached a career milestone.

With four catches for 69 yards on 12 targets, he was second on the team in receiving. Three of these catches went for first downs: a gain of 25 on second and 11, a gain of 22 on first and 10 and a gain of 19 on second and nine.

His franchise record came on his first catch of the game — the gain of 25 on second and 11. With that catch, he became the franchise leader in catches of 25-plus yards with 36. Being that he is in his third season and assuming he continues to play with the Ravens after he contract expires next season, he is likely to shatter this record in the years to come.

Moving to his career milestone, he topped the 1,000-yard mark in the first half. Finishing the game with 1,032 yards, this is the first time in his short career that he has broken 1,000 yards in a season. In his rookie year he had 841 yards and followed that up with 855 last year. He seemed set to have a breakout year this season with the departure of Anquan Boldin and the injury to Dennis Pitta.

With two games to play, Smith needs just 170 yards to set a new franchise record for most receiving yards in a season. The current record is 1,201 which was set by Michael Jackson in 1996 — the franchise's inaugural season.

Offensive Line
Facing a tough matchup against the Lions' defensive line, the Ravens' offensive line held their own and were a key reason why the Ravens' offense was able to move the ball.

It wasn't a dominant performance by any means, but it wasn't awful either. The line held steady in the run game and pass protection for the most part. Surprisingly, the Ravens were able to average 4.3 yards per carry in the run game on 21 attempts (90 yards). Early in the game, running backs Ray Rice and Bernard Pierce were hit in the line-of-scrimage too often. This improved in the second half though.

For the most part the pass protection was good bar a few plays. Only one sack was allowed and the line was able to neutralize the Lions' pass rush.

The sack was actually allowed by Rice when he was in pass protection, though center Gino Gradkowski was beaten bad on the play as well by Ndamukong Suh. Flacco fumbled on this play and Gradkowski made the heads up play to recover the ball.

Suh, the star of the Lions' defense, was held in check by the interior linemen with right guard Marshal Yanda doing most of the good work.

Yanda was called for a false start along with left tackle Eugene Monroe with Monroe's came on the final drive. He also was called for holding which was declined due to an incomplete pass. The last bad thing that Monroe did was allow a free rusher to go right past him. Monroe down blocked to double team the defensive tackle despite a defensive end being lined up over him. This defensive end had instant pressure and forced Flacco to throw the ball before he wanted to before he was hit. The play resulted in an incompletion and caused the Ravens to settle for a field goal.

Right tackle Michael Oher allowed a pressure on third and six that saw his man reach out his arm and hit Flacco as he threw — causing an interception.

Haloti Ngata
According to Pro Football Focus, Ngata had his best game since week 12 of the 2011 season and it was definitely his best performance recently.

From his position at nose tackle, he recorded five tackles, two pass deflections and one quarterback hit.

Starting with his run defense, he had four run stops for losses of one, zero, three and one. The first run stop was on the second play of the game, the stop for zero yards came with assistance from outside linebacker Courtney Upshaw and the second stop for one yard came when the Lions had the ball on the Ravens' 15-yard line.

While ESPN is currently only crediting Ngata with one pass deflection, he clearly got his hands on two passes from Matthew Stafford, the Lions' quarterback. The first came at the line-of-scrimmage as Ngata slightly deflected the ball. The ball then bounced off running back Reggie Bush, the target on the play, and was intercepted by DeAngelo Tyson (for more see below). The other pass deflection also came at the line-of-scrimmage as Ngata swatted away a pass on first and 10.

Pass rushing, he had a very quick quarterback hit as he disposed of the Lions' right guard and raced into the backfield. Stafford was still able to complete the pass, but Ngata still made an impressive play.

The only real negatives from the game come in the form of two offsides penalties — the second of which was declined due to a gain of 37 on a pass play.

DeAngelo Tyson
A sight not very often seen in NFL games is a 315-pound defensive lineman dropping into pass coverage. Even rarer yet is seeing this said lineman intercepting a pass. Early in the third quarter, this is exactly what happened.

On the play, a third and one from the Ravens' 31-yard line, the Ravens blitzed and this blitz had Tyson falling back into coverage while others rushed the passer. Stafford's pass was tipped at the line by Ngata and then Bush failed to bring in the pass.

Bush deflected the ball right to Tyson. He then hit the ball back to himself for the interception — his first of his career.

This interception gave the Ravens the ball at their own 27-yard line and likely took three points off the board from the Lions. If the pass fell incomplete, then the Lions would have attempted a field goal from about 48 yards away.

Daryl Smith
Commanding the Ravens' defense from his middle linebacker spot was Smith and he had another good game.

He only had five tackles, but he also added a sack, and an interception.

But first, there was something else that stood out to me about Smith last night. Every time the Lions' went into an empty formation (nobody next to Stafford in the backfield), Smith called an audible to a blitz. This was clearly part of the Ravens' game plan for the game and was very effective as the Lions weren't able to block the blitzes and this forced Stafford to throw before he wanted to. Tyson's interception came on a blitz that Smith had audibled to.

Back to his individual accomplishments in this game, Smith's sack came on a second and 10 when he blitzed between the center and right guard. Unblocked, he came upon Stafford and forced him to stumble. He fell a few yards later for a loss of five. This sack give Smith 4.5 for the season — a new career high.

With his five tackles, he tied a career high for combined tackles in a season with 107.

In pass coverage, he had an interceptions and allowed three pass to be caught against him with two going for first downs and the other going for a touchdown.

On the touchdown, he had good coverage, but it was just a good pass and catch. He was also giving up five inches on the play to Joseph Fauria, the Lions 6'7" red zone specialist.

Smith was the beneficiary of some questionable decision making by Stafford on Smith's interception. It was a third and two and for some reason, Stafford tried to force a sidearm pass into a very tight window. The ball went right to Smith and he returned it three yards the the Lions' 34-yard line, leading to a field goal.

Matt Elam
In an interview in the days before the game, Elam called Lions' star wide receiver Calvin Johnson "pretty old" and this sparked controversy as Johnson is the best receiver in the league and only 28-years old. Letting his play do his talking, he played the best game of his rookie season.

Starting off, he led the Ravens with 10 tackles and added an interception. Three of these tackles came for run stops and he also helped out on another. The run stops came for gains of two, negative three and two with the assist coming for a gain of one.

Matt Elam

Courtesy of ICON SMI

What is impressive about these run stops was that he was playing as a deep safety on these plays. He quickly diagnosed the play and ran up to make the stop. This is where he is at his best as he is a natural strong safety, but he is playing out of position at free safety so that the Ravens can play their best players.

In pass coverage, he only allowed one catch which was a gain of 17 on first and 10. The receiver caught the ball about eight yards downfield, but Elam missed the tackle right away which gave up extra yardage. This play put the ball on the Ravens' 14-line and Bush scored a touchdown on the next play.

Elam's interception came on the Lions' first play after Tucker's 61-yard field goal. Stafford's pass sailed on him and Elam collected the overthrow to seal the victory. He bobbled the ball at first and almost dropped it before securing it and falling down to not risk a fumble. His first career interception couldn't have come at a better time for the Ravens.

He was also called for one penalty. This was unnecessary roughness on the opening drive of the game when he hit Stafford as he was sliding — a clear penalty. This gave the Lions a key first down as it was third down and Stafford was stopped short. Just outside of field goal range, the Lions would have had to punt, but instead they had a second life and were able to score a touchdown.

This performance from Elam was clearly his best of the season and shows his potential.

Cornerbacks
Tasked with trying to cover Johnson, the Ravens' cornerbacks had the toughest assignment possible and they did a good job. Johnson was held to six catches for 98 yards on 14 yards. He also had three costly drops.

Going up against Johnson most of the time was Jimmy Smith. He allowed four of these catches for 43 yards and gave up two first downs while having tight coverage. His tight coverage forced an incompletion on a deep pass and forced Johnson to catch a crucial two-point conversion out-of-bounds. If Johnson caught this, Tucker's field goal would have only tied the game. Overall, it was a great game from Smith as he went toe-to-toe with the best receiver in the league and was able to hold his own.

Lardarius Webb gave up only two catches for five yards and they came on back-to-back plays. The first was a quick slant that he read right away on second and 10. He delivered a big hit, but the receiver was able to hold on to the ball. The following play, the Lions ran a wide receiver screen that he stopped for no gain. Late in the third quarter on a third and nine play from the Ravens' 22-yard line, he had single coverage on a go route into the end zone. He held onto the arm of the receiver while the ball was coming, but no flag was thrown. A flag should have been thrown giving the Lions a first and goal from the one-yard line. Instead, the Lions had to settle for a field goal to cut the Ravens' lead to 12-10. Webb also had a run stop for a gain of two.

Corey Graham had a quiet game. He didn't give up any catches and had two tackles and a quarterback hit. He was in coverage on one of Johnson's drops and was beaten bad. Johnson was wide open and had a chance to score, but dropped an easy catch. The quarterback hit forced Stafford to throw a check-down pass. Graham also had a run stop for a gain of one after Elam slowed the running back down.

The Fourth Quarter Will Be The Key: Ravens vs Lions

December 15, 2013 in What to Look For

In the Baltimore Ravens first Monday Night Football appearance of the season, they will travel to the Motor City to take on the Detroit Lions. Entering the game, the Ravens are 7-6 and have won three straight games and four of their last five. The Lions are also 7-6, enter the game having lost three of their last four.

Both teams are in the midst of playoff races and being week 15, a loss by either team could be devastating to their playoff chances. Currently, the Ravens are the sixth seed in the AFC and they control their own destiny. If they win their final three games, they will make the playoffs. The Lions are the fourth seed in the NFC right now as they lead the NFC North division. This division looks like it will come down to the wire though as the Chicago Bears are also 7-6 and the Green Bay Packers are lurking just behind at 6-6-1.

1.  Fourth Quarter
Last week against the Minnesota Vikings — the fourth team in NFC North — the Ravens played a game for the ages that had one of the craziest finishes in history. The Ravens and Vikings combined to score five touchdowns in the games final 2:07 after entering this point with a low score of 12-7 in favor of the Vikings.

This week the fourth quarter is going to be important yet again — though likely without the craziness. With two playoff contenders facing each other and both knowing that a loss would be devastating for their playoff hopes, there is going to be a playoff-like atmosphere at Ford Field tomorrow night. Games like this are usually close and are decided in the fourth quarter and this one should be no different.

Heading into this game, both teams are going in different directions in terms of fourth quarter performance. (Kind of).

Joe Flacco

Courtesy of ICON SMI

For the Ravens, their defense is reeling after allowing multiple touchdowns in the final few minutes of the game. This has actually been a common theme in Ravens games this season. Despite playing great football all game long, the defense will not be able to get a stop when it matters the most late in games.

My reasoning for this is that the defense gets too conservative in these situations. Defensive coordinator Dean Pees will call an aggressive game, but then go conservative with three or four pass rushers and the rest of the defense back in soft zone coverage. The defense just hasn't been effective while running this style of defense at all this season.

On offense for the Ravens, things are the exact opposite. While quarterback Joe Flacco already has set a career high in interceptions (17) and is having an inconsistent year, he has shown up in the fourth quarters of games.

Despite ranking 30th in the NFL in passer rating (77.0) and 20th in QBR (52.7), he has the third highest QBR (82.1) in the fourth quarter this season of quarterbacks who have at least seven starts.

Even more impressive, he has been the best since the start of October with a QBR of 96.9 and passer rating of 132.4 with less than five minutes left in the fourth quarter — situations that would be described as clutch. He also has thrown four touchdowns, zero interceptions and has completed 63.3 percent of his passes in these situations.

His performance against the Vikings last week is a perfect example of this as he led the Ravens down the field on two separate occasions to take the lead — including the game winner.

Moving on to the Lions, their entire team is struggling in the fourth quarter right now. Starting with the defense, they have allowed 112 points in the fourth quarter this season (8.6 per game) which is the second most in the league.

Last week against the Philadelphia Eagles, the Lions entered the fourth quarter up 14-6. By the time the game ended, the score was 34-20. The defense allowed four touchdowns in this time period. Against the Pittsburgh Steelers a few weeks ago, the Lions gave up two touchdowns in the final five minutes to go from up four to losing by 10.

While the performance of the defense hasn't been pretty, the offense hasn't provided any help. Over their last three losses the offense has run 48 plays for 95 yards (1.98 yards per play). Adding to this they have five turnovers — three fumbles and two interceptions. Lastly, they have scored just six points in the fourth quarter of these three games.

If this game plays out as expected, it will come down to the fourth quarter. Right now, the Ravens enter playing better in the fourth quarter and are coming off a win where they locked the game up with a touchdown with four seconds left. The Lions enter the game absolutely reeling on both offense and defense.

2.  Containing Calvin Johnson
After facing the best running back in the league last week in Adrian Peterson, the Ravens now have to face the best wide receiver in the league.

The Ravens were able to hold Peterson to 13 yards on seven carries before he left and never returned with a foot injury. This week though, don't expect as much success.

Eighth in the league in catches (75), fourth in targets (138), second in yards (1,351), fourth in yards per catch (18.0), second in touchdowns (12), second in catches of more than 20 yards, third in yards per game (112.6), 10th in yards after the catch (464) and second in first downs (62), Johnson, nicknamed Megatron, is a force to be reckoned with. It is worth noting that he missed one game this season with a knee injury so his stats could be even higher.

How important is he to quarterback Matthew Stafford and the Lions' offense? Combine the receiving yards and touchdowns from the seven other players who have played wide receiver for the Lions this season and they will come up 258 yards and seven touchdowns short of Johnson.

At times, Stafford will just throw the ball up to Johnson hoping he can make the catch and knowing that it is very likely. Standing 6'5" and weighing 236 pounds, he is a physical specimen and is easily the best receiver of this generation.

Like every other team in the league, the Ravens will have trouble stopping him. Many teams have had their best cover cornerback shadow Johnson all over the field, but it is likely that the Ravens won't do this. When going up against other top receivers this season, the Ravens haven't moved their cornerbacks around.

Most of the time, Johnson lines up on the outside so he will see either Lardarius Webb or Jimmy Smith when the Ravens are in their base defense and either Smith or Corey Graham when the Ravens are in nickel.

If the Ravens had to choose a defender to go up against Johnson, they would want it to be Smith. At 6'2", he is the tallest of the bunch and is the most physical. He is also having a breakout season that has seen him step up his game into becoming worthy of a number one cornerback and is living up to the hype that came with being the Ravens' first round pick in 2011. Over the last 10 games, he has given up just 22 catches and for the season, he has allowed 39.

Smith has actually faced Johnson before, albeit in a preseason game back when Smith was a rookie. In the limited time they matched up against each other, Smith allowed an 18-yard touchdown catch and was called for holding.

This time, the matchup will be different as Smith now has experience and is playing the best football of his career.

Earlier in the week, Ravens' free safety Matt Elam called Johnson "pretty old" in an interview. In the same interview, Elam described Johnson as "big, fast, athletic, unstoppable, freak." However, the comment about his age stood out and rightfully so.

"He's pretty old, so I don't know how physical he'll be," Elam said. "He's a big guy, but he's older. I guess when they get older they're not going to be as physical, you know what I'm saying? We're going to have to be physical, make him uncomfortable."

At 28-years old, Johnson is anything but old and is still going very strong in the NFL. He is also a very physical receiver so it is hard to see where Elam is coming from.

Just for reference, the last time a player said something like this about Johnson he had his best game of the season. Dallas Cowboys receiver Dez Bryant said he could do anything Johnson could do. In their game against each other, Bryant had three catches for 72 yards and two touchdowns. All Johnson did was catch 14 passes for 329 yards and one touchdown. This was just the fifth time a receiver had more than 300 yards in a game and was the second best all-time, just seven yards behind Flipper Anderson's record of 336 set in 1989.

3.  Ravens' Offensive Line vs Lions' Defensive Line
The strength of the Lions' defense is their defensive line and the weakness of the the Ravens' offense this season has been their offensive line. Therefore, this matchup is going to be very important this week.

The Lions' defensive line is headed by three first round draft picks: defensive tackles Ndamukong Suh, Nick Fairley and defensive end Ezekiel Ansah. Suh was drafted in 2010, Fairley in 2011 and Ansah was drafted this season. By drafting defensive linemen with three of their last four first round picks, the Lions have made a clear investment into their defensive line and want it to anchor their defense.

So far this season, Suh, the star of the group, has 42 tackles and 5.5 sacks, Fairley has 25 tackles and 3.5 sacks and Ansah has 27 tackles and seven sacks. At the other defensive end position is Willie Young who has 41 tackles and three sacks.

Bernard Pierce

Courtesy of ICON SMI

Ansah is questionable for the game with a shoulder injury and practiced on a limited basis on Friday.

Though improving over the recent weeks, the Ravens' offensive line is still the weak point of the offense. The main improvements have come in the form of pass protection. For the season, the Ravens have allowed 41 sacks which is tied for 28th worst in the league. Recently though, these sacks have been coming in the form of coverage sacks, where the offensive line isn't to blame as there is no open receiver for Flacco to throw to.

When the line has struggled the most in pass protection, it has come against teams that blitz often. The line hasn't been able to pickup these incoming blitzes very well resulting in unblocked pressure on Flacco. The Lions like to rush just their four defensive lineman a lot and this is where the Ravens' offensive line has had more success.

Run blocking has been an entirely different story for the Ravens' line. They have provided very few holes for running backs Ray Rice and Bernard Pierce to go through. When the line does provide good blocking, Rice and Pierce do well — as you would expect. The Lions have the sixth best run defense in terms of total yards and yards per game, so it is unlikely that the Ravens will have success running the ball.

Overall, the key for the Ravens' offense is to neutralize the defensive line of the Lions if they are to win the game.

4.  Turnovers
In close game, turnovers usually are a deciding factor. Since this is expected to be a close game, turnovers, like the fourth quarter, are going to be important.

Both the Ravens and the Lions have struggled with turnovers this season and the reason for both teams has been their quarterback.

The Ravens have turned the ball over 22 times (17 interceptions and five fumbles) while only forcing 17 (nine interceptions and eight fumbles). This puts them at a negative five turnover differential. Flacco has been the main player behind these turnovers as he has already thrown five more interceptions than he has in a season before and there are still three games left to play.

For the Lions, they have turned the ball over 28 times (14 interceptions and 14 fumbles) while forcing 18 (13 interceptions and five fumbles). Their turnover differential is even worse than the Ravens at negative 10, mainly due to the whopping 14 fumbles. Last week against the Eagles, the Lions played in heavy snow and fumbled seven times. They only lost three of these fumbles, but seven still a ton. Stafford alone had five of these fumbles (one lost).

With the game being played indoors in the comfort of Ford Field, the weather won't be a factor tomorrow night which is a good thing for both teams. Along with the Lions, the Ravens also played in snowy weather last week and Flacco threw three interceptions.

However, there will still be turnovers as both teams have been prone to them throughout the season. Whichever team turns the ball over the least, should win this game.

Ravens Win In Crazy Finish

December 9, 2013 in Observations

With snow pouring down on M&T Bank Stadium for most of the afternoon, the Baltimore Ravens beat the Minnesota Vikings 29-26. The win pushes the Ravens record to 7-6 and keeps them as the sixth seed in the AFC. The loss for the Vikings makes their record 3-9-1.

Entering the fourth quarter, the Ravens were nursing a 7-6 lead, but the Vikings quickly scored a touchdown on an eight-yard pass to Jerome Simpson. All was quiet after this for a while.

The next score came with 2:05 left in the game where Ravens' quarterback Joe Flacco hit tight end Dennis Pitta for a one-yard touchdown catch on fourth and goal. At this point, it looked like the game could be over and the Ravens would be victorious with a 15-12 lead after they converted a two-point conversion. But that was far from true.

It took the Vikings all of two plays to answer the Ravens' score. A 27-yard pass to Cordarrelle Patterson set up a 41-yard run by Toby Gerhart on a draw that caught the Ravens' defense by surprise. This gave the Vikings a 19-15 lead.

Not to be outdone, the Ravens replied without even giving the ball to their offense. Jacoby Jones took an intentionally short kickoff 77 yards for a touchdown to give the Ravens a 22-19 lead and sent the home crowd into bedlam as they assumed this would be the game winner.

This time, it took the Vikings three plays to score as Patterson caught a screen pass and went 79 yards for a touchdown to put the Vikings up 26-22 — stunning the previously jubilant Ravens' crowd.

With 45 seconds and two timeouts, Flacco and the Ravens got the ball back at their own 20-yard line. A 35-yard catch, 18-yard penalty and an 18-yard catch later, the Ravens had the ball at the Vikings nine-yard line with just 10 seconds left and were out of timeouts.

Dropping back to pass, Flacco looked to the back of the end zone where he saw wide receiver Marlon Brown open. Dragging his right foot and with his left foot firmly on the ground, Brown reeled in the game-winning pass with four seconds left in the game giving the Ravens the 29-26 victory.

To recap: there were 42 points scored in the fourth quarter (36 in the final few minutes) and only 13 points in the first three quarters. It didn't matter if you missed the first 57 minutes of the game as long as you caught the final three.

Two NFL firsts were set with this crazy fourth quarter. It was the first time in NFL history that there were six lead changes in the fourth quarter (and five of them were in the final 2:07). Second, it was the first time that there were five touchdowns scored in the last 2:07 of a game. In fact, it was the fastest that five touchdowns have been scored in a game — more than halving the previous record off five minutes and 40 seconds.

Joe Flacco
By leading the Ravens to victory on the final drive of the game, Flacco had his 18th career game-winng drive in the fourth quarter or overtime.

With this win, he is now has 61 wins in his first six NFL seasons — a new record. He entered the game tied with Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger.

Joe Flacco

Courtesy of ICON SMI

For the game, Flacco went 28-of-50 for 245 yards, three touchdowns, three interceptions and had a quarterback rating of 64.2. He also ran one time for 22 yards on a scramble that led to a touchdown a few plays later.

On his first interception, the offensive line provided him with all day to throw the ball and he tried to hit running back Bernard Pierce on a wheel route. Simply put, Flacco under threw Pierce — who had a step on the defender — and the Vikings now had the Ball at their own 18-yard line. At this time in the game (very early on), the snow was still coming down heavily so this could explain the under throw from Flacco.

The next interception came when he was trying to do too much. He had scrambled out of the pocket, but instead of throwing the ball away, he tried to force it to tight end Ed Dickson on the sideline. A Vikings' defender jumped in front of Dickson and made a diving catch. This turnover led to the Vikings first touchdown. Many times this season, Flacco hasn't thrown the ball away when he should and it has hurt the Ravens.

While the responsibility of the first two interceptions rests solely on Flacco, he holds little to no responsibility for his third one. Trying to hit Jones on a deep pass, Flacco got the ball on target, but Jones dropped it and it bounced to a Vikings' defender who made a juggling catch.

Coming into the game, Flacco had only thrown three interceptions at home this season and he doubled that this week. For the season, he now has 17 interceptions — tied for third worst in the league.

On the plus side for he, as the weather cleared up, he performed better. By the time the second half came around, it was snowing less and he started to heat up.

When the game was on the line, he was at his best. On the Ravens final two drive, he went 7-of-10 for 62 yards, two touchdowns and had a passer rating of 125.8.

Yes he threw three interceptions, but he came through when it mattered the most and got the Ravens a much needed win.

Ray Rice
Going up against the 23rd-best run defense in the league, Rice struggled to get going in the first half, but found success in the second.

A tale of two halves, he ran for 18 yards on eight carries in the first and broke lose for 49 yards on nine carries in the second. A possible reason for this was the field conditions improved after halftime and this would have given him better footing for cuts.

Speaking of the weather, while running out of the tunnel onto the field before the game, he slipped and fell — thankfully, there was none of this from him during the game.

At the end of the game, he had 17 carries for 67 yards (an average of 3.9 yards). He also caught five passes for 42 yards. Three of his runs went for first downs: a gain of three on second and two, a gain of 12 on first and 10 and a gain of 12 on second and 10. He also took two passes for first downs: a gain of 13 on first and 10 and a gain of nine on third and seven.

Overall, it was a good day for nice despite the snowy conditions. A bad first half marred his total stats, but his second half was very impressive.

Dennis Pitta
After missing most of training camp, all of the pre season and 12 regular season games, Pitta made his return to the football field.

Early on in training camp, he dislocated and fractured his hip. At the time he feared his football career was over and never would have thought he would be playing this season. Head coach John Harbaugh initially ruled Pitta out for the season, but there he was on the snowy tundra making diving catches and having a major impact on the game.

Playing 41 percent of the Ravens snaps (just two of them run plays), he played a limited amount of snaps as expected. This snap count didn't stop him from being the Ravens second leading receiver though as he caught six passes for 48 yards and one touchdown on 11 targets.

Early in the game, he struggled as it was his first game since the Super Bowl in February, but he was able to find his groove later on and make an impact.

Three of his catches went for first downs including two on third downs. The first of which was a fully-extended diving catch where he body was parallel to the ground — talk about coming back with no fears.

When the game was on the line, he, like Flacco, performed his best. Scoring the first of the five touchdowns late in the game, Pitta ran a quick out route on the goal line. It was a fourth and goal situation from the one-yard line and if the Ravens didn't score, the game was likely over.

On the Ravens final drive of the game — the actual game winner — he drew a pass interference penalty which gave the Ravens 18 yards and moved the ball to the Vikings 27-yard line. While it was a questionable call, the penalty negated a Vikings interception. The ensuing play, he caught an 18-yard pass over the middle of the field which set the Ravens up with first and goal from the Vikings' nine-yard line. By now, you know what happened next…

Marlon Brown
What happened next of course was Brown making a leaping catch in the back of the end zone on a perfectly thrown pass by Flacco to give the Ravens the victory with just four seconds left.

With this touchdown, Brown, an undrafted free agent, tied Jamal Lewis for the second most touchdowns (six) by a Ravens' rookie. Torrey Smith — who was held to one catch for 11 yards yesterday — holds the record with seven.

There was more to Brown's game then his spectacular catch at the end of the game though. He edged out Pitta to lead the Ravens in receiver with seven catches for 92 yards on 11 targets. Four of these catches went for first downs including a gain of 35 on the first play of the Ravens' game-winning drive. Earlier in the game, Brown drew a pass interference call for a gain of 37 which put the ball on the Vikings 17-yard line.

On the negative side, he had one drop.

Back to the touchdown catch, the play was very reminiscent of Anquan Boldin last year. Flacco would basically throw a jump ball into the end zone where only Boldin could catch it and more often than not, he would come down with it.

Jacoby Jones
Death, taxes and explosive plays from Jones.

This week, it was another kickoff return. Only this time, he was able to finish the job and take it all the way back for a touchdown.

With everyone in the stadium stunned at the touchdown run from Gerhart, Jones made sure to change that. Taking a pooch kickoff 77 yards up the near sideline for a touchdown. Receiving the short kickoff close to that sideline, he ran along it nearly stepping out-of-bounds and, unlike last week, there was no coach on the sidelines to get in his way.

Earlier in the game, he almost broke a punt return loose as well, but he had to settle for a gain of 22 that set the Ravens offense up at the Vikings 48-yard line — though it resulted in no points.

On offense, he caught four passes for 37 yards on seven targets and three of these catches went for first downs. Trying to mix things up, offensive coordinator Jim Caldwell gave Jones an end around, but the Vikings read it all the way and stopped the play for a loss of four. As already talked about, he dropped a pass that resulted in an interception for the Vikings.

Chris Canty
Moving over to the defense, they played great for the first 58 minutes, but came apart in the final two and almost lost the game for the Ravens.

At defensive end, Canty didn't lead the line with five tackles like fellow end Arthur Jones did, but Canty did make three good plays.

The first of which was a run stop of a gain of one. With he only had two tackles, he made one of them count. The other two good plays that came from him were two passes batted down at the line-of-scrimmage.

The second one was the typical pass deflection for a defensive lineman. He read where Matt Cassel, the Vikings' quarterback, was throwing to, jumped and swatted the pass away. This play was also important as it came with one minute left in the game and was the play before Patterson burnt the Ravens' defense.

While Canty's second pass breakup was normal for a defensive lineman, his first was a much more impressive play. Seeing Cassel rolling out of the pocket, Canty moved with him, and then saw the fullback going out for a pass in the flats. Canty followed the fullback and broke up the pass.

Terrell Suggs
For the second straight game, the Ravens' pass rush failed to get a sack (though they were without Elvis Dumervil who leads the team in sacks) and it is now the fifth straight game without a sack for Suggs.

While he wasn't able to record a sack, he still made his presence felt as he was third on the team with six tackles and had a team high four run stops. These run stops were for gains of one, one, zero and negative one. The stop for negative one came on a second and goal play. Also, the second run stop of a gain of one came where Cassel was scrambling out of the pocket and Suggs chased him down just past the line-of-scrimmage — so he came close to getting that sack.

Also in pass rushing, he had a pressure on a play that forced Cassel to roll out of the pocket and this resulted in an incompletion.

Lastly, Suggs missed a tackle on Petterson's 79-yard screen pass that he took all the way for a touchdown.

Daryl Smith
Continuing his excellence in pass coverage this season, Smith now has a Ravens' record to display this.

With 17 pass deflections this season, he owns the Ravens' single-season record for most pass deflections by a linebacker. Previously, this record was held by Ray Lewis (did you really think it was going to be someone else?).

This week saw Smith add two more pass deflections. The first came on a screen pass on third and 11 where he read it all the way. The second was actually a dropped interception, but it goes down as a pass deflection. He jumped in front of the route and had the pass hit his hands, but it bounced right off of them. If he was able to reel in the pass, he had plenty of room in front of him for a return.

Blitzing, another part of the game that he has performed well at this year, he had a pressure that forced an incompletion with just over one minute left in the game on first and 10.

Two plays later though, he over pursed Patterson on his screen pass. This allowed Patterson to get free and into the open field.

Smith finished second on the Ravens with seven tackles.

James Ihedigbo
All game long, Ihedigbo's play stood out for the Ravens and the grading from Pro Football Focus backs this up. They had him as the Ravens' highest graded player and the second highest graded of the game.

James Ihedigbo

Courtesy of ICON SMI

Leading the Ravens in tackles with with 12, he also had a forced fumble, a quarterback hit and a pass deflection.

Starting with his run defense, he had two run stops, each for no gain. He received help from defensive lineman DeAngelo Tyson  on the second one though as Tyson hit running back Adrian Peterson about three yards behind the line. On the negative side, he badly missed a tackle on Gerhart's touchdown.

Ihedigbo's forced fumble was a controversial one as it appeared that Gerhart's knee was on the ground when Ihedigbo ripped the ball out. The play was reviewed after being ruled a fumble on the field, but the referee didn't overturn the call. A telling sign that the play should have been overturned was that the Ravens had their defense on the field when the referee came back on the field. Rookie free safety Matt Elam, who also badly missed on Gerhart's touchdown run, recovered the fumble and celebrated by sliding in the snow.

As the strong safety in the Ravens' defense, Ihedigbo blitzes often and this game was no different. Via these blitzes he had pressure three times and was able to convert one of these pressures into a quarterback hit. The two pressures that didn't result in a quarterback hit forced incompletions. On the play that he got his quarterback hit, he hit Cassel in the arm as he was throwing the ball. This caused the pass to go up in the air near outside linebacker Courtney Upshaw who had dropped back into coverage. Upshaw proceeded to knock this pass to the ground.

Moving to pass coverage, Ihedigbo's pass breakup came on a deep pass when he was by himself in man coverage. On the Vikings only touchdown before the craziness at the end occurred, he was playing a middle zone in the end zone and wasn't quite deep enough in coverage. Simpson beat cornerback Jimmy Smith to the inside (who was clearly expecting more help from Ihedigbo) and got behind Ihedigbo for the touchdown.

Overall, this was a great performance from him as he continues to perform well this year for the Ravens.

Cornerbacks
With snow coming down all game long, the conditions weren't ideal for Flacco and Cassel to throw the ball and both of them saw struggles. The conditions also made it tough for the cornerbacks to backpedal and move around.

Cassel and the Vikings targeted Lardarius Webb for most of the game and most of their completions against cornerbacks came against him. Allowing a whopping eight passes to be completed against him, he allowed six first downs and one touchdown. The touchdown was to Patterson but it is tough to blame a cornerback for allowing a screen. What you can grade them on is how they stop this screen, and Webb failed that. With these eight completions, he gave up 159 yards (80 yards when you take away the screen to Patterson).

Webb also had five tackles and a team high four pass breakups (the next closest was two). One of these pass breakups came in the red zone and two of them came on third downs.

Smith continued his recent excellence with his performance and is now the 12th rated cornerback by Pro Football Focus. He gave up two passes, one tackle, one forced fumble and one pass deflection. The two passes he gave up were the touchdown to Simpson when Smith was in coverage with Ihedigbo and a gain of 20 on a third and six. On this play, there was extra yardage added to the end which got it to 20 yards as Smith forced a fumble which the Vikings recovered downfield. His pass deflection came on a deep pass right at the goal line.

Nickel cornerback Corey Graham didn't give up a completion based on my count, but he had two tackles and two pass breakups. The first came on a deep pass on third and five and the other was a great play just outside the red zone. The Vikings had the ball at the Ravens' 21-yard line and ran a screen pass. Reading this right away, he sprinted up and hit the receiver hard to force an incompletion. This big hit that forced the incompletion made the play stand out more, but even if the receiver held onto the ball, it was a great play.

Ravens vs Vikings Injury Report

December 6, 2013 in Injury Reports

Ravens

Elvis Dumervil

Courtesy of ICON SMI

Out
S Brynden Trawick (Ankle)

Doubtful
LB Elvis Dumervil (Ankle)

Questionable
DE Chris Canty (Shoulder)
CB Asa Jackson (Thigh)
WR Brandon Stokley (Knee)
CB Lardarius Webb (Abdomen)

Probable
CB Jimmy Smith (Concussion)

Vikings

Out
QB Christian Ponder (Concussion)
CB Josh Robinson (Chest)
TE Kyle Rudolph (Foot)

Questionable
LB Larry Dean (Knee)
RB Adrian Peterson (Groin)
S Jamarca Sanford (Ankle)

Probable
DE Jared Allen (Finger)
RB Matt Asiata (Shoulder)
DT Fred Evans (Knee)
DT Sharrif Floyd (Illness)
LB Chad Greenway (Wrist)
DE Everson Griffen (Toe)
S Andrew Sendejo (Toe)

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.

Defense Leads Ravens To Victory

November 25, 2013 in Observations

Led by a dominant defensive performance, the Baltimore Ravens beat the New York Jets 19-3. The result pushes both teams to a 5-6 record.

On a day where it was so windy that the Ravens' pre-game introductions were done without the usual pyrotechnics, the Ravens' defense allowed 220 yards, forced one fumbles, intercepted two passes and had three sacks while giving up only three points — the fewest points allowed by the Ravens since 2009.

The three sacks gave the Ravens 22-consecutive games with at least one sack which ties a franchise record. Also, they have at least two sacks in 19-straight games which ties the Philadelphia Eagles (2003-2004) for the longest such streak since 1990.

At halftime, former Ravens' offensive tackle Jonathan Ogden was presented with his Hall of Fame ring. He is the only Raven in the Hall of Fame.

This win gives the Ravens eight straight wins against the New York Jets and an 8-1 all-time record against them.

Joe Flacco
The aforementioned windy conditions made it hard to pass the ball yesterday, but Flacco was able to go 17-of-26 for 273 yards for one touchdown and one interception.

Starting with the good, he threw two perfect deep passes — one to Torrey Smith and the other to Jacoby Jones. Both passes hit the receiver in stride as he ran a deep route. On the one to Jones, Flacco was able to out throw the double coverage (including Ed Reed) as Jones beat the coverage deep and was able to score.

Earlier in the game, Flacco threw a pass to Jones in the end zone and it looked like he was going to hold on. However, Reed came over and was able to knock the ball out.

Joe Flacco

Courtesy of ICON SMI

On to the bad, Flacco threw one interception, but he also had two more dropped. On his actual interception, there was a miscommunication according to head coach John Harbaugh. Smith ran a curl route as the outside receiver and Marlon Brown started to run an out route, but stopped after making his cut to the outside. Flacco threw the pass between the two and cornerback Antonio Cromartie intercepted it for the Jets.

The first dropped interception came on third and 20 on the Ravens' first drive of the game. Flacco lofted it up deep to Brandon Stokley and the pass hit rookie cornerback in the face mask and then the hands. He had possession of the ball for a split second before dropping it.

Later on, Flacco lobbed another pass up for grabs, this time towards Ed Dickson on a corner route. Because the pass was under thrown, Dickson had to try and stop the Jets' defender from catching the ball — and he was successful.

Flacco was very lucky to walk away with just one interception in the game. More importantly though, the deep passing game made a return to the Ravens' offense this season as Flacco was able to connect with Smith and Jones.

Tyrod Taylor
To try and provide a spark to the run game, the Ravens used Taylor, the backup quarterback, on a variety of plays to try and confuse the Jets' defense.

Taylor has a unique skill set as he is a mobile quarterback. This adds another dimension that the defense has to provide when he enters the game.

Lining up at quarterback and wide receiver, the Ravens used him in a variety of ways.

At wide receiver, the Ravens faked an end around to him and then threw a screen pass to running back Ray Rice. Later in the game, an end around was run to Taylor for a loss of seven. He also caught a screen pass of a gain of six yards on a third and 25.

When lined up at quarterback, Taylor ran the read-option for the most part. A few times he kept the ball and ran, and other times he handed the ball of to the running back. He had two key runs on these plays. The first was a gain of 17 (the Ravens' longest rush of the game) and the second was a gain of three on third and two.

He attempted one pass — on play-action — but Dickson dropped it. The pass was a little low so they can share the blame.

Two big losses on runs (losses of seven and six) brought down Taylor's stats to four carries for seven yards.

I liked that offensive coordinator Jim Caldwell was being innovative trying to give the run game life (especially against the best run defense in the league), but I feel like it got to be too much at the end of the game. It is good to have Taylor in there for a few plays to mix things up, but eventually, the defense is going to be ready for what it coming. The Jets were able to adjust after the first few big plays. Expect him to continue to see time, just not as much as this week.

Torrey Smith
With 74 receiving yards against the Jets, Smith set a new career-high for receiving yards in a season — and he still has five games to play.

Previously, Smith's high was 855 yards which came last year (his second in the league). In his rookie season, he had 841 yards. Both of these numbers came when he was the number two receiver in the offense and in 16 games.

Now — as the number one receiver — he has 859 yards and is on pace to set new career highs in catches, targets, yards per catch and first downs.

Speaking of first downs, both of Smith's catches went for first downs yesterday. The first was a gain of 60 yards when he beat Cromartie deep. This put the ball on the Jets' 22-yard line and set up a field goal for the Ravens. Later on, he caught a slant for a gain of 14 on a second and six.

The only negative from the game was he was flagged for a false start. Something that can't happen to a wide receiver.

Jacoby Jones
While his receiving partner Smith set a new career-high, Jones racked up 249 all-purpose yards and had his first career 100-yard receiving game with the Ravens.

The last — and only other — time that Jones had a 100-yard receiving game was back in 2010 when he played for the Houston Texans.

In that game, he had 115 yards, this time he had 103 yards, which came from four catches. He also added a touchdown and led the team in catches, yards and targets (6).

On his touchdown, Flacco threw a perfect deep pass as Jones ran deep and spilt a double team led by Reed, a former Raven. Jones was able to haul in the pass for a 66-yard touchdown as he left the cornerback behind him and as Reed lost the ball in the air. This was the only touchdown of the game and put the score at 19-3.

Earlier in the game, he had a chance for a touchdown, but Reed was able to break the pass up. Also, Jones converted two of his other three catches for first downs (gains of 11 and 17).

A dangerous returner, he showed this against the Jets as he had returns of 19, 20, 37 and 21 on punt returns (though the 21-yard return was nullified due to a penalty that didn't effect the return). He totaled 108 yards on five punt returns and 38 yards on two kick returns.

Offensive Line
Going up against one of the best defensive lines in the league, the Ravens' offensive line hand their hands full for the entire game. As expected, the Ravens weren't able to get anything going handing the ball off. Rice averaged 1.9 yards per carry and his backup Bernard Pierce was barely better at 2.7.

For the most part, the Jets' defensive line handled the Ravens' offensive line as the Ravens only ran for 67 yards on 31 attempts — an average of 2.2 yards per carry.

In pass protection, the line was good despite giving up four sacks. All of these sacks were coverage sacks. The line provided enough time for Flacco to find an open receiver, but nobody was open. Flacco then tried to run around the pocket and then the pass rush was able to get to him. In these situations, Flacco needs to just throw that ball away and move onto the next play instead of taking a sack.

On an individual level, left guard A.Q. Shipley flagged for an illegal block in the back on a screen pass which set up first and 21 in the first quarter. Later on, he was called for holding when the Ravens had a first and goals from the Jets' 10-yard line. On this play, he also gave up a sack, but the Jets' defender took Flacco down via the face mask — inducing a penalty. These two penalties offset and the down was replayed.

Pernell McPhee
Playing as a situational pass rusher, McPhee was able to make the most of his snaps against the Jets'.

With four tackles, he tied for the third most on the team and two of these tackles were run stops. The first was for no gain and he shared the tackle with Arthur Brown. The other run stop came late in the fourth quarter when he stopped a run for a loss of one.

McPhee's sack, his second of the season, came on the second play of the fourth quarter — a third and nine. On the play, Elvis Dumervil had the initial pressure and forced Jets' quarterback Geno Smith to step up in the pocket. McPhee was there to take hime down for a loss of seven.

A bit of a tweener, McPhee has played both defensive end and outside linebacker for the Ravens in their 3-4 defense. No matter his position, if he continues to make plays, he is going to see his playing time increased.

Terrell Suggs
After a quiet game against the Chicago Bears last week, Suggs bounced back and had a better game — though he has now gone three straight games without a sack.

Although ESPN gave him just two tackles in the box score, I have him down for three run stops (one shared). His solo run stops were for gains of zero and two. His shared run stop was for two yards and shared with Arthur Jones.

On the first play of the Jets first drive of the second quarter, Suggs applied pressure on Smith which forced him to scramble. While scrambling, he passed the ball. However, he had gone past the line-of-scrimmage before throwing the pass which is a penalty. Suggs' pressure created this penalty.

His best play of the game came when he recovered a fumble. On the play, the Jets had a receiver come in motion and Smith was lined up in the shotgun. The ball was snapped and the ball hit the receiver who was coming in motion on this third and 13 play. A Jets player quickly went after the ball, but Suggs quickly pushed this Jet out of the way. Suggs then jumped on the ball and recovered it for the Ravens. This placed the ball at the Jets 19-yard line (though Flacco was intercepted a few plays later so no points were produced off the turnover).

Elvis Dumervil
Like Suggs, Dumervil struggled on the muddy turf at Soldier Field against the Bears last week. Also like Suggs, he was able to have a bounce back game.

An excellent pass rusher, Dumervil usually offers little in the run game though. Yesterday was different as he was able to have two run stops. The first was for a gain of three and the other was for a gain of 2.

He only had one of the Ravens three sacks, but he had pressure on the other two sacks.

His pressure on McPhee's sack has already been talked about above. On Daryl Smith's sack, Dumervil abused the tight end that was trying to block him, achieving instant pressure. He missed the sack as Geno Smith was able to shake him off, but Daryl Smith was there to finish the play.

On his sack, he beat the left tackle to the outside for a loss of eight on a first and 10. This was the last play of the game — a fitting end for a game where the Ravens' defense won the game for them.

Daryl Smith

Daryl Smith

Courtesy of ICON SMI

As usual, Smith was all over the field for the Ravens. The only difference between this week and the other games from this season was that he didn't lead the team in tackles. In fact, he wasn't even second on the team. With only three tackles, he had a season-low.

Despite this, he made the most of his time on the field recording two run stops (gains of three and two), one sack and broke up three passes.

On his sack, he blitzed in one of the A gaps (between the center and guard). Throughout the season, he has had success with these blitzes and that continued yesterday as he picked up the sack after Dumervil missed. He also picked up a pressure that forced an incompletion on a similar blitz.

Outstanding in coverage all season, Smith continued this week as he allowed two catches on six targets according to Pro Football Focus. He also broke up three pass — on three-straight plays.

On first down, he read that the tight end was running an out route and he dove in front of the pass to knock it away. The following play, the tight end ran a seam route and Smith jumped in front of the pass to break it up. On third down, he was covering a receiver on a crossing route and the receiver dropped it. While this is an anticlimactic last pass breakup, he had good coverage so he gets credited with it.

Cornerbacks
With the wind swirling around M&T Bank Stadium, the Jets didn't pass much as they tried to keep the ball on the ground. As a result, the Ravens' cornerbacks only allowed two passes to be completed against them.

Number one cornerback Lardarius Webb led the team in tackles with six and allowed no catches to be completed against him. A great run defender, he was in support all game long and recorded a run stop for a gain of one.

Jimmy Smith allowed the two passes to be completed and both went for first downs. The first was a gain of 18 to Geno Smith on a trick play out of the Wildcat formation. Josh Cribbs, normally a wide receiver, lined up at quarterback, faked a run and passed to Smith. The other pass that he allowed was a gain of 30 on a deep pass. He also had three tackles in an overall good performance.

Nickel cornerback Corey Graham played a great game as he intercepted more passes than allowed. His first interception came on a third and 17 and Smith's pass was under thrown. This placed the ball on the Ravens 12-yard line. A few plays later, Jones scored his 66-yard touchdown. Graham's other interception sealed the Ravens victory with four minutes left in the game. Smith again under threw a pass and Graham left his coverage on the outside receiver and cut in front of the slot receiver when he saw Smith throw the pass. Graham then ran outside the back of the end zone for a touchback. With one minute left in the game, he recorded a pass breakup.

The Return of Ed Reed (Part Two): Ravens vs Jets

November 23, 2013 in What to Look For

In week three, former Baltimore Ravens' safety Ed Reed, a Baltimore legend, returned to M&T Bank Stadium with the Houston Texans after signing with them in free agency. Fast-forward to week 12 and Reed is now with the New York Jets after the Texans released him. Reed gets to make his return to Baltimore again tomorrow as the Jets come to Baltimore.

Other than Reed's return, this game is going to be key because both the 4-6 Ravens and the 5-5 Jets are battling for the sixth and last playoff spot in the AFC (which only has five good teams this year).

Currently the Jets own this sixth seed, but their performance has been inconsistent all season. They have won every other game this season and their only win on the road came against a now 2-9 Atlanta team. This week pits those two trends against each other as the Jets lost to the Buffalo Bills last week and have to travel to Baltimore this week.

1.  Force Turnovers
When the Jets lose games, their main problem is turnovers. Rookie, second-round pick, quarterback Geno Smith has been as inconsistent as possible and when he succeeds, the Jets succeed.

For the season, Smith is second in the NFL with 16 interceptions. In comparison, he only has eight touchdown passes. Adding to this, he also has four fumbles — giving him a NFL-leading 20 total turnovers, and average of two per game. Of these 20 turnovers, five have been returned for touchdowns.

In Jets' losses, Smith has been particularly bad as 12 of his interceptions have come in these five games. Throughout the season, Smith has played well in wins and bad in losses.

Which Smith will show up against the Ravens? Good Geno or bad Geno?

The Ravens' defense can influence this with their schemes that they use for the game. Against the Cincinnati Bengals two weeks ago, the Ravens' defense had their best performance of the season as they intercepted Andy Dalton three times, sacked him five times and held him to a quarterback rating of 17.3. Last week, the Ravens faced Josh McCown, a backup quarterback, and lost forcing no turnovers and only sacking him two times for one yard. The pass rush was non-existent.

What was different in these two games? The type of defense the Ravens ran. Against the Bengals, the Ravens were blitz-happy, attacking and confusing Dalton. This forced him to rush his decisions and he made many bad ones. Against the Bears, the Ravens ran a conservative zone defense with little blitzing. With the weather being bad enough to cause an almost two hour delay, this could have factored in to the decision, but the conservative defense wasn't working.

Lardarius Webb

Courtesy of ICON SMI

Going up against a quarterback who is coming off of his worst game this season according to Pro Football Focus (Smith was benched late in the game) and who has only two games without a turnover, expect the Ravens to blitz often.

Smith has struggled against pressure all season and the Ravens' defense has been best when playing aggressive this season. When an aggressive form of defense is played, the cornerbacks are usually left by themselves in coverage. Over their last two games, the Ravens cornerbacks have played their best two games of the season. Lardarius Webb looks to have finally bounced back from his second torn ACL and Jimmy Smith seems to have taken the so called "next step."

The last time these two teams played, 2011, the Ravens won 34-17. The Ravens force four turnovers scored three defensive touchdowns including a Webb interception returned for a touchdown. The defense also didn't allow a touchdown as the Jets scored on a kickoff return and an interception return.

Forcing turnovers is the number one way to beat the Jets. At times, the Ravens' defense has struggled to do this season, but when they run an aggressive defense, they have had success. Expect them to come out and try to confuse Smith with some exotic blitzes, bringing back memories of Rex Ryan's (the current Jets head coach) Ravens defenses when they used "organized chaos."

2.  Stop The Run
In order to help protect Smith and following Ryan's brand of smash-mouth football, the Jets' offense is run-heavy.

Having a successful run game is the number one way to help a rookie or inexperienced quarterback. With a good run game, the defense will stack the box in order to stop the run. This then leaves easier reads and throws for a quarterback when he has to throw the ball.

The Jets did this a few years ago when they have Mark Sanchez at quarterback and, despite Sanchez's shortcomings, they were able to make it to the AFC Championship Game in back-to-back seasons (a dominant defense led the way though).

This season, the run game is working yet again. Averaging 129.5 yards per game, the eighth best in the league, the Jets are having success pounding defenses with a constant running game. The Jets are also eighth in the league in rushing attempts so they are not going to go away from their game plan if they fall behind. Even in last weeks blowout loss to the Bills, the Jets ran the ball 23 times while attempting 29 passes.

Spearheading the Jets run game recently has been Chris Ivory. Over the last four games, he has 350 yards — despite only gaining 11 in one of the games. Acquired in a draft-day trade, Ivory didn't handle the bulk of the workload at the start of the season as he struggled with injuries. Recently though, he has gotten healthy and showed why the Jets gave up a fourth-round pick for him.

While he was recovering from injuries, Bilal Powell took the reins of the Jets attack. In the first six games of the season, he had 360 rushing yards — enough to keep the offense going while waiting for Ivory.

For the season, Ivory has 467 yards and Powell has 441.

The Ravens' run defense has been up-and-down this season. Allowing 102.7 yards per game, they ran 11th best in the NFL and have allowed only one rushing touchdown this season — the best in the league by two. The Ravens also rank sixth in yards per attempt at 3.7.

Despite this success, the Ravens have been run on this season. The Bills ran for 203 yards, the Packers had 140 (with Eddie Lacy gaining 120 of these) and the Pittsburgh Steelers ran for 141. Lacy is the only 100-yard rusher allowed this season though.

With key run defender Haloti Ngata questionable (very questionable at that), expect the Jets' game-plan to include lots of run plays. Ngata missed last week against the Chicago Bears and the Bears ran for 104 yards, though they ran outside more than inside.

3.  Neutralize The Defensive Line
Moving to when the Ravens are on offense, the most important thing for them to do is to neutralize the Jets' defensive line.

The clear-cut star of the Jets' defense is defensive end Muhammad Wilkerson. With his performance this season, he has locked down the title of the best 3-4 defensive end not named J.J. Watt. Dominant all season and last year, Wilkerson has eight sacks this season and only has three games without a sack. Adding to this, he has 40 tackles, two forced fumbles and one interception. The best pass rusher of the Jets' line, he is also a great run defender. At only 24-years old, Wilkerson is set to disrupt offensive lines for years to come.

At the other defensive end is Sheldon Richardson — the 13th pick of this year's NFL Draft. Reaping the benefits of playing next to Wilkerson and in Ryan's defense, Richardson has 50 tackles, 2.5 sacks and one forced fumble in just 10 games. Already one of the best run defenders in the NFL, his pass rush has been slower developing. Despite this, he is one of the leading candidates for defensive rookie of the year.

Playing the all-important nose tackle in Ryan's 3-4 defense is Damon Harrison, an undrafted free agent from the 2012 draft. At 350 pounds, he is the perfect player to play nose tackle for Ryan. Commanding a double team, Harrison is very hard to move out of the way in the run game. Because of this, he has enjoyed great success in run defense, which is all the Jets ask of him. He has 41 tackles and one sack this season.

Because of these three great, young defensive lineman, the Jets have the number one run defense in the league. They are top of the league in total yards (732), yards per game (73.2) and yards per attempt (2.9). On the flip side, the Ravens' offense is 27th in total run yards (832), 27th in yards per game (83.2) and 31st in yards per carry (3.0).

The Ravens' offensive line is going to struggle to move the Jets' defensive line out of the way when they run. After having their best run game of the season — against one of the worst run defenses in the Bears — the Ravens will likely continue to struggle to run the ball this week.

On the other hand, the Jets' pass defense is a lot worse (22nd in the NFL). This means that the Ravens will game plan to pass the ball against this Jets team. Quarterback Joe Flacco is going to need to play a great game this week in what will likely to a low scoring affair. If any team can get to 20 points, they will more than likely win the game.

4.  Torrey Smith vs Antonio Cromartie
Flacco's number one target this year when passing the ball has been Smith and Cromartie is the Jets number one cornerback.

Ryan likes to leave his cornerbacks on an island in man coverage while he blitzes. He also has his best cornerback matchup with the opponents number one receiver. Darrelle Revis was the master at doing this, but he was traded this offseason which put Cromartie in the number one spot.

At the start of the season, Smith was at the top of most receiving categories, but over the last few weeks, his performance his dipped. Currently he is only in the top ten of two categories: yards per catch (eighth) and receptions over 20 yards (tied for third).

When you compare him to the other Ravens' receivers, he is miles above the others. He leads the team in catches by 10, has twice the amount of targets as the second highest (92 for him 46 for next best), yards by 474 and first downs by 15.

He is best at deep routes, though he has become a more complete receiver this season. This plays into the weakness of the Jets' defense: the big play.

Ryan has called big plays the "Achilles heel" of his defense this season and Cromartie has been beaten deep multiple times by speed receivers.

The easiest way to create a big play is to throw a deep pass. Last year, Flacco had much success throwing deep passes — especially during the Ravens' playoff run. However, this season has been a different story.

Expect the Ravens to use Smith to attack Cromartie and the Jets' defense deep throughout the game. Cromartie has struggled in coverage this season so there is a good chance that Smith can beat Cromartie deep.