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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 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.

Ravens Fall In Overtime

November 18, 2013 in Observations

For the second game in a row, the Baltimore Ravens had to play into overtime. This week, they lost 23-20 to the Chicago Bears on a 38-yard field goal. The loss drops the Ravens to 4-6 and the Bears improve to 6-4.

Five hours and 16 minutes after the opening kickoff, the game ended. The reason for the length of the game was a delay that lasted one hour and 53 minutes due to lightning in the first quarter.

When the delay started, the Ravens were up 10-0. Once the game resumed, the Ravens were outscored 23-10 and the Ravens needed a 21-yard field goal with seven second left in regulation to send it to overtime. With less than a minute left in the game, the Ravens had first and goal from the Bears' five-yard line but they couldn't convert on two runs and a pass.

After the stoppage, the Ravens didn’t look like the same team — on offense and defense.

Coming into the game, the Ravens had yet to win a game at a NFC North stadium and this loss drops them to 0-8 in these stadiums.

Joe Flacco
Playing in tough weather conditions, Flacco struggled to get the passing game going for the Ravens.

Completing only 55 percent of his passes, Flacco went 17-of-31 for 162 yards, one touchdown and had two interceptions.

On the first interception, he made a horrible read on a play. The play called for Flacco to throw a quick flare route to fullback Vonta Leach who was coming out of the backfield. Running back Ray Rice was supposed to block David Bass, the defensive end on the play-side, but failed to do so. Even though Rice missed his block, the interception is still Flacco's fault. He wasn't under any pressure and he threw the ball right at Bass. Flacco needs to see that Rice missed on his block and either not throw the ball to Leach because the passing lane is filled, or adjust and make a better pass. He did neither and it cost the Ravens seven points as Bass returned the interception for a touchdown which tied the game at 10.

His second interception came late in the second quarter. It was third and 16 and Flacco was trying to hit tight end Dallas Clark on a seam route to pick up the first down. Clark had three defenders in the vicinity and Flacco kept the ball away from two of them — but put the ball right on the other. Bears' linebacker Jon Bostic had great coverage on Clark and was able to intercept the pass.

With these two interceptions, Flacco now has 13 on the season which is a new career-high. His previous high was 12 has occurred three times: 2008, 2009 and 2011. Having only played 10 games this season, Flacco has already thrown his most interceptions in a season — and there are six games left. If he keeps the pace up, he will finish with 21 interceptions (it is actually 20.8 but considering you can't throw and eighth of an interception, I rounded to the nearest whole number).

Recently, he has had success scrambling and running for yardage and this continued against the Bears. On four carries (all scrambles) he ran for 20 yards and picked up two first downs. On a third and seven, he was able to scramble for 11 yards and on a second and three he gained four yards. Importantly, he knows how to slide. On each of his runs, Flacco slid to avoid contact. This is a positive as many quarterbacks don't know how to slide and protect themselves, but he does.

His best pass of the game came on his touchdown pass to Torrey Smith in the second quarter. Smith ran a quick slant and Flacco had to thread the needle between two Bears' defenders to complete the pass.

Ray Rice

Ray Rice

Courtesy of ICON SMI

For the first time all season, the Ravens' run game was effective as they rushed for a season-high 174 yards.

After a dreadful performance against the Bengals last week where Rice rushed for 30 yards on 18 carries and look awful, he bounced back and showed his explosiveness that had been missing all season.

Also for the first time this season, he topped 100 yards rushing as he had 131 yards on 25 carries and added a touchdown. On his first rush of the game, he broke lose for a gain of 47 yards — the longest rush of the season for the Ravens. Previously, backup running back Bernard Pierce had the high at 28 yards and Rice's high was half of that at 14 yards.

Four of Rice's run went for first downs: the 47-yard run on second and one, a gain of two on third and one, a 13 yard gain on first and 10 and a second and six run for nine yards in overtime.

His touchdown was set up by his 47-yard run on the Ravens' first drive of the game. The score came on third and goal from the one and he ran to the right side and ran untouched into the end zone. This score marks the first time the Ravens have scored a touchdown on their opening drive this season.

Catching the ball, Rice was targeted five times, hauling in three of them for 17 yards. His long came on a third and nine where he was able to pickup 12 yards on a check down.

On Flacco's interception that was returned for a touchdown, Rice was supposed to block the defensive end. Rice tried to cut block the defender, but he failed, allowing the defender to be right in the passing lane. This is the only damper on Rice's best performance of the season.

Torrey Smith
While Smith didn't lead the Ravens in receiving yards for the only the second time this season (the other game was against the Green Bay Packers), he did lead the team in receptions.

On a team-high eight targets, he caught five passes for 32 yards and one touchdown. The Bears' secondary did a good job shutting Smith down despite being without starting cornerback Charles Tillman. (An assist goest to the weather as well.)

Smith's touchdown has already been discussed a little, but still some more to it. The play came on a second and three from the Bears' five-yard line. He ran a quick slant from the near side and was between two defenders when Flacco threw the ball. Flacco's pass came within inches of the outstretched hands of these two defenders. Also, the cornerback who was covering Smith was called for pass interference on this play. It took great concentration from Smith to catch the ball with those two defenders there and while getting interfered with.

Other than his touchdown catch, Smith had one catch go for a first down. This came on a first and 10 when he picked up 13 yards on a crossing route. He also drew a pass interference on another slant.

Dallas Clark
Catching only two passes yesterday, Clark didn't put up major stats, but both of these catches were important.

The first of his two catches came on a third and two in the second quarter. Clark gained 17 yards on the play to keep the Ravens' drive alive. A couple plays later, the Ravens kicked a field goal to take a 10-0 lead. With this catch, Clark hit 500 receptions for his career — ninth all-time for a tight end. After the play, you could see Clark send the ball to the sidelines to keep.

His second catch had a much bigger impact on the game. With time winding down, the Ravens had a fourth and four from the Bears' 44-yard line. Running a short crossing route, Clark created little separation, but Flacco threw it anyways. Using one hand, Clark was able to reel in the pass and gain 14 yards. This kept the Ravens' drive alive late in the game; without this play, the game is over and there is no overtime.

Offensive Line
Finally, the Ravens' run game had a break out game — albeit against the second worst run defense in the league — and the offensive line was a big part of this.

On Rice's 47-yard run, all of the lineman had good blocks on the play. It was an outside run to the left side and the line provided Rice with a big hole to run through.

A few plays later on his touchdown, the line had outstanding blocking again as he scored untouched. Left guard A.Q. Shipley combined with Leach to push a Bears' defender about three yards backwards right in the hole.

In pass protection, the line gave up three sacks and two of them can be credited to the line. The one sack that isn't the fault of the line is Flacco's fault as all of the linemen had their guys blocked, but Flacco then started to run around in the pocket which freed up the pass rush.

One potential reason for why the line did a decent job in pass protection this week is that the Bears are not a blitzing team. The Ravens' offensive line has had the most trouble picking up blitzes and the Bears did very little of that throughout the game.

Right guard Marshal Yanda was called for two flags: a holding and a false start.

Center Gino Gradkowski rolled the the snap to Flacco on the Ravens' third and goal attempt from the Bears' three-yard line with less than a minute left in the game. This awful snap made it impossible for Flacco to make a play to try and win the game. Smith was open in the back of the end zone, but Flacco wasn't able to throw it to him because of the snap. By the time, Flacco could throw Smith the ball, it was too late as Smith was covered better and Flacco had to throw the pass out of the end zone.

Allowing the two sacks on the offensive line was left tackle Eugene Monroe. The first sack occurred on a second and 16. Julius Peppers beat Monroe outside with a speed move and he wasn't able to recover as Peppers sacked Flacco for a loss of eight. The second sack came on a fourth and eight (the Ravens went for it due to the swirling winds making for a tough field goal attempt). On this play, Monroe down blocked, but didn't realize that a defender was coming around him on the outside. By the time that Monroe realized this, it was too late and Flacco was sacked and fumbled the ball. (The Ravens recovered but it didn't really matter as it was a turnover on downs.)

Defensive Line
Allowing 104 rushing yards (on four yards per carry) and providing little pass rush, the Ravens' defensive line struggled yesterday.

Starting nose tackle Haloti Ngata (the best player on the line) was inactive due to a knee injury. This forced Terrence Cody to start and he split time with rookie Brandon Williams. The Bears ran the ball to the outside more than the inside though.

At one defensive end in the Ravens' 3-4 alignment was Arthur Jones who had two tackles which were both run stops. His two run stops were for a gain of one and he shared a run stop for a gain of two with Daryl Smith. Jones failed to make a big impact in the game.

The other starting defensive end, Chris Canty, had a much better game with four tackles. Tackles are a very bad indicator of performance though as there are many other things to look at. Canty recorded three run stops — including two in overtime. In regulation, he had a run stop for a gain of three. In overtime, he had a run stop for a gain of one on the Bears' first play and he pushed the Bears back four yards later in their drive. Also, Canty recorded a quarterback hit on a third and seven which forced Bears' quarterback Josh McCown to check down for a gain of one.

Rotating in on the defensive line was DeAngelo Tyson who recorded his second career sack and his second in as many games. On the play, McCown was trying to scramble and Tyson was able to take him down for a loss of one on first down. Also, Tyson had a run stop for a gain of two. Over the last two games, Tyson has seen his most playing time of the season and has made the most of it.

Terrell Suggs and Elvis Dumervil
With a combined 17.5 sacks coming into the game, Suggs and Dumervil are the Ravens' two best pass rushers.

Leaving the game, they still had 17.5 sacks between them. In fact, they only had one tackle in the game (Suggs). Despite favorable match ups with the Bears' offensive tackles, Suggs and Dumervil were held to zero sacks for the first time this season.

Helping the Bears' offensive tackles neutralize Suggs and Dumervil was the weather. When play was resumed after the delay, the field was very wet and muddy — not good conditions for pass rushers. With the field being all chopped up, neither of them could get foot footing and they failed to get after McCown. There were multiple instances where they slipped and fell down while pass rushing.

On the second play of the game, McCown handed off to running back Matt Forte for a gain of 15 yards. Suggs missed a tackle on this run which would have stopped it for little or no gain. The Bears ran two successful end arounds in the game and both times they went to Suggs' side. As an outside linebacker, he is responsible for contain on these plays and he failed both times. On the one occasion he was able to get pressure on McCown, he threw a bad pass for an incompletion.

The only thing that Dumervil accomplished this game was getting flagged for a roughing the passer penalty. While the call was questionable, he should know better than to give the quarterback a two-handed shove after he has thrown the ball. This penalty occurred on a third and nine when the Ravens stopped the play for a one, but the penalty extended the drive. However, the Bears failed to score.

Daryl Smith
Continuing to be all over the field for the Ravens this year, Smith had another day where he did a little bit of everything.

Making six tackles, he was tied for second most on the team. Two of these tackles were run stops. One was for a gain of two which he shared with Jones and the other was for a loss of one when the Bears tried a reverse for the third time in the game.

Also in his stat line is a forced fumble. This came on a pass play in the fourth quarter where he came over to help bring receiver Alshon Jeffery down. Smith was able to rip the ball out, but Jeffery recovered.

In pass coverage, Smith allowed one catch to be completed against him, and this went for a gain of 13 on first down.

His worst play came on Forte's 14-yard touchdown catch on a screen pass. Smith missed a tackle near the line-of-scrimmage on this play. This missed tackle, along with a few others, sprung Forte for a touchdown that gave the Bears a 20-17 lead early in the fourth quarter.

A good blitzer, Smith didn't blitz much (if at all) yesterday. Last week, defensive coordinator Dean Pees called for many blitzes, but this week he was much more conservative. Maybe the weather had something to do with this, but McCown was able to sit back and complete passes with the Ravens in zone coverage and not blitzing.

Cornerbacks
When the Ravens played man coverage in the secondary, their cornerbacks had a lot more success than when they were in zone.

Lardarius Webb

Courtesy of ICON SMI

Lardarius Webb only allowed one catch to be completed against him as the Bears were content to target Jimmy Smith. However, this one completion was an important one. In overtime, Webb allowed a 43-yard pass to tight end Martellus Bennett on a seam route. On the play, Webb had about as good of coverage as possible, but with Bennett being 6'6" and Webb being 5'10", it was a tough assignment. McCown put the ball high into the air where only Bennett could catch it with his eight inch advantage over Webb.

Other than this play, Webb had a good game recording two run stops for gains of three and had one pass defensed. Webb has always been stout in run defense — something most cornerbacks aren't. He was also whistled for a horse collar tackle though.

Despite being targeted often, Smith held his own in coverage for the second straight game. Allowing three catches for 24 yards, he had a tough assignment going up against Brandon Marshall, but Smith more than held his own. On the first play of the game, the Bears ran a quick screen to Marshall as Smith was in off coverage, but he came up and stopped the play for no gain. The only first down that he allowed was a 16 yard catch to Marshall. This was just a great catch by Marshall as he made a tough sideline catch and was able to get both feet down in-bounds.

When the Bears had the ball inside the Ravens' ten-yard line early in the game, they went after Smith and he held his own. On third and goal, he was called for holding which gave the Bears a new life. However, on the ensuing first and third and goal plays, he broke up a slant and pushed Marshall out-of-bounds while catching a fade route, forcing and incompletion. On both of these plays he was in press, man coverage withe Marshall and Smith won both times. Smith is at his best in these situations.

Playing for the Bears for five seasons before coming to Baltimore, Corey Graham led the Ravens with nine tackles in his return to Soldier Field. He allowed three catches to be completed against him for a total of 26 yards and one first down. Like Smith, he broke up a pass in the end zone. This play was a fade to Jeffery and Graham was able to get a hand on it.

Like Daryl Smith, Graham missed a tackle on Forte's touchdown catch.

Early in the game — the Bears' third offensive play — he recorded his first sack of his career. On the play, McCown expected his receiver to be there for a screen, but he wasn't as he blocked like a run play. Because of this, McCown tucked the ball and tried to run. Graham saw this and was able to come in and tackle McCown for no gain. Even though there was no loss on the play, Graham was credited with a sack.

Justin Tucker
In just his second season, Tucker has quickly become one of the NFL's premier kickers and this was on display yesterday in Chicago.

With rain coming down and the wind swirling, he kicked a 52-yard field goal with 4:51 left in the first quarter. Kicks from this length are tough enough in good weather, yet alone this weather, but he was able to get it through the uprights. With this kick, he is now 7-of-7 from 50+ yards on the road. This was the last play before the delay.

After the Ravens failed to score a touchdown from the Bears' five-yard line with a minute left in the game, he had to kick a 21-yard field goal in the same weather, but the field was all muddy and torn up now as well. The weather conditions were not enough to stop him as his field goal went right down the middle of the uprights.

Ravens Survive In Overtime

November 11, 2013 in Observations

With a 46-yard field goal by Justin Tucker in overtime, the 4-5 Baltimore Ravens survived a scare against the 6-4 Cincinnati Bengals at home. The victory puts the Ravens 1.5 games behind the Bengals in the AFC North division with plenty of season left.

At halftime, the Ravens were up 17-0 despite only 94 total yards on offense — their two touchdowns were set up by a penalty and an interception. This is the 11th time under head coach John Harbaugh that the Ravens have had a first-half shutout. The team is now 10-1 when this happens. They are also now 10-0 under Harbaugh when they force three or more interceptions — which they did yesterday.

In the second half, the Ravens went into self-destruct mode as they scored no points and turned the ball over on their first two drives in the fourth quarter. The defense also allowed 17 points and failed to get off the field late in the game for the fourth straight time. With two seconds left in the game, the Bengals threw a 51-yard Hail Mary and scored when Ravens' safety James Ihedigbo batted the ball straight up into the air.

Ihedigbo and the defense were able to regroup and stopped the Bengals on a fourth down in overtime, giving Flacco and the offense the ball with good field position. After a few first downs, Tucker was celebrating his fifth career game-winning field goal.

Joe Flacco
Other than engineering his 17th career game-winning drive, Flacco had a less than spectacular game turning the ball over three times and being generally inaccurate.

Throwing 36 times, Flacco completed 20 passes for 140 yards, two touchdowns, two interceptions, had a passer rating of 60.0 and lost a fumble.

Justin Tucker

Courtesy of ICON SMI

Usually a great deep-ball thrower, Flacco was off-target on all of his long passes. He under threw one to Jacoby Jones on a flea-flicker and overthrew Torrey Smith on three separate occasions. He also under threw a screen pass to Smith — which is quiet strange when you consider Flacco's arm strength.

While he threw for two interceptions, he also had two others dropped. On the first interception, Flacco faced pressure on a third and ten and was trying to thrown the ball away when he was hit by a Bengals defender. The ball floated up and went right to a Bengals defender for an turnover. Running back Ray Rice completely whiffed on his block which allowed the initial pressure. On the other interception, Flacco tried throwing a seam pass to tight end Ed Dickson who was double covered. The Bengals disguised their coverage well and cleary confused Flacco — causing the interception. Moving to the dropped interceptions, Flacco threw a good pass but wide receiver Marlon Brown fell while making his cut on his route. The pass went right to the Bengals defender who was covering but the defender dropped it. The second dropped interception came the play before the second interception. Flacco didn't see a linebacker dropping back into coverage and the linebacker dove and almost caught the pass.

Flacco's other turnover came on a fumble late in game when his arm was hit as he threw and the Bengals recovered.

The best play of the game for Flacco came on the Ravens' first touchdown — their first touchdown in the first quarter since week one. At the Bengals one-yard line for third and goal, the Ravens ran a play-action pass and Flacco nobody was open right away. Flacco did a good job rolling out to his right to buy time for his receivers. Just as he was about to run out-of-bounds, Flacco threw a bullet to tight end Dallas Clark who had gotten open in the back of the end zone. Initially, Clark had fallen over at the line-of-scrimmage, but he was able to recover and get open.

Running Backs
Yet again, the Ravens' game struggled to get going, gaining only 85 yards on 30 carries — an average of 2.8 yards per carry.

Rice, the starter, was held to 30 yards on 18 carries for a putrid 1.8 yards per carry and had six catches for 26 yards. Backup Bernard Pierce had eight carries for 31 yards (3.9 yards per carry) and caught two passes for 12 yards.

In order to spark the run game, the Ravens ran a end around to backup quarterback Tyrod Taylor for a gain of 18 yards. This was double the longest run of the game by a Ravens' running back (nine yards by Pierce).

Throughout the game, Pierce looked more explosive than Rice as you can see from the stats. The longest gain that Rice got on the ground was five yards. Rice also made a big mistake in pass blocking as detailed above.

At this point in the season, I think it is time to make a change at running back. Rice clearly has either lost a step this year or he is still suffering from a hip injury suffered early in the season. Pierce is fully healthy now and displayed this during the game when he added a spark to the ground game and was a physical presence on all 10 of his touches. Now, Rice and Pierce should still split carries, but Pierce has been much more effective this season and deserves to have more carries.

Torrey Smith
Continuing to be Flacco's favorite target in the passing game, Smith saw a team high 14 targets — more than double the next highest of six to Rice. On these 14 targets, Smith caught five passes for 46 yards and hauled in his second touchdown of the season.

On his touchdown, the Ravens had a second and six from the Bengals' seven-yard line. Smith ran a slant and made a leaping grab in the end zone. He was hit in the air but was able to retain the ball for a touchdown. Despite the numerous targets he receivers, this was only his second touchdown of the season.

Three of Smith's four other catches went for first downs. Two of them were play-action crossing routes on first and 10 (gains of 18 and 11). The other one came on a quick pass on third and six.  He also drew two penalties for first downs — a pass interference for 14 yards on a third down and a holding penalty.

On the flip side, he was whistled for two penalties himself. The first was a false start on a third and six and the second was a personal foul. On the personal foul, he shoved Bengals linebacker Vontaze Burfict after the play was over. However, Smith only pushed Burfict after Burfict clearly pushed Jones after the whistle. Smith should know better though as the retaliator, not the initiator, usually gets flagged in the NFL.

Offensive Line
This week, the offensive line gave up five sacks and six quarterback hits — barely an improvement over last week —  but their run blocking was much better.

The main problem on the line continues to be communication as two more unblocked sacks were allowed this week. The first came on a second and 10 for a loss of 11 when a blitzed came between left guard A.Q. Shipley and center Gino Gradkowski. Shipley was occupied blocking someone else and Gradkowski wasn't blocking anyone. He was looking to his right to give help to right guard Marshal Yanda help. Yanda didn't need any help and Gradkowski missed the linebacker coming through the line next to him for a sack. The other unblocked sack came on third and 10 for a loss of seven. Left tackle Eugene Monroe down blocked to help Shipley and Rice came over to block one pass-rusher. However, there was one more blitzer and he went unaccounted for and brought down Flacco after an unimpeded path to him.

Right tackle Michael Oher gave up two sack — including the one that forced Flacco's fumble. On the first sack, Flacco scrambled to his right after feeling pressure and Oher's man came over for the sack. Oher had his man stopped initially, but Flacco scrambled towards him and Oher didn't know where Flacco was. On the second sack, Oher got pushed back and the defensive lineman was able to hit Flacco's arm as he was rearing back to pass.

Yanda gave up the hit on Flacco that caused the interception, but the fault goes to Rice who gave his guy a free shot at Flacco and made him move around in the pocket towards Yanda.

Shipley left with an injury mid-way through the third quarter and returned at the start of the fourth quarter. He was also called for a false start.

Defensive Line
Holding the Bengals to 3.9 yards per carry, the Ravens' defensive line had a good day.

Starting defensive end Arthur Jones had four tackles and one sack. Two of his tackles were run stops and both of them were shared with someone else. The first was for a gain of three and was shared with cornerback Corey Graham and the second was for a gain of one and was shared with defensive end DeAngelo Tyson. On Jones' sack, the ball was inside the Ravens' red zone and it was second and six. Jones beat his man and tackles quarterback Andy Dalton for a loss of five. The following play, the Bengals threw an incomplete pass and were forced to settle for a field goal.

Nose tackle Haloti Ngata had five tackles and one pass defensed. One of his tackles was a run stop which went for a gain of one. His batted pass came on a first and 10 when the Bengals had the ball at their own six-yard line. When the Ravens' offense went with a goal-line package in the first half, Ngata came in as a tight end and blocked both times. He was flagged for roughing the passer on a third and seven on a play where the defense got a stop. Even though he hit Dalton in the chest, a flag was thrown because Ngata lowed his helmet as he hit Dalton. Late in the first quarter, Ngata left the game with a left knee injury but returned in the second quarter. After this injury he played limited snaps.

At the other defensive end was Chris Canty who had a quiet day. He had only two tackles and one quarterback hit. On his quarterback hit, he forced Dalton to throw the ball away on a second and nine.

Tyson, who saw time because of rotation on the defensive line, had the best game of his short career against the Bengals. He had two tackles and one sack. He had one solo run stop, which went for a gain of two and he shared a run stop with Jones for a gain of one. On his sack, Tyson didn't get pressure right away so he played a quarterback contain role. When Dalton stepped up to try and scramble, Tyson was there to take him down for a loss of four on the second and three play. This was Tyson's first career sack.

Elvis Dumervil
On a day where Terrell Suggs was quiet, Dumervil stepped up and made his presence felt.

Bouncing back from last week where he didn't record a single stat in the box score, he stuffed it this week with three tackles, 2.5 sacks, and one pass defensed.

Starting with his pass defensed, he batted a pass down at the line-of-scrimmage the play after Ngata batted one down.

Pass rushing, Dumervil was a handful for the Bengals offensive line. On a third and eight, his pressure forced Dalton to throw the ball away. The following play, the Bengals attempted a 42-yard field goal and missed. Moving to his sacks, the first came on a second and eight for a loss of five. He beat left tackle Andrew Whitworth and jumped on Dalton. His next sack was a half-sack with Pernell McPhee. All four of the Ravens' pass rushers on the play got instant pressure and Dumervil and McPhee got to Dalton as he was engulfed by the Ravens pass rush. The last of Dumervil's sacks came on the second to last play of the game. He beat Whitworth again on what was a second and eight. Beating Whitworth, Dumervil took Dalton down for a loss of seven and the game almost ended there. However, the Bengals were able to get back to the line for one last play with two seconds left where they were able to score.

The only negative from the game for Dumervil on a day where he dominated, was an offsides penalty.

Courtney Upshaw
With his best game of the season, Upshaw did a little bit of everything as usual.

A player described as the defense's rock by Dumervil, Upshaw does the dirty work for the defense and doesn't get the credit that he deserves.

This game, he recorded four tackles, two quarterback hits, a pass defensed and had two run stops. Both run stops were solo and they were for gains of three and one. One of his two quarterback hits forced a throw away. On the other one, Upshaw was unblocked on Dalton's backside and was just a tad late at getting the him. When pass rushing, Upshaw batted a pass down at the line on a first and 10.

Dropping into coverage, he gave up one catch. This came on a second and 10 when he was covering Giovani Bernard, the Bengals' electric rookie running back. Upshaw didn't allow Bernard any yards after the catch as he made a sure tackle right after the catch.

Daryl Smith
As usual for the Ravens, Smith led the team in tackles (he tied with Ihedigbo this week) and was all over the field.

Since the start of the season, the Ravens have come to expect performances like this from Smith each week. He had nine tackles and two passes defensed.

Both of his pass breakups were great plays. The first came on a second and seven when Smith sprinted from his middle linebacker spot to the outside of the field and batted the pass down with one hand. The other came on a third and 10 in the end zone. Dalton threw the ball to rookie tight end Tyler Eifert and he had it for a second. Smith hit Eifert, forcing the ball loose for an incompletion. This forced the Bengals to kick a field goal.

Also in pass coverage, Smith gave up four catches including two for first downs. The first was a third and seven and Bernard gained seven yards and one inch to just get the first down. In overtime, Smith gave up a gain of six on third and five to Eifert when he took the ball from Smith.

James Ihedigbo
Ihedigbo had a performance against the Bengals that he won't forget for a long time — for more than one reason.

James Ihedigbo

Courtesy of ICON SMI

Starting with his stats, he had nine tackles, three passes defensed and one of his tackles was a solo run stop which went for a loss of one yard.

In pass coverage, he gave up one catch for a gain of 43 yards along with cornerback Jimmy Smith. On the play, Bengals wide receiver A.J. Green went deep and had Ihedigbo covering over the top and Smith was trailing behind by a few yards. Ihedigbo tipped the ball when going up for it and bounced to Green for the catch.

Also in pass coverage, Ihedigbo recored two interceptions. Not only was this his first two interception game of his career, these were his first two interceptions in his sixth NFL season.

On the first interception, Dalton badly overthrew a pass on third and 10 and the ball went to Ihedigbo. On the return, he gained 37 yards. That along with a penalty on Cincinnati put the ball on the Bengals' 11-yard line for the Ravens' offense. Two plays later, Torrey Smith scored his touchdown.

The second interception came at the two minute warning in the second half. It was a second and nine and Dalton again overthrew his receiver. This time, it hit Ravens' safety Matt Elam in the hands and bounced to Ihedigbo. This time he returned the interception nine yards. At the time, it looked like this sealed the victory for the Ravens.

This assumption couldn't have been more wrong.

With two seconds left in the game, the Bengals threw a Hail Mary. The throw was a few yards short and bounced off the shoulder of Bengals' receiver Marvin Jones right to Ihedigbo. Trying to swat the ball to the ground, he accidentally hit the ball right into the air. The ball floated up and Green was there to make the easy touchdown catch to tie the game and sent it to overtime.

In overtime, Ihedigbo made a great play to end the Bengals' drive. The Bengals went for it on fourth and two as it was just outside of field goal range. They ran a swing pass to Bernard and Ihedigbo snuffed it out right away. Bernard was able to escape from Ihedigbo, but by then, the rest of the Ravens' defense was around and Bernard tried to reverse fields to no avail. Graham made the tackle and Ihedigbo was able to make it over help bring Bernard down.

Cornerbacks
In this game against the Bengals, the Ravens' cornerbacks played their best game of the season, blanketing the Bengals' receivers making it tough for Dalton to find an open one. This good coverage allowed defensive coordinator Dean Pees to dial up more blitzes and get pressure on Dalton.

Number one cornerback Lardarius Webb had been struggling coming into this game, but put that aside and had his best game of the season. With a game high six passes defensed, Webb was one point all game long. He gave up three catches, all for first downs for 59 yards. Two of these came on third down and the other went for 40 yards to Eifert.

Webb was also able to intercept a pass. On this play, Jones ran a curl route and Webb ripped the ball away from him when they were going to the ground. This was a great play by Webb as he had tight coverage and then was able to outmuscle Jones to get the ball. This interception gave the offense the ball at the Ravens' 49-yard line but they went three-and-out.

In non-pass coverage things, Webb was able to record a quarterback hit on a blitz. This pressure forced Dalton to throw a check down pass that was short of the first down marker on third down. One of Webb's five tackles was a solo run stop for a gain of one. Lastly, he was flagged for offsides when he ran up to get in press coverage and his momentum took him across the line-of-scrimmage.

Like Webb, Jimmy Smith had a great game at cornerback. Unless you count the deep pass to Green when Ihedigbo was also in coverage, I don't have Smith down as allowing a catch. Smith had two passes defensed — both on third downs. The first was a third and 13 where Smith punched the ball out of the receivers hands as he was coming down with the pass. The other was on third and 11 an Smith jumped in front of the receiver and broke up the pass. He also stopped two running back swing passes for gains of two and negative two (the negative play was on third down).

Graham's play was great as well as he only allowed one pass to be caught against him for a gain of nine on second and seven. He also got involved in the run game as he shared a run stop with Arthur Jones for a gain of three. In overtime, Graham made the tackle on Bernard on fourth and two for a loss of eleven. Graham pursued Bernard across the field and was able to make the tackle with the help of Ihedigbo.

Ravens Continue To Lose

November 4, 2013 in Observations

For the fourth time in five games, the Baltimore Ravens have lost. This time, the loss comes at the hands of the Cleveland Browns, a divisional rival, and a team that the Ravens had beat the last 11 times that they had played. Head coach John Harbaugh and quarterback Joe Flacco had never lost to the Browns before as this streak started the year they came to the team.

The final score was 24-18, but the Browns had control of the game all the way and didn't seem that close. On offense, the Ravens were out-of-sync and the defense failed to get off the field when it mattered the most — for the third straight game.

Against the Green Bay Packers, the defense allowed the Packers to run the clock out at the end of the game. Against the Pittsburgh Steelers, the defense allowed the Steelers to drive down the field and kick a field goal to break the tie as time expired. This week, the defense failed to get the Browns off the field to get the ball back to the offense. The Browns' offense took the field with 6:44 left in the game and up by three and left with a field goal and a 24-18 lead with 14 seconds left in the game.

This is also the first time that the Ravens coming off of a bye week under Harbaugh.

Joe Flacco
Yesterday, Flacco was part of the problem and had one of his worst games of the season — even though the stats don't show this. The stats show a 24-of-41 day for 250 yards, two touchdowns and one interception. If you watched the game though, you would know that he struggled throughout.

The major problem that Flacco had was his accuracy. Normally an accurate passer, Flacco was off all day, especially in the first half. Early in the game, he was constantly throwing behind receivers making it impossible for them to make plays. He should have thrown had an interception on a pass thrown behind a receiver but Browns' cornerback Chris Owens dropped it.

On the Ravens' two touchdown drives, he completed most of his passes, but still had accuracy problems. On the first touchdown drive, Flacco hit Torrey Smith on a deep pass for a gain of 46 yards. However, Flacco under threw the pass causing Smith to slow down to catch it. If the ball is thrown on target, Smith probably has a touchdown.

Another deep pass that Flacco under threw was his interception. Both Jacoby Jones and Smith were running post routes from different sides of the field. Flacco lobbed it up between the two and it looked like it was intended for Jones. It was so under thrown that Smith fell down trying to stop his momentum and move back on the ball. Also, there were four defenders in the area of these two receivers so it comes as no surprise that the pass was intercepted.

Flacco was most successful moving around in the pocket trying to buy time yesterday. He did a good job of extending plays by running around and found a few open receivers after moving around. He was under constant duress from the pass rush so he was moving around on most plays. In fact, Flacco had the Ravens' two longest runs of the day — a testament to how bad the run game is right now — on his scrambles (gains of 15 and eight). Both of these runs went for first downs and the 15-yard run came on a third and 12.

Overall, it was a bad game for Flacco and the entire Ravens' offense.

Marlon Brown
One of the few bright spots from the game for the Ravens was the performance of Brown. Undrafted out of the University of Georgia, Brown made the team and is now the number two receiver — quite an accomplishment when you consider he tore his ACL last November.

Marlon Brown

Courtesy of ICON SMI

In this game, he had five catches for 54 yards, two touchdowns and a two-point conversion on nine targets. One of his three catches that didn't go for a touchdown went for a first down.

On his first touchdown, there were nine seconds left in the half and it was a first and ten from the Browns' 20-yard line. He ran a 15-yard out route to the near side of the field and was wide open. Flacco threw one of his best passes of the day and Brown dove in for the score. This touchdown made the score 14-10 to the Browns heading into halftime.

Brown's second touchdown came early in the fourth quarter with the Ravens down 21-10. The touchdown came on first and goal from the seven and he ran another out route. Following this touchdown, the Ravens correctly went for the two-point conversion with a play-action rollout. Flacco rolled to his right and Brown ran a speed out route and caught it for the conversion which made the score 21-18.

Quickly and quietly, Brown has become a dependable receiver for Flacco and has already outperformed his undrafted free agent status.

Torrey Smith
With the Browns shifting coverage over to Smith and placing star cornerback Joe Haden on him, Brown was able to get free and have his great game.

Despite Haden covering him for most of the game, Smith was able to record five catches for 78 yards on eight targets. His biggest play came on a third and eight with less than a minute left in the first half. Smith beat Haden deep on a post route (though it looked like Haden was expecting safety help) for a gain of 46 yards which set up the Ravens' first touchdown.

Two other catches from Smith went for first downs. The first was a gain of eight on a short crossing route on second and seven and the second was a gain of 1 on a hitch route on second and 10. These two plays show Smith's development as a receiver as these are two routes that he wouldn't have run last year when he was mainly a deep threat.

To come away with five catches for 78 yards while going up against Haden — one of the better cover corners in the league — is a good sign from Smith and means more teams will start to roll coverage over towards him.

Tandon Doss
Despite not making the Ravens' original 53-man roster, Doss had excelled in his second chance with the team, but made a costly mistake this week.

Since returning, he has been the punt returner and has the second highest punt return average in the league with his 17.8 yards per return (he is also the only returner in the top five with more than 10 returns as he has 19). This week however, he muffed a punt which the Browns were able to recover.

This muffed punt gave the Browns the ball at the Baltimore 11-yard line, which all but guaranteed them a field goal and gave them an easy chance for a touchdown (which is what happened). On the fumble, Doss straight up dropped the ball and then couldn't recover the ball after he landed right on it. The ball squirted between his legs and the Browns recovered.

Other than this, Doss actually had two good punt returns for gains of 28 and 36 which set the Ravens up at their own 47-yard line and the Cleveland 32-yard line. This second return set up the Ravens second touchdown.

On offense, Doss caught two passes for 29 yards and one went for a first down. If you take away the fumble, Doss had a good game, but you can't overlook something of that magnitude. Expect Doss to be returning punts next week despite this fumble though.

Offensive Line
Another game, another awful showing by the offensive line. This week saw a season-high five sacks and eight quarterback hits allowed along with zero holes in the running game.

The same unblocked pressure/sacks problem occurred. This time, Michael Oher, Marshal Yanda, and Ray Rice all were blocking people already on the side of the line where the blitz came from so there was nobody there to pick up the blitzer. As the quarterback, Flacco needs to know this and get rid of the ball faster. Also, the offensive line needs to do a better job of reading the blitz as Yanda double-teamed inside on a lineman. If he let Gino Gradkowski single-block that defender, then he could have taken the extra blitzer that sacked Flacco.

Oher gave up a couple of sacks from his right tackle position but they occurred when Flacco was trying to extend the ball by moving around in the pocket. Oher initially had his guy blocked but Flacco's moving around and Oher not being able to see that was the reason for the sacks. On a fourth and inches when the Ravens ran a quarterback sneak, Oher literally pulled Flacco for the first down. Flacco was in a massive pile and Oher came in and dragged him across the first down line.

Yanda, the right guard, had another sub-par game for his standard and was overpowered by defensive tackle Phil Taylor for a loss of three on a run play.

At center, Gradkowski, had another average day and was whistled for a holding penalty which killed a Ravens drive near mid-field.

Replacing the injured Kelechi Osemele (who is out for the year) at left guard was A.Q. Shipley and he filled in decently. He was penalized for a false start though.

Left tackle Eugene Monroe also had an average day. I didn't see anything spectacularly good or bad.

Arthur Jones
Moving to the defensive side of the ball, the Browns weren't able to rush the ball effectively as they gained only 2.6 yards per carry and a big part of that is because of the Ravens' defensive line.

Jones led the run-stuffing charge with three of his four tackles coming in the form of run stops. These run stops went for gains of two, zero, and two.

Not content to just stuff the run, Jones made an impact in the passing game as well. On the first play of the game, Jones burst through the line and flushed quarterback Jason Campbell out of the pocket — right into Terrell Suggs. On another play, Jones got pressure and hit Campbell which forced him to throw a check down pass to the running back which went for a gain of zero after a tackle by Jameel McClain.

This was yet another solid performance by the free-agent-to-be. Jones is setting himself up to get a nice payday this offseason.

Chris Canty
With Jones at one defensive end, Canty is at the other and together they form a talented tandem that can create problems for offensive lines.

Jones beat Canty in terms of run stops and tackles, but Canty was able to equal Jones' quarterback hits.

With three total tackles, Canty had two run stops which both went for gains of one. One of these run stops came when the Browns ran the wildcat formation. Canty wasn't fooled at all as he quickly diagnosed the play and made the stop.

His quarterback hit was probably the hardest hit by a Ravens' defender in the game as he absolutely leveled Campbell. However, he was just a second late as Campbell got the pass off which was completed for a gain of 32.

Daryl Smith
As usual, Smith, a middle linebacker, was all over the field making plays for the Ravens as he has done every other game.

Unsurprisingly he led the Ravens with nine tackles and also had one sack, pass defensed, and two quarterback hits.

Starting with run defense, Smith had run stops for gains of three, two, one and zero.

Daryl Smith

Courtesy of ICON SMI

In pass coverage, Smith snuffed out a screen pass and — with some help from defensive lineman Terrence Cody — he stopped the play for a loss of two yards. When in direct coverage, he allowed two catches for 19 yards and one first down.

Blitzing, Smith was able to record a sack and another quarterback hit. These two came on back-to-back plays in the second half. The first time, he blitzed up the middle and his pressure forced Campbell to throw the ball away just before getting hit. The following play, Smith came through the middle again as the center was occupied with another defender. Taking Campbell down for a loss of 13 on third and 10, Smith forced the Browns to punt with just over one minute left in the first half. This gave the Ravens the ball back and allowed them to score before halftime.

Smith was also penalized for unnecessary roughness when he tackled a wide receiver to the ground when the receiver didn't have the ball. The pass was thrown to this receiver and Smith couldn't see whether it was caught or not so he tackled him like he was supported to. This was a bad call, as it wasn't late and Smith was doing his job by tackling the receiver.

Terrell Suggs
For the seventh time in eight games, Suggs has recorded a sack and this one came on the first play of the game. Jones flushed Campbell out of the pocket towards Suggs and he finished him off for a loss of five, starting the game off right for the Ravens — though things soon came apart.

Other than this, Suggs didn't apply much pressure, but you have to remember that he was going up against All-Pro Joe Thomas (Suggs' sack came when he went against right tackle Mitchell Schwartz). In week two, Suggs got the better of Thomas so it makes sense that Thomas got the better of Suggs this time around as they are both All-Pro players.

With seven tackles though, Suggs was active in the run game as usual and had run stops for gains of two, two, zero and zero.

A few times, Suggs dropped into pass coverage and he gave up a completion one of these times: a gain of five on a second and six to the running back.

While Suggs made an impact on the game, his pass rushing partner Elvis Dumervil has nowhere to be found all game long and didn't even get into the box score. This can't happen again.

Cornerbacks
Number one cornerback Lardarius Webb has struggled in his return from his second ACL surgery and the Browns attacked him this week with success. Allowing five passes for 71 yards and three first downs, the Browns went after him early and often. The first two of the first downs that he allowed went for gains of 32 and 27. On an important fourth and one with three minutes left in the game, Webb was beaten for a gain of three. Also, on Davone Bess' second touchdown catch, Webb had his ankles broken by Bess with a nasty juke move (gif).

Jimmy Smith, the number two cornerback, had a more successful day in coverage, but left the game and didn't return due to a groin strain. When he was in the game, he allowed three passes to be completed against him for 26 yards and one first down. He made a good tackle on a third and goal play from the five-yard line when he pushed out a receiver at the one-yard line after allowing a catch. The Browns went for it and scored, but without Smith's play, the Browns would have already scored.

Nickel cornerback Corey Graham and the toughest game as he gave up three catches for 25 yards and two touchdowns. Starting with the one that didn't go for a touchdown, Graham had good coverage on a short crossing route and made the tackle right after the completion stopping the play for a gain of four. On the first touchdown, Bess beat Graham on an out route on the aforementioned fourth and goal. Bess also caught the second touchdown that Graham allowed out another out route. Bess faked inside with a jab-step and on this move, Graham fell as he tried to adjust when he saw it was a fake. A few yards downfield, Bess made Webb whiff as well. Graham had a good pass breakup when he jumped in front of a slant routine and swatted it down. When Campbell tried to scramble for a first down on a third and four, Graham was there to stop him for no gain. He also had a special teams tackle on the opening kickoff.

After The Bye Week: Ravens vs Browns

November 1, 2013 in What to Look For

For the second time this season, the 3-4 Baltimore Ravens will play their division rival, the 3-5 Cleveland Browns, this time in Cleveland. Last time these two faced was in week two when the Ravens won 14-6 after trailing 6-0 at halftime. Currently, the Ravens have an 11 game winning streak against the Browns — the longest active streak of regular-season wins by one team over another. The Ravens are coming off of their bye week and are 5-0 in games following their bye week under head coach John Harbaugh.

1.  Offensive Line
Today, news came out that starting left guard Kelechi Osemele is expected to be out for the season with a back injury. Previously, Osemele missed the game against the Miami Dolphins with the same back injury. After this game, Osemele said that he would need back surgery after the season. However, Osemele now needs that surgery now.

Taking his spot will be A.Q. Shipley, just like in Miami. Shipley is normally a center but can move over to guard if need be.

With Osemele out, the line will take a big hit as he has started every game since he was drafted in the second round last year. Making it even harder will be the fact that this occurred on a Friday. If he had been declared out earlier in the week, Shipley and the rest of the line would have had more time to prepare for the game together.

Also, the Browns have a defense that is in the top half of the league, and their strength is the front seven.

The offensive line will need to protect quarterback Joe Flacco well against this Browns Defense which racked up six sacks against the undefeated Kansas City Chiefs last week.

These sacks were achieved via various blitzes. Because the Browns like to blitz, communication along the offensive line is going to be important for the Ravens. This has been a problem for the Ravens at times this season as unblocked pressure has been allowed through quite often. With Osemele out, communication becomes even more critical as one of the starters won't have played much this season.

The potential problem point for the offensive line this week is the left side. Left tackle Eugene Monroe has only been with the Ravens for a few weeks and has never played with Shipley before. Also, center Gino Gradkowski has struggled this season and putting a new, less talented guard next to him could cause some problems. This is definitely something to look for during the game and something the Browns might try and exploit with blitzes.

Against the Browns last time, the Ravens line gave up two sacks for a combined loss of 14 yards.

2.  Torrey Smith vs Joe Haden
The last time that the Ravens and Browns faced off, I had this down as a key matchup. Yet again, this will prove to be an important matchup.

In week two, Smith had seven catches for 85 yards. Haden was covering Smith on eight of his 13 targets and allowed 46 yards.

Torrey Smith and Joe Haden

Courtesy of ICON SMI

When the Ravens entered their bye week, Smith led the NFL in receiving yards with 629 yards. Now that most of the league had a game to catch-up, Smith is 11th in the league. Many of Smith's stats put him near the top of the league. His 20.3 average yards per reception leads the league by 2,1 yards and has 14 catches of 20 plus catches is best by two catches. He is also ninth in the league for yards per game with 89.9 and is 13th in yards after the catch with 248 yards.

Over the last two seasons, Smith's first two in the NFL, he was mainly considered to be a deep threat. This season, this has changed as he has rounded his game out and is a much more polished receiver. Smith now runs a full route tree for the Ravens. They are also making a point to get him the ball in space to allow him to make plays after the catch with his speed. One way the Ravens like to do this is to run Smith on a short crossing route.

Haden is considered to be one of the top cornerbacks in the league with his great man-coverage skills. However, he has been struggling over the last two weeks. In these two games he has given up nine catches on 12 targets for 82 yards and two touchdowns according to Pro Football Focus. To put that in perspective, he had given up 21 catches on 44 targets for zero touchdowns in the first six games of the season.

This matchup will be one of the most important when the Ravens are on offense. If Haden can shutdown Smith, then the Ravens will struggle to pass the ball. Smith is the clear-cut number one receiver on the Ravens and it isn't even close. He is also Flacco's favorite receiver and his target numbers (23 more than the next highest, tight end Dallas Clark, and 28 more than the next best wide receiver, Marlon Brown) show this.

Expect the Ravens to try and test Haden early and see what form he is in. If he performs like he did at the start of the season, he will be avoided for the most part, but if he is playing like he has over the last two weeks, the Ravens will probably keep going after him.

3.  Run Game
Connected to the offensive line is the Ravens' run game, which has struggled to get going all season long.

The Ravens are the only team to average less than three yards per carry as the Ravens sit at 2.8 yards per game. They also average 74 yards per game which is 28th best in the league and have the third fewest rushing yards with 518.

Making matters worse this week is the Browns stout run defense which allows 3.7 yards per carry (tied for seventh best) and 103.6 yards per game (11th best). The one weakness of their run defense is rushing touchdowns as they have allowed nine which is tied for third worst in the NFL.

On the bright side for the Ravens is this: running back Ray Rice must love to play in Cleveland. Why? Well, in the last five seasons, he has had games of 154, 89, 92, 204 and 98 rushing yards, a total of 637 yards and an average of 127.4 rushing yards per game.

The 204-yard game came in week 13 of the 2011 season. Rice achieved this number on just 29 carries — a seven yard per carry average. In this game he ran for one touchdown and had long of 67 yards. Rice's numbers could have been way higher if backup Ricky Williams didn't also receive 16 carries (which he gained 78 yards and one touchdown on).

This week, the run game will be key as the Ravens don't want to become one-dimensional. While Rice isn't likely to repeat his 204-yard performance, if the Ravens can get 70 yards from him, it would be a big boast to the offense. (In the week two matchup, Rice was held to 36 yards on 13 carries and left in the second half with a hip injury).

4.  Stopping Josh Gordon and Jordan Cameron
The two biggest playmakers on the Browns offense, stopping Gordon and Cameron is going to be key for the Ravens Defense if they want to have the same success the last time they faced the Browns offense (six points allowed, 259 total yards and five sacks).

Cameron is a 6'5" tight end who is in the midst of a breakout season under new offensive coordinator Norv Turner. A former basketball player, the 25-year old is quickly becoming one of the better tight ends in the league. Through eight games he has 49 catches for 596 yards and six touchdowns (first, second and fourth best for tight ends). Against the Ravens in week two Cameron five catches for 95 yards on seven targets. On the Browns first offensive play, Cameron caught a 53-yard pass which put the ball on the Ravens' seven-yard line.

Gordon, like Smith, is a great deep threat, and at 22-years old, he is still learning the nuances of the position. Playing in six games this season, he has 32 catches for 582 yards and three touchdowns. His average of 18.2 yards per catch is second in the league behind Smith. With the NFL trade deadline passing Tuesday, there were numerous rumors of Gordon being traded, but no deal was worked out. There are some off-the-field concerns about him and he is one positive test away from a year-long suspension. He missed the Ravens matchup earlier this season as he was suspended for he first two games of the season.

The Ravens secondary will have trouble containing these two, but the one thing they have going for them is that at quarterback is Jason Campbell. While Campbell played well last week against the Chiefs, he is no franchise quarterback and has been inconsistent his entire career. Brandon Weeden played quarterback the last time these two played and Campbell is an improvement over him but he still has questions about his play.

At cornerback the Ravens have Lardarius Webb, Jimmy Smith and Corey Graham who all could line up against these two as they move around the formation. All three have struggled in coverage though this season and Webb hasn't looked like himself as he comes off a torn ACL. The Ravens play a lot of zone so, for the most part, the cornerbacks won't have to go one-on-one with Gordon or Cameron.

If the Ravens can shutdown Gordon and Cameron then they will stunt the Browns offense and make it very hard for them to move the ball.

Ravens Offense Continues To Struggle

October 14, 2013 in Observations

It is official now: the Baltimore Ravens have no run game.

A great performance from the defense — where they allowed 19 points  (and three of them aren't the fault of the defense) to a Green Bay Packers offense that was averaging 29.5 points coming into the contest — was squandered by a lack of offense.

Despite the great defensive performance, the Ravens' offense wasn't able to figure it out and find a way to win. Yet again, the offense produced nothing in the first half scoring zero points. In the second half, the offense put together some good drives, but by then, it was too late and the damage was already done.

For the first time since 1974, the Packers won a game in Baltimore — though they haven't exactly played many games in Baltimore since then. This was also the first time under head coach John Harbaugh that the Ravens lost to a NFC team at home. He is now 10-1 in these games.

There is no other part of the Ravens' that needs to be discussed than the offense.

Ray Rice

Courtesy of ICON SMI

For the fourth time this season, the Ravens' leading rusher was held to under 60 yards. The two times this didn't happen, the leading rusher ran for 65 and 74 yards, nothing that really inspires confidence.

For the day, the team was held to 47 rushing yards on 22 attempts, an average of 2.1 yards per carry. For the ninth straight time, the Ravens lost after rushing for less than 60 yards.

The root of this problem is the offensive line and the blocking that they provide or lack thereof blocking. On nine of the Ravens 21 designed run plays (the other run comes from a scramble from quarterback Joe Flacco), the running back was hit in the backfield. That is 43% of the time that the ball is run. Not even Adrian Peterson can do much when he is being hit in the backfield on almost half of his rushing attempts.

It comes as no surprise when you hear this that five runs went for negative yards and another five went for no gain. Forty-eight percent of the Ravens' rushing attempts went for a loss or no gain.

Let all of that sink in.

All of these runs for little or no gains set up third and longs which are always hard for an offense to convert.

The main problem with the run blocking right now seems to be that the linemen can't execute the zone-blocking scheme that the Ravens run, despite having run this same system last season.

Early in the game, the Ravens had a first and goal from the Packers' four-yardline and ran every play and weren't able to score. On fourth down, the Ravens went for it with another run and were stuffed, again.

Not only can the offense line not provide holes in the run game, they can't give Flacco any time to pass the ball.

Against the Packers' pass rush, the Ravens' offensive line gave up five sacks and three of these were unblocked. Giving up three sacks in one game is bad enough, but how can you give up three unblocked sacks?

Yesterday, there were three sacks that came from unblocked blitzers. Three. The first came on a third and 10 on the first drive of the game which resulted in a loss of 10 yards. This blitzer came between center Gino Gradkowski and right guard Marshal Yanda. The second came on a third and seven for a loss of ten and forced a fumble in the process which the Ravens were able to recover. This play occurred during the first drive of the second half. The blitzer came from the right side and everyone there was already blocking someone. This extra blitzer needs to be identified so the blocking can shift over or so Flacco knows and can get rid of the ball in time. The last of the unblocked sacks came on a second and 10 for a loss of seven from the right side again. On this play, Yanda and right tackle Michael Oher both were blocking guys and running back Ray Rice had two linebackers coming right at him. He was able to pickup one of them but the other came through and sacked Flacco. Rice can't be blamed here as he did his job of picking up a blitzer. Again, this needs to be identified pre-snap so the blocking can shift over or so Flacco can throw a hot route to a receiver.

Moving on to specific offensive linemen, Oher gave up five hurries which is a very, very high number for one game.

Yanda has uncharacteristically struggled for the better part of this season and yesterday was no different as he was whistled for two penalties: illegal use of hands to the face and a false start. The illegal use of hands to the face penalty set up a second and 25 for the Ravens and wasn't necessary from Yanda. The false start set up a second and 15.

Gradkowski was yet again pushed around in the run game and struggled in pass protection and clearly isn't making the right reads at the line with all of the unblocked pressure that is coming through the line. He was also flagged for a holding penalty on a pass play which set up third and 27. He was bailed out on the ensuing fourth down play where Flacco hit Tandon Doss for a gain of 63 yards.

Left guard Kelechi Osemele was able to play after missing most of last week's game with back spasms. On the play after Yanda's false start, Osemele had his own false start to give the Ravens a second and 20.

In his first game as a Ravens, left tackle Eugene Monroe played well except for one play. On this play, Monroe completely whiffed on his block and gave up a sack. Making matters worse, this sack forced a fumble which the Packers recovered with two seconds left in the half and kicked a field goal to go up 6-0 at halftime. While the play calling was questionable here — there was 12 seconds left in the half and from their own 34-yardline and the Ravens were passing the ball — this entire discussion would be avoided if Monroe didn't miss his block entirely.

Moving on to pass catchers, the Packers did a great job of shutting down Torrey Smith who entered the game as the third leading receiver in the NFL. Cornerback Sam Shields held Smith to just one catch for 12 yards. Despite only getting twelve yards receiving, Smith is still the fourth leading receiver in the league, which shows how good his first five games of the season were.

With Smith being held in check, other receivers needed to step up for the Ravens, and that happened as 293 of Flacco's 341 passing yards came from his other targets at receiver and tight end.

At tight end, Dallas Clark played a majority of the snaps after receiving little playing time last week behind Ed Dickson (who was 100 percent invisible this week). Clark caught four passes for 81 yards and one touchdown with two of the catches going for first downs. His touchdown catch was a beautiful one-handed grab on a seam route from 18 yards out which put the score at 19-17. Despite being 34 years old, Clark showed great acceleration on a 45-yard catch and run on a short crossing route.

Leading the Ravens with 99 receiving yards was Doss, who achieved this on four catches. The biggest offensive play of the game came from Doss on fourth and 21. Doss ran deep and was able to split the Packers two safeties and caught Flacco's pass for a gain of 63 yards. On the following play, Clark caught his touchdown pass with just over two minutes left in the game. While Doss was open by a sizable margin, he did a good job to get himself in this position. For the rest of the game, Doss looked like he had Flacco's trust and he mainly worked the shorter routes.

Returning after missing four games from a sprained MCL, Jacoby Jones caught two passes for 42 yards and one touchdown. On his touchdown, Jones ran right to the corner of the end zone, making his route a mix between a corner and a fly route. Flacco lofted the ball over the head of Jones' defender and Jones made a relatively easy catch for six points. His other catch went for 31 yards on a third and 10 on a deep in route.

Last of these four receivers who stepped up against the Packers was Marlon Brown who had three catches for 71 yards, including one that went for 59 yards. On this 59-yard catch, Brown caught a nine-yard curl route, stiff-armed one defender and ran up the sidelines for 50 more yards. Another of Brown's catches went for a first down when he caught a short crossing route, broke two tackles and gained 11 yards. His other catch came on a quick slant inside the red-zone that only went for one yard.

At the end of the day, Flacco completed 20-of-34 passes for 342 yards and two touchdowns for a passer rating of 112.6. Under constant duress from the Packers' pass rush, Flacco did a great job of moving around in the pocket to buy time. The best thing he did in these situations was stepping up in the pocket to avoid edge pressure. The only real bad pass that Flacco had all day came early on where he under-threw Brown on a deep pass and a Packer dropped the pass. Other than this, Flacco played a great game, especially when you consider how the run game and the offensive line performed around him.

Overall, the lack of a run game is the main thing that is hurting not just the Ravens' offense but the entire team. The defense gave up one touchdown to Aaron Rodgers and the Packers' high-powered offense and still lost the game.

With the Ravens' main rival, the Pittsburgh Steelers, up next on the schedule, the Ravens will need to try and find where their run game has gone off to. Making matters worse, the Steelers have always had a stout run defense.

Running the football used to be the Ravens' mantra on offense, but now, it is the offense's shortcoming.