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Ravens Receive Four Compensatory Picks

March 24, 2014 in News, NFL Draft

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

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

Joe Flacco

Courtesy of ICON SMI

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

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

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

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

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

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

Defense Leads Ravens To Victory

September 17, 2013 in Observations

What a difference a week makes. Last week, the Denver Broncos torched the Baltimore Ravens' defense for 49 points on the way to a 49-27 victory over the Ravens. This week, the Ravens' defense rose to the occasion, allowing just 259 totals yards and held the Cleveland Browns to just 6 points in the Ravens 14-6 victory.

Constant pressure disrupted the Browns' offense and an improved secondary had tight coverage throughout the game.

For the first half of the game, the Ravens' offense couldn't get much going and had to settle for two field goal attempts–50 yards and 44 yards. However, the usually reliable Justin Tucker missed both of these attempts wide right, giving the Browns a 6-0 lead heading into half time.

In the second half, the offense was able to finish off drives, scoring two touchdowns after an added emphasis on the run game.

Joe Flacco
Less than one hour before game time, Flacco's wife, Dana, gave birth to their second child, who was named Daniel. Despite this, Flacco played for the Ravens and was able to lead them to victory in their home opener.

For the game, Flacco went 22-of-33 for 211 yards and one touchdown pass with a QBR of 57 and a QB rating of 94.4. He started off strong, going 6-of-11 but soon cooled down throughout the rest of the first half. In the second half, the Ravens came out in a hurry-up offense, something Flacco has had success in before and marched right down the field for a touchdown

His main target was wide receiver Torrey Smith but on key third downs, he looked for, and found, wide receiver Brandon Stokley. Stokley caught three of his four passes for first downs, and all three of them came on third down. Two of these were first downs that kept touchdown drives alive, instead of having to settle for a field goal.

When Flacco was off-target, his throws ended up being high, as usual.

Running Backs
Running the ball 36 times, both of the Ravens running back got in their work on Sunday. Starter Ray Rice ran 13 times for 36 times and backup Bernard Pierce rushed 19 times for 57 yards and one touchdown.

Rice also added three catches for nine yards and seven of these yards came on one screen pass. Rushing the ball, he ran for two first downs and had one fumble. His fumble came on a second and eight and a Browns defender was just able to get a hand on the ball and knock it out. The Browns recovered the ball on the Baltimore 45-yardline but, the defense stopped the Browns from getting any points.

On the second play of the game Rice got into a confrontation with Browns defensive tackle Phil Taylor who was flagged for unnecessary roughness for hitting Rice on the helmet. Taylor claims that Rice spat on him but  you can't tell based off of the video replay whether Rice did or not.

In the fourth quarter, Rice left the game after going down untouched, holding his left hip. After the game it was determined that he strained his left hip flexor and had been ruled as day-to-day.

Pierce was able to find more success than Rice when running the ball. However, he still only averaged three yards per carry compared to Rice's 2.8. Like Rice, Pierce ran for two first downs. Receiving—not one of Pierce's strong points—he had caught one pass for minus two yards.

Rarely did Pierce go down after first contact. Two prime examples of this come on back-to-back plays. On first and ten from the Cleveland 13-yardline, Pierce took a handoff and ran eight yards, breaking multiple tackles. The following play, Pierce scored a five-yard touchdown. On this touchdown, he seemed to be stopped one yard short of the endzone but was able to power through two Cleveland defenders to reach the endzone.

Due to Rice's injury, Pierce played more snaps than expected and he impressed in these snaps rushing and in pass protection. In pass protection, he had multiple good blitz pickups, allowing Flacco to get a pass off.

Torrey Smith
Targeted early and often, Smith was clearly Flacco's favorite target on Sunday. Leading the Ravens with 13 targets, Smith caught seven passes for 85 yards, all while going up against Joe Haden, a top cover cornerback. Of his seven catches, four of them went for first downs.

Torrey Smith

Courtesy of ICON SMI

Used a mainly a deep threat last season, Smith has become the Ravens' number one receiver and with that comes more variety in pass routes. Against the Browns, Smith ran lots of underneath routes with many crossing routes and curls.

His day could have been better though as he caught a touchdown pass out-of-bounds. The throw from Flacco was right on his hands but Smith bobbled the pass and by the time he recovered possession of the ball, he was out-of-bounds. Another pass that Smith missed was a little harder. Early in the game, he tried to make a leaping, twisting catch, going across his body but the ball went just by his hands. This shouldn't be counted against Smith though as it was a bad pass by Flacco and Smith was open so Flacco needs to get a better pass there.

Marlon Brown
Two games into his NFL career, Brown is already setting records for the Ravens. With his touchdown catch yesterday, Brown became the first Ravens' rookie to catch a touchdown pass in his first two games. Making this even more impressive is that Brown was an undrafted free agent.

For the day, Brown caught four passes for 45 yards and one touchdown on six targets, with two of these catches going for first downs. Mid-fourth quarter, Brown had an impressive three play sequence. On a third and seven, Brown caught a 18-yard pass, bringing the ball to the Browns 6-yardline. After a one-yard run by Pierce, Brown caught a five yard touchdown pass.

On this touchdown, Brown lined up an outside receiver and ran a simple slant route. Open by a couple of step, Flacco threw it to Brown who dove into the endzone for a touchdown.

Offensive Line
As an overall summary of the offensive line, they weren't able to get much push in the run game, hence the 2.8 yards per carry on rushing attempts. Combined, they gave up two sacks and were called for zero penalties, which is something to be proud of as a unit.

Moving on to individuals, right tackle Michael Oher had a good day. Oher kept Paul Kruger from getting a quarterback hit, a big accomplishment considering that Oher was coming off a sprained ankle. He did give up a pressure on third and seven though, along with two other linemen, in what is best described as a combined failure. Lastly, he allowed Jabaal Sheard to hit Flacco as he threw, forcing an incompletion.

Right guard Marshal Yanda and center Gino Gradkowski both had quite days, a good thing for offensive linemen. They were the only two linemen not involved in the combined failure on the one play.

Left guard Kelechi Osemele allowed a sack along with left tackle Bryant McKinnie, so both get credited with half of a sack there. McKinnie was beaten on a speed rush by Browns rookie Barkevious Mingo for a sack early in the game.

Terrell Suggs
Of all the Ravens' defenders, Suggs was the one getting the most pressure on Browns quarterback Brandon Weeden. Despite going up against All-Pro left tackle Joe Thomas, Suggs was getting into the backfield all day long, recording six tackles, one sack, and three quarterbacks hits. The box score doesn't tell the whole story though.

Starting with run defense, Suggs have a run stop after a gain of three yards when the Browns where inside the Ravens' 10-yardline on their first drive. On a second and two, Suggs got into the backfield right away and blew up a run play. While he didn't make the tackle, Josh Bynes did, Suggs did most of the work as he slowed Richardson down and effectively stopped the run in its tracks.

Moving on to pass rushing, as stated, Suggs had success against Thomas. On Suggs' sack, he beat Thomas with a speed rush to the outside and forced Weeden to move up in the pocket. Arthur Jones then missed the sack and Suggs was able to make his way back around to take Weeden down for a loss of two. One the sack that Daryl Smith and Arthur Brown shared, Suggs also had pressure and ended up on top of Weeden with Smith and Brown. On a second and seven with seven seconds left in the first half, Suggs, along with Terrence Cody got instant pressure and forced Weeden to throw the ball away. With three minutes left in the game, the Browns had a forth and ten and Suggs was able to flush Jason Campbell (in for the injured Weeden) out of the pocket.

Elvis Dumervil
On the outside with Suggs is Dumervil and like Suggs, he also had a big game, recording four tackles, one sack, and three quarterback hits.

Not known for his run defense, Dumervil had a run stop, along with an assist from Daryl Smith, after a gain of two yards. Dumervil also assisted Haloti Ngata on a run stop for a short gain.

Dumervil gave Browns right tackle Mitchell Schwartz problems all game long with his speed rush. Unsurprisingly then, Dumervil's sack came on a speed rush where Schwartz never got his hands on Dumervil until it was way to late. This sack occurred on third and ten from the Ravens' 41-yardline and resulted in a loss of nine yards. Two plays earlier, on first down, Suggs recorded his sack, so Suggs and Dumervil stopped a Browns drive single-handed.

Daryl Smith
In a box score stuffing effort, Smith had a game-high 11 tackles, 1.5 sacks, two pass deflections, and two quarterback hits. His 1.5 sacks are a career high.

Daryl Smith

Courtesy of ICON SMI

Starting with pass coverage, Smith allowed four catches with two of them going for first downs. The two first downs came and a third and four (gain of 12) and a first and ten (gain of 12). The two other catches were when he was in coverage with James Ihedigbo where they stopped the receiver one yard short of the first down on third down and a first and ten where he gave up four yards. On a  second and 18, Smith deflected a pass. Later on in the game, he dropped an interception after Jimmy Smith tipped a pass right to him.

Smith was able to make up for this dropped interception by recording a sack two plays later on a third and ten for a loss of ten yards. Early in the game, Smith had a pressure on a blitz but overran Weeden and missed the sack. Another pressure came on a third and ten much later in the game where his pressure forced an incompletion. His half sack came on a third and four play on the first snap after the two minute warning in the first half. Along with Arthur Brown, Smith got to Weeden bringing him down for a loss of nine.

Moving to run defense, Smith assisted Dumervil on a run stop after a gain of two yards. On a toss play, Smith missed a tackle on Browns running back Trent Richardson. Smith had Richardson wrapped up for a gain of three yards but Richardson was able to escape, gaining four more yards.

Safeties
After a poor outing against the Broncos, veteran Michael Huff was benched in favor of rookie Matt Elam at free safety and James Ihedigbo stayed put at strong safety. Elam ended the game with five tackles and Ihedigbo had two.

Starting off with Elam, he allowed two catches both going for first downs. The first of these catches came on the first defensive play of the game for the Ravens. Tight end Jordan Cameron ran deep and caught a 53-yard pass. Elam was playing a deep-middle zone and wasn't able to get over in time to stop the pass. The other pass came on a second and six, giving up 21 yards to Cameron again. This pass was lofted between Elam and Daryl Smith who were both in zone coverage. On a third and seven, Elam was finally able to get the better of Cameron as Elam's tight coverage forced an incompletion. Late in the game, Elam was called for one of the Ravens' three penalties, a 21-yard pass interference call. For the most part this was a good first start for the rookie out of Florida.

Huff didn't get much playing time due to Elam taking his starting spot, and most of this time came on special teams. The one time I did notice Huff on defense was the play were Elam was flagged for pass interference. On this play Huff dropped an interception, though it would have been called back due to the penally.

The first noteworthy play that Ihedigbo made was a pressure on a blitz coming around the right tackle. In coverage, Ihedigbo only allowed one reception and wasn't really tested by the Browns during the game. In the second half, the Browns opened up with a couple of toss plays but Ihedigbo completely blew one of them up by blitzing to this side and getting deep into the backfield. He didn't make the tackle but his penetration set the edge and forced Richardson back inside where a gang of Ravens were waiting to tackle him. This play ended up going for a three yard loss. On special teams he was flagged for a holding penalty while blocking for a punt. Not a punt return, a punt. Ihedigbo was beaten by the man he had to block so instead of risking having the punt blocked, he held him. This wasn't that bad of a penalty as it saved a possible blocked punt.

Cornerbacks
Up last are the cornerbacks: Lardarius Webb, Jimmy Smith, and Corey Graham. Webb paced the group with nine tackles followed by Graham with four tackles and Smith with three tackles and three pass deflections.

While a high tackle total from a cornerback usually means that they gave up many receptions, however, with Webb this is almost never the case. Webb is a rare cornerback who excels in both pass coverage and run defense. In this game, he only gave up three catches with two them going for first downs. The one that didn't going for a first down was a gain of three on first and ten. The two that did go for first downs were a gain of 22 on second and nine (aided by a missed tackle by Webb) and an eight yard gain on second and seven. In the run game, Webb had a run stop for a gain of four yards and was involved in a couple of other tackles.

The most impressive game from a cornerback yesterday was by Smith. Against the Broncos, Smith gave up over 100 yards in coverage and one touchdown. This week saw Smith give up three catches with two of them for first downs. The two that went for first downs were a gain of 18 on a first and ten and he allowed a three yard gain on third and three, injuring himself in the process, missing only a few plays. The one completion that wasn't a first down was a quick screen, not something that a cornerback can breakup when they are playing of the line-of-scrimmage. Smith did a great job on this play though as he came right up and slowed the receiver down enough for the rest of the defense to come over and stop the screen after a gain of three. One of his pass breakups went right to Daryl Smith but he dropped it. Another was on a corner route where Smith was able to jump up and bat the pass away before the receiver could catch it. The up-and-down play from Smith continues as he follows up a bad game with a great game. If he can cut down on the bad games, then him and Webb will form top cornerback tandem.

While Smith had a bad game against the Broncos, Graham had an awful game, causing Smith to actually get the start against the Browns. This game was pretty uneventful for Graham as he had one special teams tackle and allowed two passes to be completed against him. The first of which came on a third an eight and Graham was able to push the receiver out-of-bounds three yards short of the first down. The other reception went for a first down on a third and four where he allowed an eight yard catch. Both of these catches were on short crossing routes.

History Says Ravens Will Have "Next Man Up" For Fallen Pitta

July 28, 2013 in Baltimore Ravens

John Feinstein, an award-winning columnist and one of the nations most successful and prolific sports authors and now host of the John Feinstein Show on CBS Sports Radio, spent the entire 2004 season with the Baltimore Ravens. Feinstein, who has authored over two dozen fantastic books, was granted unprecedented access into the daily happenings of everyone that mattered and did not matter with the 9-7 underachieving 2004 Ravens team.

What Feinstein chose to call the book is the mantra by which the Ravens organization has always operated under and now with the teams most dependable receiving target likely lost for the entire 2013 season, will need to once again remind themselves of before they even play one snap of a preseason football game.

On Saturday, Ravens tight end Dennis Pitta, who also happens to be Super Bowl MVP quarterback Joe Flacco’s favorite target, dislocated his hip after he collided with safety James Ihedigbo in the back of the end zone trying to catch a pass delivered by Flacco. After lying on the field in obvious pain for several minutes, Pitta was carted off and last night underwent surgery to repair the damage. Just minutes ago, the Baltimore Sun reported that Ravens head coach John Harbaugh made it official, Pitta is gone for the 2013 season.

This brings me to the philosophy the Ravens organization has always prided themselves in– and what Feinstein ultimately titled his 2005 book about his season long experience in Baltimore, “Next Man Up”.

Finding a replacement for Pitta will not be easy for this team but when you consider how the Ravens won a Super Bowl last season, not impossible to say the least. Entering his fourth season and final year of his current contract, Pitta was on the verge of a breakout season. Drafted by the Baltimore Ravens in the fourth round (114th overall) of the 2010 NFL Draft, the 6-foot-4, 245-pounder from BYU caught 61 passes for 669 yards and seven touchdowns last season.

In 2012’s Week 15 game vs. Denver, Pitta set career highs in receiving yards (125) and TD catches (2) while grabbing seven receptions. He scored his second TD of the game on a 61-yard catch and run – breaking three tackles along the way – a play that stands as the Ravens’ second-longest from scrimmage in 2012. Pitta’s seven TDs in 16 games tied Todd Heap (2005) for the most scores by a TE in Ravens single-season history.

During the Ravens Super Bowl run, American Express, as Pitta is nicknamed by teammate Terrell Sugggs, because you don’t leave home without him, as Suggs says, caught 14 balls for 163 yards and three huge scores. In six postseason games with the Ravens, Pitts has 21 catches for 233 yards and four touchdowns.

Pitta’s progression was easy to follow because of his ascent. He was 11th amongst TE’s in yards last season, ninth in receptions but tied for sixth with seven touchdown receptions in 2012.  The Ravens were looking for possible top five production from Pitta in those categories this season and in all honesty— it is entirely possible they were even relying on it but that doesn't mean they will be caught with their pants down.

Pitta with a nice catch

Calculating what Pitta could have accomplished this season will hurt to see Ravens fans. Keeping Pitta at a reasonable progression rate and factoring in how he has progressed during the past two seasons, 850 to 900 yards– and nine to 10 touchdowns were a very real possibility this season. Any of those combinations would have had Pitta in the top five amongst TE’s during the 2012 season.

The point to this is he will be missed and there is no way around that. However, this is the Ravens, a team run by a wizard and coached by a member from one of the first families of football. This is an organization that no matter how you slice the purple pie, the Ravens will rebound from the heartache of losing Pitta.

There are plenty of recent examples to support this claim. While Joe Cool may miss Mr. Reliable, Flacco and the Ravens have been here before. Two seasons ago following the lockout, two of the first moves Ravens General Manager Ozzie Newsome made was to release the franchises top two leading pass catchers in TE Todd Heap and WR Derrick Mason. Mason, during one stretch of his career in Baltimore was more of a security blanket to Flacco than the one that Peanuts character Linus carries on his shoulder while sucking his thumb.

Saying goodbye is never easy, especially when you consider that they finished second, third on the team in receiving yards in 2010, and combined to catch 12 of Flacco’s 25 touchdowns that season. The move, as it always seems to be, was the right one. Heap since leaving Baltimore has 377 yards and one touchdown. Mason went onto play for two teams catching just 19 more passes in his career before retiring.

As two future “Ring of Honor” inductees struggled, the Ravens would watch, as the next men up would come through for the team. Although Flacco threw for 20 less yards and five less TD’s in 2011, the Ravens, as a team advanced all the way to the AFC Championship game.

Then there was last season, where the next man up philosophy was not just an organizational belief but also a daily affirmation for the Ravens, especially on the defensive side of the football. It all started in May, well before the season began when the reigning 2011 Defensive Player of the Year, Terrell Suggs injured his Achilles during offseason workouts (wink-wink) and was lost for the first six games of the 2012 season.

The next man up would be a combination of players and schemes but Paul Kruger would be the man that benefited the most. With nine QB takedowns in 2012, Kruger finished the season as the Ravens sack leader. He would also prove to be a defensive MVP for the Ravens during the playoffs with 14 tackles and 4.5 additional sacks.

Kruger parlayed his success into a massive offseason free agent contract with a division rival in the Cleveland Browns. Suggs replacement during the first six games of the 2012 season will now be expected to produce week in and week out in Cleveland after signing a five-year $41 million contract. Whether Kruger can be that player remains to be seen but he did just fine as the next man up in Baltimore.

Webb after ACL injury

Suggs would indeed return in Week 7 but he would join a defense that was dealt a serious blow the week before at home vs. the Dallas Cowboys. During that contest, the Ravens lost their top cornerback, as well as the heart and soul of the franchise for the rest of the regular season. Ray Lewis tore his triceps muscle and Lardarius Webb, an ACL.

The next men up would be Dannell Ellerbe for Lewis and after on the fly in game tryouts, Corey Graham for Webb. Like Kruger, Ellerbe would succeed and make the most of his opportunity. As the man selected to replace the legend in the middle, Ellerbe finished the year with 89 tackles, second on the team and 4.5 sacks, which was tied for third.

His play in the postseason was also MVP like, as he finished second to Ray Lewis, who returned from injury, with 32 total tackles. His one interception came in the AFC Championship game off a deflected Tom Brady pass but it helped seal the Ravens trip to New Orleans. Expected to re-sign with Baltimore once free agency began in March, Ellerbe instead chose to take his talents to South Beach for the upcoming season. Also like Kruger, the former Georgia standout parlayed his solid play into a big offseason contract. The Miami Dolphins GM Jeff Ireland blew the Ravens out of the water giving Ellerbe five years and $35 million. According to sources close to those negotiations, the Ravens were not close to that money and decided to move forward with their next man up mantra or look elsewhere in free agency, which they did.

While may contributed during the loss of players, Graham is the only returning defensive player that significantly contributed. He started 2012 on the special teams where he earned a Pro- Bowl berth with the Bears in 2011 but he finished the year playing like a Pro-Bowl cornerback filling in for Webb.

The former fifth round selection of Chicago in 2007, finished tied for second on the team (Dannell Ellerbe) with 32 tackles in the postseason. He also posted a team leading seven passes defended and two interceptions, as well as a half-sack. He was a leader on a championship defense that forced 10 turnovers in four playoff games. In addition, his two interceptions were huge, as he picked off the one and only Peyton Manning twice in the AFC Divisional game. Both led to big scores. The first pick resulted in six points when Graham returned Manning’s pass 39-yards for a touchdown and the second came near the end of the first overtime that set up kicker Justin Tucker’s game winning field goal.

Dickson will need to be huge in 2013

This is also a franchise that went 8-2 during a two year stretch (2010-2011) when missing Ed Reed and Ray Lewis from games. These are just several examples of a franchise that believes in making sure the next man up is ready to step in and perform. It does not matter who the head coach is– this is a franchise that believes in its philosophies and does not deviate regardless of the circumstances. They draft that way, they sign free agents that way and they show up and play that way.Despite not having three of the team’s projected best defensive players on the field for most of the 2012 season, all the Ravens did was win a Super Bowl. This is a team that simply put, knows how to overcome adversity. Whether it is losing players to injury or losing four of five games to close the season last year, the first Super Bowl Champion to ever do so, the Ravens will find a way, they always do. While this is a horrible injury to Pitta and the Ravens are concerned for their fallen player, the thought process shifted almost immediately, to how, as a team, they were going to help the "Next Man Up" be successful this season. And if history tells us anything with the Ravens, you had better believe that Ed Dickson or whoever seizes the opportunity will be a contributor on a team heading to their sixth straight playoff appearance—-NEXT MAN UP!

 

 

Ravens Free Agency Recap: Day One

March 13, 2013 in Free Agency, News

Here is a recap of all your Baltimore Ravens free agency news from the first day.

The Ravens placed a 2nd round tender on TE Dennis Pitta.

The Ravens placed a 2nd round tender on DE Arthur Jones.

The Ravens placed an original round (3rd) tender on TE Ed Dickson.

The Ravens re-signed WR David Reed to a 2-year deal worth a maximum of $2.5 million.

The Ravens re-signed S James Ihedigbo to a 1-year deal.

The Ravens re-signed LS Morgan Cox to a 2-year deal.

The Ravens re-signed G Ramon Harewood.

The Ravens re-signed RB Damien Berry.

The Cleveland Browns agreed in principle to a 5-year deal worth $40 million with Ravens LB Paul Kruger.

The Miami Dolphins agreed in principle to a deal with Ravens LB Dannell Ellerbe.  The deal is worth $35 million over 5 years.

The Ravens made an effort to re-sign Ellerbe but, they were never very close to a deal.

The Ravens are rumored to be interested in former Rams WR Danny Amendola.

The Ravens signed DT Chris Canty who was recently cut by the Giants to a 3 year deal worth $8 million.

The Ravens have talked with the agent for former Steelers LB James Harrison.

Dannell Ellerbe (left) and Paul Kruger (right)

Two starting LBs for the Ravens, Dannell Ellerbe and Paul Kruger, have left in free agency.

Win In The Trenches, Win The Game

January 31, 2013 in Super Bowl XLVII, What to Look For

Super Bowl XLVII is being dubbed as the "Harbowl" because of brothers John and Jim Harbaugh being the head coaches of the Baltimore Ravens and San Francisco 49ers respectively.  While this is a good storyline, it won't exactly determine who will win this game.  These two teams played last season on Thanksgiving night in Baltimore and the Ravens won 16-6.  Both teams are similar to those teams from 2011 but, there are still many differences.  In this game, the key will be winning the battle of the trenches.

1.  Offensive Line
The biggest reason the Ravens are in the Super Bowl, in my opinion, is the offensive line.  You can argue other things like the defense stepping up, Ray Lewis announcing his retirement, and Joe Flacco but, without the offensive line, Flacco wouldn't be playing as good as he has.  Without Flacco, the Ravens wouldn't have made it this far so, the offensive line is a big deal.

Throughout the postseason, the offensive line has given up only four sacks in three games.  In the regular season, they allowed thirty-eight sacks in sixteen games.  This comes out to 2.38 sacks per game.  Sacks isn't the whole story though, as the line was allowing constant pressure during some games which gave Flacco no chance to complete was pass.  In fact, in the game against the Denver Broncos in week 15, the line allowed eighteen hurries, ten knockdowns, and three sacks (not counted as knockdowns) on forty pass attempts.  In their matchup in the Divisional Playoffs, the Broncos only had one sack and never had much pressure.

The reason for this sudden change was a change in the line itself.  Starting LG Jah Reid was injured for the Wild Card game against the Indianapolis Colts.  This forced a complete reshuffling of the line.  Normal LT Michael Oher went to RT, normal RT Kelechi Osemele went to LG, and backup Bryant McKinnie went to LT.  McKinnie started at LT last season but was forced to the bench when the Ravens drafted Osemele. Before the next game, against the Broncos, the Ravens placed Reid on injured reserve which locked in this lineup for the rest of the playoffs.

On to Super Bowl XLVII, the line will face a tough matchup with the 49ers who finished the regular season 3rd in total yards allowed and 2nd in points per game.  The biggest challenge will be for the left side of the offensive line.  Left tackle McKinnie will go up against Defensive Player of the Year candidate Aldon Smith who has 19.5 sacks this season.  Right guard Marshal Yanda will face All-Pro DE Justin Smith.  One stat in favor of the Ravens is that neither has recorded a sack since week 14 against the Miami Dolphins.  The reason for this is Justin Smith then missed some time with a triceps injury.  This shows that without Justin Smith, Aldon Smith is an "average" pass rusher.  Even in their two playoff games, Aldon Smith has no sacks and Justin Smith has been playing injured in those two games.

Since Yanda is an All-Pro guard, the Ravens will hope he can handle Justin Smith one-on-one.  This then allows more attention to go to Aldon Smith with McKinnie probably getting some help from a tight end or a running back.  If Yanda can handle Justin Smith, it frees up the whole offensive line.  It means on run plays C Matt Birk and LG Kelechi Osemele could double team NT Isaac Sopoaga and lets FB Vonta Leach get to the second level and take out one of the 49ers All-Pro ILBs in Patrick Willis and NaVorro Bowman.

The key for the Ravens offensive line is to stop Justin Smith.  If they can do this with just Marshal Yanda then it will free up other lineman to block linebackers and the rest of the defensive line.  Anytime you can get offensive lineman on linebackers in the run game, it is good.  In the passing game, if the line can hold up, Flacco should play similar to how he has so far in the playoffs.

2.  Joe Flacco
Speaking of Flacco, he has big responsibilities in the game.  This is his chance to show the world that he is an elite quarterback like he said before the season.  So far this postseason, he has been elite going 51-of-93 for 853 yards with 8 TDs, 0 INTs, and a QB rating of 114.7.  His passing yards, touchdowns, interceptions, and QB rating are all the best for QBs in this postseason.  

Beyond the stats, he has gone into Denver and beat MVP candidate Peyton Manning and went into New England and beat Tom Brady.  Not only did he beat both, he outperformed them and now he finds himself in New Orleans for the Super Bowl while they watch from home.

The best part of Flacco's game this postseason has been the deep passing game.  On passes to wide receivers Torrey Smith and Anquan Boldin, Flacco is averaging 16.7 yards per completion.  During the regular season, the 49ers were good at stopping the deep pass but, in the playoffs, they have regressed and quarterbacks are 10-of-15 for 264 yards with 3 TDs, 1 INT, and a QBR of 100.  If you want to see a full chart for this click here.

Expect the Ravens to come out passing against the 49ers.  Against the Patriots in the AFC Championship Game, they came out running and it didn't work.  In the second half, they started to pass the ball and this second half performance won the game for them.  Don't expect the Ravens to abandon the run game though as they will need it for play-action passes and the Ravens always seem to lose when they don't run the ball.  As always, they will use Smith to take the top off the defense and then use Boldin and TE Dennis Pitta across the middle of the field.

Joe Flacco

The Ravens will need one more good game from QB Joe Flacco to win the Super Bowl.

3.  Stopping the Run
When the 49ers played the Green Bay Packers in the Divisional Playoffs, the Packers couldn't stop QB Colin Kaepernick or RB Frank Gore.  In the NFC Championship Game against the Atlanta Falcons, the Falcons were able to stop Kaepernick from running but couldn't stop Gore.  If the Ravens want to win, they will have to at least contain both of them.

Coming into this game, the Ravens Defense is on fire.  They have given up 14 points per game in the playoffs and have only allowed four touchdowns.  Despite the Ravens not having played a good running teams in the playoffs, they have a few advantages over the Packers and the Falcons in stopping the 49ers run game.

The best defense to run for stopping the option, which the 49ers will run, is the 3-4, which the Packers use but not the Falcons.  However, the Packers Defense has consistently been awful over the last few years.  The Ravens run the 3-4 defense and, they have the right personnel to stop the outside runs.

Rookie outside linebacker Courtney Upshaw has been one of the best run defenders at his position all season long.  Therefore, expect him to play a little bit more than usual on Sunday.  When you think of Terrell Suggs, you think of a pass rusher, not a run defender.  However, Suggs has become a good run defender over the last few years and it has become the most evident this year.  Due to all of his injuries limiting his pass rushing ability, Suggs has become a better run defender.  Paul Kruger also will play at OLB for the Ravens but he is mainly a pass rusher so he won't be talked about here.

The outside linebackers in a 3-4 defense are the most important players in stopping outside runs, which is mainly what Kaepernick does.  Since the Ravens have a pair of good outside linebackers, the should be ok in this part of the run game.  They also showed this in their week 14 matchup against the Washington Redskins.  While the Ravens lost, they were able to limit QB Robert Griffin III to 34 yards on 7 rushes before he was hampered by a knee injury.  Therefore, it is Gore that the Ravens will have to really worry about.

The outside linebackers will have to set the edge for runs and probably will be assigned to Kaepernick on the option plays.  This means that the rest of the front seven will be responsible for stopping Gore.  This is what the Falcons couldn't do and the Ravens could fall in the same boat. The nose tackle position has been very inconsistent for the Ravens this year with not very good production.  This allows lineman to get blocks on the linebackers which can spring the running backs free.  This is never good for a run defense as it allows constant runs of five yards or more.

A way to fix this is putting normal DE Haloti Ngata at NT but this all but eliminates him from rushing the passer which he is so good at. Therefore, the Ravens will have to stick with Ma'ake Kemoeatu and Terrence Cody at NT.  Them, along with DEs Ngata, Arthur Jones, and Pernell McPhee will need to get push and take on blockers to disrupt the runs and allow the linebackers to run free and make tackles.

Expect the Ravens to have schemed up a decent way to stop this high powered run game of the 49ers.  However, 49ers head coach Jim Harbaugh and offensive coordinator Greg Roman are great offensive minds which means they also will have schemed up something.  This means it will come down to execution and who can make plays.

4.  Pass Rush
Containing Kaepernick isn't the only thing the Ravens outside linebackers will have to do, they will also have to generate a pass rush when the 49ers pass it.  It will be a tough challenge for the Ravens pass rushers as the 49ers line has only given up two sacks this postseason but, they did give up forty-one sacks in the regular season which ranks tied for 23rd best in the NFL.

The Ravens, on the other hand, recorded thirty-seven sacks in the regular season, tied for 15th best, and have six sacks in the postseason.  In the game against the Patriots, they recorded no sacks but were able to have constant pressure.  Rushing the passer isn't all about sacks, most of it is getting enough pressure to force the ball out of the quarterback's hands before he wants to throw it.

Playing the 49ers, the biggest problem with getting pressure is the threat of Kaepernick to scramble and pick up chunks of yards.  Therefore, don't be surprised if the Ravens have either a linebacker in the middle of the field spy Kaepernick or just tell the edge pass rusher to contain on certain plays.  This should limit the scrambling ability of Kaepernick on pass plays.

On to specific players, OLB Paul Kruger had been quite a tear since week ten against the Oakland Raiders.  He had a total of ten sacks in nine games starting with that game.  His streak finished after a 2.5 sack performance against the Colts in their Wild Card game.  He has been shut out in the last two playoff games though.  The Ravens will need Kruger to regain his late season form to get pressure on Kaepernick and disrupt the 49ers passing game.

On the other side of the line will the Terrell Suggs.  Suggs has overcome a torn achilles and a torn biceps to be able to play this season.  In the regular season, Suggs was only able to record two sacks in eight games.  In the postseason, however, Suggs has two sacks, both against the Broncos.  Suggs will need to be in top form as the 49ers have a great offensive line, plus he will have big responsibilities in the run game.

While Kruger and Suggs will rush from the outside, Haloti Ngata, Arthur Jones, and Pernell McPhee will rush Kaepernick from the inside.  Of those three, McPhee has turned his game on recently.  Against the Patriots he batted down two passes including one that resulted for an interception.  In the previous game, he had a strip sack of Peyton Manning.  McPhee had been limited by injuries all year but now, he seems to be back in form.  Jones had 4.5 sacks in weeks 12-14 but has no others on the season.  Ngata, has been a force inside when healthy and, he seems to be in good health right now.

As stated above, who ever wins in the trenches will win the game.  So, it might not be as fun to watch as a high powered passing offense, like the Patriots, but the battle in the trenches will be great to watch as there will be some great matchups and, most importantly, it will determine the game.

Paul Kruger

Ravens OLB Paul Kruger will be a key player in Super Bowl XLVII.

Ravens Advance To Super Bowl XLVII

January 22, 2013 in Observations

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

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

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

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

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

Joe Flacco

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

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

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

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

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

Anquan Boldin

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

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

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

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

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

Pernell McPhee

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bernard Pollard

Ravens S Bernard Pollard goes in for a tackle.

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

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

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

John Harbaugh

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

Ravens Stun Broncos in Double OT

January 13, 2013 in Observations

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Joe Flacco

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

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

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

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

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

Jacoby Jones

Ravens WR Jacoby Jones catches his game tying touchdown.

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

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

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

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

Terrell Suggs

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

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

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

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

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

Corey Graham

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

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

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

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

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

Justin Tucker

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

Do The Ravens Really Have A Chance?

January 10, 2013 in What to Look For

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

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

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

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

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

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

Peyton Manning (left) and Ray Lewis (right)

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

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

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

Paul Kruger

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

 

Ravens Advance To Face Broncos

January 7, 2013 in Observations

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

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

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

Ray Rice

Ravens RB Ray Rice fumbles the ball.

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

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

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

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

Anquan Boldin

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ray Lewis

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ray Lewis

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

Ravens Will Face Colts in Playoffs

December 31, 2012 in Observations

Baltimore Homepage

This week the now 10-6 Baltimore Ravens lost to the 10-6 Cincinnati Bengals.  The Ravens rested many key players and others only played two series and then left.  Backups played in the last three quarters and some entered near the end of the first quarter.  The Bengals played their offensive starters in the first half and backups in the second.  On the defensive side, they kept most of their starters in throughout the game. With this loss, the Ravens will be the 4th seed in the playoffs and the Bengals will be the 6th seed. Each team didn't really have anything to gain, hence all the backups playing.  The Bengals will face the 3rd seed Houston Texans in Houston on Saturday at 4:30pm ET and the Ravens will host the 5th seed Indianapolis Colts on Sunday at 1pm ET.

Tyrod Taylor
Starting quarterback Joe Flacco only played in two series but, since he got the start, he tied the Ravens record for most consecutive starts with 80.  He is tied with current San Diego Charger LB Jarret Johnson.  On to Taylor, he showed some flashes of great potential against most of the Bengals defensive starters.  Most of the plays made by Taylor were with his feet.  He either ran the ball or was able to escape the pocket and find a receiver.  In the running game he had, by my count, 4 first downs, including a weaving 28 yards run.  His rushing touchdown came on a pass play.  Taylor ran a bootleg and to escape pressure, he ran the ball into the endzone on 2nd and goal from the 1 yardline.  Taylor finished with 9 rushes for 65 yards, some of which were by design on option and others were just him making plays.  In the passing game, Taylor finished 15-of-25 for 149 yards, 1 INT, with a QB rating of 60.2 and a QBR of 46.  Since the offensive line kept allowing pressure, Taylor didn't have time to sit back and be a pocket quarterback.  He did a good job of escaping multiple sacks.  Lastly, his interception clinched the game for the Bengals.  On a 3rd and 7 near their own endzone, Taylor had a pass batted down at the line by Carlos Dunlap.  Dunlap then caught the ball and ran it in for 6 points.  Overall, it was good to see what Taylor can do as he hasn't gotten an extended look in a regular season game because of Flacco's consecutive game streak.  It was an up and down game for Taylor but, he showed some good potential.

Tyrod Taylor

Ravens QB Tyrod Taylor tries to escape from Bengals DE Carlos Dunlap.

Running Backs
With Ray Rice only getting three rushing attempts, there was plenty of chances for backups Bernard Pierce and Anthony Allen.  Rice had 3 rushes for 5 yards and was called for an unnecessary roughness penalty for a late block which put the Ravens out of field goal range on their first drive.  In his defense, Rice had his back to the play and probably didn't know Flacco had thrown the ball.

Bernard Pierce had another good performance rushing 22 times for 89 yards against the 12th ranked rushing defense in the league which only allowed 107.2 yards per game (the Ravens totaled 206 yards).  Pierce ran for 3 first downs, by my count, including a 4th and 1 conversion on the opening drive.  Throughout the game he didn't go down on first contact and seemed to always get positive yards.  In the passing game, he caught 1 pass for 4 yards.  He also had a miscommunication with Taylor on a 3rd down pass route which would have led to a pick 6 if the defender hadn't dropped the ball.  He also dropped a swing pass and had bad blitz pickup on a TE screen which led to the ball being thrown away.  During the 3rd quarter, he limped off the field but was able to come back and finish the game.  Allen had more attempts and rushing yards yesterday, than his entire career.  He had 10 rushes for 41 yards and scored his first career touchdown.  His only first down came on a 20 yard run off the option which set the Ravens up on the 2 yardline.  On the next play, he scored a touchdown.

Allen also had 1 catch for 7 yards.  This was a great performance for any number 3 running back, especially when you consider he was on the originally assigned to the practice squad but then signed to the active roster just before the season opener.

Overall, the Ravens running backs played well against a very good Bengals Defense.

David Reed
Once all the starters were out, Reed was in at WR for the rest of the game.  He had 3 catches for 44 yards on 4 targets.  Two of his catches went for first downs and, both of the first downs were important.  The first came with under 30 seconds left in the 1st half, helping the Ravens move the ball downfield for a possible field goal before halftime.  The other first down occurred on 2nd and 16 and went for a gain of 23 yards.  This season is the first time Reed has seen more than a few plays at receiver and he has 5 catches for 66 yards to show for it.

Ed Dickson
Dickson played TE great yesterday and had a statline similar to what starter Dennis Pitta has each game.  Not only did Dickson have 6 catches for 64 yards on 8 targets, he led the Ravens in catches, receiving yards, and targets.  Of his 6 catches, 4 went for first downs, which is another thing that Pitta does most of the time.  Tyrod Taylor looked very comfortable throwing to Dickson throughout the game, and the statline shows it.

Ed Dickson (left) Dennis Pitta (right)

Ravens TE Ed Dickson performed well in place of Dennis Pitta.

Offensive Line
The main stat to look at for offensive line is sacks.  The Ravens line failed this test by allowing 4 sacks for a loss of 37 yards.  However, the running blocking by the line was much better paving the way for 206 rushing yards.  Now for individual notes.

Starting on the left side, LT Michael Oher was part of 3 of these sacks.  On a 3rd and 10, he allowed a sack with LG Jah Reid.  He then left the game like most starters but, then returned when RT Kelechi Osemele left with an undisclosed injury.  At RT, he allowed a sack on a 3rd down and another sack with RG Bobbie Williams with under two minutes left in the game.  Lastly, Oher was blocking Dunlap when he tipped the ball and intercepted it for a touchdown.

Bryant McKinnie came in for Oher at LT, and he wasn't much better.  With the Ravens backed up inside their own 10, McKinnie had a false start. He also allowed a sack inside the 10 putting the ball on the 1 yardline.  Lastly, he should have allowed another sack but, Taylor was able to escape the pass rusher.

By comparison, LG Jah Reid had a much better game.  Sack wise, he split credit with Oher for one sack.

When Tyrod Taylor came in at QB, rookie Gino Gradkowski came in with him.  The only bad thing he did was get called for a holding.

Bobbie Williams started at RG in place of Marshal Yanda.  Williams was called for 3 penalties and allowed a sack.  On one drive, he had a false start on 1st down.  Then on 2nd down, he was called for an unnecessary roughness which set up a 3rd and 27 which killed the drive.  Later in the game on a 2nd and 2, he was called for a holding which took away a first down run by Taylor.

Last, is RT Kelechi Osemele.  He was only called for a false start.  When the backups came in, he stayed, but then left with an undisclosed injury and never returned.  This isn't expected to be serious and he should be fine for next week.

Ma'ake Kemoeatu
Usually, a NT, Kemoeatu started at DE because Haloti Ngata was inactive.  In Ngata's place, Kemoeatu had his best game of the season.  On a 3rd and 2 play, he had his first sack of the season for a loss of 1.  When the Bengals were near midfield, Kemoeatu helped stop a 3rd and 1 run for no gain.  Later on in the game he stopped a run play on first down for a loss of 3.  His other tackle came on a run play that resulted in a gain of 1.

Terrence Cody
While Cody didn't make it into the box score, he still had an impact on the game.  In the 3rd quarter, he was called for roughing the passer on 1st down which put the Bengals on the Ravens 37 yardline.  The Bengals would eventually score a field goal.  Later on, Cody had pressure on a 2nd and 10 play.  This pressure cause the quarterback to throw the ball away.  The Bengals were trying to run a screen on this play but never got the chance to.  Even more important was that the Bengals had the ball on the Ravens 15 yardline.  The Bengals couldn't do anything on 3rd down so they ended up kicking a field goal.

Ma'ake Kemoeatu (left) Terrence Cody (right)

Ravens DTs Ma'ake Kemoeatu and Terrence Cody both had good games.

Dannell Ellerbe
In what could possibly be the last game of the season for the Ravens without Ray Lewis, Ellerbe played great.  While he only had 6 tackles, he made the most of them.  On a 3rd and 3, Ellerbe stopped a run for a gain of 1.  Ellerbe continues to be a great blitzer.  On one play, he timed the snap count perfectly and went untouched to the quarterback.  However, he wasn't able to take the quarterback down.  With under 2 minutes left in the 1st half, Ellerbe blew up a screen.  He read it perfectly and ran past all the blockers, stopping the screen for a loss of 2 yards.  Lastly, he did get a sack later in the game when the snap was fumbled and the quarterback just stayed on the ground after recovering the fumble.

Paul Kruger
On the play where Ellerbe wasn't able to get a sack, Kruger was able to finish the play and push the scrambling quarterback out-of-bounds for the sack.  This sack resulted in a loss of only 1.  It put Kruger at 9 sacks for the year which is a career high.  He will be a free agent in to offseason so it will be interesting to see what kind of contract that he gets.  On a rare play where Kruger dropped into pass coverage, he was able to bat down a pass.  This occurred on a 3rd and 9 play inside the Ravens 20, forcing the Bengals to a field goal.

Cornerbacks
The Baltimore Ravens only allowed 15 completed passes on 26 attempts.  Of these 15 completed passes, only 7 of these were completed against CBs, based on my count.  On these 15 completed passes, the average yards gained were a dismal 5.5.  This means the secondary played very well, in fact the whole defense only allowed 189 yards, 142 of which were in the air.

Corey Graham started the game but played very little.  He only allowed 1 completed pass and this went for a first down.

Chris Johnson received extended playing time for the first time this season.  He allowed the most passes of all CBs for the Ravens yesterday, but still only gave up 3 passes.  Of these, he allowed 0 first downs but, he gave up a touchdown with 39 seconds left in the 1st half.

Chykie Brown played great for the second straight game.  He only allowed 1 pass to be completed against him.  On a 3rd and 9 play on the Bengals first drive, Brown broke up a pass.  He made a great play to reach his arm around the receiver to deflect the ball.

Jimmy Smith had the most playing time since his return from a sport hernia injury.  In the time, he allowed 2 passes to be completed.    None of these two were for first downs but, he was called for a 21 yard pass interference which went for a first down.  This occurred on a 3rd down and put the ball on the Ravens 15.  It also took away an interception as the ball was tipped by the Bengals receiver and Omar Brown was able to catch it. Lastly, Smith had a great pass breakup.  He was in single, man coverage on a deep pass near the endzone.  Smith was able to get his hands on the ball and almost intercepted it.  This is a positive game for Smith and he showed his potential.

Jimmy Smith

Ravens CB Jimmy Smith had a good game.