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Defense Leads Ravens To Victory

November 25, 2013 in Observations

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Joe Flacco

Courtesy of ICON SMI

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Daryl Smith

Daryl Smith

Courtesy of ICON SMI

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ravens Survive In Overtime

November 11, 2013 in Observations

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

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

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

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

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

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

Justin Tucker

Courtesy of ICON SMI

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

James Ihedigbo

Courtesy of ICON SMI

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

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

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

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

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

This assumption couldn't have been more wrong.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ravens vs Bills Injury Report

September 28, 2013 in Injury Reports

Ravens

Out
WR Jacoby Jones (Knee)

Ray Rice

Courtesy of ICON SMI

Doubtful
DT Terrence Cody (Knee)
C Ryan Jensen (Foot)

Questionable
LB Arthur Brown (Chest)
DE Chris Canty (Thigh)
RB Shaun Draughn (Ankle)
LB Pernell McPhee (Knee)
RB Ray Rice (Hip)
WR Brandon Stokley (Groin)
WR Deonte Thompson (Foot)
DT Brandon Williams (Toe)

Probable
WR Marlon Brown (Neck)

Bills

Out
CB Ron Brooks (Foot)
DE Alex Carrington (Quadricep)
CB Stephon Gilmore (Wrist)
WR Marquise Goodwin (Hand)
K Dustin Hopkins (Groin)

Questionable
S Jairus Byrd (Foot)
CB Leodis McKelvin (Hamstring)

Probable
DT Marcel Dareus (Ankle)
WR Stevie Johnson (Hamstring)
G Doug Legursky (Knee)
RB C.J. Spiller (Quadricep)
G Kraig Urbik (Knee)
DT Kyle Williams (Achilles)
DE Mario Williams (Ankle)

 

Ravens vs Broncos Injury Report

September 4, 2013 in Injury Reports

Ravens

*Note*  Earlier today, the Ravens placed TE Dennis Pitta on injured reserve with a designation to return.

Out
DT Arthur Jones (Illness)

Arthur Jones

Courtesy of ICON SMI

Doubtful
C Ryan Jensen (Foot)
WR Deonte Thompson (Foot)
DT Brandon Williams (Toe)

Probable
TE Ed Dickson (Thigh)
OLB Pernell McPhee (Knee)

Broncos

Out
RB C.J. Anderson (Knee)
CB Champ Bailey (Foot)
TE Joel Dreessen (Knee)

Doubtful
G Chris Kuper (Ankle)

Probable
DE Robert Ayers (Achilles)
OT Ryan Clady  (Shoulder)
QB Brock Osweiler (Left Shoulder)
WR Wes Welker (Ankle)

Ravens Sign DE Marcus Spears

March 16, 2013 in Free Agency, News

Yesterday, the Baltimore Ravens made their second signing of this free agent period.  Last time was DL Chris Canty and this time, it is DE Marcus Spears.

Last night, the Ravens agreed to terms with DE Marcus Spears.  Spears's contract is worth $3.5 million over 2 years.

Just like Canty, Spears was cut earlier in the week from a NFL East team, this time, the Cowboys.  Spears played DE in their 4-3 defense but will move to DE in the Ravens 3-4 defense.  He was a little out of place in their scheme as he is 6 foot 4 inches tall and weighs 315 pounds which is heavy for a 4-3 DE.  However, that is the perfect size for a 3-4 DE.

Marcus Spears

The Baltimore Ravens signed DE Marcus Spears to a 2-year deal worth $3.5 million.

Spears is a good run stuffer but has never been a pass rusher.  His career high for sacks came 2009 when he had 2.5 sacks.  Spears is now 30 years old so his pass rush can only get worse.  If his run defense stays the same though, it will be a good signing.

The Ravens now seem to be set at the DE position.  By signing Canty and Spears, they acquired some much needed veterans and depth.  The Ravens will now have Canty, Spears, Arthur Jones, Pernell McPhee, and DeAngelo Tyson at DE.

You may be thinking why I didn't just list Haloti Ngata but there is a good reason for that.  With this new depth at DE, and the lack thereof at NT, Ngata might be moved over to nose tackle.  He has the size, at 340 pounds, and would be a good fit as he is a good run defender and would bring a new element of pass rush to the NT position.  Of course, the Ravens might not be thinking this and probably will sign a NT or draft one but it is interesting to think about.

An interesting fact about Spears and Canty is they both played together for the Cowboys from 2005-2008 and where part of the same Cowboys draft class (Spears in the first and Canty in the fourth).

Ravens Sign DT Chris Canty

March 12, 2013 in Free Agency, News

Chris Canty

The Ravens have made their first move in free agency by signing DT Chris Canty.

Just moments ago, the Baltimore Ravens signed free agent DT Chris Canty.

The deal is worth a total of $8 million over 3 years with only $2.8 million guaranteed.  This is the Ravens first signing of a player in free agency so far.

Canty was cut from the New York Giants in a salary cap move earlier in the week.

He is a 6 foot 7 inch, 317 pound defensive lineman.  While playing for the Giants he was a 4-3 DT but, the conversion to a 3-4 DE or even a 3-4 NT shouldn't be to hard.

Last year Canty had 26 tackles and 3 sacks in only 9 games.  The year before, he had 47 tackles and 4 sacks in a full season.

This move is a good step towards strengthening the Ravens defensive line. Nose tackle was considered to be a weakness last season.  If he plays DE, he will be in the rotation with Arthur Jones and Pernell McPhee for the DE position opposite to Haloti Ngata.  No matter what position he plays in the base defense, he will be a DT in sub packages and strengthens the Ravens defensive line rotation, where, you can never have enough depth.

This deal was first reported by Canty himself, who posted a picture of the contract on Instagram.

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.

Dannell Ellerbe Questionable

January 19, 2013 in Injury Reports

Ravens

Dannell Ellerbe

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

Out
CB Asa Jackson (thigh)

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

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

Patriots

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

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

Ravens Stun Broncos in Double OT

January 13, 2013 in Observations

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Joe Flacco

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

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

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

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

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

Jacoby Jones

Ravens WR Jacoby Jones catches his game tying touchdown.

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

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

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

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

Terrell Suggs

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

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

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

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

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

Corey Graham

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

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

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

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

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

Justin Tucker

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