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Lessons Learned:Worst Losses In Baltimore Ravens Franchise History (Part 2)

May 29, 2013 in Ravens Greatest Games

I know-I know, making you wait for the final eight Greatest Games in Ravens history is becoming excruciating. However, there are still five games remaining in the 10 Greatest losses in Ravens football history. With that said, no excruciating loss list would complete if it did not include at least three games between the Ravens and Steelers in the top five—- but ironically enough, the Steelers did not factor into the top two. No peeking please

A Little Ravens-Steelers By The Numbers Before We Move Forward:

Baltimore, while closing the gap on their hated rivals in terms of wins and losses all time, is still just 15-19 vs. Pittsburgh during the regular season—And 0-3 in the playoffs. I could have done a top 20 list and put 15 of the 22 losses (including playoffs) to the Steelers on the list and not one Ravens fan would have disagreed.

Excruciating is the only way to describe many of losses the Ravens have suffered at the hands of the  black and gold, especially within the last five seasons. Including the playoffs, the Ravens are 5-7 vs. the Steelers during the Joe Flacco and John Harbaugh era (2008). It has been during this time that this rivalry has become the best in all of sports.

Yes, even better than Yankees-Red Sox and Duke-North Carolina.

This rivalry is the best because every game played between the teams always means something. Each game always feels like a playoff game and it almost certainly has playoff implications. The intensity on the field and in the stands is the best of its kind—And this game means something to the NFL each time it is played.

Ravens-Steelers

Since the 2000 season, the Ravens and Steelers have appeared in five Super Bowls, winning four of them. They have played in eight of the AFC Title games, including one in which they faced each other in 2009. That game did not make this list simply because of the fact that Joe Flacco and John Harbaugh were rookies and the Steelers were expected to win.

Simply put, no other rivalry in the NFL delivers as much as this one does with the consistency it brings year in and year out.

What makes this rivalry even more intense and many of the losses so tough to swallow is the margin of defeat. It is bad enough to lose to the Steelers but when it is by a combined 16 points in five regular season games since the o8 season, it is no longer tough to swallow, it’s downright torturous.

Now factor in that during each contest, the Ravens either were ahead or tied with Pittsburgh during the fourth quarter and as a Ravens fans, on certain Monday mornings (and one Tuesday in 08) you start looking for a ledge from which to leap.

We will start with one from the good ol days. A contest that if you were at Memorial Stadium that afternoon, you wish were not by the time it ended.

No.5 October 5, 1997:  Thank God For the other Birds in Town:

Mussina celebrates

The Ravens managed to split with the Steelers when they arrived in Baltimore in 1996. The Ravens were blown out 31-17 and then the 3-9 Ravens defeated the 9-3 Steelers by the same score on a warm rainy day to kick off the month of December.

On an unseasonably warm October Sunday the following season, Baltimore sports fans were in frenzy. The Ravens finished the month of September 3-2 and were returning home from a three game road trip in which they went 2-1, to host the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Pittsburgh and their yellow towel flying faithful entered Memorial Stadium with a 2-2 record, one-half game behind the Ravens. Baltimore sports fans were partying hard on this day, as the Ravens-Steelers game was just the prelude to the other Birds in town, who were looking to close out the Seattle Mariners later that afternoon in the A.L.D.S. at Camden Yards.

The Ravens came out of the tunnel crazed and ready for war, which is exactly how their fans were in the seats. As kickoff approached, the momentum carried over into the game. The Ravens led 21-0 early in the second quarter, thanks to two Vinny Testaverde touchdown passes. He connected with RB Eric Green and TE Brian Kinchen while former Steeler and current Ravens RB Bam Morris, scored on a one yard run in between.

Thanks to a three-touchdown lead and of course, the opponent, Memorial Stadium was once again the world’s largest outdoor insane asylum, as it was known during the days of Unitas and company. The frenzied crowd did not even notice that Steelers QB, Kordell Stewart scored on a one-yard run and by halftime; the Ravens led 24-7 following a Matt Stover 37-yard field goal.

Ravens fans felt good about what they just witnessed during the first 30 minutes, but the phrase “a tale of two halves” had to be invented for this particular game because that is exactly what the Memorial Stadium crowd witnessed over the game’s final 30 minutes.

Ray Lewis and Tyrus McCloud leave the field stunned

Ray Lewis and Tyrus McCloud leave the field stunned

Pittsburgh’s Will Blackwell returned the second half kickoff 97-yards for a quick Steelers TD and just like that— the Steelers were within 10-points. In fact, the Steelers would reel off 28 unanswered points, including three touchdown passes by Kordell Stewart, before Testaverde found Derrick Alexander to cut the Steelers lead to 35-32.

Kordell Stewart sealed the Ravens fate by dashing 74-yards down the left sideline for Pittsburgh’s final gut wrenching touchdown of the day. The Steelers took a safety on a punt to make the final score 42-34 sending the Ravens fans home more than sick to their stomach.

On the day, Stewart threw three TD’s to match his three int’s and for 246-yards. He also rushed for 78-yards and two more touchdowns. In all, Stewart factored into five of the Steelers six touchdowns on the afternoon.

Thankfully, the other Birds in town handled their business later in the day as Mike Mussina outdueled Randy Johnson and the Orioles eliminated the Seattle Mariners in four games in the ALDS to advance to the ALCS.

The Ravens never recovered. Baltimore lost five of their next seven games, including playing to a lethargic 10-10 tie with the Eagles. Vinny Testaverde and company finished the 97 season 6-9-1 and were battered a month later in Pittsburgh as the Steelers embarrassed the Ravens 37-0.

No.4 December 5 2010: Strip-Sack-Fumble—Game Over

Which games to pick to make this list was not very hard. I knew the exact date of this particular game by heart and almost did not have to look up the stats.

a pic is worth a 1000 words

a pic is worth a 1000 words

The Ravens and Steelers entered this nationally televised Sunday night contest with, as usual, the AFC North division title on the line. The winner of this game would likely enjoy a bye week to start the playoffs and have to visit the other in order to make it to the Super Bowl. On a night where the Ravens were in perfect position to take control of the AFC North, they just could not take the Steelers down, literally.

This game, more than any other in the series before it and since, typified this rivalry.

The two teams share the color black as one their primary colors, on game day they add the color blue. As is usually the case when the Steelers and Ravens meet, the trainers were busy tending to injured players throughout this contest and it began in each team’s first offensive series. Haloti Ngata broke Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger’s nose following a sack and Ravens tight end Todd Heap strained a hamstring on the first play from scrimmage and did not return.

It certainly did not stop there. Pittsburgh's Heath Miller suffered a concussion in the third quarter in a collision with Ravens cornerback Chris Carr and the Steelers lost right tackle Flozell Adams, who sprained his ankle in the third quarter. The hitting was so hard that even Pittsburgh's punter was injured. Daniel Sepulveda tore his right ACL in the second quarter, and placekicker Shaun Suisham was called upon to punt for the remainder of the game.

Players play hurt in this game. Roethlisberger, who now had a broken nose, was also playing on a broken bone in his right plant foot, which he suffered during an overtime win against Buffalo the week before.  Who said kickers and punters are not tough, Sepulveda, even with his tore his right anterior cruciate ligament managed to hold for kicker Shaun Suisham’s field goals of 45 and 19 yards.

The Ravens defense dominated the game, as the team appeared ready to sweep the Steelers after beating them in Pittsburgh two months before on a Joe Flacco last minute TD pass to TJ Houshmandzadeh.

They shut out the Steelers offense in the first half but Pittsburgh got a field goal on the opening drive of the third quarter to close to 7-3. However, the Ravens responded with a 60-yard march that ended with a 24-yard field goal by Billy Cundiff.

Pittsburgh then closed to 10-6 with a 16-play, 79-yard drive that consumed more than 9 minutes and was extended by two pivotal penalties against Baltimore. But the Steelers had to settle for a field goal with 12:46 left after a 28-yard pass from Roethlisberger to Wallace set up a first-and-goal from the 2.

The Ravens had the lead, the ball and control of the game with less than four minutes to play. Flacco appeared to be on the cusp on ending Ben Roethlisberger’s five game winning streak versus his team. Looks can be deceiving in this series. With a four-point lead and following a Steelers punt, the Ravens took over with 4:43 to play in the contest. The offense began the drive the right way by running the football but then inexplicably, offensive coordinator Cam Cameron went with a different strategy.

On second and eight, Flacco threw a pass to Derrick Mason, which luckily for the Ravens drew a pass interference penalty on CB Bryant McFadden. On the next play following the penalty, Ray Rice gave the Ravens a very manageable second and five on their own 43-yard line and that’s where the wheels fell off.

Instead of running Rice again to set up a third and short and killing more time off the clock, Flacco dropped back to pass——but he never had time to set up, Troy Polamalu was standing on the right edge of the Steelers defensive line showing blitz during the entire presnap and delivered the rush as shown.

"Everybody watching TV at home, everybody in the stadium, you all know it you see 43 at the line, four-minute offense, he's coming," said Ravens linebacker Terrell Suggs, who had 1½ sacks. "It was just like, I hope we have a plan. It just didn't feel good when I saw that hair at the line."

Once Flacco received the snap, No.43 was there and within a split second, the ball was on the ground where Linebacker LaMarr Woodley picked up Polamalu's strip sack of the Ravens quarterback and three plays later the Steelers led the game. The winning touchdown came on a catch by RB Isaac Redman, who ran through Ravens safety Dawan Landry for a nine-yard touchdown with just under three minutes remaining.

The Ravens still had one more shot and in fact ran 10 more plays getting to the Pittsburgh 34 yard line but instead of trying a 48 yard field goal to tie the game, head coach John Harbaugh, play caller Cam Cameron and QB Joe Flacco felt they could repeat the finish from the October game. Instead, on fourth and two with 37 seconds to play, Flacco threw an incomplete pass at rookie tight end Ed Dickson's feet.

The win gave the Steelers a one game lead in the division and left the Ravens and their fans with many questions. Several questions haunted Harbaugh during the post-game press conference.

Why were the Ravens throwing the ball on second-and-5 when they had a four-point lead with 3:22 remaining? And did the Ravens consider challenging the fumble? Flacco had his arm cocked back when Polamalu slapped the ball away.

Why did the Ravens go on fourth down instead of attempting a 48-yard field goal? Harbaugh’s response was quick and decisive, “It was a tough wind up there," Harbaugh said. "It was really outside our range that we designated going in. We felt like we had a better chance to get the first down than we had to kick that field goal at that time."

When a reporter pointed out that Cundiff had made three kicks from that distance or beyond, Harbaugh snapped back, "Were you down there on the field? Did you see the way those balls were tracking in the field goal pre-game? It was a tough kick. I'm pretty good at that. I have been doing it for a long time. I understand what those guys can do and what they can't do. It would have been a very low percentage kick."

The loss was even tougher to swallow when you consider it was the reason the Ravens had to travel to play the Steelers a few weeks later in the playoffs, which oh by the way, brings us to No.3 on our list.

No.3 January 15, 2011: The Same Old Song and Dance:

And Again

The Ravens entered this contest feeling as if they had given the Steelers the opportunity to play their AFC Divisional playoff game (SEE ABOVE GAME) at home. The banged up Steelers won the division and earned a first round bye while the Ravens were feeling good themselves after thumping the Chiefs in KC, 30-7 the week before in the Wild Card round.

The Ravens' fifth game at Heinz in three seasons began as many had ended at the big ketchup bottle, with the team trailing. The Ravens, who had given up one touchdown in each of their previous two games, gave up one on the opening drive. A questionable 37-yard pass interference penalty on the Ravens' Josh Wilson helped Pittsburgh sustain a drive that saw Rashard Mendenhall score from 1-yard out to put the Ravens in an early hole.

But the resilient Ravens proved again why they have the best road winning percentage in the playoffs since 1960 and responded with 21 straight points.

The first quarter closed with two touchdowns by the Ravens in 27 seconds. Ray Rice scored on a great rivalry type 14-yard run, bouncing off Troy Polamalu to reach the end zone. But that was trumped by one of the strangest plays in Ravens' history — and perhaps NFL playoff history.

After Terrell Suggs hit the ball out of Roethlisberger's cocked arm, it flew forward and lay at the 13-yard line for 5 seconds with four players standing around it. Noticing no whistle had blown, defensive end Cory Redding picked it up and ran into the end zone. Watching at home you may have thought the play to be one where a player picks up a ball and runs down the field hoping it was a turnover but ultimately the play is blown dead. However, on this occasion the official signaled touchdown and the Ravens led 14-7 following the extra point with 53 seconds left in the first quarter.

The Ravens would add another touchdown following another Pittsburgh turnover. The Steelers , which had turned the ball over 18 times in 16 games that season (tied for the third-fewest in the AFC), fumbled again in the second quarter. In a pile, the Ravens' Dannell Ellberbe knocked the ball from Mendenhall and Ed Reed recovered it at the Steelers' 16.

The Ravens converted another turnover into a touchdown on a 4-yard touchdown pass to tight end Todd Heap from Joe Flacco. Getting a pick from T.J. Houshmandzadeh, Heap was wide open in the end zone to increase the Ravens' lead to 21-7.

All of the momentum and good fortune seemed to be real when Pittsburgh kicker Shaun Suisham was wide left on a 43-yard field goal to essentially end the half. But as I said once already when talking about this rivalry, things aren’t always what they appear to be and what happened next could only have ever been forgotten by Ravens fans with a Super Bowl victory.

In a season where the Ravens coughed up nine fourth quarter leads and lived dangerously with games on the line, they chose the third quarter to do so on this night. The Ravens, who had not allowed a touchdown in the third quarter all season, gave up two at Pittsburgh because of turnovers.

The first fumble of the season by Ray Rice (first of the year), an interception by Flacco and a fumble by Flacco (center Matt Birk snapped the ball too early) — all in Ravens' territory – turned a 14-point lead (21-7) into a three-point deficit (24-21) in a matter of 12 minutes.

Webb can only look on

Still, the Ravens did not roll and over die but maybe they should have because that may have been easier than watching how Pittsburgh eventually won this game.

Playing the field position game, Baltimore forced Pittsburgh to punt from their 10-yard line with 6:09 to play in the contest. Cornerback Lardarius Webb returned the punt 55-yards for an apparent touchdown but Marcus Smith was called for holding and the Ravens took over on the Steelers 29-yard line. This was only a prelude to what was going to happen next.

On the first play, Flacco completed a 21-yard pass to Todd Heap setting up first and goal at the Steelers eight but Pittsburgh’s defense tightened and the Ravens were forced to kick a game tying field goal.

With 3:24 on the clock, Big Ben took over at his own 35-yard line and managed to convert two third downs, the first a 12-ard completion to Hines Ward giving the Steelers a new set of downs with 3:34 to play.  The second third down conversion was the killer. It came on third and 19 and was the last play before the two minute warning.

The Ravens brought little pressure on the play instead opting to sit back but they didn’t sit back quite far enough. Roethlisberger heaved a 58-yard pass down the right sideline to rarely used Antonio Brown, the Steelers' eighth-leading receiver inexcusably got a couple of steps behind cornerback Lardarius Webb to make the catch and deliver the second to last dagger of the game.

The Ravens broke the cardinal rule in football. Never get beat deep late in the game with the score close. The last dagger would be inflicted by Rashard Mendenhall, who capped the devastating drive with a 2-yard touchdown run to put Pittsburgh ahead, 31-24, with 1:33 left in the game.  On the Ravens' final possession, Flacco threw two incompletions and was sacked. Their last play — on fourth-and-18 — was an incomplete pass to T.J. Houshmandzadeh, who just dropped the ball.

The Steelers would defeat the New York Jets the following week to advance to Super Bowl XLV, where they would lose to the Green Bay Packers. The Ravens were left to pick up the pieces once again following another devastating loss to the Steelers.

The Ravens would go onto sweep the Steelers the following season and opened the year by trouncing Pittsburgh, 35-7 in Baltimore. However, none of those wins could totally hide the pain Ravens fans were feeling from having lost the last two games to the Steelers, losses that cost the Ravens the division title and a likely shot at the Super Bowl.

No.2 January 22, 2012 AFC Championship game: “He Missed it” “He dropped it”

wide left Billy

I’ll bet many of you had this one pegged for the top spot. However, the fact that the game was in New England and the Ravens were not really given much of a chance to beat Tom Brady and the Patriots drops it to No.2 for this list.

This may have been the most heartbreaking loss of all time but in order to be No.1 the game had to be heartbreaking, disappointing and unexpected in a sense. While our hearts were broken, as Ravens fans, you couldn’t hang your head after this contest. You had to be proud of how the Ravens played and most notably, QB Joe Flacco, who clearly outplayed the Patriots Tom Brady.

In fact, Brady admitted after the game that he was bad——"Well, I sucked pretty bad today, but our defense saved us," Brady said after throwing for 239 yards, with two interceptions and, for the first time in 36 games, no TD passes. "I'm going to try to go out and do a better job in a couple of weeks, but I'm proud of this team, my teammates."

The shocking part of this game was how good New England’s 31st ranked defense played. The Ravens defense was awesome and the Ravens offense did more than enough to win their second trip to the title game in four years but a dropped touchdown and a missed field goal proved to be the Ravens undoing.

A 16-10 deficit early in the third quarter became a 20-16 Ravens lead by the start of the fourth. That is because Flacco hit Torrey Smith for a 29-yard touchdown pass with 3:48 left in the third quarter, and then the Ravens converted Danny Woodhead's fumble on the ensuing kickoff into a 39-yard field goal.

Brady may not have been great (22-for-36 for 239 yards and two interceptions) but he consistently moved his team down the field and did so on the ensuing drive following the Ravens field goal. Behind short passes and the running of BenJarvis Green-Ellis, the Pats offense answered with an 11-play, 63-yard drive. It ended with Brady plunging in on fourth-and-goal from the one yard line.

The two quarterbacks traded interceptions during the rest of the final frame and following an Ed Reed pass breakup while covering Aaron Hernandez on third and four with 1:56 to play in the game, the Ravens got the ball back with one last shot.

"Touchdown….noooooo….he dropped it!"

Flacco trotted onto the field and promptly led his team down the field. He would get them as far as the New England 14-yard line but that was it. Facing second and one, Flacco threw a perfect back shoulder pass to Ravens WR Lee Evans in the end zone. Evans appeared to catch the ball and in fact, thinking it was a touchdown, Flacco threw his hands up and started running toward Evans. The Ravens' sideline erupted and the play was announced as a touchdown on Ravens radio as well as the CBS national telecast by Jim Nantz but Patriots DB Sterling Moore swiped at Evans’ hands and at the last possible second, forced the ball from Evans’ hands and onto the New England turf.

The pass was ruled incomplete. Heartbreak for sure, but the Ravens still had a few chances and at the very least had Mr. Automatic, Billy Cundiff, who had not missed a fourth quarter field goal kick all season. Following an incomplete pass to TE Dennis Pitta, who was again covered by Sterling Moore, Cundiff strode onto the field to send his team to overtime.

Except this time— Cundiff pushed the ball wide left and following a Brady kneel down, the Patriots were off to the Super Bowl. This game is also No.2 because the Ravens returned to the scene of the heartbreak last January and dismantled the Patriots to advance to and eventually win– the Super Bowl. As the article is titled, LESSON LEARNED!

No.1 January 13, 2007: Peyton’s Place?

The 2006 Baltimore Ravens had what many believed to be the team to beat heading into the playoffs. At 13-3, they had just finished the season with the best record in franchise history. They rolled into the playoffs winning nine of their final 10 games with the best defense in the league (nothing new) and finally had their savvy veteran quarterback in Steve McNair, who led the team to 353 points, 12th in the NFL that season.

Expectations were high as the Ravens even enjoyed their first franchise playoff bye and the No.2 seed in the AFC.

With the Ravens resting during Wild Card Weekend, Baltimore football fans watched their old team, the Colts, dismantle the KC Chiefs to set up a date with Baltimore football destiny. Finally, the great football fans of the Charm City would have a real shot at closure. The Baltimore football faithful could finally put to rest the 1984 sneaking out in the middle of the night divorce that led to 12 years of dark Sundays in Baltimore.

Surely, the Ravens were primed to take down Peyton Manning and the Indianapolis Colts in the Divisional round to advance and likely host the AFC Championship game for the time since 1970 when the Baltimore Colts beat the Oakland Raiders. After all, the Chargers were the No.1 seed and no one actually thought they were going to win a playoff game, which meant a win over Indy and the Ravens were hosted the game that determined who went to the Super Bowl.

The hype was off the charts. Every poster, tee shirt, billboard and even local commercials were all hyping the big game. Many still proclaimed this as a chance at revenge. Even Johnny Unitas tee-shirts popped up with him in a Ravens uniform pitting No.19 against No.18. Simply put, it was out of control craziness in Baltimore as game time approached. All anyone, even if you were not a football fan in Baltimore could think of was beating the Colts in the playoffs in Baltimore.

As crazy and unpredictable as the hype was, the game was worse. If you were told before the start of this contest that the Colts, with Peyton Manning at quarterback, would not score a touchdown, but instead kick five field goals, you would almost assuredly be making plans for where you were going to watch the AFC Title game the following week. That is exactly what happened.

The problem is the Ravens offense was worse. They managed just two Matt Stover field goals and signed during the offseason specifically for his playoff experience,  Adam Vinatieri provided the Colts with all the offense they needed to advance to the AFC championship game. Vinatieri kicked the five field goals and put his name in the NFL record book to boot Indianapolis past the Ravens 15-6.

This was such an odd set of circumstances that it is still hard to imagine. The Colts won despite gaining only 261 yards on offense. Since Peyton Manning arrived in 1998 and up to this point, they had never won a postseason game in which they gained so few yards. If you are wondering about the regular season, they had won three games since 1998 with so few yards (although Manning only played a few plays in one of them, the 2005 regular-season finale). During the 2006 regular season, the Colts' lowest offensive output was 272 yards in a 21-14 win over the Jaguars back in September.

The Colts-Ravens game was only the fourth of the 422 postseason games played in NFL history (including the Eagles-Saints game) in which neither team scored a touchdown. But get a load of this: Since the NFL started keeping statistics in 1933, the Colts-Ravens contest was also the first game in either regular-season or postseason play in which each team had the same number of pass plays (31, a total that includes times sacked) and the same total of net passing yards (161). (Oh, yes, each team also was intercepted twice and, of course, had no touchdown passes.)

Lessons learned, tears to cheers last February!

How many other times had we seen a 15-6 final score in the NFL? Never before in the postseason and just once in the regular season: a 15-6 win by the Brooklyn Dodgers over the Eagles at Ebbets Field in Nov. 1941.

All very strange and odd to say the least. The Ravens, as they were assembled, never recovered the following season, as the defense seemed to finally throw in the towel on the Brian Billick led offenses, which seemingly failed to produce when it mattered most during his career.

Due to injuries, Steve McNair would play in just six games the following season, as the Ravens went 5-11 and Billick was fired following the season.

Leaving the stadium that day, you could literally hear a pin drop, or it may have even been tears. This game was and still is the most heartbreaking and most disappointing loss in franchise history. There is no debate in my mind and even though it does not involve the Steelers, losing to the Colts at home when you are coming off your best season and a bye week in the playoffs stung as bad as any loss I can ever remember.

To make matters worse, the Colts would go onto to win Super Bowl XLI a few weeks later with an impressive 29-17 victory.

Check back periodically before the end of the month here on Fanspeak.com for the conclusion of the 20 Greatest Games in Ravens History.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Jacoby Jones Shines In Hometown

February 11, 2013 in Super Bowl XLVII

During the two weeks leading up to Super Bowl XLVII, lots of people, including me, were talking about Ravens S Ed Reed returning to his hometown of New Orleans for the Super Bowl.  Well, Ravens WR Jacoby Jones is from New Orleans as well, and he had an amazing game.

Reed did have a good game, recording an interception but, Jones had an even better one.  He set the Super Bowl record for all-purpose yards with 290.  Of these 290 yards, 56 were receiving yards and 234 were return yards.

Jacoby Jones

Ravens WR Jacoby Jones celebrates his kickoff return for a touchdown.

Most of his 234 return yards came on an 108 yard kickoff return for a touchdown to start the second half.  This was originally ruled to be a return of 109 yards but it was changed after further review of the play.  The play (seen here) was still a Super Bowl record return though.  After scoring the touchdown, Jones gave a little tribute to retiring LB Ray Lewis by doing Lewis's introduction dance.  Earlier in the year, week 6 against the Dallas Cowboys, Jones also had an 108 yard kickoff return for a touchdown.  This return was his third kickoff return for a touchdown and fourth total as he had one punt return touchdown.

Returning a kickoff for a touchdown was not all Jones did though. With 1:45 left in the first half, Jones scored on a 56 yard touchdown catch.  On the play, Jones ran a deep route.  While catching the ball, Jones fell to the ground and wasn't touched by San Francisco 49ers CB Chris Culliver.  Jones realized this and got up right away, he then was able to outrun the two 49ers defenders in the area for a touchdown.  This was the only catch that Jones had on two targets but he made it count

When asked about this play, Jones said "Football is a chess match sometimes.  We watched film.  It was a play we dialed up and we knew they’d play coverage a certain way.  [Chris Culliver and Donte Whitner] both bit and Joe threw a perfect ball."

After the game, there was some talk that Jones should have won the MVP award.  He did set the Super Bowl record with 290 all-purpose yards but, only 56 were receiving yards.  When you factor in the great game that QB Joe Flacco had, then the award should have gone to Flacco.  The runner-up for this award was definitely Jones though.

Jones doesn't believe that he deserved the award either.  When asked, Jones said "No. I  just played my role, I did my job that I was supposed to do.  When they call your name, you have to show up and play your role.  I played my role.  Joe Flacco deserves it because if you see what he did in that postseason, he threw 11 touchdowns and no picks."

Super Bowl XLVII Recap

February 11, 2013 in Observations, Super Bowl XLVII

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Joe Flacco

Super Bowl MVP Joe Flacco throws a pass.

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.

Four Ravens With Super Bowl Experience

January 27, 2013 in Super Bowl XLVII

With the Super Bowl being one week away, we should look at what experience the Ravens will have in New Orleans.  The Ravens have four players who have played in the Super Bowl before and their head coach along with both of their coordinators have been to the Super Bowl.

The first, and most obvious of the Ravens to play in a Super Bowl, is LB Ray Lewis.  He is the only player on the Ravens team with a Super Bowl ring.  Lewis got his ring in Super Bowl XXXV where the Ravens beat the New York Giants 34-7.  This is the only other time the Ravens have made it to a Super Bowl and Lewis is the only player left from this team.

In the game, Lewis only had 3 solo tackles, 2 tackle assists, and 4 pass defensed.  However, Lewis still was able to win the Super Bowl MVP. The reason that Lewis won the MVP was he was the leader of a defense that allowed no points (the Giants returned a kickoff for a touchdown). In fact on ESPNs Super Bowl MVP page, it just says "Led a dominant Ravens defense" under why he received the award.  Every MVP except one, Super Bowl XII, has the players statistics.  During that season, Lewis was also the Defensive Player of the Year and he led arguably the best best defense in history.

Ray Lewis

Ravens LB Ray Lewis was the MVP of Super Bowl XXXV.

In his post game press conference, Lewis said "I told Shannon Sharpe [TE] and I told Jamal Lewis [RB]: Give us 10 points and the game is over. That's not boasting. If you give us 10 points, game over.  You go down against our defense, you're in a whole lot of trouble.  We've dominated people like that all year.  And they didn't score on us.  Make sure you quote that.  They didn't score on our defense."  As you can see, Lewis was very proud of his, and the defense's accomplishments.

The next Ravens player who has made a Super Bowl is fellow LB Brendon Ayanbadejo.  Ayanbadejo was part of the Chicago Bears when they made it to Super Bowl XLI.  The Bears lost to the Indianapolis Colts by a score of 29-17.  Ayanbadejo only played special teams for the Bears and recorded 1 tackle during the game.

Starting WR Anquan Boldin was part of one of the most unexpected Super Bowl runs ever.  He played a key part in getting the Arizona Cardinals to Super Bowl XLIII.  In the regular season, the Cardinals went 9-7 and many people believed they didn't belong in the playoffs at all.  The Cardinals run was ended by the Pittsburgh Steelers as they handed the Cardinals a 27-23 loss on an improbable touchdown pass to Santonio Holmes with 35 seconds left.  Boldin had 8 catches for 84 yards including a 45 yard catch. For that season, Boldin had 89 catches for 1,038 yards and 11 touchdowns in the regular season.

Last is backup S James Ihedigbo who played for the New England Patriots in Super Bowl XLVI which was last year.  Despite the Patriots losing 21-17 to the New York Giants, who like the Cardinals went 9-7 in the regular season, Ihedigbo played a decent game.  He had 5 tackles as one of the starting safeties.  However, Ihedigbo was covering Giants WR Victor Cruz on his touchdown catch.  At the end of training camp this year, Ihedigbo was cut and the Ravens quickly signed him.  By beating the Patriots twice, including the AFC Championship Game, Ihedigbo has is revenge and now is going for back-to-back Super Bowl victories.

On the coaching side of things, offensive coordinator Jim Caldwell was the Colts QB coach/assistant head coach when they beat  Ayanbadejo and the Bears in Super Bowl XLI.  This experience should be helpful during preparation for the Super Bowl over the next week.  Since he was also the assistant head coach, Caldwell would have had more responsibilities than a regular QB coach.

Defensive coordinator Dean Pees has been to two Super Bowls with the Patriots.  The first was Super Bowl XXXIX where he was the LB coach and the second was Super Bowl XLII as the defensive coordinator.  The Patriots won the first Super Bowl but not the second.  The loss in Super Bowl XLII wasn't exactly on Pees because his defense only gave up 17 points.  They did give up 14 points in the 4th quarter but, coming into the game, the Patriots would have been happy giving up 17 points as their offense was one of the best in history.  However, the Giants were able to stop this high-powered offense.

Head coach John Harbaugh has been to the Super Bowl once when he was the Philadelphia Eagles special teams coordinator.  The Eagles faced the Patriots in Super Bowl XXXIX and as we already know, the Patriots won.  The Eagles special teams didn't give up any touchdowns and the longest return they allowed was only 26 yards.  It definitely wasn't Harbaugh's fault that the Eagles lost.

Now, what does this mean for the Ravens?  It means that they have some experience in all aspects of the game.  On offense, they have Boldin, a veteran receiver and a key players, and the offensive coordinator in Caldwell.  On defense, they have Lewis, a great leader, and coordinator Dean Pees.  Both Ayanbadejo and Ihedigbo play special teams so they will bring experience to that part of the game.  It is good that the three most important coaches all have been to the Super Bowl as they have already been through this before.

The San Francisco 49ers don't have the same experience at the top of their coach staff as head coach Jim Harbaugh went to Super Bowl XXXVII as the Oakland Raiders QB coach and neither offensive coordinator Greg Roman and defensive coordinator Vic Fangio have been to a Super Bowl.  The 49ers do have more players who have played in Super Bowls as they have five players with Super Bowl experience.

It will be interesting to see how experience ends up impacting the game.  It is interesting that the teams combined will only have a  total of nine players with Super Bowl experience which is probably a recent low.

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.

Second Manning Brother in Two Weeks

December 21, 2012 in What to Look For

Baltimore Homepage

This week the 9-5 Baltimore Ravens face the other Manning brother in Eil, who leads the 8-6 New York Giants into Baltimore.  On a side note the Ravens will wear their black alternate jersey's for this game.

1.  Playing Motivated
This is a key game for both the Ravens and the Giants.  The Ravens have lost their last three games and are in danger of dropping all the way to a wildcard.  The Giants have lost four of their last six games including an embarrassing 34-0 loss to the Atlanta Falcons last week.  While the Ravens clinched a playoff berth last week, they still need a win to clinch the division.  If the Giants lose out, they will not be able to defend their Super Bowl title.  Due to these factors, both teams should come out and play hard, making for a playoff caliber game in a game where there are massive playoff ramifications.

2.  Which Teams Show Up?
As stated above, both teams are coming into this game on bad streaks.  Both have been very inconsistent this season also.  The Ravens have beaten the New England Patriots 31-30 but, have lost to the Denver Broncos 34-17 and the Houston Texans 43-13.  Even stranger is that the Patriots have beaten these two by a combined score of 38.  Similarly, the Giants beat the New Orleans Saints 52-27 and the Saints beat the Falcons 31-27.  The Giants also have beaten the second and third best teams in the NFC (Green Bay and San Francisco) by a total of 51 yet they lose to a team only marginally better by 34 and even worse, they get shutout despite putting up 26 points on the vaunted 49ers defense.  I wouldn't expect both teams to be on top form but, I don't expect them to be their worst and they should play near the same level on Sunday.

Ray Lewis (52)

Ravens LB Ray Lewis recovers a fumble.

3.  Offensive Line
While the Giants only rank tied for 16th in the NFL with 32 sacks, (coincidently they are tied with the Ravens), they still have three top pass rushers.  All three of them play defensive end and could potentially give Ravens offensive tackles Michael Oher and Kelechi Osemele fits.  Lets start with Jason Pierre-Paul.  The 23 year old is having a down year with only 6.5 sacks.  This is good for 34th in the NFL.  He may only have 6.5 sacks but, he still a threat to get a sack on every pass play.  Veteran Osi Umenyiora has 6 sacks for the season.  He doesn't play as many snaps as Pierre-Paul as he is more of a situational pass rusher for the Giants.  Last is Justin Tuck who is in the midst of his worst season in which he has played in all games.  He only has 3 sacks for the season and it is unsure if he plays against the Ravens as he hasn't practiced yet this week.  While the Giants pass rushers are having a down year, they are still a real threat, especially against a weak Ravens offensive line.

4.  Pass Rush
The Giants have allowed the least amount of sacks this season with 16.  The next best team is the Houston Texans and they have allowed 20. This means the Ravens pass rush will have an even harder job this week.  In order to disrupt the Giants good passing game, the Ravens need to get good pressure on QB Eli Manning.  This way e can't get the ball to WRs Victor Cruz and Hakeem Nicks.  Since the Ravens secondary is banged up, this will be even more important.  The main players to watch for the Ravens are OLBs Terrell Suggs and Paul Kruger.  Also look for DEs Arthur Jones and Haloti Ngata.  If Jones and Ngata can get pressure on the inside, it will force Manning to move around in the pocket which makes it easier for Suggs and Kruger.  If Suggs and Kruger can get outside pressure, it will force Manning up in the pocket towards Ngata and Jones.  The main advantage that the Ravens have is Manning isn't a mobile quarterback.  The main disadvantage the Ravens will have is Suggs's bicep.  Last week, Suggs played but you could tell he was hurt as he would hold his right arm and he wasn't in for some plays.  On the positive side, he has been a full participant in practice all week and wasn't even on the injury report for Wednesday.  This matchup between the Ravens pass rush and the Giants offensive line will determine whether the Ravens will be able to stop the Giants offense.

Haloti Ngata

Ravens DE Haloti Ngata rushes the passer.