Saturday, February 16, 2013

Ravens Report-2012 Season Wrap-Up

Ravens fans, we are now almost two weeks removed from a Super Bowl victory. We're champions of the whole entire world. It's now time to hand out some awards for this past season.

Team MVP: QB Joe Flacco-3,817 passing yards, 22 passing TDs, 10 INTs, 87.7 passer rating
Reasoning: I get the Ray Rice argument, I really do. But when your team goes to the playoffs, wins the Super Bowl and your quarterback plays the way he did, it is very rarely the direct result of anyone else but the QB.

Unsung Hero: CB Corey Graham-60 tackles, 1 forced fumble, 2 interceptions
Reasoning: Corey Graham shouldn't have even been playing cornerback this year. The special teams ace was thrown onto the defense following injuries, and solidified his spot as a starting corner. His interception in overtime against the Broncos set up the game-winning field goal. Incredible year for Graham.

Rookie of the Year: K Justin Tucker-30/33, 4 game-winning field goals, longest field goal of 56 yards
Reasoning: You can't ask for more out of a rookie kicker. Cutting Billy Cundiff for Tucker will prove huge for the team in the long run.

Honorable Mention for Rookie of the Year: RB Bernard Pierce-532 rushing yards, 1 rushing touchdown
Reasoning: Bernard Pierce will be a great running back in this league one day. Unfortunately that may not be with the Ravens. He is a talented power back, and is a perfect runner for winter football. He'll be a key post-season asset as long as he's in Baltimore.

Play of the Year: 4th and 29
Reasoning: This was an easy one. Down to their last limb back in Week 12 against the Chargers, the Ravens faced a decisive 4th down and 29 yards. Joe Flacco stepped back, could not find an open man downfield, and dumped the ball down to Ray Rice. Rice cut back upfield, made all 11 Chargers miss, and reached the first down marker. The Ravens would go on to win the game in overtime on a Tucker field goal.

Moment of the Year: Torrey Smith plays hours after his brother's death
Reasoning:  Less than 24 hours after his brother died in a motorcycle accident, Torrey Smith delivered an inspirational performance, catching six passes for two touchdowns, including one that put the Ravens back in the game against the Patriots. Justin Tucker kicked the game-winning field goal in the final seconds of the game.

This could be a tough off-season for the Ravens. The team needs to re-sign Flacco, most likely to one of the biggest contracts in the league. If they don't he'll get the franchise tag and negotiations for this contract will resume after next season. Other key free agents the Ravens will have to re-sign include Paul Kruger, Ed Reed, Dannell Ellerbe, and Cary Williams. Plain and simple, Ed Reed needs to retire. He doesn't have it anymore, and it would save the Ravens some moolah. Those other free agents all had big roles in the Ravens run to the Lombardi.

As for the draft, the Ravens have pretty specific needs on both sides of the ball. The Ravens will undoubtedly draft another offensive lineman, with the possible loss of players like Matt Birk and Bryant MicKinnie. Defensive end and linebacker will also be positions of need for the Ravens, who have the #32 overall pick in this year's draft. Don't be surprised if Ozzie Newsome pulls another Ozzie Newsome and trades out of the first round for more draft picks later on.

That's it for this special edition of my Ravens Report, see you next year and go Orioles!

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Ravens Report-Super Bowl XLVII

Two weeks ago, the Ravens finally got over the hump, beating the Patriots in New England, 28-13 to advance to Super Bowl XLVII. After trailing at the half, Joe Flacco and Anquan Boldin put on a show offensively, hooking up twice. Defensively, key interceptions by Dannell Ellerbe and Cary Williams in the fourth quarter helped seal the win.

Player of the Game: Ravens QB Joe Flacco-21/36 for 240 passing yards, 3 TDs

Key to the Win: In the second half, the game was put in Joe Flacco's hands, and Flacco proved to his doubters what he can be. A dominant second-half performance  put the Ravens on top in this one.

This Sunday, the Ravens will make their second ever Super Bowl appearance, and their first in twelve years. Back in 2001, the Ravens took down the Giants in Tampa, 34-7. This year, they head to New Orleans to take on the San Francisco 49ers, who went 11-4-1 in the regular season. The headlines in this one are sure to make it one of the more dramatic Super Bowl games ever. The fraternal head coaching matchup of John and Jim Harbaugh. The final time Ray Lewis steps onto a football field. The final game Ed Reed plays in a purple uniform, most likely. Joe Flacco looking to set the record straight on his "elite" status. Emotions will be high in this one.

These two teams last met last year on Thanksgiving night. The game was centered around the Harbaugh brothers, with John and the Ravens coming away with a 16-6 win. But looking at that game holistically for a preview of this one is a moot. When 49ers starting QB Alex Smith went down to an injury earlier in the year, second-year man Colin Kaepernick took over. His play impressed Jim Harbaugh, who left him in as the starter even when Smith healed. Kaepernick is a very mobile quarterback, rushing for over 600 yards and seven TDs in his nine starts. The Ravens will need to keep someone in the box to contain Kaepernick and keep him in the middle of the field. If he can get to the outside and run, he'll burn the Ravens with his speed and agility. Kaepernick also has a very strong arm. His balls seem to fly on a rope, making his receivers very difficult to cover. Michael Crabtree was the team's leading receiver in the regular season, racking up over 1,000 yards and getting to the end zone nine times. Future Hall of Fame WR Randy Moss is not nearly as much of a deep-field threat as he used to be, but he remains a potential game-changer if he can get past the Ravens secondary. TE Vernon Davis, a Maryland alum, did not have as successful a regular season as he usually does, but he has turned it on in the playoffs. In the NFC championship win over the Falcons, Davis caught five balls for 105 yards and a touchdown. His size and speed could create a major mismatch in coverage when a linebacker is on him. On the ground, Kaepernick serves as much of a threat as RB Frank Gore does. Gore is a solid up-field runner, but has some struggles against good run defenses. The Ravens need to bottle him up and make sure he doesn't break off any big runs to gain momentum as the game goes on.

On defense, the 49ers remain one of the most daunting in the NFL. Their staunch run defense ranked 4th in the NFL during the regular season. They are led by linebackers Patrick Willis, who many have likened to Ray Lewis, and Aldon Smith, who led the NFC in sacks this year. Despite Smith's hot start to the season, he has not picked up a sack in the last five games, and may be dealing with a more serious shoulder injury than at first anticipated. The team leader in tackles this year for the Niners was NaVarro Bowman, who is a major threat in pass coverage. His athletic ability evens up his matchups against both tight ends and wide receivers. Joe Flacco must known where Bowman is at all times. The Niners secondary is not nearly as intimidating as the rest of their defense, but they are still good at their jobs. They are led by a solid safety corps of Dashon Goldson and Donte Whitner, who combined for four interceptions and three forced fumbles during the regular season. Despite their being a strong defensive unit, I think the Ravens can still move the ball and put up some points with a balanced and confident offensive attack.

Prediction: These two teams are eerily similar on both sides of the ball. This game will come down to red zone defense. When the offense gets down around the twenty, can you limit them to three points? That will be the difference on Sunday. The Ravens have been very successful in those situations defensively this year, so I'll give them the advantage there. It could also come down to the kickers. 49ers K David Akers missed more field goals than any other kicker in the NFL this season. Don't be surprised if that plays into tomorrow's winner. In a close and nail-biting game, I have Joe Flacco and the Ravens offense pulling it out at the end. The Ravens will win this one, 27-20.

Key Matchups for Ravens at 49ers

Ravens S Ed Reed vs. 49ers QB Colin Kaepernick  Edge: Reed
Analysis: The greatest ball-hawk in NFL history will have quite a challenge in his first Super Bowl. But he wants a ring bad. And he'll turn it up a few notches to get one.

Ravens LB Ray Lewis vs. 49ers TE Vernon Davis  Edge: Lewis
Analysis: In Ray Lewis' final NFL game, he'll be emotional and revved up. But that doesn't do anything to discount the talent of Davis. He will provide a great challenge for Ray.

Ravens LB Paul Kruger vs. 49ers LT Joe Staley  Edge: Staley
Analysis: Although Kruger has had a great year, I think Joe Staley is prime for a great performance. It's important that Krug and the rest of the Ravens pass rush get to Kaepernick, but I think they'll have a rough time doing it against Staley.

Ravens LT Bryant McKinnie vs. 49ers LB Aldon Smith  Edge: Smith
Analysis: Smith is one of the more dominant pass rushers in the league. He'll get around the Ravens offensive line, but not enough to take over the whole game.

Ravens RB Ray Rice vs. 49ers LB Patrick Willis  Edge: Willis
Analysis: Despite Rice's speed, he had some trouble last year with Willis. That's the one thing that carries over from that game. Willis has an uncanny ability to stuff the middle. He'll get the better of Rice in this one.

Ravens WR Torrey Smith vs. 49ers secondary  Edge: Smith
Analysis: This is the one that could really turn the game around. Torrey Smith is developing himself into one of the premier deep-field threats in the league, and will burn a less-than-outstanding Niners secondary. Even one big play could be the play that decides the winner of this game.

Injury Report
No one listed as worse than probable

No one listed as worse than probable

A special congratulations goes to former Ravens LT Jonathan Ogden, who was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame today. He will be officially inducted in August. Former Ravens owner Art Modell was a finalist, but was not inducted.

That's it for this week's version of my Ravens Report. No matter the outcome, I'll be back next week to do a wrap-up of the 2012-13 Baltimore Ravens complete with individual awards. See you next week and go Ravens!

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Ravens Report-AFC Championship 2013

How do I explain this one? Last week, the Ravens capped off the most memorable football game I've ever seen. In a double-overtime thriller, the Ravens outlasted the Broncos and won 38-35. The game didn't start out going their way however. On Sam Koch's punt following a failed first series, Broncos return man Trindon Holliday returned the ball 90 yards to the end zone to put the Broncos on top to begin the game. But the Ravens then showed the resiliency that would define them throughout the rest of the game. Following a pass interference call that kept the drive alive, Joe Flacco shot off a bomb that Torrey Smith caught for a 59-yard touchdown, tying the game. Just moments later, on a third-and-six for the Broncos, a tipped Peyton Manning pass ended up in the arms of Corey Graham, who returned it to the house to give the Ravens their first lead of the afternoon. But Peyton Manning threw touchdowns on his next two drives to give the Broncos the lead back midway through the second quarter. Joe Flacco and the Ravens offense were determined to knot it up heading into the half. In the final minute, Flacco threw up a soft pass along the sideline, yards short of the end zone. An incredible adjustment to the ball by Torrey Smith ended up with a Ravens touchdown and a tied game.

On Justin Tucker's opening kickoff, Holliday struck again. This time from 104 yards out, the Broncos once again had a seven-point lead. Again, an example of Ravens resiliency. The stout Ravens defense held Peyton Manning in check as Flacco worked on tying up the game again. A Flacco fumble proved a slight setback, but it didn't finish the purple birds off. On their next drive, coming off a Manning fumble, Ray Rice ran himself  37 yards down the field, including a 1-yard touchdown run to finish it off. The teams once again exchanged punts, but with seven minutes remaining in regulation, a Manning pass to Demaryius Thomas coupled with two broken tackles ended up in another Broncos score. On the Ravens' next drive, Flacco was unable to complete a fourth-down pass in Broncos territory, and the Broncos were given a chance to seal the win. But once again the Ravens defense stepped up, giving Joe Flacco one minute to extend the season, without any timeouts. After two plays garnered little gain, Flacco snapped off the next play with 41 seconds remaining from his own 30 yard-line. Flacco stepped up in the pocket and launched the pass as far as he could. The ball just barely was out of the reach of Broncos safety Rahim Moore and landed magically into the hands of Jacoby Jones, who scored to tie the game. The miracle of all miracles had come true, and into overtime the two teams went. Throughout the first overtime period, we saw punt after punt after punt. The Broncos got the ball, with a field-goal to win and a minute remaining in the period, the ball at their own 38. On second down, Manning rolled out and looked towards Brandon Stokley. But once again, Corey Graham found the ball and picked it off. His second pick of the day put the Ravens just yards away from Justin Tucker's field goal range. To begin the second overtime period, Ray Rice ran into field goal range, and Tucker took the field. Perfect snap, perfect hold, perfect kick. The Ravens had won it.

Player of the Game: Joe Flacco-18/34 for 331 yards, 3 touchdowns

Unsung Heroes: The offensive line-It seems the magic touch has been found when it comes to who plays what position on the offensive line. Moving Bryant McKinnie to left tackle did it. Broncos pass rushers Von Miller and Elvis Dumervil, two of the best at their job in the league, were non-factors, only sacking Flacco one time.

Key to the Win: Resiliency. Plain and simple. Playing in single-digit temperatures with high altitude and being 9-point underdogs, this win was pure resiliency.

Well, here we are again. For the second consecutive year, the Ravens will have a chance to play in the Super Bowl. But first, they'll have to go through Tom Brady and those pesky Patriots. Again. I won't even go back to what happened last year. When these two teams met in Baltimore back in Week 3, a game-winning kick at the buzzer by Justin Tucker gave the Ravens a 31-30 victory. But these are two different teams now. Unlike in the past, the Patriots now have a legitimate running game. Stevan Ridley ran for over 1,000 yards and twelve touchdowns on the year. RB Shane Vereen is a huge threat in the passing game, as he showed by catching three touchdowns last week in the Patriots win over the Texans. Receivers Wes Welker and Brandon Lloyd combined for over 2,000 receiving yards and ten touchdowns this regular season, and could be lethal if the Ravens secondary is unable to contain them. One of the best tight ends in the game, Rob Gronkowski, re-injured his arm last week and will miss the rest of the post-season. But don't read into the loss of Gronk loss too much. If Tom Brady and the Pats offense showed anything in last week's rout of the Texans, it was that he has other options he can find to make a difference. In Gronk's place, Aaron Hernandez will start at tight end tomorrow for the Pats. During the regular season, Hernandez caught five touchdowns for nearly 500 yards.

On defense, the Pats are not nearly as intimidating. They rank in the bottom ten in two of the four major offensive categories; yards and passing yards per game. The most daunting member of their defensive front is undoubtedly DT Vince Wilfork, whose size alone makes him a dominating presence in the run game. Wilfork, during the regular season, had two sacks and forced two fumbles. He will be a huge difference-maker when the Ravens have the ball. In the secondary, the impact of CB Aqib Talib, who was acquired mid-season by the Patriots, has been largely over-stated. He has been a good corner, with 19 tackles and a pick-six since joining the Pats D, but he isn't nearly as good as many have made him out to be. Also, be sure to watch out for Patriots LB Brandon Spikes. He isn't dominating, but in his career against the Ravens, Spikes has twelve tackles, and an interception of Flacco in last year's AFC title game. All in all, this isn't even close to the toughest defense Flacco has had to deal with. Unlike the Broncos, they have no major pass rushing threats. Like the offensive line did against the Broncos, the Patriots pass rushers should be bottled up pretty nicely.

Prediction: After last week's win, this sure does seem like the team of destiny. Plus, this game should serve the Patriots up as a  healthy dish of revenge. This game, like last year, will come down to the final minutes. I can't see a blowout either way. I have Ray Lewis living for just one more game after tomorrow, and the Ravens winning 27-23.

Key Matchups for Ravens at Patriots

Ravens S Ed Reed vs. Patriots QB Tom Brady  Edge: Brady
Analysis: This is a close one. The game could end up coming down to the Ravens' ability in the secondary to interfere with that impeccable timing Brady has with his receivers. If the Ravens can do that consistently, this one's in the bag. Easier said than done, though.

Ravens LB Ray Lewis vs. Patriots TE Aaron Hernandez  Edge: Lewis
Analysis: Hernandez might burn Ray a few times, but in the end, this one will belong to #52. Hernandez is a finesse, elusive receiver, the kind that can beat a slower Ray. But Lewis wants New Orleans way too bad to lose this matchup.

Ravens WR Torrey Smith vs. Patriots CB Aqib Talib  Edge: Smith
Analysis: As I noted earlier, all I've heard this week is Aqib Talib this, Aqib Talib that. He's a good corner, but remember who Torrey Smith repeatedly burned last week in Denver? That would be future Hall of Famer Champ Bailey.

Ravens C Matt Birk vs. Patriots DT Vince Wilfork  Edge: Wilfork
Analysis: Wilfork's mere size gives him the advantage here, but it's not a large one. Then again, just one big play for him can swing the game one way or the other.

Injury Report
CB Asa Jackson-Thigh-OUT
LB Dannell Ellerbe-Ankle/Back-QST
FB Vonta Leach-Knee/Ankle-QST
RB Bernard Pierce-Knee-QST
WR/RS David Reed-Thigh-QST

None listed as worse than probable

Playoff Scenario: The Jim Harbaugh-led 49ers play the Falcons in Atlanta at 3:00 PM Sunday on FOX. That game should finish right around kickoff of the Ravens game at 6:30. The winners of those two games will meet in the Super Bowl in New Orleans two weeks from Sunday.

That's it for this week's version of my Ravens Report, see you next week and go Ravens!

Friday, January 11, 2013

Ravens Report-Divisional Round 2013

In Ray Lewis's final home game, the Ravens fittingly put on a defensive show, limiting the Colts to three field goals in a 24-9 win. Colts K Adam Vinatieri hit three of his four attempts after the Colts failed to reach the end zone from within the red zone. In his final home game, Ray Lewis led the team with 13 tackles despite a dropped interception. Following a scoreless first quarter in which both teams missed out on scoring opportunities because of turnovers, the Ravens and Colts exchanged second quarter field goals. On the Ravens' next drive, a 47-yard gain on a screen to Ray Rice gave the Ravens the ball at the two, when Vonta Leach busted up the middle to give the team back the lead. But in the final moments of the half, the Colts moved the ball down the field to set up a 52-yard Vinatieri field goal to make the score 10-6. The Ravens then took a two-possession lead when Joe Flacco found tight end Dennis Pitta for a 20-yard score. At the end of the third quarter, another failed Colts possession resulted in another field goal, making the score 17-9 with a quarter remaining. In the first minutes of the fourth, Anquan Boldin capped off an incredible day by making a spectacular leaping grab in the end zone, giving the Ravens a two-touchdown lead. The Colts began driving down the field for what would be their final chance to get back in the game but the Ravens were able to put the seal on the game when Cary Williams intercepted a tipped Andrew Luck pass and returned it into Colts territory. On the Ravens' final kneel-down, John Harbaugh sent Ray Lewis out on the field for one last moment on the gridiron at M&T Bank Stadium. After Flacco knelt down, Ray went into his final dance in front of a screaming Ravens crowd. Before exiting the field, Ray did a victory lap to say one more thank-you to the city of Baltimore.

Players of the Game: Ravens QB Joe Flacco-12/23 for 282 yards, 2 passing TDs
Ravens WR Anquan Boldin- 5 catches, 145 receiving yards (a Ravens playoff record), 1 receiving TD

Key to the Win: The defense stood by its "bend but don't break" mentality by stopping the Colts three times in the red zone. Joe Flacco was on his game, and despite Ray Rice's two fumbles, Bernard Pierce was able to step up when needed.

On Saturday, the Ravens will travel to Mile High to face off against Peyton Manning and his 13-3 Denver Broncos. When the Broncos visited Baltimore back in Week 15, Manning gave the Ravens a 34-17 beatdown that was much worse than that score entails (see my earlier blog entitled 'Ravens Report-Week 16 2012'). The temperature Saturday in Denver is expected to be between 11-20 degrees, which could play into the Ravens' hands. In his career, Peyton Manning is 2-6 with 6 TDs and 9 INTs in games which the temperature is below freezing. Manning is also expected to be wearing a glove. But don't read into these too much. He is still Peyton Manning, so don't be surprised if these stats are just an anomaly.

The Broncos rank in the top five in three of the four major offensive categories. They are 2nd in the league with 30 points and nearly 400 yards per game. Manning threw 37 touchdowns during the regular season, and was picked off eleven times. Two of his receivers had double-digit touchdowns and 1,000 yard receiving seasons, and will be major vertical threats to the Ravens secondary. Demaryius Thomas leads the team with 94 catches while racking up ten touchdowns, while Eric Decker has 85 catches with 13 touchdowns. An injury to former Ravens RB Willis McGahee has sidelined him for the year. He is being replaced by Knowshon Moreno, who has rushed for four touchdowns in his six starts this season. In his start against the Ravens, he rushed for 115 yards and a touchdown on 21 attempts. Plus, an improved Broncos offensive line has allowed just 21 sacks, the fewest in the AFC. In order to beat Peyton Manning, you need to mix up blitz packages and continuously get a hand in his face. Against this stout Broncos offensive line, that won't be easy. If they can get to him consistently over the course of this game, it could be a close one.

On defense, the Broncos are just as intimidating. They rank no lower than fourth in all four major defensive categories. That won't make things easy for a Joe Flacco offense that especially struggles on the road. LB Von Miller ranked third in the NFL this season with 18.5 sacks. Miller is helped by fellow pass rushers Elvis Dumervil and Derek Wolfe, who have combined for 17 sacks of their own this year. In the secondary, the Broncos are led by future Hall of Famer Champ Bailey, who had 66 tackles and two picks on the year. To keep the Broncos defense on their toes, Flacco has to maintain a fast tempo and be effective in the no huddle. A conservative offense just won't work. In defense of the Ravens dismal offensive performance against the Broncos last month, it was Jim Caldwell's first game calling plays. He is much more used to it now, so expect a smoother performance.

Prediction: No one is picking the Ravens in this game. And I mean no one. I'm not saying they're wrong. I don't think there is any question that the Broncos are a better team. But you know that they say..."any given Saturday." This team could come out and ride the momentum given to them by Ray Lewis' retirement all the way to New Orleans. Who knows? But simply, the Broncos are a better team. The Ravens will need to play a near-perfect game to win. I have the Broncos winning, 27-16.

Key Matchups for Ravens at Broncos

Ravens CB Cary Williams vs. Broncos WR Demaryius Thomas  Edge: Thomas
Analysis: Thomas' speed and size could prove deadly in this matchup. Williams was burned for an Eric Decker touchdown last month, and Thomas is more talented than him.

Ravens LB Ray Lewis vs. Broncos QB Peyton Manning  Edge: Lewis
Analysis: Ray didn't play in the first game. You can bet Manning will look to go after the 37-year old but Ray isn't ready to fade into the darkness just yet.

Ravens LT Michael Oher vs. Broncos LB Von Miller Edge Miller
Analysis: This is the definition of a mismatch. Oher will need plenty of help containing Miller. If they can't, Flacco and the Ravens are in serious trouble.

Ravens RB Ray Rice vs. Broncos LB Wesley Woodyard  Edge: Rice
Analysis: After an off-week against the Colts, Rice will look to respond by putting on a show. He could have that chance while the Broncos focus on getting to Flacco.

Injury Report
No player is listed as worse than probable.

CB Tracy Porter-Concussion-OUT

AFC Playoff Scenarios: With a Ravens win against the Broncos, they will face the winner of the Texans/Patriots game, which will be played Sunday at 4:30 PM on CBS.

That's it for this week's version of my Ravens Report, see you next week and go Ravens!


Saturday, January 5, 2013

Ravens Report-Wild Card Round 2013

Last Sunday, the Ravens fell to the Cincinnati Bengals in the regular season finale, 23-17. The majority of the game was played by the second-stringers on both teams. The Ravens had pulled out most of their starters by the beginning of the second half, while the Bengals brought most of theirs out in the first minutes of the second half. Ravens second-year QB Tyrod Taylor entered the game for his first real NFL experience. By the time the starters were all out, the game was tied 7-7. The Ravens got those points when third-string RB Anthony Allen pounded the ball in for a two-yard score, the first of his career. With the Ravens trailing 13-7 to begin the fourth quarter, Tyrod ran the ball down the field and finished off the drive with a 1-yard touchdown run to give the Ravens the lead. After a Bengals field goal, Carlos Dunlap picked off Tyrod and returned it home for a touchdown. A missed field goal by Justin Tucker didn't help the Ravens' attempts at getting back in the ball game, which ended up helping to seal the Bengals victory. With this loss, the Ravens finish up the regular season with a 10-6 record, an AFC North division title, and their fifth consecutive playoff berth.

Player of the Game: Ravens RB Bernard Pierce-22 attempts, 89 rushing yards

Key Takeaway from this Game: Don't read into this loss too much. At the most, this was a third pre-season game. The Ravens had nothing to lose and very little to gain with a win and this game. John Harbaugh smartly opted to give his players some rest.

This Sunday, the Ravens open their run to the Lombardi trophy by hosting the Indianapolis Colts, who went 11-5 on the season. There is certainly no shortage of story lines in this one. Of course there's the animosity that Baltimoreans feel for losing their Colts to the city of Indianapolis back in 1984, however I don't think that anger is the same that it used to be. The departure of Peyton Manning may have something to do with that. On Sunday, the Colts may still be announced as the "professional football team from Indianapolis" when they enter the playing field. You've also got the return of Chuck Pagano, the Colts head coach who spent the past four seasons as an assistant coach for the Ravens. Pagano was diagnosed with leukemia back in September, but is in remission and made his return to the sidelines just last week. To add to all that, Sunday could very well be the final home game for the face of the Ravens, with Ray Lewis announcing his intentions to retire at the end of the playoffs. To further read my thoughts on the career and legacy of #52, head to to check it out.

The Colts have had quite a season, gaining much of their energy and momentum from the situation they were put in after losing their leader. After having the worst record in the NFL last season, the Colts used the #1 overall pick to add QB Andrew Luck from Stanford. Luck has led the Colts on seven game-winning drives this season, a rookie record. He threw for over 4,000 yards and 23 touchdowns, but was also picked off eighteen times. His favorite target is veteran WR Reggie Wayne, who racked up 106 catches on the year for over 1,000 receiving yards and five touchdowns. Fellow receivers Donnie Avery and T.Y. Hilton combined for similar numbers as Wayne, with ten touchdowns between them. The Colts' running game has been suspect however, ranking 22nd in the NFL with just 104 yards per game on the ground. Rookie RB Vick Ballard rushed for 800 with just two touchdowns. He will get the bulk of the carries on Sunday, but he's had trouble with consistency over long periods of time.

On defense, the Colts rank in the bottom half of the NFL in all four major defensive categories. They are led by DE Dwight Freeney, who hasn't been nearly as productive this year as in previous years. The Colts also have two former Ravens on defense, Cory Redding and Tom Zbikowski, who have helped introduce Pagano's defensive philosophy to their Colts teammates. Other factors on this side of the ball for the Colts include LB Jerrell Freeman, who led the team in tackles, and S Antoine Bethea, who has two sacks on the year. The defense is definitely the Colts' greatest liability, and one that Joe Flacco can take advantage off with a sound game of his own.

Prediction: This game will be quite an emotional roller-coaster. But with the announcement this week of Ray Lewis' retirement, I can't see the Ravens losing this one. That team is playing for Ray, and they want to make his final ride one to remember. Plus, the fans will be loud the entire game, so expect the Ravens to feed off of that. I have the Ravens winning, 27-17.

Key Matchups for Colts at Ravens

Ravens S Ed Reed vs. Colts WR Reggie Wayne  Edge: Wayne
Analysis: In a matchup of the former Miami teammates, Wayne's speed and explosive ability will propel him over a struggling and beat-down Reed.

Ravens LB Terrell Suggs vs. Colts QB Andrew Luck  Edge: Suggs
Analysis: Luck has a knack for getting out of the pocket, so Sizzle and the rest of the Ravens pass rush will have a tough task of getting to Luck, but I believe they'll do it.

Ravens WR Torrey Smith vs. Colts CB Vontae Davis  Edge: Smith
Analysis: I think Smith's speed and vertical ability will give Davis some tough times throughout the game.

Ravens LT Michael Oher vs. Colts LB Robert Mathis  Edge: Mathis
Analysis: Oher has been struggling mightily and Mathis is possibly the best pass rusher the Colts have. The Colts will sure look to take advantage of this mismatch.

Injury Report
WR Tandon Doss-Ankle-QST
S Bernard Pollard-Chest-QST
T Jah Reid-Toe-QST

G Joe Reitz-Concussion-OUT
RB Delone Carter-Ankle-QST
NT Antonio Johnson-Ankle-QST
T Winston Justice-Shoulder-QST
C A.Q. Shipley-Knee-QST
S Tom Zbikowski-Knee-QST

Playoff Scenarios: With a win on Sunday, the Ravens will go to one of two places. If the Bengals beat the Texans in Houston on Saturday night, the Ravens will go to New England and the Bengals will go to Denver. If the Texans win, the Texans will head to New England, and the Ravens to Denver.

That's it for this week's version of my Ravens Report, see you next week and go Ravens!

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Ravens Report-Week 17 2012

Coming into last week's Giants/Ravens game, both teams had a chance to solidify themselves as serious playoff contenders. But you wouldn't have known that with the way the Giants played. In an inspired effort, the Ravens took down the dispassionate Giants, 33-14. With this win, the Ravens have clinched their second-consecutive AFC North title and at least one home playoff game. The Ravens put up two impressive scoring drives to open the game, but the Giants answered with one of their own to finish off the first quarter. After a Justin Tucker field goal, the Ravens put the finishing touches on a superb first half when Flacco found Rice up the middle for a 27-yard touchdown on a play-call that we haven't seen often this year. The play is actually one of the offense's base routes, and in the past has been called on for important third-and-fourth-down situations. In the second half, Justin Tucker would put up three more field goals, and the Giants would score once more in the fourth quarter to end the game.

Player of the Game: Ravens QB Joe Flacco-25/36 for 309 passing yards, 2 passing touchdowns, 1 rushing touchdown

Key to the Win: This was a statement win that the Ravens needed badly. After losing three straight games, a chance to beat a team like the Giants was one that was too opportune to give up. The Ravens showed up in all three phases of the game. Justin Tucker was perfect from field goal range, and luckily we didn't see too much of Sam Koch. Flacco was clicking offensively and both Ray Rice and Bernard Pierce ran for over 100 yards. The defense kept an explosive Giants offense in check, limiting key receivers Hakeem Nicks and Victor Cruz.

This Sunday, the Ravens will wrap up the regular season in Cincinnati against a 9-6 Bengals team. When the two teams met in Baltimore back in Week 1, the Ravens handed down a 44-13 beat-down. But that game is nearly irrelevant now as now these two teams are in vastly different places. This is an odd game when it comes to playoff implications. The Bengals are locked into the #6 seed, while the Ravens look to be in the #4 spot, barring a Dolphins upset over the Patriots in New England (they would jump to #3). Neither team has too large of an incentive for winning this game. But that doesn't mean they won't be trying to win it. The Bengals have lost four straight to the Ravens, and will be looking to knock that monkey off their backs. They believe that in order to get where they want to go, they need to go through a Ravens team that has owned them in recent years. Also, both teams will be looking to get momentum heading into the playoffs, and can do so with a win. Don't expect to see either team benching too many of their non-injured starters. The Ravens may give a break to some of their more banged-up players, such as Haloti Ngata and Marshal Yanda, so don't expect to see much if any from them this weekend.

On offense, the Bengals are led by a youth movement consisting of second-year QB Andy Dalton and his favorite partner, Pro-Bowl WR A.J. Green, who has established himself as one of the better up-and-coming receivers in the league. Green has over 1,000 receiving yards and 11 touchdowns on the season thus far. Though he has had some troubles hanging on to the ball, he is extremely dangerous when he does hang on. Bengals RB BenJarvus Green-Ellis, in contrast, has fumbled just three times in his five-year career. All three, however, happened this season. Green-Ellis has started in all fifteen games this season, racking up six rushing touchdowns and over 1,000 rushing yards. The Bengals are also helped out offensively by rookie weapon Andrew Hawkins, who caught eight balls back in Week 1, and TE Jermaine Gresham, who has five touchdown catches on the year.

The Bengals are much flashier on defense, however. Ranked ninth in the NFL in total defense, they are third-best in the AFC with 44 sacks. DT Geno Atkins has a team-high 12.5 sacks on the year, coupled with four forced fumbles. Rookie LB Vontaze Burfict, who the Ravens passed on following the draft, has been a huge help to the Bengals on defense. He is second on the team in tackles, just a few behind fellow LB Rey Maualuga, who has become a staple on the Bengals defense. In the secondary, the Bengals have received jolts from veteran CBs Leon Hall and Adam Jones, who have rejuvenated their careers with good seasons in Cincinnati. If the Ravens can hold off the dangerous Bengals pass rush, Joe Flacco should have enough time to find an open receiver against a talented secondary lacking in depth.

Prediction: Whoever wants it more will get it. If the Ravens treat this game like a third pre-season game, they won't win. Both teams want to have something to ride with heading into the playoffs, which start next week for both teams. Expect both teams to come out in full force to try and take this finale. I have the Ravens winning, 23-13.

Key Matchups for Ravens at Bengals

Ravens CB Cary Williams vs. Bengals WR A.J. Green  Edge: Green
Analysis: While Cary has had a remarkable year, he will have a tough afternoon going up against the size and physicality of Green.

Ravens LB Dannell Ellerbe vs. Bengals RB BenJarvus Green-Ellis  Edge: Ellerbe
Analysis: This is one of the matchups the Ravens desperately want to win. Ellerbe has had a great year, and will continue against Green-Ellis.

Ravens WR Torrey Smith vs. Bengals CB Leon Hall  Edge: Smith
Analysis: Smith's vertical game will help him in this matchup against a size-disadvantaged Leon Hall. His leaping ability will give him the win here.

Ravens C Matt Birk vs. Bengals DT Geno Atkins  Edge: Atkins
Analysis: Atkins has been dominant off the edge, especially of late. He'll continue his success against a struggling Ravens offensive line. 

Injury Report
WR Anquan Boldin-Shoulder-QST
WR Tandon Doss-Ankle-QST
DE Arthur Jones-Thigh-QST
FB Vonta Leach-Ankle-QST
LB Albert McLellan-Shoulder/Thigh-QST
DT Haloti Ngata-Knee-QST
G/T Marshal Yanda-Shoulder/Knee-QST

K Mike Nugent-Calf-OUT
CB Jason Allen-Hamstring-QST
CB Terence Newman-Groin-QST

Ravens Playoff Outlook: The Ravens will be playing at home next week to open up the playoffs. Barring a Dolphins upset of the Patriots, the Ravens will be hosting the Indianapolis Colts. With a Ravens win and a Dolphins win, the Ravens will be hosting, ironically enough, the Bengals.

That's it for this week's version of my Ravens Report, see you next week and go Ravens!

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Ravens Report-Week 16 2012

Last Sunday, the Ravens fell for the third consecutive week, beaten to a pulp by a rejuvenated Broncos team, 34-17. The Broncos jumped out to a 10-0 lead in the final minutes of the first half. Joe Flacco began to drive the Ravens down the field to get a score, finding Torrey Smith near the goal line with 30 seconds left. Although the Ravens still had all three timeouts, they opted not to use one. Flacco rushed to the line and was picked off by Chris Harris, who took the ball back 98 yards for a touchdown, giving the Broncos a 17-0 lead at halftime. The Ravens got on the board with a field goal in the second half, but the Broncos answered with two touchdowns of their own, blowing the game open. In the beginning of the fourth quarter, Flacco finally got it going, throwing a 31-yard touchdown score to Dennis Pitta. Later in the game, Flacco found Pitta again, who broke tackles and scampered his way 61 yards down the field and into the end zone, finishing off the scoring for the day. The Ravens defense did not play all that badly, but the offense gave them no time to rest on the bench, tiring them out by the second half of the game. Despite the Ravens loss, a Steelers loss helped the Ravens clinch their fifth consecutive playoff berth, making the Flacco-Harbaugh tandem perfect in their years in Baltimore.

Player of the Game: Broncos WR Eric Decker-8 catches, 133 receiving yards, 1 receiving touchdown

Key Takeaway from this Game: It seemed as if the Ravens players, and fans for that matter, conceded this loss before we even kicked off. Peyton Manning knows how to take advantage of teams' weaknesses; the Ravens' weakness being their defense. The Ravens won't have it easy against playoff teams. We can only hope that they can stay in games and give our defense the rest it needs.

This Sunday, the Ravens host their regular season home finale against the 8-6 New York Giants, who are coming off a blowout loss of their own, losing 34-0 last week in Atlanta. In a matchup of two teams desperate for bounce-back victory, the Giants could be fighting for their playoff lives. And we all know how the Giants are able to pull things together late in the season, including last year's late-season run to a Super Bowl championship. We'll see which side of these two two-faced teams comes out to play Sunday afternoon. On offense, Eli Manning leads a dangerous attack which has been weakened on the ground, but still remains a large threat in the air. Running back Ahmad Bradshaw has been sidelined with an injury, but expects to return (possibly on a limited basis) on Sunday. Backup running back David Wilson has taken over the reins and run for 155 over the past two games. In the air, the Giants present two very dangerous threats in Victor Cruz and Hakeem Nicks. Cruz has caught nine touchdowns, and remains Manning's favorite target. But tight end Martellus Bennett has become another favorite of Manning's, racking up nearly 600 yards and five touchdowns. Bennett presents a matchup problem for the Ravens depleted linebackers corps. On defense, the Giants rank in the bottom 10 in three of the four major defensive categories, including yards per game. The most daunting of the Giants unit defensively comes on the defensive line. Linemen Justin Tuck, Osi Umenyiora, and Jason Pierre-Paul have combined for 15.5 sacks on the season, and could prove to be game-changers against a struggling offensive line unit for the Ravens. The Giants are significantly less scary on other parts of the defense, including a secondary that is ranked 28th in the league in passing yards. If the offensive line can give Joe Flacco time in the pocket, he could use it to beat the weaker parts of this Giants defense.

Prediction: The Ravens need this one bad. Then again, so do the Giants. A Ravens win seals the division, and this team would love to have that off their backs heading to Cincinnati next week. If the Ravens offensive line can hold their ground, and give Joe Flacco time to throw in the pocket, the Giants could be in for a long day. But if they let their strong defensive lineman get to Flacco, it could be a long day for the Ravens. Expect the Ravens to open with a strong ground attack to open up play-action later in the game. I have the Ravens winning the game, 27-23.

Key Matchups for Giants at Ravens

Ravens CB Cary Williams vs. Giants WR Victor Cruz  Edge: Cruz
Analysis: Manning loves Cruz, and makes him one of the better receivers in the game. While Cary has made some big plays on pass deflections, he also has the tendency to let a receiver get away from him. If that happens against Cruz, we're in trouble.

Ravens LB Brendon Ayanbadejo vs. Giants TE Martellus Bennett  Edge: Ayanbadejo
Analysis: This is a close one, but Ayanbadejo has had a nice year filling this role. If he doesn't let this matchup affect other parts of his game, he'll win this one. Bennett is having a good year as well, and could very well take this one.

Ravens T Michael Oher vs. Giants DE Jason Pierre-Paul   Edge: Pierre-Paul
Analysis: Pierre-Paul is one of the premier pass rushers in the league, and will easily beat Oher in this matchup. Oher just can't lose it in a blowout.

Ravens WR Anquan Boldin vs. Giants CB Corey Webster  Edge: Boldin
Analysis: I have a feeling Boldin will have a good day as Torrey Smith will be limited (if he plays at all) with a concussion. Webster is also known for giving up some big plays.

Injury Report
LB Jameel McClain-Neck-OUT (will miss remainder of season)
S Bernard Pollard-Chest-DBT
WR Tandon Doss-Ankle-QST
LB Dannell Ellerbe-Ankle-QST
FB Vonta Leach-Ankle-QST
LB Albert McClellan-Thigh/Shoulder-QST
RB Bernard Pierce-Head-QST
WR Torrey Smith-Head-QST
G/T Marshal Yanda-Ankle-QST

C David Baas-Hip/Shoulder-QST
TE Travis Beckum-Knee-QST
RB Ahmad Bradshaw-Knee/Foot-QST
S Kenny Phillips-Knee-QST
S Tyler Sash-Hamstring-QST
G Chris Snee-Hip-QST
DE Justin Tuck-Shoulder-QST

AFC North Standings

Team        W     L
Ravens     9      5
Bengals    8      6
Steelers    7      7
Browns    5      9

AFC North Outlook: If the Ravens win one of the final two games, the division is theirs.The Bengals host the Steelers, with a Bengals win eliminating the Steelers from playoff contention. The Browns visit the Broncos.

That's it for this week's version of my Ravens Report. See you next week and go Ravens!