Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Ravens Report-Week 12 2011

Last Sunday, the Ravens held off a late Bengals comeback to pull out a crucial 31-24 win. Some of the biggest plays of the game came from the Ravens' rookies. Torrey Smith caught a touchdown, Jimmy Smith got his first career interception, and Pernell McPhee's sack ended the game. The Bengals would open up the scoring with a 7-yard Cedric Benson touchdown run in the first quarter. But Flacco, who struggled early, responded well, and found an open Anquan Boldin, who fought his way to the end zone to tie up the game. Then, a Ray Rice touchdown would give the Ravens a 14-7 lead at halftime. After a Billy Cundiff field goal deep in Bengals territory, Benson got in the end zone once again to bring the Bengals within three. Not long after, Ray Rice would score again, and it was a two-possession game late in the third. In the first minute of the fourth, however, Flacco connected deep in the end zone with Torrey Smith, and the Bengals now trailed by three scores. But young Andy Dalton would not give in quite yet, finding Andre Caldwell open along the sidelines for a touchdown. On the Bengals next drive, a field goal would bring them just a touchdown away from tying the game. When they got the ball back, Dalton anchored a drive that moved the Bengals deep into Ravens territory with plenty of time to work with. But an intentional grounding call on second down not only backed up the Bengals, but also resulted in a loss of down. On fourth down, Dalton was brought down by the rookie McPhee, and the Ravens escaped with the win. While Dalton did impress with his poise against the toughest defense he's yet to face, his mistakes late in the game ended up costing the Bengals a chance to win. For the Ravens, this win puts the pressure on the Bengals to win the teams' second matchup in January, or else the Ravens gain control of that tiebreaker as well.

Player of the Game: Ravens QB Joe Flacco-17/27 for 270 yards, 2 passing touchdowns

Last Week's Key to the Game: Last week, I stressed the importance of ball handling, which the Ravens did well for the most part. While Flacco was picked once, his winning performance made up for the one mistake.

The Brother Bowl. The Battle of the Brothers. The Harbaugh Bowl. Whatever you may like to call it, the Ravens matchup with the 9-1 San Francisco 49ers is going to be a game to remember. It will be the first time that brothers will face each other as NFL head coaches, as the Ravens' John Harbaugh goes head-to-head with his brother Jim (a former Ravens QB), the first-year coach of the 49ers. When the game was first put on the schedule, it figured to be a money-maker simply because of the brothers, but the surprising success of the Niners will take this game to a whole different level. Perhaps the most surprising team in the NFL this year, the Niners top-ranked defense has confused every offense to come their way. Led by LB Patrick Willis, a carbon copy of his counterpart Ray Lewis, the Niners defense is yet to give up a rushing touchdown, but will face Ray Rice this week, who has 8 on the year. The Niners secondary has been the weak link, but the team still leads the NFL in takeaways. Many have gone as far as to compare this Niners defense to the Ravens championship defense of 2000, and the teams certainly do have similar characteristics. Neither had a big-name quarterback, while the running backs have played an important role in the offense. 49ers RB Frank Gore has rushed for 100 or more yards in five games this season. He is a bit banged up, but is expected to play Thursday night. If the Ravens defense can contain Gore, the 49ers will have to rely on inconsistent QB Alex Smith. The former first overall pick had struggled mightily in the past, but has begun to flourish under his new head coach. We should be able to get a better idea of Smith's real skills against a ball-thirsty Ravens defense, so look out for how Smith reacts to that. With these two defenses ranking among the tops in the league, we shouldn't expect to see many points on the scoreboard. Another thing to keep in mind is the short week the teams had to prepare for this game. Both teams played Sunday afternoon, but the Niners' week included a cross-country flight. While that shouldn't become a factor, remember that these are human beings playing the game, and that it is very possible fatigue will come into play. With all of these factors, I think the Ravens do hold a slight advantage. I'm proud to say I'm confident in what Joe Flacco will be able to do, and I think he will use all he has to help pull out this win. I have the Ravens winning a thriller, 20-16.

Key to the Game: Once again, Cam Cameron's play-calling will become a major factor. We've seen him give up on Ray Rice after just a few failed carries, and against a defense as strong as the 49ers, this could easily happen again. Sticking to the game-plan and giving Rice the carries he deserves will open up more for Flacco in the passing game, which in turn will help the Ravens offense overcome the Niners.

Key Matchups for 49ers at Ravens
Ravens S Ed Reed vs. 49ers QB Alex Smith Edge: Reed
Ravens LB Jarret Johnson vs. 49ers TE Vernon Davis Edge: Davis
Ravens RB Ray Rice vs. 49ers LB Patrick Willis Edge: Push
Ravens WR Anquan Boldin vs. 49ers CB Carlos Rogers Edge: Boldin

Injury Report
LB Ray Lewis-Foot-QST
LB Dannell Ellerbe-Thigh-QST
CB Chris Carr-Back-QST

WR Braylon Edwards-Knee-QST
RB Frank Gore-Knee-PRB

AFC North Standings
Team W L
Ravens 7 3
Steelers 7 3
Bengals 6 4
Browns 4 6

AFC North Outlook: With the Ravens and Steelers technically tied (the tiebreaker does not come into play until the end of the year), a win for the Ravens would be huge in keeping pace in the division. A Steelers loss makes them two games behind the Ravens. The Steelers visit Kansas City on Sunday night. The Bengals host the Browns.

That's it for this week's version of my Ravens Report, have a happy Thanksgiving, see you next week and Go Ravens!

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Ravens Report-Week 11 2011

Last week, the Ravens suffered another loss to a below .500 team, falling 22-17 to the Seattle Seahawks. What seems to be a curse hanging over a winning Ravens team has turned into an unacceptable string of losses. The Seahawks began the scoring with a Marshawn Lynch touchdown. The following kickoff was one of David Reed's two fumbles, and the Seahawks would jump out to a quick 10-0 lead. The Ravens made it 10-7 in the second quarter when a reverse went to Ray Rice, who threw, yes threw, a 1-yard pass to Ed Dickson. At halftime, the Seahawks had a 19-7 lead after former Ravens K Steven Hauschka hit three field goals. The teams then exchanged third quarter field goals, and the Ravens had a two-possession deficit with 15 minutes remaining. After being repeatedly stopped by the Seahawks' defense, Joe Flacco finally penetrated the end zone himself with a touchdown pass to Dickson, and made the score 22-17 with six minutes left in regulation. But the usually clutch Ravens defense was beaten when it mattered, and the Seahawks were able to kill the clock and escape with the win. Ray Rice, easily the biggest playmaker on the Ravens offense, had just 13 touches, putting the pressure on the inconsistent Ravens passing game. While the Ravens were trailing for most of the game, not giving Rice at least 20 touches a game puts the Ravens in an unfavorable position offensively. In fact, in all three of the Ravens losses this year, Rice has had less than 20 touches. See a trend? This loss puts the Ravens in a must-win spot for the next few weeks if they want to take advantage of the tiebreaker hold they have with the Steelers.

Player of the Game: Seahawks RB Marshawn Lynch-102 rushing yards, 1 rushing TD

Last Week's Key to the Game: The Ravens did exactly what they could not afford to do, getting sloppy with the ball and not taking advantage of a winnable game, which both contributed to the loss.

Next Sunday, the Ravens return home to face the division rival Cincinnati Bengals. The winner of this game joins the Steelers in first place in the AFC North, while the loser falls behind. While this isn't Ravens-Steelers, these two teams have a hard-hitting history with each other, so expect a physical battle on Sunday. The young cardiac cats have gotten off to a surprising 6-3 start with rookie QB Andy Dalton at the helm. Dalton's most explosive target, fellow rookie WR A.J. Green, hyper-extended his leg last week and will be a game-time decision on Sunday. Green's absence would change the dynamic of the Bengals offense, as Green leads all rookie receivers in catches and yards. Also on offense is RB Cedric Benson, who has a history of torching the Ravens defense with his power running. Benson has not had a strong year so far, but all it takes is one breakout run to change the course of this game. With Ray Lewis expected to miss the game, this task becomes even harder for the Ravens defense. While the Bengals rush defense has been outstanding this year, Cam Cameron needs to set aside his imaginary offense and run the ball down the Bengals' throats with Ray Rice. Luckily, the Bengals injury bug stretches to the defense as well with DE Carlos Dunlap expected to miss the game, and Leon Hall, who will miss the rest of the season. These injuries will help Joe Flacco, who has struggled historically against the Bengals, throwing five interceptions against them in two games last year. The Ravens need to come out rolling early on Sunday, and prove once again that their miscues are simply a fluke. I have the Ravens doing just that, and escaping with a close 23-17 win.

Key to the Game: The key to the game for the Ravens will once again be holding on to the ball, and not getting sloppy. Even with a lead, using the clock wisely and being merciless on all sides of the ball will be a key to victory in the second half.

Key Matchups for Bengals at Ravens
Ravens S Ed Reed vs. Bengals QB Andy Dalton Edge: Reed
Ravens LB Jameel McClain vs. Bengals TE Jermaine Gresham Edge: Gresham
Ravens RB Ray Rice vs. Bengals DT Domata Peko Edge: Rice
Ravens T Michael Oher vs. Bengals DE Robert Geathers Edge: Geathers

Injury Report
LB Dannell Ellerbe-Thigh-QST
WR Lee Evans-Ankle-QST
LB Ray Lewis-Foot-QST

WR A.J. Green-Knee-DBT
TE Donald Lee-Foot-DBT
DE Carlos Dunlap-Hamstring-QST

AFC North Standings
Team W L
Steelers 7 3
Ravens 6 3
Bengals 6 3
Browns 3 6

AFC North Outlook: The winner of the Ravens-Bengals game joins the Steelers at the top of the division with the Steelers on their bye week. The Browns host the Jaguars.

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

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Ravens Report-Week 10 2011

Last Sunday night, the Ravens completed their first sweep of the Steelers since 2006 in a last-minute 23-20 win. This win gives the Ravens the tiebreaker in the AFC North, which could come in handy as we head down the final stretch of this season. The first half of the game was a battle of field goals, one that the Ravens won when Billy Cundiff hit from 51 yards in the final seconds of the half, giving the Ravens a 9-6 edge. In the third quarter, the Ravens defense continued to hold back the Steelers, and a Ray Rice touchdown run gave the Ravens a two-possession lead after three. But early in the fourth, the Steelers capped off an eighty yard drive with a Rashard Mendenhall touchdown, and with an entire quarter left, the Ravens lead was cut to 16-13. The Ravens offense then began to slow down, and a late Flacco fumble gave Pittsburgh good position to tie or take the lead. Ben Roethlisberger then orchestrated a perfect drive, and finished it with a 25-yard touchdown pass to Mike Wallace to give Pittsburgh a four-point lead with 5 minutes remaining. The Ravens were forced into a quick three-and-out, and the Steelers had a chance to run out the rest of the clock. But the Ravens defense buckled down and forced a punt, and Joe Flacco had two and a half minutes to drive the Ravens 90 yards for a touchdown. This quickly became a defining drive for Flacco as he marched his unit down the field. After converting a crucial fourth down, Flacco's end zone shot to Torrey Smith was dropped, but Smith still had something to prove. After a Boldin drop, Flacco looked again to Smith, who's diving effort for the score gave the Ravens a victory in the waning seconds of regulation. Perhaps the most important statistic of the game is the Ravens ability to convert on third down, going 14 for 21 including two conversions on the final drive. Without these conversions, the Ravens simply would not have had the success they did.

Player of the Game: Ravens QB Joe Flacco- 28/47 for 300 yards, 1 touchdown

Last Week's Key to the Game: Last week I said that the Ravens needed to better be able to sustain drives, which they did very well at points in the game. The final drive was simply perfect, and is an early defining moment in Flacco's career.

This Sunday, the Ravens take a visit to Seattle to face the struggling 2-6 Seahawks. Unfortunately for the Ravens, consistent road success has been an issue, so putting together a quality performance that ends with a win will be important for the continuity of this Ravens team. We all saw the embarrassing losses to the Titans and Jaguars, so we don't want to add the Seahawks to that list. The quarterback position has been the main area of concern for Seattle, as jumping between Tavaris Jackson and Charlie Whitehurst hasn't seemed to work out too well. Jackson is expected to start Sunday despite a pectoral injury. While the Seahawks have struggled mightily on offense, RB Marshawn Lynch is a powerful and very dangerous runner that can break out into the open field at any time. Containing Lynch will be vital for the Ravens. The Seahawks defense is lead by DE Chris Clemons and S Earl Thomas. Making sure Flacco knows where those two are before the play will help to avoid them getting involved in the play. This could once again be a trap game for the Ravens, and staying focused on the task at hand instead of worrying about the opposing team's record will prove key for not letting this one get away. I have the Ravens giving up some points, but still pulling out a 27-16 win.

Key to the Game: The key to a Ravens win will be staying focused at what is at hand, not getting sloppy with the ball, and playing tough, hard-nosed defensive football. With some consistent offense and shutdown defense, it shouldn't be a difficult win for the Ravens.

Key Matchups for Ravens at Seahawks
Ravens LB Ray Lewis vs. Seahawks RB Marshawn Lynch Edge: Lewis
Ravens CB Lardarius Webb vs. Seahawks WR Mike Williams Edge: Webb
Ravens QB Joe Flacco vs. Seahawks S Earl Thomas Edge: Flacco
Ravens T Michael Oher vs. Seahawks DE Chris Clemons Edge: Clemons

Injury Report
LB Dannell Ellerbe-Thigh-DBT
WR Lee Evans-Ankle-DBT
LB Brendon Ayanbadejo-Head-QST

LB David Vobora-Concussion-OUT
TE Cameron Morrah-Toe, Knee-QST

AFC North Standings
Team W L
Ravens 6 2
Bengals 6 2
Steelers 6 3
Browns 3 5

AFC North Outlook: The Steelers-Bengals game this weekend will decide if the Ravens have a counterpart atop the division, and the Ravens hold of the tiebreaker could be important if the Steelers were to win and the Ravens to lose at any point in the season.

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

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Ravens Report-Week 9 2011

Last Sunday, the Ravens completed the biggest comeback in team history, rallying from a 21-point deficit to win 30-27. While the comeback showed great leadership from Joe Flacco, the deficit itself elicits some concern. The offense lacked in effort, and Flacco made crucial mistakes, but luckily they got it together when they needed to. After early field goals on both sides, a Flacco fumble put the Cardinals in great position, and they would score soon after to make it 10-3. After a Ravens three-and-out, Cardinals CB Patrick Peterson returned Sam Koch's punt 82 yards for a touchdown, breaking 5 tackles on his way to the end zone. Next, a Flacco interception set up another Cardinals touchdown, and the score was 24-6 at halftime. Luckily, Flacco realized that we weren't going to be able to get the lead all back at once, and the only way to come back was to slowly chip away at the lead. After a long well-executed drive, Ray Rice pounded it in from a yard out, and the comeback was underway. On the Ravens next drive, Anquan Boldin made some spectacular catches and another Rice touchdown made it a one possession lead. The Ravens finally took the lead on the first play of the fourth quarter with another Rice score. But the Ravens defense finally relented, and a late Cardinals field goal set up a tough task if the Ravens wanted to win in regulation. Then, with under 50 seconds remaining, Flacco connected deep with Torrey Smith, who made up for an earlier drop by putting the Ravens inside the ten, and in prime position to take the game. A last-second Billy Cundiff field goal lifted the Ravens to an important victory, and a 5-2 record.

Player of the Game: Ravens LB Terrell Suggs- 9 tackles, 1 sack

Last Week's Key to the Game: Last week, I said the Ravens needed to do a better job of sustaining drives, which they didn't do until the second half. That being said, they did a very good job of doing it in the second half.

Next week, the Ravens travel to Heinz Field to take on the hated Pittsburgh Steelers on Sunday Night Football. This game means more than just the division lead now, but a Ravens win gives them the division tiebreaker and possible home-field advantage over the Steelers during the playoffs. When these two teams met in September, the Ravens put a 35-7 shellacking on the Steelers, and that game will not soon be forgotten on either side. The Steelers will be looking for a little revenge come Sunday night, and they'll have a great chance to do it. Since that early season matchup, it seems as if the Ravens have been playing worse, while the Steelers have been playing better. That being said, the Steelers will be missing some key defenders. LBs Lamarr Woodley and James Farrior are both expected to be out, while James Harrison could be a game-time decision. The one defender that Joe Flacco will have to look out for is Troy Polamalu, who is a threat to turn the game around on every snap. The Steelers first-ranked pass defense poses a big threat to a struggling Ravens offense, and the real test for Flacco will come here. On offense, Steelers WR Mike Wallace has made himself one of the most explosive receivers in the game, and can turn even a screen pass into a huge gain. The Steelers running game has not been strong, and could have serious problems against the Ravens-top ranked defense. This game should live up to its physical expectations, because there is continuous bad blood on both sides. The two teams are practically designed in order to beat each other, that's what makes the games so good, and also so unpredictable from time to time. Being the Ravens fan I am, I've gotta go with my team in this one, taking Pittsburgh down with a close 17-16 win.

Key to the Game: The Ravens will be getting a key offensive boost with the return of lineman Ben Grubbs, who should open up more holes for Ray Rice, who had a big game against Pittsburgh in September. For the Ravens to win, they'll need to rely on Rice once again to lead the charge down the field.

Key Matchups for Ravens at Steelers
Ravens LB Terrell Suggs vs. Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger Edge: Suggs
Ravens CB Lardarius Webb vs. Steelers WR Mike Wallace Edge: Wallace
Ravens RB Ray Rice vs. Steelers LB Lawrence Timmons Edge: Rice
Ravens QB Joe Flacco vs. Steelers S Troy Polamalu Edge: Polamalu

Injury Report
LB Dannell Ellerbe-Thigh-OUT
WR Lee Evans-Ankle-OUT
G Ben Grubbs-Toe-QST
WR David Reed-Knee-QST

G Doug Legursky-Toe-OUT
WR Emmanuel Sanders-Knee-OUT
LB LaMarr Woodley-Hamstring-OUT
LB James Farrior-Calf-QST
WR Hines Ward-Ankle-QST
P Daniel Sepulveda-Knee-QST
LB James Harrison-Eye-PRB

As a parting note, I'd like to leave you with this quote from Ravens LB Terrell Suggs pertaining to Sunday night's game.

"Big Ben, you know he’s a great quarterback. God can have his soul, but his ass belongs to me." If that isn't inspiration, I don't know what is. Let's go get em.