On Thanksgiving night, the Ravens shut down the 49ers attack, and pulled out a 16-6 win. Other than bragging rights for our Harbaugh, this win keeps the Ravens in line and in control of their own future for a division title and a playoff bye. The first half was a battle of field position and field goals. With the Ravens up 6-3 and the Niners driving in the final moments of the half, Alex Smith's shot to the end zone was picked off by Lardarius Webb, and the Ravens held the lead at halftime. The one scare of the first half came on a long touchdown pass to Ted Ginn, Jr. that was called back because of an offensive penalty. One can only imagine how this game could have turned out if that touchdown had stood. The only score of the third quarter was a field goal for the Niners, but as the quarter ended, the Ravens had a third and goal deep in 49ers territory. They had failed to convert in previous red zone chances, but a Flacco bullet to TE Dennis Pitta(the first of his career) gave the Ravens a 7-point advantage. The rest was up to the Ravens defense, who came through when it mattered, and a late field goal sealed a 16-6 Ravens victory. One of the keys to the Ravens defensive success was the relentless pressure they put on Alex Smith, something that had been lacking in previous weeks. They got to Smith a franchise-record 9 times, with Terrell Suggs contributing 3 of those sacks. If the Ravens can do even half of this consistently, it will be hard for the opposing offense to get moving.
Player of the Game: Ravens LB Terrell Suggs-3 tackles, 3 sacks, 1 forced fumble
Unsung Hero: Ravens DE Corey Redding-4 tackles, 2.5 sacks
What Worried Me: While the overall gameplan and its execution were a success, there were still a few questionable calls. The two that jump out came when the Ravens faced a second and goal at the 1-yard line in the second quarter. The Ravens ran Ray Rice outside, where he was stuffed for a loss of 4. Why not put in your biggest blockers, run straight up the middle, and give yourself three chances to advance just one yard? The next play was a QB Draw, where Joe Flacco was not even able to get back to the line of scrimmage. Flacco is simply not the quarterback to run that play with, he's too big. That ball should be a shot to the end zone. We simply have to execute better at the goal line. Later in the game, deep in Niners territory, the Ravens called a fade for Torrey Smith. Fades are supposed to go to hands receivers, such as Anquan Boldin and Ed Dickson. Why they didn't get that call is confusing.
Next week, the Ravens travel to Cleveland to face the 4-7 Browns. While the stadium will be empty and the team uninspired, the Browns record may be misleading. They have lost two games they could have won if not for a botched field goal attempt, and they gave the Bengals a run for their money last week. Plus we all know the Ravens pattern of losing on the road to inferior teams, but the Ravens know how to play the Browns in Cleveland, they've done it before, but they have a lot to prove this time. It's weird to say, but this is a must-win game. With a loss, the Ravens could fall behind and get off the track for a division title and a playoff bye. The Browns offense ranks near the bottom in the league in almost every category, so the Ravens defense could be looking at a good day. Once again, putting pressure on and bringing down Browns QB Colt McCoy will slow the Browns down and provide better field position for the Ravens offense. Browns RB Peyton Hillis has been slowed down this year by a hamstring injury, but his presence as a strong runner who opens up the passing game could potentially hurt the Ravens defensively. On defense, the Browns rank #1 in pass defense, which could affect the number of passes that Flacco throws, as well as the playcalls themselves. On the other side, they rank 29th in run defense, so the Ravens struggling running game could finally catch a break this week. Even with the Ravens tendency to play to the level of inferior teams, there is much more on the line this week, and I think the Ravens will realize that, and prove themselves as a team that can beat anybody anywhere. I have the Ravens winning 27-16.
Key to the Game: For the Ravens, smart play-calling and not giving in with either a lead or a deficit will be crucial for a win.
Key Matchups for Ravens at Browns
Ravens DE Haloti Ngata vs. Browns T Joe Thomas Edge: Ngata
Ravens linebacking corps vs. Browns RB Peyton Hillis Edge: Ravens
Ravens QB Joe Flacco vs. Browns pass defense Edge: Push
Ravens RB Ray Rice vs. Browns LB D'Qwell Jackson Edge: Rice
CB Chris Carr-Back-OUT
LB Ray Lewis-Foot-QST
LB Quentin Spears-Hamstring-OUT
DB T.J. Ward-Foot/Finger-OUT
RB Montario Hardesty-Calf-QST
OL Tony Pashos-Ankle-QST
AFC North Standings
Team W L
Ravens 8 3
Steelers 8 3
Bengals 7 4
Browns 4 7
AFC North Outlook: The Ravens still hold the tiebreaker with the Steelers, who host the Bengals in a pivotal matchup this weekend. Here are the potential situations for this game:
Ravens win/Steelers win-Bengals fall behind a game, Ravens keep lead
Ravens win/Bengals win-Ravens take two-game lead over Steelers, Bengals still behind in division race
Ravens lose/Steelers win-Steelers take one-game division lead
Ravens lose/Bengals win-Ravens still lead over Steelers, yet tied with Bengals
That's it for this week's version of my Ravens Report, see you next week and Go Ravens!