Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Ravens Report-Week 17 2011

 Last Saturday, the Ravens escaped a scare from the Browns to pull out a 20-14 home win. With this win, the Ravens finished undefeated at home for the first time in franchise history. They were rolling on all cylinders in the first half, giving themselves a 17-point cushion that ended up being the difference between a win or a loss. The Ravens first score came early in the first, when Flacco hit Ed Dickson in the back of the end zone on third and goal. Then, free agent signee Shayne Graham was put to the test, setting up and hitting a 48-yard field goal to extend the lead to 10. Midway through the second quarter, Flacco floated the football up to Ray Rice, who then ran 20 yards into the end zone to make it 17-0. After another Graham field goal, things began to slow down for the Ravens. A punt-return touchdown paired with a Flacco interception thrust the Browns back into the game. The Browns then made it a one-possession game when Seneca Wallace found Evan Moore for a touchdown. After a Ravens three-and-out, the Browns got the ball back with a chance to take the lead. On fourth down with four minutes left, Wallace threw to Peyton Hillis for no gain, and the Ravens were given an opportunity to seal the win. On a fourth and two at the two minute warning, Flacco drew lineman Phil Taylor offsides, and a series of kneel downs finished the game.

Player of the Game: Ravens RB Ray Rice-83 rushing yards, 3 catches, 48 receiving yards, 1 receiving touchdown

What Worried Me: After what was at one point a 20-0 lead, this win was way too close for comfort. It leaves a lot to question about this team's stamina. Also, Joe Flacco looked dazed in the second half, making ill-advised passes and paying the price for them. He didn't get much help though. Ed Dickson had three drops, all which would have helped the team move the ball down the field and put up more points in the second half.

Next Sunday, the Ravens face a crucial game in Cincinnati against the 9-6 Bengals. When the teams met in November, the Ravens won 31-24. With a win, the Ravens lock up a first-round bye, and depending on the outcome of the Patriots/Bills game, homefield advantage throughout the playoffs. With a loss, the Ravens risk falling to a wild-card spot and having to play games on the road. This game is about as important as they get, and with the Ravens' struggles on the road this year, it won't be an easy one. The Bengals may have even more to play for than the Ravens. With a loss, they might not be able to even make the playoffs. However, they are in a win-and-you're-in situation, which could give them quite the emotional advantage. Because of all these implications, expect a playoff-like atmosphere when the Ravens hit the field on Sunday. Bengals rookie QB Andy Dalton showed the poise of a veteran in November, and certainly poses a serious threat to the Ravens' hopes of a first-round bye. Rookie WR A.J. Green, who missed the previous matchup between the teams, will be active this week, and is a vertical threat whom the Ravens' secondary will find tough to defend. On defense, Carlos Dunlap and Domata Peko lead the Bengals pass rush. They will need to put pressure on Joe Flacco if they want a chance to stop the Ravens offensive attack. With a combination of Flacco's passing and Rice's ground game, the Ravens can pound their way onto the scoreboard. With some defensive help, the Ravens will be able to pull out what is going to be a close game. Keep in mind that new Ravens K Shayne Graham, who is expected to start in place of the still injured Billy Cundiff, spent 7 seasons with the Bengals. No one knows that stadium and that weather like Graham, which could become important if a late-game field goal is needed. With the Ravens' implications as grand as they are,  I have them winning 24-20.

Key to the Game: Andy Dalton has incredible poise for his age, and does a great job of getting the ball out quickly and accurately. The only way to stop that is pressure. If the Ravens pass rush can get to Dalton quickly, the Bengals offense will be halted, and their point-scoring abilities stopped. Also, because of the Ravens road struggled thus far, they will need to start strong and fire on all cylinders if they want to get the sold-out Cincinnati crowd out of the game fast and put a lead on the board.

Key Matchups for Ravens at Bengals
Ravens CB Lardarius Webb vs. Bengals WR A.J. Green Edge: Push
Analysis: Webb has not allowed a touchdown yet this year, while Green poses a dangerous threat down the field. 

Ravens LB Terrell Suggs vs. Bengals QB Andy Dalton Edge: Suggs
Analysis: Suggs' ability to get to Dalton will dictate the Bengals' offensive success.

Ravens RB Ray Rice vs. Bengals LB Rey Maualuga Edge: Rice
Analysis: Rice will need to move the ball in order for the Ravens to maintain offensive balance throughout the game, and Maualuga doesn't have the speed to catch up to him.

Ravens C Matt Birk vs. Bengals NT Domata Peko Edge: Peko
Analysis: Peko's athleticism will help him get past the older Birk, and to Joe Flacco.

Injury Report
WR Anquan Boldin-Knee-DBT
LB Dannell Ellerbe-Head-DBT
G Marshal Yanda-Chest-DBT
K Billy Cundiff-Calf-QST
DE Cory Redding-Ankle-QST
CB Cary Williams-Head-QST

S Taylor Mays-Hamstring-DBT
LB Dontay Moch-Illness-DBT
DE Carlos Dunlap-Hamstring-DBT

AFC North Standings
Team                    W        L
Ravens                 11        4
Steelers                11        4
Bengals                 9         6
Browns                 4         11

AFC North Outlook: Here are the Week 17 AFC playoff scenarios:
Ravens win/Patriots win: Ravens clinch first-round bye, Patriots clinch homefield advantage
Ravens win/Patriots lose: Ravens clinch first-round bye and homefield advantage, Patriots have #2 seed
Ravens lose/Steelers win: Steelers clinch first-round bye, Ravens fall to wild card spot

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

Friday, December 23, 2011

Ravens Report-Week 16 2011

Last Sunday night, the Chargers routed the Ravens on national television, 34-14. This was a domination from start to finish, as the relentless Chargers really put it on the Ravens. Phillip Rivers picked apart the previously unbeatable Ravens defense, torching corners and getting the ball out of his hand quickly. With this, the Ravens pass rush was simply not quick enough to get to the quarterback. We have to give San Diego some credit, they did their homework and played the Ravens the way you beat the Ravens. They played just as good as the Ravens did bad. The score was 17-7 at halftime after touchdowns from Mike Tolbert for the Chargers and Ed Dickson for the Ravens. Another missed Cundiff field goal dug the Ravens into a much deeper hole. Two third quarter Charger touchdowns combined with two Ravens turnovers put the game away with plenty of time on the clock. Torrey Smith caught a last-minute touchdown, but to no avail, as the Ravens dropped their fourth game of the season.

Player of the Game: Chargers QB Phillip Rivers-17/23 for 270 yards, 1 passing touchdown

What Worried Me: Well this list goes on and on. Mostly, Billy Cundiff's missed field goal made for a two-possession game at halftime instead of just a touchdown lead for the Chargers. Missed field goals is not something Ravens fans are accustomed to after 13 years with Matt Stover, one of the most accurate kickers in NFL history. While Cundiff is injured and a new kicker (Shayne Graham) has been signed, field goals decide games down the stretch, and the Ravens need to win those stretch games.

Next Saturday afternoon, the Ravens face off against the 4-10 Cleveland Browns, whom the Ravens downed 24-10 in Week 13. The key to this game for the Ravens will once again be the running game. The Browns' rush defense ranks 31st in the NFL, so when Ray Rice has the ball in his hands on Saturday, you can guarantee good things will happen. With Anquan Boldin out for the next two weeks, other receivers such as Tandon Doss and Dennis Pitta will have to step up and fill the void. The Browns do have a good pass defense, so don't expect Joe Flacco to pass much if he doesn't have to. Colt McCoy, who started for the Browns back in Week 13, will be out Saturday with a concussion, so backup Seneca Wallace will get the nod. While he is not a great pocket passer, he is most dangerous outside of the pocket. He runs the ball well, so he will be a threat if he leaves the pocket. To defend that, expect the Ravens to put a linebacker like Jarret Johnson in the box to prevent Wallace from trying to run. This is simply a must-win game for the Ravens if they want to stay in the hunt for a bye, and I don't expect them to let up. I have the Ravens winning, 27-10. With this win, the Ravens would finish a perfect 8-0 at home, something they have never done in franchise history.

Key to the Game: The Ravens will need to keep the ball moving and eat up the clock to rest the defense. A rested defense is a good defense, and a defense which could stop the Browns in their tracks.

Key Matchups for Browns at Ravens
Ravens S Ed Reed vs. Browns QB Seneca Wallace Edge: Reed
Ravens DT Haloti Ngata vs. Browns T Joe Thomas Edge: Ngata
Ravens WR Torrey Smith vs. Browns CB Joe Haden Edge: Haden
Ravens G Marshal Yanda vs. Browns DT Jabaal Sheard Edge: Yanda

Injury Report
WR Anquan Boldin-Knee-OUT
K Billy Cundiff-Calf-DBT
DE Cory Redding-Ankle-QST

QB Colt McCoy-Concussion-OUT
WR Josh Cribbs-Groin-QST
CB Joe Haden-Thigh-QST

AFC North Standings
Team W L
Ravens 10 4
Steelers 10 4
Bengals 8 6
Browns 4 10
AFC North Outlook: The Ravens remain ahead of the Steelers for the division lead after the Steelers Monday night loss to the 49ers. This weekend, the Ravens can clinch the division with a win and a Steelers loss to the Rams. If the Ravens and Patriots win out, the Ravens have the #2 seed and a bye. If the Ravens win out and the Patriots lose a game, the Ravens have the #1 seed.

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

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Ravens Report-Week 15 2011

Last Sunday, the Ravens got a much-needed 24-10 win over the still winless Colts. By putting continuous pressure on Dan Orlovsky and marching down the field methodically, the Ravens did exactly what they needed to do in order to pull out the win. After failing to score early in the game, Joe Flacco finished off the Ravens' first scoring drive with an 8-yard bullet to Torrey Smith, making it 7-0. Following a Billy Cundiff field goal, Ray Rice topped off another long Ravens drive with a 6-yard run into the end zone. The Colts would kick a field goal late in the second quarter, and the Ravens took a 17-3 lead into halftime. As the Ravens defense continued to halt the Colts in their tracks, Flacco was on his way to extending the lead. His next score was a scary 7-yard pass to Dennis Pitta, in which Flacco threw all the way across his body. Usually when we see quarterbacks throw that pass, it is caught by the other team. In fact, as he was making the catch, Pitta braced himself for a hit from who he thought was a Colts defender, but luckily it was fellow receiver Torrey Smith. Flacco really needs to be careful throwing those types of passes. Despite holding down Orlovsky for most of the game, the Ravens defense did let up late, allowing a touchdown in the final seconds of the game. John Harbaugh was visibly upset about the late letdown, but all that's important is the W in the schedule.

Player of the Game: Ravens LB Terrell Suggs-5 tackles, 3 sacks, 3 forced fumbles

What Worried Me: While Suggs got to the quarterback with ease, none of his three forced fumbles were recovered by the Ravens. That means three missed opportunities to get the Ravens offense a chance to score. In closer games, those loose balls will need to be recovered, or the Ravens will pay for it.

Next Sunday night, the Ravens travel to the West Coast for a primetime matchup with the resurgent San Diego Chargers. After their trademark slow start, the Chargers have made yet another comeback, and are now just two games back of the lead in the AFC West. The Chargers are known for their December success, and quarterback Phillip Rivers is 22-2 during his career this month. Rivers has started to pick his game up lately, and after throwing 17 interceptions in his first 11 games, he hasn't thrown one in two weeks. That being said, the young Ravens secondary will have to be at the top of their game in order to slow down Rivers. His receivers include future Hall of Famer Antonio Gates, and up-and-comers such as Vincent Brown and Vincent Jackson. The Ravens could be getting an extra boost on defense this weekend, as Ray Lewis is expected to make his return after missing the past four games.
Defensively for the Chargers, S Eric Weddle leads the NFL with 7 interceptions, so Flacco's recognition of where Weddle is at all times will be vital to ball security. Still, the ground game could be where the Ravens win this game. The Chargers defense ranks 24th in the league in rush defense, so Rice, who has over 300 yards over the past two games, could lead the Ravens offensive attack. There is certainly a lot on the line for both teams in this game. A loss for the Chargers could mean elimination from playoff contention, while a Ravens win clinches a playoff berth and continues their track towards a first-round bye. This all makes a great recipe for a hard-hitting, nail-biting clash Sunday night. I have the Ravens pulling out a close one, 23-20.

Key to the Game: For the Ravens, halting Phillip Rivers and what has been an explosive offense lately will be key for the win. If Rivers is able to air it out like we all know he can, the Ravens will be in trouble.

Key Matchups for Ravens at Chargers
Ravens CB Jimmy Smith vs. Chargers WR Vincent Jackson Edge: Jackson
Ravens S Ed Reed vs. Chargers QB Phillip Rivers Edge: Reed
Ravens WR Anquan Boldin vs. Chargers CB Quentin Jammer Edge: Boldin
Ravens QB Joe Flacco vs. Chargers S Eric Weddle Edge: Flacco

Injury Report
CB Chris Carr-Back-QST
G Ben Grubbs-Toe-QST
LB Ray Lewis-Foot-QST
DT Haloti Ngata-Back-QST
DT Cory Redding-Ankle-QST
CB Lardarius Webb-Toe-QST

LB Takeo Spikes-Back-QST
DE Jacques Cesaire-Ankle-QST

AFC North Standings
Team W L
Ravens 10 3
Steelers 10 3
Bengals 7 6
Browns 4 9

AFC North Outlook: The Ravens hold of the tiebreaker is still the difference between the Ravens and Steelers. Winning out means the Ravens take the division. The Steelers face the 49ers on Monday night. The Bengals visit the Rams. The Browns visit the Cardinals.

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

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Ravens Report-Week 14 2011

Last week, the Ravens took care of business with a 24-10 win over the Browns. The empty stadium created an uninspiring game from the Browns, and helped the Ravens sustain momentum throughout the game. The rainy conditions were ideal for the Ravens gameplan, which consisted of a healthy amount of Ray Rice pounding the ball at the Browns defense, as Rice and fellow back Ricky Williams combined for close to 300 rushing yards. Rice set a career high in yards on the ground, finishing with 204. He also started the Ravens scoring in the second quarter with a 6-yard touchdown score. After a Billy Cundiff field goal, the Ravens took a 10-0 lead into halftime. Then, following a Phil Dawson field goal for the Browns, Rice set up a Ricky Williams touchdown run with a 67-yard run of his own, and the Ravens extended their lead. To put the finishing touches on for the Ravens, CB Lardarius Webb returned a punt 68 yards to the house, and it was smooth sailing from there.

Player of the Game: Ravens RB Ray Rice- 29 attempts, 204 rushing yards, 1 rushing touchdown

Key to the Win: For weeks, we have complained that Ray Rice was not getting enough touches, and Joe Flacco was throwing too much. Finally, Rice got the carries he deserved, using his 29 for a career high in yardage. On the other side of the ball, Joe Flacco only had to throw 23 times. That's how this offense wins a game.

What Worried Me: This was a victory on most sides of the ball, but Billy Cundiff's performance caused some concern. Cundiff missed two first half field goals (34,41) that could have given the Ravens a more comfortable lead. While he does have an injury to his plant leg, those six points could be the difference in games down the strech.

Next week, the Ravens return home to host the winless Indianapolis Colts. This is not the Colts team we are used to, and it's simply incredible how much one person can affect a team's success. Peyton Manning's neck surgery has caused him to miss every game this season, and the Colts' alternatives are not getting the job done. Dan Orlovsky, who was part of the winless Lions team in 2008, will be getting his second start this week. Orlovsky has not won a game he's played in since 2004, when he was a senior at Connecticut. The Ravens defense will look to confuse Orlovsky with different blitz packages, and get him out of his zone early. Despite their record, the Colts have some offensive playmakers. Receivers Reggie Wayne and Pierre Garcon both have big play potential. Garcon seems to be Orlovsky's favorite target, catching two touchdowns in Orlovsky's debut last week. In the running game, youngsters Donald Brown and Delone Carter lead the way, but neither have yet to make a big statement yet as a professional. The Colts have some weapons on defense as well. DE Dwight Freeney has destroyed the Ravens in the past, and is one of the top pass rushers in the NFL. He is joined on the defensive line by Robert Mathis, who is tied with Freeney for the team lead in sacks with 5.5. With the Colts lack of defensive talent, containing Freeney and Mathis will be vital to a successful offensive day. This should be as much of a mismatch on the field as it is on paper, and I have the Ravens winning, 30-10.

Key to the Game: The biggest threat to a Ravens win is the Colts pass rush, with the aforementioned Freeney and Mathis. If the Ravens offensive line can prevent them from getting to Joe Flacco, he will have time to find his receivers, and keep the Ravens moving down the field.

Key Matchups for Colts at Ravens
Ravens CB Cary Williams vs. Colts WR Reggie Wayne Edge: Wayne
Ravens LB Jameel McClain vs. Colts RB Donald Brown Edge: McClain
Ravens T Bryant McKinnie vs. Colts DE Dwight Freeney Edge: Freeney
Ravens QB Joe Flacco vs. Colts S Antoine Bathea Edge: Flacco

Injury Report
CB Chris Carr-Back-OUT
LB Ray Lewis-Foot-QST
K Billy Cundiff-Left Calf-QST

QB Peyton Manning-Neck-OUT
LB Pat Angerer-Knee-QST
TE Dallas Clark-Fibula-QST
WR Anthony Gonzalez-Groin-QST
LB Ernie Sims-Toe-QST

AFC North Standings
Team W L
Steelers 10 3
Ravens 9 3
Bengals 7 5
Browns 4 9

AFC North Outlook: Since the Steelers beat the Browns on Thursday night, they technically have the division lead right now. The Ravens can overtake them with a win on Sunday. The Bengals host the Texans.

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

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Ravens Report-Week 13 2011

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

Injury Report
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!