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!

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Ravens Report-Week 15 2012

Last Sunday, the Ravens fell to 9-4 following yet another heart-breaking loss, a 31-28 overtime thriller against the Redskins. For the first time in three years, the Ravens have lost consecutive games. The game was a shootout from the beginning, with the two teams exchanging passing touchdowns on their first possessions. After Alfred Morris gave the 'Skins the lead back with a TD, Joe Flacco and the Ravens offense answered with two touchdowns of their own, including Anquan Boldin's 2nd of the game, to take a 21-14 lead into halftime. Two long-distance field goals from Kai Forbath brought the Redskins to within a point with a quarter remaining to play. Joe Flacco led the Ravens on a crucial late-game drive, going 62 yards in a matter of four minutes, and extending the Ravens lead to 28-20 after a Ray Rice rushing TD. But the Redskins refused to fade. Robert Griffin III, who had a least been somewhat neutralized by the Ravens defense thus far, began a drive to attempt to send the game into overtime. But his quest was cut short after a gruesome injury that proved him unable to walk, sending him to the sidelines. Fellow rookie QB Kirk Cousins entered the game to take over where RGIII left off. On third down from the Ravens 11, Cousins rolled out and floated a touchdown pass to Pierre Garcon, making it a two-point game. On the two-point conversions, the Ravens defense read pass, and Cousins made them pay. He took it himself up the middle to tie up the game. During the overtime period, the Ravens got the ball first but could not do anything. On the punt, rookie Richard Crawford returned the ball deep into Ravens territory, with punter Sam Koch hunting him down to prevent a touchdown. Just a few plays later, Kai Forbath hit from 34 yards out, giving the Ravens their second consecutive loss on a field goal. With the Bengals and Steelers both losing, a Ravens win would have sealed the division.

Player of the Game: Redskins K Kai Forbath-3/3 (49, 48, 34)

Key Takeaway from the Game: They can't finish. Right now, the Ravens cannot finish the job. They lost a very winnable game to the Steelers in the final minutes, and did it again last week in Raljon. The defense could not come up with the key stop late in the game, as they usually are able to do. The offense was dead in the second half, possibly because they "did enough" in the first half. This lack of a killer instinct does not bode well for a team looking to be playing football late in January and into February. 

This Sunday, the Ravens will return home to face Peyton Manning's rejuvenated 10-3 Denver Broncos, who have won eight consecutive games. The playoff implications on both sides for this game are difficult to overlook. With a Broncos win, the Ravens will not be able to clinch a first-round bye. With a Ravens win and and at least one Patriots loss the rest of the way, the Ravens will control their own destiny for a first-round bye and a #2 seed in the conference. The Ravens have never lost at home to the Broncos, but they'll have a whole new kind of test with Manning under center. Peyton has thrown for close to 4,000 yards and 30 touchdowns in a comeback season for the ages. He has lead the Broncos to be the 4th ranked offense in the NFL, scoring the second-most points per game. An injury to former Ravens RB Willis McGahee has given Peyton more opportunities to pass the ball, which he is gladly accepting. Manning is known for his poise and quick decision-making, an ability that has been furthered with an offensive line that ranks second-best in the AFC in sacks. Manning has helped make WR Demaryius Thomas one of the more dangerous receiving threats in the league. Thomas has reeled in over 1,000 receiving yards and eight touchdowns on the season. Manning's other targets include Eric Decker, Jacob Tamme, and former Ravens WR Brandon Stokley. On defense, the Broncos rank in the top ten in all four major categories. Their pass rush is led by linebackers Elvis Dumervil and Von Miller, who have combined for 24 sacks on the season. They will prove quite a test for a struggling, beaten-down Ravens offensive line that has surrendered nine sacks in the past three games. The biggest question mark on the Ravens offensive line is Michael Oher, who can't seem to match himself up with any pass rusher with any kind of speed or agility. In the secondary, the Broncos are headed by the ageless Champ Bailey, who is still as productive a corner as ever. That 4th-ranked Broncos defense will be facing a Ravens offense that is undergoing a change late in the season. Offensive coordinator Cam Cameron was canned, leaving way for Jim Caldwell to step in, who had been the team's quarterbacks coach prior to his upgrade. You may remember Caldwell from his days in Indianapolis, where he coached none other than Peyton Manning himself. Don't expect a major upheaval in offensive gameplanning, but expect some more no huddle, if anything. Ray Rice's touches per game dropped drastically with Cameron at the helm, so he is taking a deep breath with the change. He could be a major factor in keeping the Ravens in this game. The Ravens are about as beaten and bruised as you'll see them. Will they fall in the face of pressure or rise to the occasion?

Prediction:  No one is giving the black and purple any shot to win this game. The team is surely listening. Their response is a whole different story altogether. For a team that has not fared well historically against Peyton Manning, this could be a rough afternoon. Or they could step up and inspire us all. I almost never pick against the Ravens, mainly because I think they can beat just about every team in this league. But given all the factors coming into the game, I think the Broncos have the edge. They'll win this one, 23-17.

Key Matchups for Broncos at Ravens

Ravens CB Corey Graham vs. Broncos WR Demaryius Thomas  Edge: Thomas
Analysis: Thomas has a size and speed edge over Graham, and is quickly becoming one of the better receivers in the league. This matchup could prove fatal for the Ravens.

Ravens S Ed Reed vs. Broncos QB Peyton Manning  Edge: Manning
Analysis: Two future residents of Canton will both need to be on their game Sunday in Baltimore. Reed didn't do well reading RGIII last week, which isn't a good omen with Manning coming his way.

Ravens RB Ray Rice vs. Broncos LB Keith Brooking  Edge: Rice
Analysis: Ah, the one shining light for the Ravens. If Rice goes off, we've got a ball game. If he can't get it going, we're in some major trouble. 

Ravens LT Michael Oher vs. Broncos LB Von Miller  Edge: Miller
Analysis: This is a mismatch all the way. Oher has been struggling of late, while Miller is one of the better pass rushers in the league.

Injury Report
LB Jameel McClain-Neck-OUT
TE Ed Dickson-Knee-DBT
LB Dannell Ellerbe-Ankle-QST
DE Arthur Jones-Shoulder-QST
FB Vonta Leach-Ankle-QST
DE Pernell McPhee-Thigh-QST
S Bernard Pollard-Chest-QST
CB Jimmy Smith-Abdomen-QST
LB Terrell Suggs-Biceps-QST
G/T Marshal Yanda-Ankle-QST

G Chris Kuper-Ankle-QST
LB Wesley Woodyard-Ankle-QST

AFC North Standings

Team             W        L
Ravens          9         4
Steelers         8         6
Bengals         7         6
Browns         5         8

AFC North Outlook: A Ravens win and the division race is over. The only situation in which the Ravens do not make the playoffs is if the Ravens lose out, and the Bengals-Steelers game next week ends in a tie. This week, the Steelers play in Dallas and the Browns host the Redskins. The Bengals beat the Eagles in Philly on Thursday Night Football.

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

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Ravens Report-Week 14 2012

Last week, the Ravens suffered a heart-breaking home loss to the Steelers, 23-20, giving the Ravens their first home loss since 2010, also against the Steelers. The teams exchanged field goals to begin the game, but the Ravens would waste no time taking the lead. A Justin Tucker field goal coupled with Anquan Boldin's second touchdown catch of the season helped the Ravens jump out to a 13-6 halftime lead. On their first drive of the second half, Isaac Redman found a hole and rushed sixteen yards to the end zone, tying the game. But late in the third, Ray Rice bounced to the outside and sped 34 yards to the end zone, giving the Ravens the lead with a quarter left to play. After a key interception by Ed Reed, the Ravens gave the ball back when Joe Flacco was sacked, fumbling the ball and giving the Steelers prime field positon. Just over a minute later, Charlie Batch found Heath Miller in the end zone to tie the game once again. The Ravens were forced to punt on their next drive, giving the Steelers the ball back with 6:14 remaining on the clock. Batch used his time management skills to help drive the Steelers down the field, and set up a 42-yard game-winning field goal as time expired. The Steelers took home a win that prevented the Ravens from clinching a spot in the playoffs. Batch, who has thrown in his 15-year career about as many passes as Drew Brees does in two typical seasons, got an emotional boost to his waning life as a backup NFL quarterback.

Player of the Game: Steelers QB Charlie Batch-25/36 for 276 yards, 1 passing touchdown, 1 interception

Key Takeaway from the Game: In reality, this loss isn't crucial in terms of the Ravens' playoff race. But, as with every loss to the Steelers, it hurts. Joe Flacco underperformed, giving his doubters another moment to point there fingers at and scream "you see" and seem smart. Will Flacco ever be the elite quarterback he once seemed destined to be? Who knows. But here is what we do know. Joe Cool has taken us to four consecutive playoff appearances (almost five), two AFC championship games, and a 53-23 record. No one knows what we'll say of Flacco ten years from now, but right now, he is finding a way to get the job done.

Ray Rice touched the ball thirteen times on Sunday. Yes, you read that right. And yes, that's unacceptable, but it isn't as easy as just giving him the ball. Cam Cameron needs to find opportunities for Rice to get open all over the field, both on the ground and out of the backfield. Our main offensive weapon should have a main role in the offense.

Next Sunday, the Ravens travel to face the other team from Maryland, the up-and-coming 6-6 Washington Redskins. The recent irrelevancy of the Redskins has given Ravens fans a lot to brag about, but the "Battle of the Beltways" has taken on a new life this year. The 'Skins are lead by their mobile rookie quarterback Robert Griffin III, who is just as much of a threat with his feet on the ground as his arm is in the air. RGIII has rushed for over 700 yards this season, and is tied for the team lead with six rushing touchdowns, while only turning the ball over six times. On offense, the Redskins' attack is centered upon their ability to use the play-action to set up the passing game and Griffin III's running game. Their upstart "pistol" offense makes it difficult for defenses to read the offense's play call. Don't discount RB Alfred Morris, whose physical but elusive running approach could prove to be kryptonite against a Ravens defense that has struggled with tackling the ball-carrier. This style of offense will be put to the test again against an experienced Ravens defense. RGIII lives on the ability to trick the safety into going the wrong direction. Ed Reed lives on his ability to read where the quarterback is going. You can see where I'm  going with this. But the Redskins are a lot less daunting on defense, where injuries have crippled their early success. They are ranked next to last in the league in passing yards allowed per game, which will allow Flacco to open up the playbook. Their 4th ranked rush defense is lead by a few of the more underrated defenders in the league, including LB Ryan Kerrigan and veteran LB London Fletcher. You can expect Ray Rice to see some burn out of the backfield as Flacco and Cameron hope to avoid dealing with the rush, and get the ball away quicker, something Flacco had trouble with against the Steelers.

Prediction: All in all, the Ravens could have a really rough day if they are unable to put a lid on RGIII. If he has his way, who knows how ugly this could get. But I don't think it will get too ridiculous. On defense, the Ravens need to be able to read the play-action. I think they may have some struggles, but they'll pull it together when they need to. I have the Ravens winning, 27-23. Also remember that the Ravens haven't lost consecutive games since 2009.

Key Matchups for Ravens at Redskins

Ravens S Ed Reed vs. Redskins QB Robert Griffin III  Edge: Push
Analysis: Hands down the best matchup on the field Sunday. As I mentioned earlier, these two are each other's foil. Reed is the key to neutralizing RGIII. RGIII is the key to neutralizing Reed. Get your popcorn ready.

Ravens CB Cary Williams vs. Redskins WR Santana Moss  Edge: Moss
Analysis: Moss is one of the best veteran receivers in the league, and has formed a relationship with RGIII that proves lethal to opposing corner-backs. Williams won't be able to keep up with him for sixty minutes.

Ravens RB Ray Rice vs. Redskins LB Ryan Kerrigan  Edge: Rice
Analysis: After a down week against the Steelers, Rice could break out Sunday at FedEx. After all, Rice leads all other NFL running backs with 1,646 rushing yards in December and January since 2009.

Ravens WR Torrey Smith vs. Redskins CB DeAngelo Hall  Edge: Smith
Analysis: Smith can break out in this game against a weak Redskins secondary. Hall is not the corner-back he once was, and has had major self-control issues this season.

Injury Report
TE Ed Dickson-Knee-OUT
LB Dannell Ellerbe-Ankle-OUT
CB Jimmy Smith-Abdomen-DBT
CB Asa Jackson-Shoulder-QST
DB Chris Johnson-Thigh-QST
LB Terrell Suggs-Biceps-QST

LB London Fletcher-Ankle-QST
CB DeAngelo Hall-Ankle/Knee-QST
OT Trent Williams-Thigh-QST

AFC North Standings
Team             W        L
Ravens          9          3
Steelers         7          5
Bengals         7          5
Browns         4          8

AFC North Outlook: The Ravens can clinch the division with a win and losses by the Steelers (vs. Chargers) and the Bengals (vs. Cowboys). The Browns will host the Chiefs.

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

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Ravens Report-Week 13 2012

Last Sunday night, the Ravens pulled off one of the most remarkable and miraculous wins in franchise history, finishing off the Chargers in overtime, 16-13. The Chargers drew first blood, putting up 10 points in the second quarter to take a two-possession lead into halftime. Justin Tucker put the Ravens on the board in the third quarter, leaving the Ravens trailing 10-3 with a quarter remaining. The Ravens' failure to convert on fourth and short from deep in Chargers territory gave the Chargers momentum, and the chance to extend their lead. They did so, making it 13-3 on a field goal from Nick Novak. Joe Flacco proceeded to lead the Ravens eighty yards on nine plays, finishing the drive off with a touchdown pass to Dennis Pitta, giving the Ravens defense an opportunity to stop the Chargers and therefore give the offense a chance to win or send the game into overtime. The defense did their part, and the Ravens took over  possession at their own fourty with three minutes remaining. After a crucial holding penalty in Chargers territory, Joe Flacco fumbled the ball on 3rd and 20. The Ravens recovered, bringing up a decisive 4th and 29, a highly unlikely conversion. If the Ravens convert, they still have a chance to win. A failed conversion, and the game is all but over. After Flacco found no one open down the field, he effectively raised the white flag, checking the ball down to Ray Rice. Rice reversed up-field, made three Chargers miss, and continued up-field towards the marker. He then received a key block from Anquan Boldin, and propelled himself past the marker. What followed this most unlikely play was ten minutes of reviewing the play and repositioning the ball. After the review and the measure, Rice had picked up the first down by a yard in one of the greatest moments of sheer will you will ever see. Rice self-proclaimed "Hey diddle diddle, Ray Rice up the middle" will go down in Ravens lore forever. A few plays later, Tucker hit a 38-yard field goal, sending the game into overtime. The Ravens defense stepped up again, stopping the Chargers twice, leaving it up to Flacco and the offense. With five minutes remaining in the overtime period, the Ravens took over deep in their own territory. On third down from the Chargers 47, a spectacular catch by Torrey Smith put the Ravens in field goal territory. Coach Harbaugh decided to make the Chargers burn their timeouts, leaving them with no timeouts and little time in case of a Tucker miss. Well Tucker didn't miss, and the Ravens took home a win for the ages.

Player of the Game: Ravens RB Ray Rice-97 rushing yards, 67 receiving yards

Key to the Win: What can you say? This was a great team effort in all three phases of the game. The offense put up just enough points when it mattered, despite struggling early. The defense made key stops late in the game to give the offense its opportunities. On special teams, rookie Justin Tucker knocked through two high-pressure field goals to tie, and later win, the game. Tucker now has two game-winning field goals this year (Patriots).

Next Sunday, the Ravens will host the 6-5 Steelers in a reprisal of a game we saw just two weeks ago. The Ravens, of course, pulled out a close 13-10 that night in Pittsburgh. But this game will be different that of two weeks ago. Byron Leftwich hasn't played since he broke two ribs in that game. Instead, veteran backup Charlie Batch will be under center for the Steelers. Batch started his first game last week in Cleveland, and the Steelers lost 20-14, turning the ball over an embarrassing eight times, including five lost fumbles. The Steelers' 37-year old quarterback was picked off three times. All this against a defense inferior to that of the Ravens. After the Ravens picked up a season-high six sacks last week against the Chargers, expect more blitzing against a depleted Steelers offensive line. If Batch is pressured all game and the Ravens can strip the ball the way the Browns did, this one should be in the bag. But it isn't that easy, and the Steelers got good news on the other side of the ball. The top-ranked Steelers defense will be welcoming back Pro Bowl S Troy Polamalu, who has been sidelined since Week 5 with a calf injury. The Ravens offense went without a touchdown in Pittsburgh, but has scored 36 points per game at home. Back in the game two weeks ago, one of Flacco's favorite targets, TE Dennis Pitta, was knocked out of the game on the very first play. His presence this week could help Flacco find more of a rhythm, especially with fellow TE Ed Dickson unlikely to suit up. Ray Rice was also limited in that game, so his productivity could once again be in question. The question will be, if Rice struggles early, does Cam Cameron continue to pound the ball, or does he give up on the running game and let Flacco throw the ball 50 times? That answer will be crucial to a sound game-plan offensively for the Ravens.

Prediction: With the long-haired Polamalu looming, Flacco's ability to audible will be put to the test. If he can avoid Polamalu and get things going, the Steelers injury-ridden offense will not be able to keep up. The key to stopping them is limiting the ground game and maintaining pressure on the quarterback. I have the Ravens pulling out a 23-13 win.

Key Matchups for Steelers at Ravens

Ravens LB Dannell Ellerbe vs. Steelers RB Jonathan Dwyer  Edge: Ellerbe
Analysis: Ellerbe has been outstanding in recent weeks, and will continue to do so, limiting Dwyer and forcing him to fumble once or twice.

Ravens CB Corey Graham vs. Steelers WR Antonio Brown  Edge: Brown
Analysis: This is a close one. Brown didn't play in the first game, and the Ravens consider him the most dangerous receiver the Steelers have. He could be a difference-maker. But keep in mind Graham had a pick in the first game.

Ravens QB Joe Flacco vs. Steelers S Troy Polamalu  Edge: Polamalu
Analysis: Flacco doesn't have to win this matchup, he just can't get blown out. He can't let Polamalu come off his blind side, as he had done so well. Smart audibles could help avoid game-changing turnovers.

Ravens WR Torrey Smith vs. Steelers CB Keenan Lewis  Edge: Smith
Analysis: After Lewis trash-talked Smith before the last game, Smith was rendered a non-factor. He will make up for it at home in Baltimore, catching a key touchdown.

Injury Report
CB Jimmy Smith-Abs-OUT
TE Ed Dickson-Knee-DBT
LB Dannell Ellerbe-Ankle/Knee/Finger-QST
DB Chris Johnson-Thigh-QST
DE Pernell McPhee-Thigh-QST

OT Mike Adams-Ankle-OUT
QB Ben Roethlisberger-Shoulder-OUT
QB Byron Leftwich-Ribs-OUT
LB LaMarr Woodley-Anke-OUT
G/T Willie Colon-Knee-QST
WR Jerricho Cotchery-Ribs-QST

AFC North Standings

Team            W     L
Ravens         9       2
Steelers        6       5
Bengals        6       5
Browns        3       8

AFC North Outlook: With a win and a Bengals loss, the Ravens would clinch their second consecutive AFC North title. The Bengals play the Chargers in San Diego. The Browns play at the Oakland Raiders.

News: For some good news, Ravens LB Ray Lewis, who has been out with torn triceps since Week 6, is expected to return for Week 15, when the Ravens will host Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos.

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

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Ravens Report-Week 12 2012

Last Sunday, the Ravens picked up a statement 13-10 win over the rival Steelers in Pittsburgh in front of a national audience. Now, seven of the last nine games between the two teams have ended with a 3-point differential. Byron Leftwich was at the helm for the Steelers with the injury to Ben Roethlisberger. I remarked last week that Leftwich is one of the slowest quarterbacks in the league. Well, he was apparently adamant at proving everyone wrong. On just the third play of the game from scrimmage, Leftwich rolled out to the left, dodging Ravens defenders on his way to a 31-yard touchdown run in one of the more shocking plays of the game. During his celebration, Leftwich fell to the ground and injured his shoulder. He would later suffer another injury, breaking two of his ribs, affecting his play throughout most of the second half. A few minutes later, the Ravens put 3 points on the board following a Steelers fumble forced by Chris Johnson, playing his first game in the purple and black. After the Ravens defense forced another three and out, the Steelers were forced to punt from deep in their own territory. Jacoby Jones fielded the punt at the Ravens 37, and then raced 63 yards to the end zone to put the Ravens on top. He finished the run off with one of his signature dances. Jones now has 3 special teams touchdowns on the season, including two in as many games. Defense dominated the second quarter, and the Ravens took a 10-7 lead into halftime. On the Steelers' second possession of the second half, Byron Leftwich led his offense into Ravens territory. But an ill-advised pass was picked off by Corey Graham, giving the Ravens the ball with good field position. The Ravens once again capitalized on a Steelers turnover, cashing this one in for another Justin Tucker field goal. In the final minute of the third quarter, the Steelers kicked a field goal of their own, making the score 13-10. The Steelers' best chance to even up the game came with just over four minutes remaining. On a third-and-long, S James Ihedigbo stormed untouched into the backfield, brutally sacking Leftwich from his blind-side and giving the Ravens the ball back. The Steelers would attempt a last-resort "Music City Miracle" play with a minute remaining to no avail, and the Ravens took a two-game lead in the AFC North.

Player of the Game: Ravens CB Corey Graham-4 tackles, 1 interception

Key to the Win: This was your classic Ravens-Steelers matchup. The teams once again made their case to be the best rivalry in football. In my opinion, you're a moron if you don't think it is. The Ravens won this game because they finally put pressure on the quarterback, no matter how immobile Leftwich is.

This Sunday, the Ravens will make a cross-country trip to San Diego to take on the struggling 4-6 Chargers. You may remember back to last year's game in San Diego, where the Chargers embarrassed the Ravens, winning 34-14 on national television. Revenge will certainly be on the minds of some of these Ravens. The Chargers, however, have a funny Ravens feel to them this year. Former Ravens Le'Ron McClain, Jarret Johnson, and Jared Gaither all suit up for the powder blue. Gaither was placed on the IR this week, and will miss the remainder of the season. The Chargers offense has been head-scratchingly inconsistent this season. QB Phillip Rivers shows random signs of brillance, then throws a pass that makes you question his sanity. Rivers has thrown an AFC-high 14 interceptions this year, while also fumbling the ball 9 times (4 times lost). Rivers and his penchant for turnovers could be a major factor in this game. RB Ryan Matthews, who has also shown signs of potential, has been limited by his weak offensive line. Matthews and the Chargers running game ranks 23rd in the NFL in yards per game. The most dangerous aspect of the Chargers offense is their receiving corps. Danario Alexander has been one of the best surprises in the league this season, catching three touchdowns with nearly 300 receiving yards. The Chargers are complete with tall, physical receivers that will pose serious challenges to a smaller Ravens pass defense. If the Ravens want to keep up with some of these receivers, they will need to make up for their size with skill. Defensively, the Chargers are 3rd in the NFL in rushing yards per game with the help of Jarret Johnson off the edge. Their young and powerful front seven will prove difficult if the Ravens want to establish a running game. Cam Cameron may choose to go after a much weaker Chargers secondary to pick up major yardage. The Chargers have suffered some emotional losses this season, and the Ravens will hope to avoid a trap game sandwiched between two emotional games against the Steelers. Don't overlook these Chargers.

Prediction: This will be close and uncomfortable. But if you have been watching the Ravens this season, that's nothing new. The Chargers have a good chance at winning this game, but I think Phillip Rivers will make one too many mistakes, and the Ravens will ultimately bring home a 27-23 win.

Key Matchups for Ravens at Chargers

Ravens CB Corey Graham vs. Chargers WR Danario Alexander  Edge: Alexander
Analysis: Graham was all over the ball last week, and if he can do that again, this matchup is his. But Alexander could prove too big and too physical for the smaller Graham.

Ravens LB Jameel McClain vs. Chargers RB Ryan Matthews  Edge: McClain
Analysis: Matthews often can't find the room to create holes for himself, leaving McClain and the rest of the Ravens rushing defense to prey on Matthews in the backfield.

Ravens RB Ray Rice vs. Chargers LB Jarret Johnson  Edge: Push
Analysis: Two of the most talented at their respective positions, Rice has a knack for finding the hole and bursting through it, while Johnson fills up those holes. This one will be fun.

Ravens QB Joe Flacco vs. Chargers S Eric Weddle  Edge: Flacco
Analysis: Picking Flacco to win this rests on his ability to avoid his usual road struggles and exploit a weak Chargers secondary.

Injury Report
CB Jimmy Smith-Abs-OUT
CB Chris Johnson-Thigh-DBT
DE Pernell McPhee-Thigh-QST

WR/KR Eddie Royal-Hamstring-OUT
OT Jared Gaither-Groin-OUT
LB Larry English-Calf-OUT
TE Dante Rosario-Hamstring-DBT
DE Tyronne Green-Hamstring-DBT
DT Aubrayo Franklin-Knee-QST

AFC North Standings
Team          W         L
Ravens        8          2
Steelers       6          4
Bengals       5          5
Browns       2          8

AFC North Outlook: The Ravens are in a great position, leading the Steelers by two games, and currently holding on to the tie-breaker. The Bengals are beginning to recover from early struggles, and will play the Raiders at home this week. The Browns will host the Steelers in an old rivalry game.

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

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Ravens Report-Week 11 2012

Last week, the Ravens put a thrashing on the Oakland Raiders, winning in convincing 55-20 fashion. On the way, the Ravens set a franchise record for most points scored in a game. The team started off slowly, putting up 10 points in the first quarter, including a quarterback sneak that put Joe Flacco in the end zone for a touchdown. After a Raiders field goal, Flacco drove the Ravens down the field and finished it off with a touchdown pass to his new favorite target, Dennis Pitta. Pitta and fellow TE Ed Dickson combined for 7 of Flacco's 21 completions, and 126 of his 341 yards. The Raiders finally found the end zone in the closing minutes of the first half on a catch-and-run 55-yard score by Darrius Heyward-Bey, Maryland alumni and a former teammate of Torrey Smith. The two exchanged their jerseys following the game. The Ravens made sure they responded, as Flacco drove the offense 80 yards in just over a minute. Ray Rice finished the drive with a 7-yard run on a beautifully-executed play. At the half, the Ravens held a commanding 27-10 lead. In the first minutes of the second half, the Ravens attempted to step on the Raiders' throats. Joe Flacco launched a 47-yard touchdown pass to Torrey Smith to extend the Ravens' lead. Flacco's deep-field accuracy Sunday was the best I've ever seen from him. After the Raiders' responded by splitting the Ravens' secondary for a score, Flacco proved that his day was not yet done. He found Smith once again, this time from 20 yards out, to give the Ravens a 41-17 lead. The offense had put up points, the defense had limited the Raiders, the only thing missing was a special teams score. Well, we got two. It all started on the Ravens' next drive. When the Ravens failed to convert on third down deep in Raiders territory, Raiders CB Joselio Hanson began celebrating the stop by getting in Anquan Boldin's face and repeatedly signaling an incomplete pass (Boldin was the intended receiver on the play). This prompted what could be one of the great images of the season. Boldin gave Hanson the classic "in-your-face," waving his index finger at the scoreboard to show the Ravens' dominating lead. In what was possibly a subtle act of retribution for Hanson's actions, the Ravens faked a field goal on fourth down, and punter Sam Koch rushed 7 yards untouched into the end zone. Following another Raiders' field goal, the Ravens put up their other special teams score, the final score of the game. Jacoby Jones caught the ball 5 yards into the end zone, and followed his blockers 100 more yards, untouched, to finish off the afternoon. It was Jones' second kickoff return for a touchdown this year. He was subsequently named AFC Special Teams Player of the Week.

Player of the Game: Ravens QB Joe Flacco-21/33 for 341 yards, 3 passing touchdowns, 1 rushing touchdown

Honorable Mention: Ravens offensive coordinator Cam Cameron-I have been one of those Cameron doubters, as have many.  From top to bottom, this may have been the greatest game-plan he has concocted as a Raven. Kudos to Cam.

Key to the Win: The Raiders had no idea what they were in for when they ran onto the gridiron, and the Ravens took advantage of it. This was a complete team win. Most complaints about this game would be knit-picking.

Next Sunday, the greatest rivalry in the NFL will be renewed. The first of two matchups in just three weeks against the Steelers will be Sunday night in front of a national audience. The Steelers are 6-3 on the year, just one game back of the first-place Ravens in the AFC North. But this game will be different. This could be a look into the near future of this great rivalry. Both defenses, known for their physicality, will be without their respective leaders. Ray Lewis of course, for the Ravens, and Troy Polamalu for the Steelers, who has missed five consecutive games with a calf injury. Despite the loss, the Steelers have not missed a beat this year on defense. They rank first in the NFL in yards given up per game and passing yards given up per game. This will present a large challenge for a Ravens offense reeling off of an explosion against the Raiders. But those points last week mean nothing if they can't back it up in this game. The Steelers' offense is a whole different story. Their stalwart leader, Ben Roethlisberger, was sidelined last week with injuries to his throwing shoulder and ribs. He will miss this game and possibly more. Many people have argued that Roethlisberger's toughness will propel him to play this game, but they are sadly misinformed. Big Ben's rib is dangerously close to his heart, and if they touch each other, it could become life-threatening. As for his shoulder, it's not a matter of toughness, yet a matter of "Can you throw the football?" Ben's replacement will be the highly-touted but disappointing Byron Leftwich, a top-10 draft pick out of Marshall in 2003 who never realized his potential. Leftwich is notoriously sedentary in the pocket, and has been called one of the least mobile quarterbacks in the league, an interesting juxtaposition for Ben Roethlisberger's backup. He does have a very strong arm, one that he showed Monday night against the Chiefs. Controlling that arm is another story. But I expect the Steelers to rely on their two-headed rushing attack of Isaac Redman and Jonathan Dwyer. The two backs are very similar, using physical running to beat down defenses. Dwyer is a scary resurrection of Jerome Bettis, while Redman is more of a finesse back. If they have their way against an inconsistent Ravens rush defense, this could turn into an ugly game. There is no quantifying the loss of Roethlisberger, and it could end up deciding not just the game, but the division.

Prediction: If the Ravens can break from bad habits and put pressure on an immobile Byron Leftwich, the Steelers pass attack will be virtually shut down. But if Leftwich has time in the pocket, and uses his arm to burn the Ravens, this game won't be nearly as easy as some project. Also, make sure not to overlook the top-ranked Steelers defense. And remember this is still Ravens-Steelers, the bloodiest game played in the NFL today. I have the Ravens winning another hard battle, 20-13.

Key Matchups for Ravens at Steelers

Ravens WR Torrey Smith vs. Steelers CB Keenan Lewis  Edge: Smith
Analysis: There was some trash-talking on Lewis' part this week, directly at Smith. Expect Smith to reprise his role as Steelers' killer for some revenge.

Ravens offensive line vs. Steelers pass rush  Edge: Steelers
Analysis: This could go either way, but there is a better chance of the Steelers getting to the pocket quickly, as we've seen in the past. Could be dangerous.

Ravens linebackers vs. Steelers running backs  Edge: Steelers
Analysis: The Steelers have proven to be an effective rushing team this year, and I don't have to tell you about the Ravens' inability to guard against the run.

Ravens LB Terrell Suggs vs. Steelers QB Byron Leftwich  Edge: Suggs
Analysis: If there was a week for Suggs to break out, this would be the one. He would love to put a dagger in the Steelers' hearts, and Leftwich is the perfect target for a good pass rusher. Suggs will be in his face all night.

Injury Report
CB Jimmy Smith-Abs-OUT
DE Pernell McPhee-Thigh-DBT
S Christian Thompson-Thigh-QST
NT Terrence Cody-Arm-QST

WR Antonio Brown-Ankle-OUT
QB Ben Roethlisberger-Shoulder-OUT
S Troy Polamalu-Calf-OUT
T Marcus Gilbert-Ankle-OUT
LB Stevenson Sylvester-Hamstring-QST

AFC North Standings

Team          W      L
Ravens       7        2
Steelers      6        3
Bengals      4        5
Browns      2        7

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

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Ravens Report-Week 10 2012

Last week, the Ravens came away with yet another close win, defeating the Browns in Cleveland, 25-15. John Harbaugh has not lost to the Browns yet in his career with the Ravens, who have now won 10 consecutive games against Cleveland. At the beginning of the game, it looked as if the Ravens were headed for the blowout win they desperately needed. On their first drive they drove down the length of the field, finishing the drive off with a Ray Rice touchdown run. After the defense forced a three-and-out, the Ravens drove down again, this time with rookie Bernard Pierce getting in the end zone for the first TD of his career. But the Ravens would not get back on the board again until the fourth quarter. Browns K Phil Dawson notched five consecutive field goals, ranging from the beginning of the second quarter to the middle of the fourth, ultimately giving the Browns a 15-14 lead with just under nine minutes remaining. The struggling Ravens offense, incapable of getting anything going, finally got the message and woke up. A drive that started with a big pass play to Anquan Boldin finished when Flacco found Torrey Smith, who turned away from his man and found the end zone. The Ravens would attempt to go for two, and on a smart audible called by Flacco, Boldin ended up wide open in the back of the end zone, giving the Ravens a 22-15 lead. The Browns would try to come back but an incomplete pass on fourth down gave the Ravens the ball back with great field position, helping to seal a Ravens victory.

Player of the Game: Ravens RB Ray Rice-98 rushing yards, 1 rushing TD

Key to the Win: As uncomfortably close as this game was, Ravens fans can find some solace in the fact that the Browns never reached the end zone. A Browns touchdown was called back, but the Ravens defense came up with some big stops in the red zone, keeping the team in the game. The offense disappeared in the middle of the game, but executed well in the beginning and the end to get the win.

On Sunday, the Ravens will host the 3-5 Oakland Raiders in Baltimore in the team's first home game in a month. The Raiders lost a shootout at home last week against the Buccaneers, surrendering over 250 rushing yards to rookie Doug Martin. But the Raiders wounds from that loss surpass the game itself. The Raiders' biggest offensive playmaker, RB Darren McFadden, went down with a high ankle sprain and will miss this Sunday's game. Backup RB Mike Goodson will also miss the game with an ankle injury, leaving 3rd-stringer Marcel Reese to handle the duties in the backfield along with rookie Taiwan Jones. For a Ravens run defense that is now ranked 28th in the NFL, this could either be a morale-boosting performance, or an embarrassing loss of confidence and enthusiasm. If this defense can't stop a 3rd-stringer, we're in some serious trouble. Raiders QB Carson Palmer is no foreigner to playing in Baltimore against the Ravens. The former Bengals QB has had great success against the Ravens, but he'll be playing with a different group of guys Sunday than he's played with in previous years. His weapons with the Bengals were far greater than what he'll have to work with on Sunday. One of his biggest targets is former Maryland WR Darrius Heyward-Bey, who has reached the end zone twice this season. The Raiders are also dealing with injuries on the defensive side. DE Richard Seymour, a staple on the defensive line, has been ruled out of this week's game with a hamstring injury. The Raiders defense has been struggling as it is, giving up an average of 28.6 points per game. Expect the Ravens to use a heavy dose of the no-huddle offense to wear down the Raiders defense and put up some quick points. Also, keep in mind that east coast teams have unprecedented success when hosting west coast teams at 1 PM. Just another small advantage the Ravens will hold come Sunday afternoon.

Prediction: There is definitely a formula for success for the Ravens this week, but executing it is another issue altogether. The Ravens need to take advantage of the lack of a strong Raiders running game. Since they will be relying heavily on the passing game, the defense needs to put constant pressure on Carson Palmer, even if it just means a hand in his face. On offense, it means mixing up play calls and making sure you get first downs. I think the Ravens will put it all together this week, getting a much-needed 27-16 win.

Key Matchups for Raiders at Ravens

Ravens CB Cary Williams vs. Raiders WR Denarius Moore  Edge: Moore
Analysis: Moore is a speedy, scrappy receiver that could challenge Williams, who has trouble with those types of receivers. He will need to keep up with and contain Moore to win this matchup.

Ravens S Ed Reed vs. Raiders QB Carson Palmer  Edge: Reed
Analysis: This is a classic AFC North matchup that brings back memories on both sides. These two guys have had plenty of back-and-forths when they played each other twice a year. Palmer's lack of targets in Oakland could put a damper on a great reminder of days gone by.

Ravens RB Ray Rice vs. Raiders LB Rolando McClain  Edge: Rice
Analysis: Rice is just too fast and too agile for McClain to keep up with. This is a matchup the Ravens will surely take advantage of.

Ravens QB Joe Flacco vs. Raiders S Michael Huff   Edge: Flacco
Analysis: Flacco could have a lot of fun playing around with Huff all afternoon. Expect play-fakes to dictate the winner of this one.

Injury Report
DE Pernell McPhee-Thigh-OUT
DT Haloti Ngata-Shoulder-QST
G Bobbie Williams-Knee-QST
G Marshal Yanda-Ankle-QST

RB Darren McFadden-Ankle-OUT
RB Mike Goodson-Ankle-OUT
CB Shawntae Spencer-Foot-OUT
DT Richard Seymour-Hamstring-OUT
T Khalif Barnes-Groin-QST
K Sebastian Janikowski-Left Groin-PRB

AFC North Standings

Team       W         L
Ravens     6          2
Steelers    5          3
Bengals    3          5
Browns    2          7

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

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Ravens Report-Week 9 2012

Two weeks ago, the Ravens' ways of slipping by their opponents came to a screeching halt. After close wins in the final minutes categorized the team's first six games, the Texans delivered a 43-13 blow to hopefully wake up our boys in purple and black. In the first game without Ray Lewis and Lardarius Webb, the Ravens defense surrendered 36 points and 420 total yards to a potent Texans offense. On the bright side, reigning Defensive Player of the Year Terrell Suggs picked up 3 tackles and a sack in his first game of the year, after recovering from a torn Achilles tendon. Following a Justin Tucker field goal to open the afternoon, the Ravens began a long and painful downhill climb. What began with Joe Flacco being sacked in the end zone for a safety would opened the door for 29 consecutive Texans points, giving them a 29-3 lead at halftime. The Ravens would attempt a comeback early in the third quarter on a touchdown pass from Flacco to second-year receiver Tandon Doss, his first career touchdown catch. But the attempt would be in vain, as the Texans responded with two touchdowns, finally sealing the win on an Arian Foster 2-yard touchdown run midway through the fourth quarter. It was an abysmal performance from the Ravens, but luckily, we are still in a good position. Heading into last week's much-needed bye, we are 2nd in the AFC with a 5-2 record, and we are one game ahead of the Steelers in the division.

Player of the Game: Texans RB Arian Foster-98 rushing yards, two rushing touchdowns

Key to the Win: They kicked our asses. Simply said. There's no other way to communicate it. They played better than we did; wanted it more than we did. Part of me believes that the Ravens came in with the mindset that "we'll be fine if we lose this game. Going into the bye week, we'd be comfortable at 5-2." While this is true, it's not the way you treat a football game, especially given that you only play 16 a year. It sure looked like that played that way.

On Sunday, the Ravens will head into the Dawg Pound of Cleveland to face the 2-6 Browns. The Browns have picked up their two wins in the last three weeks, including home wins against the Bengals and Chargers. This will be the first time that the Ravens play in Cleveland since the death of Art Modell, who owned the Browns from 1961 to 1995, when he moved the team to Baltimore to become the Ravens. He isn't very well liked out in Cleveland. When the two teams met in Baltimore back in Week 4, the Ravens escaped with a 23-16 win on national television. But this is not a matchup between those two teams. The Browns defense has vastly improved since we last saw them, while it seems that the Ravens defense has regressed since then. The Browns rank higher than the Ravens in two defensive categories (Yards per Game, Rushing Yards per Game). Browns CB Joe Haden missed the first game, but will play Sunday. The Ravens will also need to worry about Browns LB D'Qwell Jackson, a former Terrapin who leads the team in sacks and tackles this year. With a Ravens offensive line that has surrendered 18 sacks (12th worst in the NFL), Jackson and fellow pass rushers Jaqua Parker and Frostee Rucker could become dangerous game-changers. On offense, the Browns' young slew of talent has been improving by the week. Rookie QB Brandon Weeden has not been picked off in three weeks, and has added four touchdowns in the meantime. Fellow rookie, RB Trent Richardson, has been battling multiple injuries. But he has still been effective, garnering almost 500 rushing yards and 5 touchdowns during the season. He has established himself as a tough, physical runner, who won't go to the ground without a fight. One of the biggest surprises for the Browns has been WR Josh Gordon, a supplemental draft pick this past year who is leading the team in receiving yards and touchdowns. For an older, struggling, beaten-down Ravens defense, these youngsters could pose some serious threats. The Ravens will also be dealing with injuries on the defensive line. Pernell McPhee has already been ruled out for the game, while Haloti Ngata's status is still up in the air as he looks to play through a shoulder injury.

Prediction: Many people in Baltimore already have this game penciled in as a win, but I'd like to think of myself as cautiously optimistic. If we see the Ravens road team we've come to know and hate, this won't be as easy as we'd like. If they come out strong, we could be in for a fun afternoon. Keep in mind that under John Harbaugh, the Ravens have never lost coming off their bye week (shouldn't have mentioned that). And after an embarrasing loss in Houston, expect them to come out hungry to prove a point. I have the Ravens winning, 26-17.

Key Matchups for Ravens at Browns

Ravens CB Cary Williams vs. Browns WR Josh Gordon  Edge: Williams
Analysis: Gordon is fast and has some nice hands. Williams has come up clutch in tough situations at points this year, so let's pray that that is the Cary Williams we see Sunday. But remember he still has that uncanny knack for letting fast receivers like Gordon burn him.

Ravens LB Jameel McClain vs. Browns RB Trent Richardson  Edge: Richardson
Analysis: Despite Richardson's injury, I don't think McClain has the focus or intensity to keep up with and tackle a tough back like Richardson. Let's pray that I'm wrong.

Ravens RB Ray Rice vs. Browns LB D'Qwell Jackson  Edge: Rice
Analysis: In my opinion, this is the biggest, most important matchup of the game. If Rice can consistently get past Jackson, he could have a big day with a weak secondary behind Jackson. If Jackson wins this one, which he very well could, the Ravens will look for other ways to beat the Browns defense. Ways that don't involve Rice.

Ravens WR Torrey Smith vs. Browns CB Joe Haden  Edge: Haden
Analysis: Haden is great at limiting big-play receivers like Smith. But it only takes one good cut or one big play from Smith to turn this matchup the other way.

Injury Report
DE Pernell McPhee-Thigh-OUT
DT Haloti Ngata-Shoulder-QST

DL Brian Sanford-Knee-OUT
DL Ahtyba Rubin-DL-Calf-DBT
WR Josh Cooper-Thigh-QST
LB D'Qwell Jackson-Calf/Foot/Toe-QST

AFC North Standings

Team          W      L
Ravens       5        2
Steelers     4        3
Bengals     3        4
Browns      2        6

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

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Ravens Report-Week 7 2012

Last week, the Ravens narrowly escaped a disaster at home, defeating the Cowboys 31-29 to improve to 5-1 on the year. The Cowboys established the run game early, taking a 7-3 lead on Felix Jones' 22-yard run late in the first quarter. After Dan Bailey hit from 42 yards out, Ray Rice tied the game with a run from a yard out. In the final minute of the first half, the Ravens jumped out to a 17-10 lead when Flacco found a leaping Torrey Smith in the end zone for a 19-yard touchdown. The Ravens rush defense was helpless, unable to stop even the Cowboys' third-string back. On their next drive, the Cowboys ran themselves deep into Ravens territory, but were unable to finish. Following another field goal from Bailey, Jacoby Jones looked to deliver a crushing blow to the Cowboys' chances at gaining momentum. Jones burst out from eight yards back in the end zone, following his lead blockers and sprinting 108 yards to the end zone to give the Ravens a 24-13 lead. This run tied the NFL record for longest kickoff return. But the Cowboys quickly showed that they were not ready to give in. Tony Romo orchestrated a 14-play, 80-yard drive, ending with a touchdown pass to Dez Bryant to narrow the Ravens lead to four. Over the course of the drive, the Cowboys continued to expose the flaws in the Ravens rush defense. After another field goal from Bailey, Ray Rice made the score 31-23, giving Tony Romo just under five minutes to attempt a game-tying drive. And that he did. With 36 seconds remaining in regulation, Romo found Bryant once again, and cut the Ravens lead to two, with a two-point conversion able to tie the game. Romo looked for Bryant on the same route as the previous play, but Bryant dropped the well-thrown pass, leaving the Cowboys to pin their hopes of a win on a low-percentage onside kick attempt. There the Cowboys exposed another weakness, as the Ravens "hands-team" was unable to use their hands to hold on to the ball, and the Cowboys took over at their own 46 with 32 seconds on the clock, a field goal able to win the game. A pass-interference call against the Ravens put the 'Boys in range for a last-second field goal attempt from 51 yards out. Dan Bailey's attempt hooked just left, and the Ravens got a much-needed win.

Player of the Game: Ravens RB Ray Rice-63 rushing yards, two rushing touchdowns

If you were wondering just how weak this Ravens defense has become, all you had to do was watch this game. They gave up 227 rushing yards to the 30th-ranked rushing offense in the league. The Texans, in the meantime, catapulted themselves to 20th in the league, going from 67 yards per game to 99 yards per game, all in a matter of three hours. All against the once-feared Ravens defense. And to make things worse, the Ravens lost two of their mainstays on defense over the course of the afternoon. In the first quarter, top CB Lardarius Webb fell to his knees, untouched. Webb was helped off the field, and an MRI revealed a torn ACL, ending his season. Then, in the final minutes of the game, Ray Lewis suffered a triceps injury. An MRI revealed he has torn his triceps, likely ending his season.

Now here is where the attitude comes in that the season is over. When Lewis missed four games last season, his replacements impressed by providing support for their fallen leader. Young linebackers like Dannell Ellerbe, Jameel McClain, and Albert McClellan will no doubt have more weight on their shoulders. And don't get me wrong, there is absolutely no replacing a player like Ray Lewis, on and off the field. Expect Ed Reed to carry a lot of the leadership burden as well. The rest of this season will showcase the future of the Ravens defense, for better or worse. For the most part, they will be lead by the aforementioned linebackers, as well as young lineman such as Terrence Cody and Pernell McPhee. In the secondary, corners like Jimmy Smith and Cary Williams will show their true colors with the loss of Webb. If you want a glimpse into what the crystal ball shows for this Ravens defense, pay close attention to the next few weeks.

But for now, we, as well as the Ravens, must set our sights on the next opponent. On Sunday, the 5-1 Ravens will head into Houston to face the 5-1 Texans. After winning their first five games, the Texans suffered their first loss of the season last week, falling to the Packers 42-24 at home. This game will showcase the only teams in the AFC with winning records. The implications of this game are enormous. The winner takes over sole possession of first place in the AFC, and controls their own destiny for the rest of the season, despite it still being early. This game could decide a tie-breaker in terms of position for the playoffs. Thinking in the short-term, this win could put the Ravens in tremendous position heading into their bye week. You can't discount the effect it would have for this team to come out of the bye week with a 6-1 record.

Following the near-debacle against the Cowboys, the Ravens will face perhaps the best running back in the league in Arian Foster, who has rushed for 561 yards and 7 touchdowns already this season. After facing one of the worst running games in the league last week, the Ravens defense will have to quickly prepare for a Texans rushing attack that ranks 6th in the entire NFL. For this reason, expect the Texans to use the ground all afternoon as they look to take advantage of a beat-down Ravens rush defense. If their plan works, the Ravens are in for a long day. The Texans passing game is far less explosive than their running game, but their use of the running game could open up successful play-action options later in the game. QB Matt Schaub has thrown three interceptions in his last three games, but will look to make use of a Ravens secondary which is undergoing a transition period with the loss of Webb. On defense, the Texans have established themselves as elite, ranking in the top ten in all four major defensive categories. They will be shorthanded, though, given the loss of one of their top players, LB Brian Cushing. In the first game without Cushing, the Texans D was thrashed by Aaron Rodgers, giving up 42 points and 427 total yards. The Ravens will likely look to imitate the Packers as best as possible to put points on the board. The one man on the Texans defense to look out for is DE J.J. Watt, who is making an early case for Defensive Player of the Year. Watt has picked up 32 tackles, 9.5 sacks, and 8 pass deflections. If Flacco can stay out of Watt's way, his day will be much clearer.

Prediction: Many people don't give the Ravens a shot in this game. They think that the Ravens defense just doesn't have enough firepower to stop Arian Foster. They may have a point. In order for the Ravens to win this game, they will have to at least limit Foster's productivity on the ground, as well as his ability to catch passes out of the backfield. If they do that, they win; but it's much easier said than done. I haven't picked against the Ravens in a long time, and what the hell, why stop now? I'll take the Ravens, 27-23.

Key Matchups for Ravens at Texans

Ravens CB Cary Williams vs. Texans WR Andre Johnson  Edge: Johnson
Analysis: Johnson has a height advantage, as well as a pure skill advantage. He could be used to full effect in the play-action late in the game, so Williams could have a big task ahead of him.

Ravens LB Dannell Ellerbe vs. Texans RB Arian Foster  Edge: Foster
Analysis: Foster has the edge against just about every defender in the league. Let's just hope the Ravens can at the very least prevent him from breaking out.

Ravens WR Anquan Boldin vs. Texans CB Kareem Jackson  Edge: Boldin
Analysis: Boldin and Jackson train at the same facility, and with the same trainer, during the off-season in Florida, and often go up against each other during workouts. Should be interesting to see it when it matters.

Ravens G Marshal Yanda vs. Texans DE J.J. Watt  Edge: Watt
Analysis: Watt is putting up outrageous numbers, and will hope to be in Flacco's face all afternoon. If he does that on a consistent basis, the Ravens pass game could be in trouble.

Injury Report
NT Ma'ake Kemoeatu-Knee-QST
T Bryant McKinnie-Thigh-QST
DT Haloti Ngata-Knee-QST
CB Jimmy Smith-Abs-QST

NT David Hunter-Toe-OUT
CB Johnathan Joseph-Groin-QST
SS Quentin Demps-Thumb/Forearm-QST

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

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Ravens Report-Week 6 2012

Last Sunday in Kansas City, the Ravens delivered a lackluster 9-6 win over the Chiefs. Looking at the score might remind one of the days of ole. Ray Lewis, Peter Boulware, and Sam Adams helped shut down the opposing team. Tony Banks put the Ravens in field goal range just enough times for an automatic Matt Stover. A late interception by Kim Herring put the team in Stover's range for the winner in the final seconds. This, unfortunately, was not the case. The Ravens defense allowed 180 yards on the ground, including 140 to Jamaal Charles on 31 carries. Charles eclipsed the 100-yard mark in the first half, the first time the Ravens let that happen since 1998. They were advantageous of the Chiefs' mistakes however, picking off Matt Cassel twice and forcing him to fumble twice. Chiefs K Ryan Succop hit a late field goal to make it 9-6 and gave the ball back to the Ravens with 4 and a half minutes remaining on the clock. The offense then picked up the necessary first downs, and helped the Chiefs burn their timeouts before kneeling in victory formation at the two minute warning. The Ravens defense was able to hold the Chiefs in the red zone and avoid their crossing the goal line, ultimately sealing the slim Ravens win.

Player of the Game: Ravens RB Ray Rice-102 rushing yards, 16 receiving yards

Key to the Win: There isn't much to say about this one. The Ravens defense came through when it needed to, and the offense did the same in their own respect. This was dangerously close to being a demoralizing loss, but a win is a win.

Next Sunday, Baltimore will be invaded by the 2-2 Dallas Cowboys, looking for an upset win to set the tone for the rest of their season. Cowboys Head Coach Jason Garrett, the perennial backup to Troy Aikman in the 1990s, was interviewed by the Ravens for their vacant head coaching job back in 2008, but passed on the job to stay in Dallas, where he later took the helm. In a year and half as their leader, Garrett is a respectable 15-13, but he has yet to lead them into the post-season. On offense, QB Tony Romo has re-defined the term inconsistent, throwing for 5 touchdowns and a NFC-high 8 interceptions so far this season. Romo is notorious for crumbling under heavy defensive pressure, which is undoubtedly what the Ravens will do on Sunday. The Cowboys also have two dangerous wide receivers that the Ravens defense will lose sleep over. Dez Bryant and Miles Austin are both physical, athletic receivers who have accounted for almost half of Romo's passing yards this season. Also look out for the Cowboys' receivers who don't get as much TV time. Kevin Ogletree has been a frequent target of Romo all year, along with veteran TE Jason Witten. As for the team's rushing game, RB DeMarco Murray had a break-out year in 2011, but has yet to turn on his game this year. Murray is also a threat to catch the ball out of the backfield, so expect a linebacker to stay in the middle of the field to protect against the pass to a speedy Murray. The Cowboys are 30th in the league with just 67.8 rushing yards per game and 16.2 points per game. They make up for it on defense, leading the league in pass defense behind the play of cornerbacks Brandon Carr and Morris Claiborne, the team's first-round pick this past April. LB DeMarcus Ware is one of the more dangerous pass-rushers off the edge, and could cause some problems for a Ravens offensive line that has had a hard time protecting Joe Flacco. Perhaps the most interesting storyline of the afternoon is how Flacco and his offense react and execute against Rob Ryan's unpredictably scary defense. I imagine Flacco will look to the no-huddle offense to slow down the pass rush, but we've said that over the past few weeks, and it is yet to come to fruition.

Prediction: There is no better team at home than the Ravens right now. While I think this game will be closer than a lot of people here in Baltimore do, I just can't see this Cowboys team overpowering the Ravens consistently over 60 minutes. I have the Ravens taking this one, 23-13.

Key Matchups for Cowboys at Ravens

Ravens LB Ray Lewis vs. Cowboys RB DeMarco Murray  Edge: Lewis
Analysis: Murray hasn't lived up to expectations this year, but against a Ravens defense that hasn't lived up to expectations as well, this clash could give momentum to whomever comes out on top.

Ravens CB Cary Williams vs. Cowboys WR Dez Bryant  Edge: Bryant
Analysis: Williams is reeling off of a stellar performance against the Chiefs, but Bryant's size and speed will be difficult for him to contain.

Ravens G Marshal Yanda vs. Cowboys LB DeMarcus Ware  Edge: Ware
Analysis: Yanda isn't having the season he's desired, and Ware is continuing his ruthless pursuit of the quarterback like he is known to. Yanda and Flacco could have a hard time avoiding his pass rush.

Ravens WR Torrey Smith vs. Cowboys CB Morris Claiborne  Edge: Smith
Analysis: Smith was a no-show last week in Kansas City, but will look to take advantage of an inexperienced rookie in Claiborne to get back in the groove.

Injury Report
T Jah Reid-Calf-PRB
DT Haloti Ngata-Shoulder-PRB

P Brian Moorman-Groin-OUT
C/G Ryan Cook-Hamstring-QST
P Chris Jones-Knee-QST
LB Anthony Spencer-Shoulder-QST

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

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Ravens Report-Week 5 2012

Last Thursday night, the Ravens improved to 3-1 on the year with a close 23-16 win over the still winless Cleveland Browns. This was, of course, the return of the regular officials, who entered the field to a standing ovation. They were loved until their first call against the Ravens. Against a weak team like the Browns, this was not the dominating performance that many fans and experts alike expected for the Ravens. But in the end, a win is a win is a win. At the beginning of the game, it  looked like the Ravens were poised to run away with things. A touchdown pass to Torrey Smith (botched extra point) coupled with a Tucker field goal put the Ravens up 9-0 in the second quarter. The Browns would put up a score in the final minutes of the half on a run by Trent Richardson to make it 9-7. But Flacco made sure the Ravens responded, and he made sure of it by himself. On third and goal from the 1, Flacco used his agility and speed to juke a defender and cross the plain into paydirt. After the Browns narrowed the score to 16-10 near the end of the third quarter, Ravens CB Cary Williams stepped in front of a Brandon Weeden pass and returned it 63 yards to the end zone for a score. Two more 50-plus yard field goals from Phil Dawson of the Browns cut the Ravens lead to 23-16, giving the Browns one more chance at extending the game. The Browns would go on to fail at two hail mary attempts, giving the Ravens a slim victory.

Player of the Game: Ravens QB Joe Flacco-28/46 for 356 passing yards, 1 passing touchdown, 1 rushing touchdown

Key to the Win: This wasn't pretty. Or at least not as pretty as we would have liked it to be. But in the end, the defense came up with the big stop in the end zone. This team may raise your blood pressure, they may have you biting your nails, but the way they're playing right now, they'll get the job done when it matters most.

Next Sunday, the Ravens will travel to Kansas City to face a disappointing 1-3 Chiefs team. The struggling Ravens defense will look to get a pick-me-up against a Chiefs offense that turned the ball over six times last week. The Ravens also had a whole ten days to prepare for this game following the Thursday night special. When the Ravens played the Chiefs in Kansas City back in the 2011 Wild Card playoff game, Chiefs RB Jamaal Charles rushed for 82 yards and a touchdown, while QB Matt Cassel was picked off three times. After Charles was sidelined with an injury last year, his return this year prompted many to have high hopes for the Chiefs to compete in an inconsistent AFC West. That has not been the case so far. While Charles has been successful, Cassel has been picked off seven times, and his performance has been so poor that many have called upon Chiefs head coach Romeo Crennel to consider putting in Cassel's backup, Brady Quinn. Second-year WR Jon Baldwin has only 10 catches, none of those a scoring play. Excluding defenders, Dwayne Bowe is the leading receiver for the Chiefs this season, catching 25 passes for 342 yards and 3 touchdowns. For a Ravens secondary that is ranked 29th in the league, they will have a tough time guarding a tall, agile Bowe. They also may receive some early holiday gifts from Cassel if the defensive line is on their game. There is certainly no lack of talent on this Chiefs offense, and they'll need to live up to full potential to stay in the game on Sunday against a high-powered Ravens offense. On defense, the Chiefs are strongest with their front seven. Leading the way are linebackers Justin Houston and Tambi Hali. Hali is often compared to Terrell Suggs in terms of pass rushing. Hali and Houston are both excellent pass rushers, combining for 5 sacks this season, and who are sure to cause some problems for a struggling Ravens offensive line. The defense as a whole, though, have not been helping the Chiefs' cause. They are next to last this season in points per game, giving up an average of 34 points to opposing teams. A Ravens offense that has shown that they can put up points will need to show us once again come Sunday afternoon.

Prediction: The Ravens defense shouldn't have too much trouble with this Chiefs offense, but then again I said that last week. Their biggest concerns should be limiting Charles and double-teaming Bowe to counter his efficiency. On offense, Flacco will look to put up more big numbers and take advantage of a struggling, beaten-down Chiefs defense. I have the Ravens winning, 31-16.

Key Matchups for Ravens at Chiefs

Ravens secondary vs. Chiefs WR Dwayne Bowe   Edge: Bowe
Analysis: Bowe is a big, strong receiver that will win almost any jump-ball. Against Bowe, it could be a long day for the Ravens secondary.

Ravens LB Ray Lewis vs. Chiefs RB Jamaal Charles  Edge: Lewis
Analysis: While the Ravens had some trouble containing Charles two years ago, a few extra days of film study will give Lewis and his posse an advantage over Charles and the Chiefs offensive line.

Ravens T Michael Oher vs. Chiefs LB Tamba Hali  Edge: Hali
Analysis: Oher has had some trouble with pass-rushing linebackers in the past, and Hali is one of the more prominent in the league.

Ravens WR Torrey Smith vs. Chiefs CB Brandon Flowers  Edge: Smith
Analysis: Smith has a knack for the big play, and Flowers has a knack for the big interception. This should be fun to watch, as just one broken assignment could prove deadly for either of these players.

Injury Report
T Jah Reid-Calf-QST

CB Jalil Brown-Hamstring-OUT
RB Peyton Hillis-Ankle-OUT
DE Glenn Dorsey-Calf-OUT
LB Derrick Johnson-Groin-QST

As the die-hard Orioles fan I am, I have to give a quick shout-out to the Orioles for a remarkable year so far, as well as continued good fortunes against the Yankees this coming week. Go Birds! That's it for this week's version of my Ravens Report, see you next week and go Ravens!

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Ravens Report-Week 4 2012

As if there was not enough emotion heading into this past Monday night's game against the Patriots after last year's loss, the game was put into perspective early Sunday morning when Torrey Smith's younger brother, Tevin, was killed in a motorcycle accident. Smith was unsure of his game status until just hours before kickoff, when he decided to take the field in honor of his brother. And boy, did he make a difference. With the Ravens down 13-0 early in the 2nd quarter, Flacco looked and found Smith for a leaping touchdown grab that thrust the Ravens right back in the thick of the battle. Flacco would find Dennis Pitta just minutes later to put the Ravens on top. You gotta love the white tight end. Don't leave home without him. The Patriots would rally back, however, and put the ball in the end zone in the final seconds of the half to take a 20-14 lead. At this point, the Ravens defense was being bullied by Tom Brady and the Patriots offensive machine. Brady was picking on Ravens CB Cary Williams from start to finish. To begin the second half, the offense would need to pick up the struggling defense. How about that for a change? The offense put up points early on a Ray Rice score, but would be countered with a TD run from Danny Woodhead. A Patriots field goal gave them a 30-21 lead with an entire quarter left to play.  Joe Flacco would then anchor an eight-play, 92-yard drive to bring the Ravens within just two points. The touchdown went to none other than Torrey Smith, adding to a magical night for the emotional receiver. Here, the Ravens defense finally lived up to their expectations, halting the Patriots and giving Flacco the ball back with two minutes remaining, needing only a field goal for the win. A defensive pass interference deep in Patriots territory set up rookie K Justin Tucker for a potential 27-yard game winner. The kick flew just over the right upright, and the Ravens took away a win.

Player of the Game: Ravens WR Torrey Smith-6 catches, 127 receiving yards, 2 receiving touchdowns

Key Takeaway from the Game: This game easily could have gone either way. While there is some luck involved, credit must be given where it is due. Flacco and the offense picked up where the defense was lacking, and kept the game within reach. Rice lead the way with an up-tempo style of play, and the rest of the team pushed forward for the victory.

Note: This only happens a few times, so I must take a moment to acknowledge it. Go back to last week's blog and look at my prediction for how the game would end.

Tonight, the Ravens will welcome the division rival Cleveland Browns to Baltimore, a team that has started the year with three consecutive losses. This will be the Ravens fourth game in the last 18 days, but will have another ten days off before their next game. The Ravens took both of the games against the Browns last season, but will be facing a new team here this week. 28-year old rookie QB Brandon Weeden has had some trouble this year, throwing 6 interceptions against just 3 touchdowns so far. His fellow rookie, RB Trent Richardson, who was the #3 overall pick in the draft this past April, has had significantly more success than his counterpart. Richardson, who will be facing his toughest defense yet, has over 150 rushing yards with a touchdown and no fumbles. He is a very physical and punishing runner who is not scared of a defense like the Ravens, making this an even more intriguing matchup. On defense, the Browns have had their moments. They are currently leading the AFC with 7 turnovers, though 5 of them came against the Eagles in Week 1. They will be without top CB Joe Haden, however, who tested positive for Adderall. Haden picked off Flacco as a rookie back in 2010. The Browns also have LB D'Qwell Jackson out of Maryland, who has 3 sacks and two interceptions already this year. Jackson will no doubt be in charge of limiting Ray Rice. Look for the Ravens offense to pick on an inferior defense with an aggressive, no-huddle offense filled with play action.

Prediction: Both teams are playing this game on a short week, having played just four days ago. Don't be surprised to see a lot of offense, since the defenses should still be exhausted. But, if the Ravens were to pick a team to play in this type of game, it would be the Browns, a divisional team that you already know much about. It limits the amount of extensive study and video you have to do in preparation, despite the offensive additions the Browns have made. I have the Ravens gaining an early lead and maintaining it, winning 34-13.

Key Matchups for Ravens vs. Browns

Ravens S Ed Reed vs. Browns QB Brandon Weeden  Edge: Reed
Analysis: Of Reed's 57 career interceptions, 10 have come against the Browns, more than any other team. Reed should have a field day against the rookie Weeden.

Ravens LB Ray Lewis vs. Browns RB Trent Richardson  Edge: Lewis
Analysis: This is just experience over talent. Richardson will be a top back in this game one day, but for now, Lewis will have his number.

Ravens RB Ray Rice vs. Browns LB D'Qwell Jackson  Edge: Push
Analysis: This will be tightly contested for 60 minutes. Both are poised to out-perform each other, making this a good matchup to pay attention to.

Ravens G Marshal Yanda vs. Browns DT Jabaal Sheard  Edge: Yanda
Analysis: Sheard is the top defensive lineman for the Browns, but I believe Yanda has enough to control him and protect Flacco.

Injury Report
T Jah Reid-Calf-QST

LB James-Michael Johnson-Ribs/Oblique-OUT
WR Mohamed Massaquoi-Hamstring-OUT
TE Alex Smith-Head-OUT
DB Ray Ventrone-Hand-QST

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

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Ravens Report-Week 3 2012

Last Sunday afternoon, the Ravens fell to the Eagles, 24-23, in a last-minute heartbreaker. This brings the Ravens' record to an even 1-1. Despite the Ravens defense forcing 4 turnovers, including 3 in the red zone, the Eagles offense finished when it mattered the most. The first of those red zone turnovers came on the very first Philadelphia drive of the game, when Michael Vick's pass to the end zone fell into the sure hands of Bernard Pollard. The Ravens would give it back, however, when a sack-fumble on Joe Flacco gave the Eagles great field position early in the first quarter. The Eagles would take advantage, as LeSean McCoy scored from just a yard out. Flacco and the offense would respond however, when Vonta Leach ended a 7-play drive with the game-tying score. The Ravens weren't done however, adding a touchdown in the 2nd quarter on a 21-yard pass from Flacco to Jacoby Jones. As the Ravens defense continued to limit the Eagles, the Ravens added to their lead in the final seconds of the first half when rookie K Justin Tucker hit a 56-yard field goal to give the Ravens a 17-7 lead. The Ravens were not able to carry their momentum into the second half, however, and it cost them. The Eagles tied the game in the 3rd quarter with a touchdown pass to Jeremy Maclin coupled with an Alex Henery field goal. Another pair of Tucker field goals (51,48) gave the Ravens a 23-17 lead late in the 4th quarter. The lead came with its fair share of controversy, as an offensive pass interference call on Jacoby Jones erased a touchdown that would have given the Ravens a commanding two-possession lead with just four minutes remaining. Looking back at the replay, the contact was going both ways, and should not have been a penalty. The Eagles then drove down the field, and finished with a Michael Vick running TD to give the Eagles the slim advantage. Flacco could not convert on a fourth down later on the Ravens' final drive, and the Eagles earned the W. 

Player of the Game: Eagles TE Brent Celek-8 catches, 157 receiving yards

Key Takeaway from the Game: After using the no-huddle offense to burn the Bengals back in Week 1, the Ravens offense barely went to the no-huddle against the Eagles.We all want to see a consistent Flacco, but these are the defenses he needs to beat. The Ravens did not run the ball nearly enough. Ray Rice was extremely successful on the ground, gaining 99 yards on just 16 carries. But the Ravens continued to go to the pass game, where Flacco went just 22/42. Cam Cameron needs to run the ball more when Rice is having that kind of success.

On Sunday night, the Ravens will be back home to face the 1-1 New England Patriots on prime-time television. This is, of course, the rematch of the game no one in Baltimore wants to remember. Don't worry, I'm not going there. Both of these teams are coming off tough losses, with the Pats losing to the Cardinals at home last Sunday. This will be a homecoming for Ravens defensive coordinator Dean Pees, who spent 6 seasons on Bill Belicheck's staff in New England. You can bet he will have a chip on his shoulder. There are few surprises on offense for the Patriots. Tom Brady is the stalwart general under center for the Patriots. His top target is TE Rob Gronkowski, whose role is expected to increase with the injury to fellow TE Aaron Hernandez. The Patriots' newest threat on offense is Brandon Lloyd, who already has 13 catches for over 100 yards on the year. RB Stevan Ridley has provided a threat on the ground for the Patriots, which is just another weapon for defenses to have to worry about. On an interesting note, the Patriots re-signed WR Deion Branch this week to help replace Hernandez. The Patriots also re-signed Branch before the Ravens game back in 2010. In that game, Branch had 9 catches for 98 yards and a touchdown in a 23-20 Patriots win. Therefore, look for Branch to have an immediate impact on the Patriots offense come Sunday. The Patriots have improved mightily on defense with the acquisitions of DE Chandler Jones and LB Dont'a Hightower, a college teammate of Ravens rookie LB Courtney Upshaw. NT Vince Wilfork is a perennial threat to blitz the QB effectively, and with some early struggles by Ravens C Matt Birk, he could be a difference-maker. Also make sure to watch out for Ravens S Bernard Pollard, otherwise known as the "Patriots killer." In 2008, Pollard ended Brady's season by tearing his ACL in Week 1. Just a year later, Pollard's hit on Pats WR Wes Welker tore his ACL and ended his season as well. Last year, Pollard's tackle on Gronkowski in the AFC Championship Game sprained Gronk's ankle and made him a non-factor in the Super Bowl two weeks later. Just saying.

Prediction: There is no shortage of intrigue coming into this game. Both teams have their own beef with each other, and much of it will be solved on the gridiron. There is nothing more pleasing to the Ravens defense than seeing Brady eating grass, so expect a lot of blitzing. After a less-than-impressive performance in Philadelphia last weekend, this is a chance for the Ravens D to re-establish their place as one of the best defenses in the league. Flacco had one of the best games of his career last year against the Patriots defense, and will look to continue that success. In a comforting change of pace, I have Justin Tucker kicking a game-winning field goal in the final minutes of the game to give the Ravens a 23-20 win.

Key Matchups for Ravens vs. Patriots

Ravens S Ed Reed vs. Patriots QB Tom Brady  Edge: Push
Analysis: Both of these players will be in Canton when their time comes. Brady will burn Reed on some plays, and Reed will burn Brady right back. This will be fun to watch.

Ravens LB Jameel McClain vs. Patriots TE Rob Gronkowski  Edge: Gronkowski
Analysis: This one isn't even close. Gronk is arguably the best TE in the league, and if McClain can limit him even a little bit, this matchup will be considered a Ravens victory.

Ravens RB Ray Rice vs. Patriots LB Brandon Spikes  Edge: Rice
Analysis: Rice is too fast and too elusive for an inconsistent linebacker like Spikes. Spikes will have a few nice plays, but the unseen mistakes he makes will open up some holes for Rice.

Ravens WR Torrey Smith vs. Patriots CB Devin McCourty  Edge: Smith
Analysis: With the exception of the first play against the Bengals, Smith has been a non-factor so far for the Ravens. A matchup against a cornerback like McCourty spells out a breakout game for Smith.

Injury Report
T Jah Reid-Leg-DBT

TE Aaron Hernandez-Ankle-OUT
DE Justin Francis-Ankle-OUT
RB Shane Vereen-Foot-QST
G Logan Mankins-Hip-QST
WR Brandon Lloyd-Thigh-QST

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

NOTE: Early Sunday morning, Torrey Smith's younger brother Tevin was killed in a motorcycle accident. Smith left the Ravens' hotel to be with his family, but word is that he wants to play tonight against the Patriots. John Harbaugh said that it's Torrey's call. If he is on that field tonight, he'll be playing with a heavy heart. My prayers and condolences are with Torrey and his family. RIP Tevin Smith.
UPDATE: Torrey Smith has re-joined the team and is expected to play tonight against the Patriots