Friday, January 20, 2012

Ravens Report-AFC Championship Game 2012

Last Sunday, the Ravens came away with a narrow 20-13 victory over the Texans to advance to the AFC Championship Game. The Ravens offensive line was bullied by the Texans front seven, which made moving the football down the field difficult. It was a strong first half for the Ravens that allowed them to play so poorly in the second half and still escape with the win. With the Texans up 3-0, the Ravens punted the ball away, and a bonehead fumble by Jacoby Jones gave the Ravens the ball inside the Texans 5 yard-line. After two failed conversions, Flacco finally rolled out and found TE Kris Wilson for the touchdown. Then, late in the second quarter, Flacco put the Ravens back on the board with a 10-yard pass to Anquan Boldin to make the score 17-3. The Texans narrowed that difference to 17-13 by halftime though, highlighted by a touchdown run from Arian Foster, who racked up over 130 rushing yards on the afternoon. In the second half, the Ravens defense stepped up when they were absolutely needed, keeping the Texans scoreless for the rest of the game. With a Billy Cundiff field goal and a game-sealing interception by Ed Reed, the Ravens lived to fight yet another week. While the Ravens defense did not once bring T.J. Yates to the ground, they did intercept him three times. It seems pathetic that a defense as strong as the Ravens would not get even one sack, but this needs some clarification. Ravens defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano intentionally put pressure on Andre Johnson and Arian Foster instead of Yates, given that their threats were much greater. Also, take a quick look at my score prediction from last week for this game. Not to toot my own horn or anything.

Player of the Game: Ravens CB Lardarius Webb-4 tackles, 2 interceptions

Key to the Win: It's hard to lose when you play mistake-free football, but the Ravens almost did it. They did not turn the ball over once, and for the first time in Ravens history, they did not even commit a penalty.

Next Sunday, the Ravens will travel to Foxboro for a playoff rematch with the AFC East Champion Patriots for the chance to play in Super Bowl XLVI. The Ravens played the Patriots in the Wild Card round back in 2010, and came away with a dominant 33-14 victory. It will be a daunting challenge for this Ravens team, but if the real Ravens come to play, not the ones who limped away with a win last week, I believe they can pull it off. Patriots QB Tom Brady is the NFL's Golden Boy, and with the Ravens aggressive style of play, watch out for yellow flags being thrown on hard hits to Brady. Unlike his 2010 squad, Brady's offensive core is decisively better than the one he had two years ago. WR Wes Welker, who is having the best season of his career, missed that game due to injury. Also, second-year TEs Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez have become the most dangerous threats on the field for the Patriots offense. Gronkowski's monstrous figure will prove difficult to cover come Sunday. The Ravens ability to limit the productivity of those three receivers could decide the outcome of this game. Also, the Ravens will need to put  pressure on Brady, because if they don't he'll pick them apart all day. That means Terrell Suggs and Haloti Ngata will be major difference makers. If they can rattle him the way they did two years ago, the Ravens already have an advantage. The Patriots, however, are an entirely different team when it comes to the defensive side of the football. Their defense was ranked 31st during the regular season, and became a complete pushover for their opponents. The Ravens offense will have to take advantage of that as well. Joe Flacco's ability to conduct successful, time-efficient drives will also decide if the Ravens can put points on the board. By giving the ball to Ray Rice at least 25 times, you guarantee yourself time eaten off the clock, as well as points on the scoreboard. This is bound to be an entertaining, back-and-forth kind of game. Last week, we saw the league's two most high-powered offenses fall to great defenses, and I expect we'll see that again. The Patriots offense is right behind that of the Packers and Saints, but offense only gets you so far at this point in the season. Ladies and gentlemen, offenses may sell tickets, but defense wins championships. I have the Ravens winning, 27-24.

Key to the Game: If the Ravens want to keep Tom Brady off the field, as well as give their own defense a rest, they'll need to control the clock. As I said earlier, putting together long, effective drives that end in points is the way the Ravens will win this game.

Key Matchups for Ravens at Patriots
Ravens LB Terrell Suggs vs. Patriots offensive line  Edge: Suggs
Analysis: Suggs was held without a sack last weekend, plus he's facing a quarterback he has a long history with. He'll be thirsty. 

Ravens CB Lardarius Webb vs. Patriots WR Wes Welker  Edge: Welker
Analysis: Welker's maneuverability will help him get past Webb, but remember Webb still has not allowed a touchdown scored on him. 

Ravens S Ed Reed vs. Patriots QB Tom Brady  Edge: Push
Analysis: You're talking about two of the greatest players of this era, this showdown will be classic.

Ravens linebackers vs. Patriots TE Rob Gronkowski  Edge: Gronkowski
Analysis: The Gronk is just too strong and too powerful to not have a big game at this stage, he is extremely dangerous.

Ravens QB Joe Flacco vs. Patriots S Patrick Chung  Edge: Flacco
Analysis: Flacco needs to prove his naysayers wrong, and I think he'll do the job.

Ravens RB Ray Rice vs. Patriots LB Rob Ninkovich  Edge: Rice
Analysis: Rice is a great runner in this stadium, he'll be able to burn Ninkovich easily.

Injury Report
S Ed Reed-Ankle-PRB

WR Deion Branch-Knee-QST
S Patrick Chung-Knee-QST
TE Aaron Hernandez-Concussion-QST

Whoever wins the Ravens/Patriots game will play the winner of the Giants/49ers game, which will be played Sunday night, in the Super Bowl on February 5.

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

Friday, January 13, 2012

Ravens Report-Divisional Playoff

In Week 17, the Ravens clinched the AFC North with a 24-16 win over the Bengals. The Bengals still clinched a playoff spot though, but would lose in the first round to the Texans. On just the fourth play from scrimmage, Ray Rice sprinted through blocks from Vonta Leach and Marshal Yanda to take the ball 70 yards to the end zone, giving the Ravens the early advantage. After the teams exchanged field goals, Flacco took the Ravens on an eighty-yard drive at the end of the half, finishing it off with a beautiful throw-and-catch to Dennis Pitta in the back of the end zone. In the third quarter, however, Bernard Scott turned the corner, shook off would-be tackler Ed Reed, and bounced his way 25 yards for the score,narrowing the Ravens' lead to 7. After a Mike Nugent field goal made the score 17-13 in the fourth quarter, the Ravens were forced into a three-and-out, and the Bengals began to drive the ball downfield. They were stopped in their tracks however, when Terrell Suggs forced his 7th fumble of the year (a Ravens franchise record), and the Ravens took over possession. It didn't take long for the Ravens to get back on the board, and Ray Rice took a 51-yard scamper to the end zone to make it a two-possession lead. Down by eight in the final seconds of the game, a failed hail-mary attempt sealed the victory for the Ravens.

Player of the Game: Ravens RB Ray Rice-24 attempts, 191 rushing yards, 2 rushing touchdowns
Key to the Win: Plain and simple, Cam Cameron did a great job designing the game plan for this game. Finally, he set up Flacco's passing game by using Ray Rice as a beginning point. Flacco threw just 19 passes, but that was all he needed to throw. The Ravens are a running team, no doubt about it, and Cameron did a great job of establishing that by using Ray Rice to his advantage. 

With their win over the Bengals last week, the Texans earned themselves a trip to Baltimore for the divisional round of the playoffs. When the Texans came to Baltimore in Week 6, they left with a 29-14 loss. The key to that game was the Ravens' ability to hold star RB Arian Foster to just 49 rushing yards. If the Ravens want to replicate their early-season success, limiting Foster will be crucial.  Foster has already expressed his desire for revenge against the Ravens after that dismal performance of his, so look out.  Unlike Week 6, however, is the Texans quarterback situation. After losing starter Matt Schaub and backup Matt Leinart to injuries, the Texans have relied on rookie QB T.J. Yates to push them deeper into the playoffs. Yates had the best game of his season last week against the Bengals, but he'll be facing an entirely different defense this Sunday. He has not yet faced a defense as intimidating as the Ravens, so his response should be interesting to watch. You never know, one big hit from Suggs or Ngata could completely alter his mindset, and make him hesitant to want to step back and throw another pass. Yates' main target, Andre Johnson, also missed the earlier matchup, but his size and skill set could prove difficult for the Ravens to defend. Expect him to be covered by either Lardarius Webb or Cary Williams, with help from Ed Reed over top of the route. On defense, the Texans are ranked in the top 5 in all major categories. Their third-ranked secondary could prove dangerous for Joe Flacco, so expect a lot of  running to set up easier play-action passes. Despite these playmakers for the Texans, I think the Ravens are smarter and more experienced in these situations, which is always key in the playoffs especially. Plus, playing at home, where they were 8-0 during the regular season, is a huge advantage. I simply can't see the Ravens letting this game get away, so I have them winning 20-13.

Key to the Game: As I mentioned earlier, limiting Arian Foster's big play ability will be vital for the Ravens. If Foster can't reach 70 rushing yards, the Ravens will win this game. By limiting Foster, the Ravens put T.J. Yates into 3rd-and-long situations, which he won't be able to convert on a consistent basis. Since the Texans won't want to put the game on Yates' shoulders, they will rely on the run game as much as possible to put up points. Yates simply doesn't have the skills to beat the Ravens on his own.

Key Matchups for Texans at Ravens
Ravens LB Terrell Suggs vs. Texans QB T.J. Yates  Edge: Suggs
Analysis: Suggs knows how to overpower both an offensive line and a quarterback, so I expect him to be relentless in his pursuit of Yates. 

Ravens CB Lardarius Webb vs. Texans WR Andre Johnson  Edge: Johnson
Analysis: Johnson has both a size and skill advantage over Webb, but keep in mind Webb still has not allowed a touchdown to be scored on him.

Ravens defensive line vs. Texans RB Arian Foster  Edge: Ravens
Analysis: They did it in Week 6, and now that the stakes are higher, I expect them to do it again.

Ravens WR Anquan Boldin vs. Texans CB Johnathan Joseph  Edge: Joseph
Analysis: This is a close one, but Joseph is having a career year, so he'll be full force come Sunday.

Ravens RB Ray Rice vs. Texans defensive line  Edge: Rice
Analysis: Rice's speed and agility, plus superb blocking from Pro Bowl FB Vonta Leach, will help him make big plays on Sunday.

Ravens G Marshal Yanda vs. Texans DE Antonio Smith  Edge: Yanda
Analysis: Yanda was injured last week, and still threw a key block on Rice's 70-yard TD run, there is no reason he won't be even better Sunday. 

Injury Report
LB Brendon Ayanbadejo-Thigh-QST
LB Jameel McClain-Knee-QST

TE Owen Daniels-Hand-PRB
S Troy Nolan-Ankle-PRB

AFC Playoffs:
Broncos at Patriots, Sat. 8:30 PM
Texans at Ravens, Sun. 1:00 PM
The winners of these two games will face each other next Sunday in the AFC Championship.

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