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!