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!