Sunday, January 20, 2013

Ravens Report-AFC Championship 2013

How do I explain this one? Last week, the Ravens capped off the most memorable football game I've ever seen. In a double-overtime thriller, the Ravens outlasted the Broncos and won 38-35. The game didn't start out going their way however. On Sam Koch's punt following a failed first series, Broncos return man Trindon Holliday returned the ball 90 yards to the end zone to put the Broncos on top to begin the game. But the Ravens then showed the resiliency that would define them throughout the rest of the game. Following a pass interference call that kept the drive alive, Joe Flacco shot off a bomb that Torrey Smith caught for a 59-yard touchdown, tying the game. Just moments later, on a third-and-six for the Broncos, a tipped Peyton Manning pass ended up in the arms of Corey Graham, who returned it to the house to give the Ravens their first lead of the afternoon. But Peyton Manning threw touchdowns on his next two drives to give the Broncos the lead back midway through the second quarter. Joe Flacco and the Ravens offense were determined to knot it up heading into the half. In the final minute, Flacco threw up a soft pass along the sideline, yards short of the end zone. An incredible adjustment to the ball by Torrey Smith ended up with a Ravens touchdown and a tied game.

On Justin Tucker's opening kickoff, Holliday struck again. This time from 104 yards out, the Broncos once again had a seven-point lead. Again, an example of Ravens resiliency. The stout Ravens defense held Peyton Manning in check as Flacco worked on tying up the game again. A Flacco fumble proved a slight setback, but it didn't finish the purple birds off. On their next drive, coming off a Manning fumble, Ray Rice ran himself  37 yards down the field, including a 1-yard touchdown run to finish it off. The teams once again exchanged punts, but with seven minutes remaining in regulation, a Manning pass to Demaryius Thomas coupled with two broken tackles ended up in another Broncos score. On the Ravens' next drive, Flacco was unable to complete a fourth-down pass in Broncos territory, and the Broncos were given a chance to seal the win. But once again the Ravens defense stepped up, giving Joe Flacco one minute to extend the season, without any timeouts. After two plays garnered little gain, Flacco snapped off the next play with 41 seconds remaining from his own 30 yard-line. Flacco stepped up in the pocket and launched the pass as far as he could. The ball just barely was out of the reach of Broncos safety Rahim Moore and landed magically into the hands of Jacoby Jones, who scored to tie the game. The miracle of all miracles had come true, and into overtime the two teams went. Throughout the first overtime period, we saw punt after punt after punt. The Broncos got the ball, with a field-goal to win and a minute remaining in the period, the ball at their own 38. On second down, Manning rolled out and looked towards Brandon Stokley. But once again, Corey Graham found the ball and picked it off. His second pick of the day put the Ravens just yards away from Justin Tucker's field goal range. To begin the second overtime period, Ray Rice ran into field goal range, and Tucker took the field. Perfect snap, perfect hold, perfect kick. The Ravens had won it.

Player of the Game: Joe Flacco-18/34 for 331 yards, 3 touchdowns

Unsung Heroes: The offensive line-It seems the magic touch has been found when it comes to who plays what position on the offensive line. Moving Bryant McKinnie to left tackle did it. Broncos pass rushers Von Miller and Elvis Dumervil, two of the best at their job in the league, were non-factors, only sacking Flacco one time.

Key to the Win: Resiliency. Plain and simple. Playing in single-digit temperatures with high altitude and being 9-point underdogs, this win was pure resiliency.

Well, here we are again. For the second consecutive year, the Ravens will have a chance to play in the Super Bowl. But first, they'll have to go through Tom Brady and those pesky Patriots. Again. I won't even go back to what happened last year. When these two teams met in Baltimore back in Week 3, a game-winning kick at the buzzer by Justin Tucker gave the Ravens a 31-30 victory. But these are two different teams now. Unlike in the past, the Patriots now have a legitimate running game. Stevan Ridley ran for over 1,000 yards and twelve touchdowns on the year. RB Shane Vereen is a huge threat in the passing game, as he showed by catching three touchdowns last week in the Patriots win over the Texans. Receivers Wes Welker and Brandon Lloyd combined for over 2,000 receiving yards and ten touchdowns this regular season, and could be lethal if the Ravens secondary is unable to contain them. One of the best tight ends in the game, Rob Gronkowski, re-injured his arm last week and will miss the rest of the post-season. But don't read into the loss of Gronk loss too much. If Tom Brady and the Pats offense showed anything in last week's rout of the Texans, it was that he has other options he can find to make a difference. In Gronk's place, Aaron Hernandez will start at tight end tomorrow for the Pats. During the regular season, Hernandez caught five touchdowns for nearly 500 yards.

On defense, the Pats are not nearly as intimidating. They rank in the bottom ten in two of the four major offensive categories; yards and passing yards per game. The most daunting member of their defensive front is undoubtedly DT Vince Wilfork, whose size alone makes him a dominating presence in the run game. Wilfork, during the regular season, had two sacks and forced two fumbles. He will be a huge difference-maker when the Ravens have the ball. In the secondary, the impact of CB Aqib Talib, who was acquired mid-season by the Patriots, has been largely over-stated. He has been a good corner, with 19 tackles and a pick-six since joining the Pats D, but he isn't nearly as good as many have made him out to be. Also, be sure to watch out for Patriots LB Brandon Spikes. He isn't dominating, but in his career against the Ravens, Spikes has twelve tackles, and an interception of Flacco in last year's AFC title game. All in all, this isn't even close to the toughest defense Flacco has had to deal with. Unlike the Broncos, they have no major pass rushing threats. Like the offensive line did against the Broncos, the Patriots pass rushers should be bottled up pretty nicely.

Prediction: After last week's win, this sure does seem like the team of destiny. Plus, this game should serve the Patriots up as a  healthy dish of revenge. This game, like last year, will come down to the final minutes. I can't see a blowout either way. I have Ray Lewis living for just one more game after tomorrow, and the Ravens winning 27-23.

Key Matchups for Ravens at Patriots

Ravens S Ed Reed vs. Patriots QB Tom Brady  Edge: Brady
Analysis: This is a close one. The game could end up coming down to the Ravens' ability in the secondary to interfere with that impeccable timing Brady has with his receivers. If the Ravens can do that consistently, this one's in the bag. Easier said than done, though.

Ravens LB Ray Lewis vs. Patriots TE Aaron Hernandez  Edge: Lewis
Analysis: Hernandez might burn Ray a few times, but in the end, this one will belong to #52. Hernandez is a finesse, elusive receiver, the kind that can beat a slower Ray. But Lewis wants New Orleans way too bad to lose this matchup.

Ravens WR Torrey Smith vs. Patriots CB Aqib Talib  Edge: Smith
Analysis: As I noted earlier, all I've heard this week is Aqib Talib this, Aqib Talib that. He's a good corner, but remember who Torrey Smith repeatedly burned last week in Denver? That would be future Hall of Famer Champ Bailey.

Ravens C Matt Birk vs. Patriots DT Vince Wilfork  Edge: Wilfork
Analysis: Wilfork's mere size gives him the advantage here, but it's not a large one. Then again, just one big play for him can swing the game one way or the other.

Injury Report
CB Asa Jackson-Thigh-OUT
LB Dannell Ellerbe-Ankle/Back-QST
FB Vonta Leach-Knee/Ankle-QST
RB Bernard Pierce-Knee-QST
WR/RS David Reed-Thigh-QST

None listed as worse than probable

Playoff Scenario: The Jim Harbaugh-led 49ers play the Falcons in Atlanta at 3:00 PM Sunday on FOX. That game should finish right around kickoff of the Ravens game at 6:30. The winners of those two games will meet in the Super Bowl in New Orleans two weeks from Sunday.

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

Friday, January 11, 2013

Ravens Report-Divisional Round 2013

In Ray Lewis's final home game, the Ravens fittingly put on a defensive show, limiting the Colts to three field goals in a 24-9 win. Colts K Adam Vinatieri hit three of his four attempts after the Colts failed to reach the end zone from within the red zone. In his final home game, Ray Lewis led the team with 13 tackles despite a dropped interception. Following a scoreless first quarter in which both teams missed out on scoring opportunities because of turnovers, the Ravens and Colts exchanged second quarter field goals. On the Ravens' next drive, a 47-yard gain on a screen to Ray Rice gave the Ravens the ball at the two, when Vonta Leach busted up the middle to give the team back the lead. But in the final moments of the half, the Colts moved the ball down the field to set up a 52-yard Vinatieri field goal to make the score 10-6. The Ravens then took a two-possession lead when Joe Flacco found tight end Dennis Pitta for a 20-yard score. At the end of the third quarter, another failed Colts possession resulted in another field goal, making the score 17-9 with a quarter remaining. In the first minutes of the fourth, Anquan Boldin capped off an incredible day by making a spectacular leaping grab in the end zone, giving the Ravens a two-touchdown lead. The Colts began driving down the field for what would be their final chance to get back in the game but the Ravens were able to put the seal on the game when Cary Williams intercepted a tipped Andrew Luck pass and returned it into Colts territory. On the Ravens' final kneel-down, John Harbaugh sent Ray Lewis out on the field for one last moment on the gridiron at M&T Bank Stadium. After Flacco knelt down, Ray went into his final dance in front of a screaming Ravens crowd. Before exiting the field, Ray did a victory lap to say one more thank-you to the city of Baltimore.

Players of the Game: Ravens QB Joe Flacco-12/23 for 282 yards, 2 passing TDs
Ravens WR Anquan Boldin- 5 catches, 145 receiving yards (a Ravens playoff record), 1 receiving TD

Key to the Win: The defense stood by its "bend but don't break" mentality by stopping the Colts three times in the red zone. Joe Flacco was on his game, and despite Ray Rice's two fumbles, Bernard Pierce was able to step up when needed.

On Saturday, the Ravens will travel to Mile High to face off against Peyton Manning and his 13-3 Denver Broncos. When the Broncos visited Baltimore back in Week 15, Manning gave the Ravens a 34-17 beatdown that was much worse than that score entails (see my earlier blog entitled 'Ravens Report-Week 16 2012'). The temperature Saturday in Denver is expected to be between 11-20 degrees, which could play into the Ravens' hands. In his career, Peyton Manning is 2-6 with 6 TDs and 9 INTs in games which the temperature is below freezing. Manning is also expected to be wearing a glove. But don't read into these too much. He is still Peyton Manning, so don't be surprised if these stats are just an anomaly.

The Broncos rank in the top five in three of the four major offensive categories. They are 2nd in the league with 30 points and nearly 400 yards per game. Manning threw 37 touchdowns during the regular season, and was picked off eleven times. Two of his receivers had double-digit touchdowns and 1,000 yard receiving seasons, and will be major vertical threats to the Ravens secondary. Demaryius Thomas leads the team with 94 catches while racking up ten touchdowns, while Eric Decker has 85 catches with 13 touchdowns. An injury to former Ravens RB Willis McGahee has sidelined him for the year. He is being replaced by Knowshon Moreno, who has rushed for four touchdowns in his six starts this season. In his start against the Ravens, he rushed for 115 yards and a touchdown on 21 attempts. Plus, an improved Broncos offensive line has allowed just 21 sacks, the fewest in the AFC. In order to beat Peyton Manning, you need to mix up blitz packages and continuously get a hand in his face. Against this stout Broncos offensive line, that won't be easy. If they can get to him consistently over the course of this game, it could be a close one.

On defense, the Broncos are just as intimidating. They rank no lower than fourth in all four major defensive categories. That won't make things easy for a Joe Flacco offense that especially struggles on the road. LB Von Miller ranked third in the NFL this season with 18.5 sacks. Miller is helped by fellow pass rushers Elvis Dumervil and Derek Wolfe, who have combined for 17 sacks of their own this year. In the secondary, the Broncos are led by future Hall of Famer Champ Bailey, who had 66 tackles and two picks on the year. To keep the Broncos defense on their toes, Flacco has to maintain a fast tempo and be effective in the no huddle. A conservative offense just won't work. In defense of the Ravens dismal offensive performance against the Broncos last month, it was Jim Caldwell's first game calling plays. He is much more used to it now, so expect a smoother performance.

Prediction: No one is picking the Ravens in this game. And I mean no one. I'm not saying they're wrong. I don't think there is any question that the Broncos are a better team. But you know that they say..."any given Saturday." This team could come out and ride the momentum given to them by Ray Lewis' retirement all the way to New Orleans. Who knows? But simply, the Broncos are a better team. The Ravens will need to play a near-perfect game to win. I have the Broncos winning, 27-16.

Key Matchups for Ravens at Broncos

Ravens CB Cary Williams vs. Broncos WR Demaryius Thomas  Edge: Thomas
Analysis: Thomas' speed and size could prove deadly in this matchup. Williams was burned for an Eric Decker touchdown last month, and Thomas is more talented than him.

Ravens LB Ray Lewis vs. Broncos QB Peyton Manning  Edge: Lewis
Analysis: Ray didn't play in the first game. You can bet Manning will look to go after the 37-year old but Ray isn't ready to fade into the darkness just yet.

Ravens LT Michael Oher vs. Broncos LB Von Miller Edge Miller
Analysis: This is the definition of a mismatch. Oher will need plenty of help containing Miller. If they can't, Flacco and the Ravens are in serious trouble.

Ravens RB Ray Rice vs. Broncos LB Wesley Woodyard  Edge: Rice
Analysis: After an off-week against the Colts, Rice will look to respond by putting on a show. He could have that chance while the Broncos focus on getting to Flacco.

Injury Report
No player is listed as worse than probable.

CB Tracy Porter-Concussion-OUT

AFC Playoff Scenarios: With a Ravens win against the Broncos, they will face the winner of the Texans/Patriots game, which will be played Sunday at 4:30 PM on CBS.

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


Saturday, January 5, 2013

Ravens Report-Wild Card Round 2013

Last Sunday, the Ravens fell to the Cincinnati Bengals in the regular season finale, 23-17. The majority of the game was played by the second-stringers on both teams. The Ravens had pulled out most of their starters by the beginning of the second half, while the Bengals brought most of theirs out in the first minutes of the second half. Ravens second-year QB Tyrod Taylor entered the game for his first real NFL experience. By the time the starters were all out, the game was tied 7-7. The Ravens got those points when third-string RB Anthony Allen pounded the ball in for a two-yard score, the first of his career. With the Ravens trailing 13-7 to begin the fourth quarter, Tyrod ran the ball down the field and finished off the drive with a 1-yard touchdown run to give the Ravens the lead. After a Bengals field goal, Carlos Dunlap picked off Tyrod and returned it home for a touchdown. A missed field goal by Justin Tucker didn't help the Ravens' attempts at getting back in the ball game, which ended up helping to seal the Bengals victory. With this loss, the Ravens finish up the regular season with a 10-6 record, an AFC North division title, and their fifth consecutive playoff berth.

Player of the Game: Ravens RB Bernard Pierce-22 attempts, 89 rushing yards

Key Takeaway from this Game: Don't read into this loss too much. At the most, this was a third pre-season game. The Ravens had nothing to lose and very little to gain with a win and this game. John Harbaugh smartly opted to give his players some rest.

This Sunday, the Ravens open their run to the Lombardi trophy by hosting the Indianapolis Colts, who went 11-5 on the season. There is certainly no shortage of story lines in this one. Of course there's the animosity that Baltimoreans feel for losing their Colts to the city of Indianapolis back in 1984, however I don't think that anger is the same that it used to be. The departure of Peyton Manning may have something to do with that. On Sunday, the Colts may still be announced as the "professional football team from Indianapolis" when they enter the playing field. You've also got the return of Chuck Pagano, the Colts head coach who spent the past four seasons as an assistant coach for the Ravens. Pagano was diagnosed with leukemia back in September, but is in remission and made his return to the sidelines just last week. To add to all that, Sunday could very well be the final home game for the face of the Ravens, with Ray Lewis announcing his intentions to retire at the end of the playoffs. To further read my thoughts on the career and legacy of #52, head to to check it out.

The Colts have had quite a season, gaining much of their energy and momentum from the situation they were put in after losing their leader. After having the worst record in the NFL last season, the Colts used the #1 overall pick to add QB Andrew Luck from Stanford. Luck has led the Colts on seven game-winning drives this season, a rookie record. He threw for over 4,000 yards and 23 touchdowns, but was also picked off eighteen times. His favorite target is veteran WR Reggie Wayne, who racked up 106 catches on the year for over 1,000 receiving yards and five touchdowns. Fellow receivers Donnie Avery and T.Y. Hilton combined for similar numbers as Wayne, with ten touchdowns between them. The Colts' running game has been suspect however, ranking 22nd in the NFL with just 104 yards per game on the ground. Rookie RB Vick Ballard rushed for 800 with just two touchdowns. He will get the bulk of the carries on Sunday, but he's had trouble with consistency over long periods of time.

On defense, the Colts rank in the bottom half of the NFL in all four major defensive categories. They are led by DE Dwight Freeney, who hasn't been nearly as productive this year as in previous years. The Colts also have two former Ravens on defense, Cory Redding and Tom Zbikowski, who have helped introduce Pagano's defensive philosophy to their Colts teammates. Other factors on this side of the ball for the Colts include LB Jerrell Freeman, who led the team in tackles, and S Antoine Bethea, who has two sacks on the year. The defense is definitely the Colts' greatest liability, and one that Joe Flacco can take advantage off with a sound game of his own.

Prediction: This game will be quite an emotional roller-coaster. But with the announcement this week of Ray Lewis' retirement, I can't see the Ravens losing this one. That team is playing for Ray, and they want to make his final ride one to remember. Plus, the fans will be loud the entire game, so expect the Ravens to feed off of that. I have the Ravens winning, 27-17.

Key Matchups for Colts at Ravens

Ravens S Ed Reed vs. Colts WR Reggie Wayne  Edge: Wayne
Analysis: In a matchup of the former Miami teammates, Wayne's speed and explosive ability will propel him over a struggling and beat-down Reed.

Ravens LB Terrell Suggs vs. Colts QB Andrew Luck  Edge: Suggs
Analysis: Luck has a knack for getting out of the pocket, so Sizzle and the rest of the Ravens pass rush will have a tough task of getting to Luck, but I believe they'll do it.

Ravens WR Torrey Smith vs. Colts CB Vontae Davis  Edge: Smith
Analysis: I think Smith's speed and vertical ability will give Davis some tough times throughout the game.

Ravens LT Michael Oher vs. Colts LB Robert Mathis  Edge: Mathis
Analysis: Oher has been struggling mightily and Mathis is possibly the best pass rusher the Colts have. The Colts will sure look to take advantage of this mismatch.

Injury Report
WR Tandon Doss-Ankle-QST
S Bernard Pollard-Chest-QST
T Jah Reid-Toe-QST

G Joe Reitz-Concussion-OUT
RB Delone Carter-Ankle-QST
NT Antonio Johnson-Ankle-QST
T Winston Justice-Shoulder-QST
C A.Q. Shipley-Knee-QST
S Tom Zbikowski-Knee-QST

Playoff Scenarios: With a win on Sunday, the Ravens will go to one of two places. If the Bengals beat the Texans in Houston on Saturday night, the Ravens will go to New England and the Bengals will go to Denver. If the Texans win, the Texans will head to New England, and the Ravens to Denver.

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