Report Card 2004: Ravens 37 Giants 14

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The best news resulting from the sequence of events that took place down at The Vault yesterday, originated in the Ravens locker room just after the game. The locker room was subdued — it was quiet. The mood was almost somber. To a man, the Ravens realize that yesterday’s throttling of the N.Y. Giants was just a rung in a ladder that has plenty of distance between where the team stands and where they want to be. There appears to be a singularity of purpose. They will need that to reach the bar that the established in summer camp at McDaniel College.

Overall, there is very little to complain about regarding yesterday’s game. The Ravens played the kind of game that they needed to in order to get back on track. Perhaps the scheduling gods were with them yesterday. Had they been forced to take on Peyton Manning immediately after the fourth quarter debacle against Cincinnati, we might all be talking about the off season plans instead of the next game. Yet with each game assessment, there will always be some area to criticize in a constructive way in order to find ways in which to improve. To do anything less is to admit to complacency and when you invite complacency, you invite trouble. 

With that in mind, we offer The Bird Gauge:

  QUARTERBACK  

Statistically Kyle Boller had a breakthrough game on Sunday, delivering four touchdown passes — two each to Todd Heap and Clarence Moore. He exhibited poise in the pocket despite a consistent pass rush from the Giants. He avoided the blitz at times with nice footwork and escaped pressure on occasion for positive yardage (4 carries for 19 yards) and he picked up a key first down on the Ravens first possession to help set up their first score. Boller’s progress continues in finding his second and third receiver. It won’t look like much in the scorebook, but a great example of his developing field awareness occurred on the first play from scrimmage in the second half. Looking right he found a covered Todd Heap. He then turned towards the left sideline and saw Clarence Moore covered. Finally he checked down to Chester Taylor and delivered a little touch pass over the linebacker. It was only a 4 yard gain but clearly it demonstrated how far Boller has come. Earlier in the year, he tucks that ball and then begins to run aimlessly.  

And while on the subject of touch passes, what about the touch pass over Carlos Emmons to Todd Heap for 37 yards; the one to Moore for 8 yards and the 1 yarder to Heap? Or if touch passes don‘t do it for you, what about the rocket to Travis Taylor that the inconsistent receiver dropped? Boller exhibited all of the physical tools yesterday that attracted the Ravens to him.  

On the downside, Boller did try to force a few passes that a better defense may have converted into turnovers. He once tried to thread the needle on an in route to B.J. Sams that should have been picked off but wasn’t; on another throw downfield to Kevin Johnson for a 35 yard gain, the ball was tipped around before landing in KJ’s mitts; on a roll out to the right in the third quarter on third and 8, Boller had a ball tipped by Osi Umenyiora. Had the pass not been tipped, it may have resulted in an interception and possibly a Giants’ touchdown that would have made the score 27-14. Instead the resulting field goal made it 30-7. Boller also has to start to anticipate the blind side blitz that appears to originate from the weak side corner. This week it produced defensive points. In other weeks it has only produced bruises for Boller. Neither are good. It still isn’t perfect, but there’s reason to be optimistic. Sometimes the ball does bounce your way and today, it did for Kyle Boller. 

RUNNING BACK  1/2 

Chester Taylor contributed another 100 yard performance. His style is markedly different than Jamal’s. Taylor sneaks up on you and when he peaks out from behind the behemoth blockers in front of him, he darts for 5 and 6 yards here and there. He slowly and quietly nicks a defense and unsuspectingly dissects it. Lewis is a banger and a bruiser who delivers almost as much punishment as he absorbs. Jamal looked fresh and appears eager to get back on track despite favoring his ankle slightly. This bodes well for the Ravens down the stretch. Alan Ricard once again delivered great kick out blocks particularly to the left. The support in pass protection could still use improvement, particularly in blitzing situations. 

RECEIVERS  1/2 

For years we’ve all hoped that some receiver outside of Todd Heap might make a play on a consistent basis. If used properly, that player could be Clarence Moore. The Ravens put Moore in position to use his distinct height advantage over Giants’ defenders. "They were just making some incredible plays," Giants defensive end Osi Umenyiora said. "I’ve never in my entire life of playing football seen people do those things, make those catches. It was just their day." A jump ball in the direction of Todd Heap has about as much chance as an unsuspecting seal pup when stalked by a shark. Just ask the Giants Will Peterson. But back to Moore for a moment, the rookie has got to own an “I Love NY” t-shirt. All four of his career scores have come against the Giants and the Jets. If not for Travis Taylor in large part and to Clarence Moore in small part (marginal drop of the 45 yard pass from Boller), this rating would be an unprecedented 5 star for the Ravens. Instead it’s an unprecedented 4 ½. It will be interesting to see how teams cover the Ravens in the red zone with a healthy Heap and an emerging Moore on a going forward basis. 

OFFENSIVE LINE  

The o-line seems to be rediscovering their rhythm in run blocking situations. They still are clumsy at times in pass blocking on the right side. The communication between Anderson and Brooks broke down so badly on one sack that neither of them touch any of the three rushers that stacked their side of the line. LOOK OUT! Overall a solid effort for a group moving in the right direction. 

DEFENSIVE LINE  

Marquez Douglas was solid and disruptive as was Kelly Gregg. Douglas always seems to make his tackles count. Yesterday, he had 3. One resulted in a sack and a loss of 5 yards; a second for a loss of one and a third finished a 1 yard gain for Tiki Barber. Douglas was also responsible for the grounding penalty against Eli Manning that forced the Giants to punt from their own 1 in the third quarter. Gregg forced a fumble and tipped a pass and helped to shut down running gaps for Barber. Jarrett Johnson provided some nice contributions within the framework of the rotation and Tony Weaver tipped one pass and nearly intercepted a pass tipped by Gregg, demonstrating nice athletic ability. 

LINEBACKERS

When the other team has the ball for only 20 minutes and they are behind by 17 points or more for 38 minutes of the game, chances are there won’t be many opportunities for linebacker tackles. AD was solid as always although Suggs was relatively quiet except for the lame dancing. Ray Lewis was very strong in run support and instrumental in providing the various defensive looks that left Eli Manning dazed and confused. 

SECONDARY  

Nice recovery from a week prior yet it seemed as though this unit was hardly tested. The Ravens secondary disguised their schemes well as Manning could not decipher between zone and man coverage. Deion Sanders detractors should take note — the man makes a huge difference. Ed Reed per usual, was around the ball. He should have had two interceptions had one not been overturned by a questionable call against Gary Baxter. Chris McAlister was hardly challenged but had Ike Hilliard not “tripped over” McAlister’s legs, he may have burned the All-Pro for 6. Then again, the way Manning’s passes were fluttering, C-Mac may have had time to get back on his feet and break up the play anyway. 

SPECIAL TEAMS  1/2  

You will never see a finer play than on a punt coverage unit trying to pin in an opponent than the one made by B.J. Sams to help down the ball at the one foot line. Props to recently added Mike Solwold to help kill the ball. Additional props to Solwold for coming off the street cold on Saturday to provide long snapping duties that were hardly noticeable. And those are the best kind. Matt Stover continues to be “Money.” B.J. Sams needs to be introduced to the concept of a fair catch. To his credit, he caught the ball with confidence and seems to have overcome the yips — something Brightful never could do. One has to admire his courage and ability to fight through adversity. Zastudil was decent and helped to pin the Giants in. Had Sams not performed his Jay Gibbons impersonation and misjudged another of Zastudil’s punts, the Ravens would have had another pinned inside the 5. Kickoff return teams look worn out and are failing to get any penetration inside the 20. Derrick Ward averaged over 25 yards per return while Stover’s kicks on average reached the 8 yard line. Starting from the 33 yard line on average is dangerous against a more formidable offense than the Giants.  

COACHING  

Both Mike Nolan and Matt Cavanaugh installed dynamic game plans that their respective units executed extremely well. Nolan coordinated an effort to confuse not only the opposing rookie quarterback but his supporting cast as well. Here is what Armani Toomer had to say about the Ravens varied looks: "There were a lot of people out there confused, myself included. They were doing so much stuff in terms of giving you funky looks and all that stuff. It was crazy to see some of the stuff they come up with to go after somebody like that." 

Matt Cavanaugh’s game plan was to attack and they did exactly that. In a more competitive game, the Ravens may have produced well over 400 yards of offense. The mix was solid and Cavanaugh used the right players in the right situations, particularly Clarence Moore. They didn’t go to Moore with the flanker screen (a play that makes Moore look clumsy) nor did they challenge the rookie’s cojones by sending him over the middle in traffic. They leveraged his vertical strengths and the realized results were the same as those drawn up. On a separate note, please lose that pitch left to the tailbacks. It ain’t working! 

Regardless of what Coach said in today’s press conference, the clock was mismanaged again at the end of the first half. With 1:12 to go in the half and two timeouts remaining, the Ravens had a first and goal from the Giants 8. The Ravens had just exited the huddle and it can’t be difficult to call two plays for professional athletes. But if it is, burn the timeout and not the play. If your plan is to catch the Giants napping with a run fine — but don‘t kill a play. If you have no timeouts, dirting the ball is understandable. But with two in your pocket, the play becomes more valuable.  

FINAL THOUGHTS 

* Brian Billick has always been a champion of the fan and has always encouraged the fans to be disruptive to the other team. Billick’s encouragement has helped to elevate the Ravens fans’ to the elite status among 12th “Men.” The Vault is not an easy place for opponents to play and the Giants decision not to introduce their players individually speaks to that notion.  

But enough already coach. I’m more comfortable with you thinking through what the offense might do once the opponent fails on their third down conversion attempt than you leading the cheers. We have Daniel Wilcox for that don’t we? And if my eyes haven’t deceived me, there’s something going wrong between you and those alleged fornicating dogs in the stands. What am I talking about? Well, when the boos cascaded towards the field, coach became a bit testy and appears to have fired a nasty expletive towards the crowd. Just like the defensive posture he assumes during challenging questions from the media, Billick grew defensive upon hearing the boo birds. 

Now I’m not one to boo the home team under any circumstance. It just doesn’t make sense to me — undermining the team that I figuratively bleed for. However, these boos were different. They weren’t directed at the players and they weren’t delivered in a losing situation. They were the boos of frustration. Fans have grown weary of the teams inability to professionally manage the clock. The spiked balls were further evidence of this team weakness. 

These boos were focused squarely upon the offensive coaches, Billick included. The fans want more efficiency and against a better opponent, the team will need to improve in this area or it could prove costly. Billick doesn’t like to be challenged by the fans or the media — those who allegedly possess limited knowledge — those who allegedly don’t understand. His anger and resentment towards the few ignorant and uninformed fans isn’t fair to the thousands more that leave part of their lungs down at The Vault each home game. It isn’t fair to those that have patiently waited a long time for a miserable offense to come around without muttering anything resembling “boo” but instead pour in their hard earned dollars for tickets, concessions and Ravens merchandise — the same dollars that make handsome contract extensions for head coaches possible.  

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again — Billick is perfect for the Ravens. I’ve always been a Billick advocate, sometimes to the dismay of our readers. I shutter to think where we might be without his leadership. But please, just lead the team — not the cheers. We’ve got it under control. 

If my lip reading skills are off, I sincerely apologize.  

** The six turnovers forced by the Ravens tied a franchise record.  

*** With six more yards on Sunday, Ravens safety Ed Reed now has 317 interception return yards for the year. That’s the most since the 1970 merger and Reed needs only 33 more yards to break the all-time league mark.

**** Why did the Ravens choose to throw deep while up 37-7?  Why did Tom Coughlin use his timeouts at the end of the game when the game had clearly been decided?  More on this tomorrow in The Early Bird.

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Tony Lombardi

About Tony Lombardi

Tony is 24x7 Networks, LLC's founder (the parent of EutawStreetReport.com and RussellStreetReport.com) His work has been featured on various sports websites and he is a regular guest on 105.7 The Fan and CBS Sports 1300. Among his favorite things in life are his wife, kids, family, friends, The Beatles, Breaking Bad, Gladiator, Guinness, Orange Crushes and Key West, not necessarily in that order. Follow Tony on Twitter @RSRLombardi. More from Tony Lombardi

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