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Other than Steve McNairâ€™s game winning drives at the end of the Cleveland and San Diego games, his performances have been strikingly similar to Kyle Bollerâ€™s which then begs the question, â€œIs it the system that kills quarterbacking efficiency?â€ Is Baltimore where quarterbacks go to die? McNairâ€™s play yesterday would certainly validate such a thought. On three occasions he made rookie mistakes each costing the Ravens a possession, points and for the most part the game. He missed an open Demetrius Williams for a first down in the second quarter and he overthrew Mark Clayton at the Denver 11 when better execution on his part probably results in a score behind Todd Heapâ€™s block. Even with time to throw, McNairâ€™s decision making was poor at best. The numbers donâ€™t lie: 20 of 34 for 165 yards, 3 interceptions and a QB rating of 34.6. On dry playing conditions, Iâ€™d give him the F Bomb but Iâ€™ll curve it a half grade because of the elements.
RUNNING BACK: C
Jamal Lewis is but a shell of his former self. Heâ€™s been very one-dimensional for most of his career but now heâ€™s borderline no-dimensional. Heâ€™s slow, lacks a burst, doesnâ€™t punish tacklers anymore and you would think that the football was a bar of soap the way he â€œcontrolsâ€ it when thrown to him. The offense looks much better when Musa Smith and Mike Anderson are in the game because they can do more than run with it and defenses need to respect that. Musa Smith had 6 catches for 53 yards and with a bit more work, that screen could be dangerous. He also shows solid awareness of down and distance and fights hard to move the chains. The two also seem to find ways to gain yardage with body lean in tight limited spaces, something that the upright Lewis isnâ€™t capable of doing. The Ravens should stick with one fullback and let him get a rhythm. Neither Justin Green nor Ovie Mughelli are used for anything other than blocking so why not just go with one. Last night Mughelli was the better of the two but neither conjure up images of Sam Gash or Alan Ricard on a bad day much less a good one.
Mark Clayton displayed nice hands in tough conditions yet he didnâ€™t run as effectively after the catch as he has in the past, seemingly conceding on a couple of plays as if to protect an injury. Derrick Mason was his feisty self but needs to be more involved. He does a nice job of squirting through traffic to turn short passes into first downs. Todd Heap had a bad game. He dropped a potential first down on first down along the sidelines, dropped another short pass from McNair that was nearly a pick 6 by Darrent Williams and on the third and one play, he let a pass bounce off his finger tips — one that 9 times out of 10 he catches. Unfortunately this wasnâ€™t that one. Clarence Moore needs to have the presence of mind to become a defender on an under thrown pass in the red zone. He has two options on that play: make the catch or knock it down. Despite being 6 inches taller than Champ Bailey, he did neither.
OFFENSIVE LINE: C+
You probably wonâ€™t see it often that this unit is the offenseâ€™s best but last night in Denver, they were. Those that donâ€™t think that the offensive line opened holes in the running game might want to take a second look. Holes were there and yards again were left on the field by Jamal Lewis. Mike Anderson in his limited role seemed to find them ok. Outside of one blown assignment (breakdown between Ogden and Brown) early in the game, the line provided adequate protection and time for McNair.
DEFENSIVE LINE: B
The rotation of Gregg, Ngata, Bannan and Franklin was decent at the point of attack with Ngata turning in perhaps his best game as a Raven. Terrell Suggs had a solid game defending the Denver screens perfectly, once forcing a fumble and another for a loss of 1. He nearly picked off a Plummer pass dropping into coverage and he also had another tackle in the backfield to force a loss on a Tatum Bell run. Trevor Pryce was very silent and the Broncos were determined to test him when lining up at tackle during what appeared to be obvious passing downs. They were successful as Bell converted a few third and long situations into first downs.
Not the stellar effort normally provided by this unit but solid nonetheless. Ray Lewis over pursued a couple of times, once after Terrell Suggs did a nice job of turning Bell in towards Lewis. Bart Scott and Adalius Thomas were a bit quieter than usual, in part because they were responsible for containment on the edges. The trio combined for a total of 19 tackles, a paltry number compared to previous weeks.
Chris McAlister started off well, defending two passes and making an athletic fumble recovery to set up the Ravens only points of the night. But he slumped later during the game as Rod Smith started to move the chains. McAlister was even beaten on a deep route by recent Subway sandwich creator David Kircus but Plummerâ€™s pass was over thrown. McAlisterâ€™s technique on Smithâ€™s TD catch certainly is in need of some refining. Samari Rolle had a gift-wrapped interception but failed in covering Javon Walker later in the game. Ed Reed was solid in run support and was quick to the point of attack to thwart Denverâ€™s attempt at a reverse early in the game. Dawan Landry was a bit quiet but did make a solid tackle on third down to keep Tatum Bell from moving the chains.
SPECIAL TEAMS: D
The kickoff return game lacked purpose and the coverage units were poor. Back up Denver punt returner Darrent Williams averaged 16.3 yards per return and set up one Denver FG with a 33 yard return. Sam Koch was solid up until the shanked 10 yard punt when he had an opportunity to pin the Broncos with 12:42 left in the fourth with the score tied at 3. The punt allowed the Broncos to take over at their own 36 paving the way for the go ahead field goal at 8:08 of the fourth.
COACHING: Offense C, Defense B
Derrick Mason said it best: "We’re going to put the blame on everybody. If you don’t want to take some blame, then you need to get out of this locker room," wide receiver Derrick Mason said. "It was evident in Game 1, Game 2, Game 3, Game 4, and it was very evident in Game 5, when you score only three points.
"It’s very, very disappointing. Whoever tries to sugarcoat it, they don’t need to be in this locker room, coaches included. All of us have to take the blame, head man included. It’s a problem, and we have to fix it as an offense, somehow, some way."
Itâ€™s as though the Ravens offense had grown intoxicated by the presence of Steve McNair and the 4-0 start and didnâ€™t want to admit that thereâ€™s a problem with the running game and that problem could be with the personnel chosen to execute it. Perhaps the plan should be executed!
Admittedly the Ravens tried a few new things and they might present building blocks in the future. The screens, while not the most aesthetically pleasing plays, were effective. The third and one to Todd Heap was a gutsy call and one that creates doubt in the mind of the defense. The flanker screen intended for Clayton down in the red zone should have gone for a touchdown.
Yet when they introduce something new, the offense seems to abandon it quickly if it doesnâ€™t work. Whatâ€™s up with the no huddle for one play? The fade to Moore against Bailey is a call that borders on the absurd given its predictability; the stretch run to the left with Jamal in the game to the short side of the field — whereâ€™s the upside in that play with no less than 9 in the box? The Ravens used a waggle right once and McNair made a bad decision with the ball and should have thrown the ball to Wilcox. They had options on the play and never tried it again.
In the second quarter when facing a second and 2 on the Broncos 32, the play screamed for play action. Instead, Mike Anderson ran it right for a loss of two. After a false start penalty against Jason Brown, the down and distance changed to third and nine and eventually the punt team made its way on to the field.
Overall the offense improved on first down, averaging 4.9 yards while mixing in 14 first down passes on 22 first down plays. Curiously they averaged only 2.5 yards on second down. Twelve of the 20 second down plays were runs.
Defensively, the Ravens did a fine job of containing Plummer although they didnâ€™t scheme enough to put pressure on a quarterback prone to mistakes during crunch time. The decision to mark Javon Walker with Samari Rolle was a curious one.
OTHER NOTABLES & QUOTABLES
The ESPN broadcast of the game was weak and left much to be desired, particularly in the area of replays. ESPN seemed more interested in promoting future events and statistics that werenâ€™t as relevant as a few replay alternatives. Even more irrelevant was the extremely lengthy visit from actor James Denton who plays Mike Delfino in Desperate Housewives. Who really cares who he thinks is the hottest of the housewives? We already know itâ€™s Nicollette Longhatcher. Seems that Tony Kornheiser has a bit of a man crush on Denton, eh?â€¦The most entertaining part of the game for me wasnâ€™t shown on ESPN. It took place at Della Roseâ€™s Avenue Tavern in White Marsh where Tony Della Rose took his customary pregame position standing atop the bar giving a pep talk. The crowd justifiably roared with approval. Maybe Tony could give one of those talks to the Ravens offense?