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Kyle Bollerâ€™s performance while filling in for the injured Steve McNair against the Browns was in many ways a microcosm of his career. At times he effectively employed the raw skills that attracted the Ravens front office to him in the first place. Other times, he showed the inconsistencies that have left his teammates and Ravens fans frustrated and left wondering if he can ever put it all together to be a consistent winner in the NFL. On Sunday he did little to put those concerns to rest but he did deliver a winning performance in relief and helped the Ravens to clinch their first playoff berth since 2003.
On the plus side, Bollerâ€™s QB rating on the day was 112.8 as he threw for 238 yards connecting on 13 of 21 passes including two scores and one interception. He fired a few lasers to Todd Heap in tight quarters, delivered one of his better deep balls to Demetrius Williams for a 77 yard score and he hit Mark Clayton on a deep sideline route with a perfectly thrown ball for a 42 yard gain.
On the flip side, Boller still plays at a frenetic pace. He lacked patience in the pocket and doesnâ€™t step up. He is also far too quick to get rid of the football choosing to throw passes short of the sticks even when he has ample time to read through his progressions. His interception courtesy of Leigh Bodden was a pass that even Bert Jones in his prime couldnâ€™t have delivered â€“ an ill-advised throw when the Ravens were in scoring position. On his first snap immediately following the interception, Boller committed the first of his unforced errors when he fumbled the snap from center and failed to recover, turning the ball over to the Browns at the Ravens 31. Later in the second half he slipped in the pocket without being touched leading to the first Ravens sacked allowed in four games. He also needs to sell his fakes and the QB draw much better.
Overall, Boller turned in a decent relief performance that was good enough to beat a bad team. Against a good team on the road, well letâ€™s just say he needs work.
RUNNING BACK: B
Jamal Lewis continues to run hard and with passion. However he appears to lack purpose at times and bounces outside of the tackle laterally when clearly he lacks the acceleration, speed and burst that was once part of his repertoire. In case you were on the fence on whether Lewis has lost a step or two, his 52 yard gallop was all the proof you need to see that he has. The same Cleveland defenders that once couldnâ€™t catch him did so quite easily in the open field on Sunday. After a tough interior run in the fourth to put the Ravens at second and goal from the one, Lewis bailed out on the next run preferring to take it outside instead of running it up inside behind Jason Brown. On the plus side, Lewis did show nice balance on a few runs and managed to get his first 100 yard game since October 29 against the Saints.
Ovie Mughelli was punishing at times leading the way for Jamal Lewis standing up rookie LB Leon Williams on Jamalâ€™s first quarter TD run from 7 yards out. He also showed surprising athleticism on his 9 yard TD catch in the second quarter.
Derrick Mason and Mark Clayton were relatively absent from the passing game for most of the contest although both supported the ground attack with downfield blocking. Clayton pancaked Sean Jones on Lewisâ€™ first quarter score and he helped to lead some downfield interference on Lewisâ€™ 52 yard run. Heap had an effective day receiving particularly on third down and he made a key block on Kamerion Wimbley on Bollerâ€™s TD pass to Demetrius Williams. Heap did drop a very catchable ball in the fourth quarter. Mason also had a drop on the Ravens first possession. Williams continues to shine and he has developed into a deep threat that opponents will certainly have to account for in the post season. While not possessing top end speed point to point, Williams seemingly has gears to create separation downfield.
OFFENSIVE LINE: B
This unit continues to provide solid pass protection, the only sack allowed falls completely on the shoulders of Boller â€“ or should I say on the slippery feet of Bollerâ€™s. Jonathan Ogden renders his opponent ineffective and Tony Pashos, save for one spin move from Wimbley was equally as effective. Pashos took LDE Sean Fraser out of the play completely on Lewisâ€™ Q1 TD run. Brown and Flynn at times were able to get a push in the running game but not on a consistent basis. Keydrick Vincent was effective at times pulling left from his RG position and moved the very large Ted Washington out of position, particularly on Lewisâ€™ 52 yarder.
DEFENSIVE LINE: B
Kelly Gregg had a sub par game and was pushed around a few times by center Hank Fraley, particularly on a couple of the Browns longer runs from scrimmage. Fraley also got the better of Aubrayo Franklin on one play. Haloti Ngata is benefiting from the rotation and reps eaten up by Dwan Edwards. Ngata appears to be getting stronger and not affected at all by the mythical rookie wall. Terrell Suggs and Trevor Pryce continued their string of dominance although Suggs needs to be smarter about a turnover opportunity on the five yard line, courtesy of a forced fumble by Pryce.
Ray Lewis was not a factor at the line of scrimmage, most of his 7 tackles took place 4 yards or further downfield. He missed on a tackle of TE Steve Heiden although he did contribute a sack of Derek Anderson. Bart Scott was busy chasing down Anderson chipping in with one sack and a couple of QB hurries. He also made a nice play at the LOS dumping Rueben Droughns on the Browns opening play. The best of this impressive trio on Sunday was Adalius Thomas who had 9 tackles, Â½ sack and was very physical in support of the rushing defense and short passing game.
Chris McAlister was solid throughout contributing a pick and anticipating Braylon Edwards breaks when head up on the impressive second year receiver. Similar to his break on the ball in Cleveland to help the Ravens rally for a 15-14 win, McAlister beat Edwards on his cut to the inside and this time intercepted Anderson. McAlister also provided very sure tackling as did Dawan Landry. Landry also showed hands much better than advertised catching an errant Anderson pass on the run and returning it 37 yards to set up the Ravens first score. Ed Reed dished out some solid hits in the secondary, certainly influencing Joe Jureviciusâ€™ alligator arms on a key third down pass play. Reed did bite on Andersonâ€™s pump fake to Edwards leaving reserve Evan Oglesby on an island with Edwards leading to the tying score. Samari Rolle continued his improved play prior to his shoulder injury. Corey Ivy had a poor tackling day, missing Edwards at the 25 yard line and allowing him to scamper down to the 3 yard line with 57 seconds left in the first half to set up Clevelandâ€™s first TD. Ivy was also caught with his back to Kellen Winslow on a 36 yard strike to the tight end to set up the Browns first 3 points of the afternoon.
SPECIAL TEAMS: C-
The punting teams of both the Ravens and Browns fought to a duel but the Ravens punt protection for Sam Koch was a bit lacking and nearly very costly. Cory Ross so far doesnâ€™t look like the answer as a punt returner. He lacks a burst and his stocky build is hardly shifty enough to cleverly sidestep oncoming tacklers. The kickoff coverage teams were fairly even as well although one has to wonder if Matt Stoverâ€™s leg is tiring. His kickoffs on average only reached the 11 yard line. For a team dependent upon playing the field position game, that has to improve.
COACHING: OFFENSE B-, DEFENSE B-
Every time the Ravens motion Ovie Mughelli they hand the ball to Jamal Lewis. Iâ€™m assuming that someday they will use that against the defense, right? Can we safely bag the direct snap to Mark Clayton or the reverse when not properly set up? If you want to practice the art of deception then let Clayton (a high school QB and emergency QB for the Ravens) throw it. The play design for Boller seems a bit different and certainly less effective than that for McNair. Certainly execution plays a role but the routes run by the receivers were almost always inside of 15 yards and that allows an opponent to worry about less of the field. Compress the field and narrow the passing lanes and then throw in Bollerâ€™s inconsistencies, you are asking for trouble. A few more strikes downfield such as those to Williams and Clayton are in order.
Defensively the Ravens did not vary their looks anywhere near what might be expected when facing a young QB like Derek Anderson. But then again, maybe Rex doesnâ€™t want to show too much against an inferior opponent as the Ravens near the playoffs. Oglesby seems a less safe replacement for Samari Rolle. My vote goes to Ronnie Prude.
NOTABLES AND QUOTABLES: During the Browns opening offensive series, CBS play by play announcer Ian Eagle introduced the defense and mentioned that Kelly Gregg, Trevor Pryce and Bart Scott could all be Hawaii bound. At least he gets itâ€¦The Ravens had 3 very recoverable fumbles slip away, two of their own and one of Clevelandâ€™s. Both Boller and Jamal Lewis had opportunities to recover their own fumbles while Terrell Suggs could have easily recovered Derek Andersonâ€™s fumble at his own 5â€¦Tight end Darnell Dinkins said, â€œA common statistic is that injuries and turnovers are the reasons why teams end up having bad records. Last year in Baltimore we had both (and the Ravens were 6-10).â€ Heâ€™s got both again this year. By the way, Dinkins and Brian Billick shared a warm greeting after the game on the fieldâ€¦Were the Browns licking their chops when Kyle Boller entered the game? You be the judge. "Definitely, we thought that would help us," said cornerback Leigh Bodden. "We’ve seen Kyle Boller, and we’ve rattled him a bit. We figured we could so some of the same stuff." "It’s sadâ€, added safety Brodney Pool. â€œWe couldn’t take advantage."â€¦ "I don’t know why people think that’s not a good football team," said Pryce, who visited the Browns before signing with Baltimore in free agency this year. "They are two players away from being where we are, and we know that, and every team that plays them knows that." Maybe Trevor thinks LT and Shawne Merriman are ready to trade their bolts for dog biscuits?…The Browns were 0-for-11 on third downs, and they scored zero points off three defensive turnovers.