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Steve McNair was acquired by the Ravens to bring leadership to the offense and presence and poise to the position of quarterback. He also brought with him a gunslinger presence in big games. Against the Colts McNair brought the equivalent of a squirt gun. McNair was inconsistent with his accuracy and he rushed throws when there was still time to read through his progressions. Yet aside from his 49.9 quarterback rating on the day, McNairâ€™s most glaring mistakes came when the team had a chance to produce points. His interception at the Coltsâ€™ 1 yard line was inexcusable. He locked in on Heap, forced his throw late and ignored a wide open Demetrius Williams alone in the left corner of the end zone. He also failed to set the tempo for the offense, which often appeared lethargic in and out of the huddle. I shudder to think how the boisterous crowd would have responded if that same performance was turned in by Kyle Boller.
RUNNING BACK: B
Jamal Lewis ran with vigor and determination while breaking tackles to get outside to the left. He appeared to be developing a little rhythm and swagger in the second quarter while attempting to establish his physicality. Mysteriously the Ravens abandoned him. Ovie Mughelli led effectively for Lewis and produced first downs with his legs each time he was called upon. Lewis was also effective in the passing game on short dump offs after clear outs in the flat.
Todd Heap was heavily covered most of the day yet managed a spectacular catch in heavy traffic down the middle of the field in the third quarter to pick up 23 yards. His first quarter fumble stalled the Ravens momentum and added three points to the Colts side of the scoreboard. Mark Clayton was effective finding holes in the Colts Cover 2 scheme although he too had a costly fumble, his in the third quarter. On the play, Clayton made an excellent adjustment after a double move while McNairâ€™s pass was in flight to haul in the long toss but he didnâ€™t tuck it away and was stripped by Antoine Bethea. Derrick Mason was relatively absent. Daniel Wilcox contributed when called upon, catching a pass deep in the red zone in the second quarter to set the Ravens up with first and goal.
OFFENSIVE LINE: C
The Colts sacked McNair only twice yet he felt pressure often in passing situations. The waggles and boots were not effective because the weak side pursuit kept McNair inside the hash marks and forced him to unload passes prematurely. Robert Mathis got the best of Tony Pashos while Jonathan Ogden got redemption against Dwight Freeney, keeping the speedy end in check throughout the game. Ogden owned Freeney when the Ravens ran his way, something Brian Billick should have taken advantage of much more often.
DEFENSIVE LINE: B+
Kelly Gregg and Haloti Ngata were stout in run support. Ngata chipped in with a couple of tackles for no gain including one inside the Ravens five yard line in the first quarter. Terrell Suggs was very solid supporting the run off the edge and he continued to show his versatility in pass coverage when called upon. Trevor Pryce was relatively silent although his was held often. The unit picked up their pressure on Peyton Manning in the second half, while showing a greater variety of defensive front looks. Late in the game, fatigue set in when the Colts ran off 7 minutes of game clock to seal the victory.
Ray Lewis was everywhere as evidenced by his 15 tackles and his effective drops in pass coverage. Unfortunately he was also in places where he prevented potential interceptions, tipping balls through sheer hustle and determination away from oncoming teammates. Sometimes the ball doesnâ€™t bounce your way. Bart Scott supported the run well (7 tackles) but was held in check while pursuing Manning. Adalius Thomas (8 tackles) handled Dallas Clark for the most part and it was his effort that led to the Ravens only sack.
Ed Reed was all over the field and read Manning beautifully. Had it not been for a tipped ball, his performance might have been one that SportsCenter would still be talking about. His athleticism was robbed after an effort to lateral to Chris McAlister following an interception along the sidelines. Replays showed that he was still in bounds and McAlister had plenty of running room. McAlister overall had a very solid game while shadowing Marvin Harrison, holding the future Hall of Famer to 4 catches for 45 yards. McAlister also nearly had a pick 6 prevented only by another tipped ball by Ray Lewis. Samari Rolle was stronger in the second half after playing Reggie Wayne from a different zip code in the first. Dawan Landry was more quiet than usual. Corey Ivy was effective in the nickel package.
SPECIAL TEAMS: B
Cory Ross had his best game as a Raven averaging 15 yards on two punt returns and 20.7 on kick returns. The Ravens limited Terrence Wilkins to 16 yards on 3 kick returns although that was aided in part by Wilkinsâ€™ butterfingers. Sam Koch played the field position game decently with one punt pinned at the (11), but he did pull a Zastudil in the first quarter when he sailed a 47 yard punt into the end zone. Stover was money again, even connecting on a 51 yard FG that may have gone from beyond 55. He must have had his Wheaties — two of his kickoffs reached inside the 5 yard line.
COACHING: OFFENSE F/DEFENSE B+
Brian Billickâ€™s game plan was poorly conceived. Just when it appeared that the Ravens offensive line would establish their physical presence against the smaller Colts defense, Billick went pass happy running the football only 6 times after the break. And even when he did run the rock in the second half, he ran it right where Pashos was having trouble with Mathis. Meanwhile Ogden was having his way with Freeney.
In the passing game, Billick chose not to test Dungyâ€™s Cover 2 despite Bob Sandersâ€™ cheating up inside the box. Billick doesnâ€™t seem to trust his offensive talent and is hesitant to challenge a defense. As a result, it makes it more difficult for Billickâ€™s offense to execute within its comfort zone which is obviously from the line of scrimmage and out 15 yards.
Defensively the Ravens were very prepared and executed their plan almost flawlessly. Had the ball bounced their way a bit more, we would be talking about a Ravens win and defensive dominance. The only negative to Ryanâ€™s overall game plan was the lack of pressure on Manning in the first half. After the break, the Ravens were very effective getting Manning off his comfortable launching pad, consequently forcing errant throws.
NOTABLES AND QUOTABLES: The crowd was absolutely on its best game despite having little to cheer about. It was nice to see Lee Greenwood perform his staple song at The Vault live but if memory serves me correctly, each time he does, the Ravens loseâ€¦National TV hasnâ€™t been kind to the Ravens, particularly on offense. Four times this season (@ Denver, @ Cincinnati, v. Buffalo, v. Colts) the Ravens have been a featured game. In those games the Ravens have scored only 1 offensive touchdown and that one was in the last minute of the Thursday Night game against the Bengalsâ€¦The Ravens were undefeated on CBS this season until Saturday nightâ€™s lossâ€¦Well there goes that tentative vacation in South Floridaâ€¦Do you realize that the loser of the Patriots @ Colts will still be drafting ahead of the Ravens?â€¦â€œAny time you can hold THAT offense to 15 points, you should be able to win a football game, and we didnâ€™t.â€ Thatâ€™s Derrick Mason folks. Do yourselves a favor — donâ€™t interpret Masonâ€™s frustration as being anything more than him being competitive albeit borderline whiny. Although it might not appear that way as of late, Mason is a team guy and wants to win at all costs. You want guys like Derrick Mason on your football team. Those that want to shed him from the roster, well Chris Rock says it best: â€œYou better recognize!â€â€¦The Ravens have scored only 1 touchdown and 13 points against the Colts total in their last two meetings (both at M&T). Might Dungy be out coaching Billick or is this simply a case of a bad match up?â€¦Donâ€™t know about you but Iâ€™m all for a Saints v. Patriots Super Bowlâ€¦24×7 will soon begin promoting two offseason contests. The first is a GAMETIME co-host contest. We will invite some of our best callers and participants in Letters 2 TL into the studio with us for a segment of GAMETIME. The best of the guest co-hosts (determined by an online poll) will win a 5 day/4 night stay in Ocean City including dinner at 4 fine O.C. establishments. Also we will be holding our first annual swimsuit contest. Prizes will be awarded to the top three participants. Pictures of all participants will be featured in a 24×7 Swimsuit Calendar which will be an 18 month calendar and available this spring. The winners will be determined by fan voting at a 24×7 hosted party sometime early this spring. More details on both contests will be provided soon. In the meantime, bone up on your radio skills and scour the Baltimore area for talented ladies for the Swimsuit Calendar. All interested parties should shoot us an email or send their pictures to: [email protected]