INDIANAPOLIS COLTS 17, BALTIMORE RAVENS 15
November 22, 2009
Ravens look better, but botch chances to knockout Colts.
Remember that Ravens playoff game against the 2006 Colts? Baltimore very nearly avenged that painful loss by turning the tables Sunday.
Like the Colts in that January 2007 game, Baltimore was unable to put the ball in the end zone on Sunday and had to settle for five field goals from newly acquired kicker Billy Cundiff to account for all their scoring. When Adam Vinatieri kicked five field goals for those playoff Colts, it was good enough for a 15-6 win, as the Ravens held Peyton Manning to 170 yards passing on that day.
The difference this time around was the Ravens allowed Manning to throw for 300 yards and convert touchdown chances into touchdown scores to earn a 17-15 win and stay unbeaten.
For these Ravens it was a game of missed opportunities. With their division rivals both losing—the Bengals were surprised by the inept Raiders, and the Steelers lost in overtime to the equally weak Chiefs—the Ravens missed a golden opportunity to stalk a playoff spot.
After putting in a miserable performance against the league’s worst team in the Browns in a Week Ten win, the Ravens returned home and put in a surprisingly strong performance against the best team in the league in the Colts. But it wasn’t good enough as they let prime opportunities slip away.
You could point to the Ravens’ three scoring chances from the one-yard line, all stuffed by the Colts. Or what about the missed 30-yard field goal by Cundiff that could have been the difference in this game? Or maybe it was the bad interception thrown by quarterback Joe Flacco when his team was poised to merely kick another short field goal and take the lead with less than three minutes remaining?
Then there was the Ravens secondary allowing Colts defenders to break open behind them when playing a scheme designed to prevent that very occurrence—particularly in third and long situations. Or the poor decision by John Harbaugh to challenge the spotting of a Colts first down run, thereby burning his final two timeouts in one fatal sequence. Or the decisive fumble by Ed Reed on his punt return, which ended any chance of a comeback as he spastically tried to lateral the ball.
In a game where few pundits outside of Las Vegas gave the Ravens a chance, the team played relatively well. But moral victories don’t put NFL teams into the playoff race, and the Ravens must now bank on sweeping the rival Steelers for any chance of getting to the Promised Land.
From a report card standpoint, this was a game where the team had all its homework done, and aced all its quizzes, but bombed on the big test. The grades reflect a team whose players are good enough to hold the conference’s best teams to just 17 points, but not yet good enough to be counted among the best.
Unlike previous weeks, Joe Flacco looked sharp early in this game. He executed crisply, particularly with play action and on screens and draws to his running back, Ray Rice. He threw the out pattern precisely and on a line, particularly when targeting his favorite receiver, Derrick Mason. In the second half he did come out a little cold again. The 6’6” quarterback still has trouble dumping the ball to Rice, who stands a foot shorter. It showed on a couple errant underneath throws, including the critical interception near the Colts’ ten, with just 2:49 remaining.
Running Backs: B
Ray Rice was explosive and at times spectacular. He excelled on draws and running outside the tackles, or catching passes in open spaces. But he also showed great toughness running through secondary tacklers. He used a stiff arm to simply knock Melvin Bullitt to the ground in the fourth quarter and then came back with an incredible cutback run after a catch, eating up yardage as he knocked Jacob Lacey aside. He had 135 total yards from scrimmage. Even when there were no holes in the middle Rice ducked his head and made positive yardage. That’s something Willis McGahee was unable to do on two successive possessions at the goal line. Outside the tackles he showed he could run downhill. But inside was a different story for McGahee. Rather than lowering his head and driving between linemen for a score, McGahee danced in the backfield and surrendered all his momentum. The team would have been better served letting Le’Ron McClain carry the ball. McClain made some very strong blocks, particularly on the goal line, but he was a slow starter, whiffing badly against the smaller Bullitt.
Wide Receivers: C
Derrick Mason did some fantastic things. And he did some terrible things. That’s pretty much the definition of a C grade. His route running was not always as crisp as we have seen from him. And he dropped a well-thrown deep ball when wide open. But he also showed great hands to wrestle away another deep ball and his catch and run down the left sideline to the one set up what should have been a game winning touchdown. Kelley Washington made a great diving catch on a five-yard fade-stop route, but he was an inconsistent blocker. Mark Clayton also made an impressive leaping snare, but was quiet for most of the game: thrown to twice, one catch. The team still lacks the big-receiver threat against the type of two-deep coverages that the Bengals and Colts used to stymie their passing game. Demetrius Williams saw the field briefly, but has not emerged in this role.
Tight Ends: A
Todd Heap’s blocking quietly makes him one of the team’s unsung heroes. He had an incredible block on Raheem Brock to spring Rice down to the red zone. He also showed sure hands for a first down catch and lunge. LJ Smith also exhibited soft hands for first down catch after the Ravens were helped by Colts penalty to get into a third and four situation.
Michael Oher and Jared Gaither had their best day of the year against the highly touted duo of Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis. Not only were the Colts defenders held without a sack, they were without a tackle on the day. Gaither used his big body to simply absorb the smaller Freeney, who may have been slowed by a hip injury that took away his famed spin move. But Mathis had no such excuse against the Ravens rookie right tackle; Oher dominated. He seems to be more comfortable in his assignments and it is allowing the rookie to open up and exhibit tremendous athleticism for his size. He showed off an excellent kick out block one-on-one against Mathis to allow Rice to slide downfield. And his punch on Mathis was enough to push the defender to the outside as Rice sped past, while Oher blazed down field to find the safety.
Interior Line: C
Chris Chester is a great pulling guard. He actually got a superb block on the goal line on the left side. But he struggled more with straight ahead and seal blocking, despite the fact that the Colts do not have a massive set of tackles to contend with. Matt Birk was adequate but certainly not overpowering. Ben Grubbs got a decent push a number of times, but didn’t perform as well on the goal line. The pass protection was good overall, particularly on the final drive.
Fabian Washington started terribly, biting on a Manning pump fake to let Pierre Garcon haul in a long completion down to the five. That led to the first touchdown. The other came when Dominique Foxworth missed a jam on Dallas Clark as the tight end ran free to the corner of the end zone. Foxworth was also beaten by another Manning pump fake to allow Reggie Wayne to run free down the left side, but was saved when Ed Reed diagnosed the double move and cut in front of Wayne for the pick. Both Washington and Foxworth showed good run support. Lardarius Webb held Clark in check out of his nickel back spot, and after Washington’s knee injury it looks like he may get tested on an island against the Steelers next week.
Both Dawan Landry and Ed Reed put themselves in the right spot for interceptions. The pair of safeties also combined for two passes defended and seven tackles.
Ray Lewis again showed he can dominate with his intimidating style. He got a rare good lick on Manning as the quarterback released an early completion to set the tone. He also put big hits on Garcon and tight end Tom Santi, the latter to cause a goal line fumble that kept hope alive for the Ravens. But Ray also struggled keeping up in coverage, even on Santi, and was badly juked in the hole on Joseph Addai’s touchdown. Jarret Johnson was very good on the edge, blowing Santi into the backfield on runs or getting into the backfield to stop a draw. But he also over-pursued Wayne to allow a long gain after a catch and missed Donald Brown in the backfield. Jameel McClain and Dannell Ellerbe were both strong in limited roles against the run. Tavares Gooden is still a work in progress, failing to get into position on the outside of the flow at times.
Defensive Line: B-
In anticipation of the Colts passing game, Brandon McKinney and Kelly Tavalou were inactive. Kelly Gregg looked better than he has in many weeks getting penetration and flowing to the ball. Dwan Edwards was all over the field and was the most disruptive defender on the field. Trevor Pryce was very quiet in his reduced role. Haloti Ngata was given the green light to penetrate, with the Colts relying on the pass and Terrell Suggs sidelined. He excelled but did get flagged for a dumb personal foul that looked like a classic Tony Siragusa move. Paul Kruger played a limited number of snaps and showed some ability on the edge.
Special Teams: B-
After Steve Hauschka’s struggles, the crowd was noticeably relieved to see Billy Cundiff’s kicks sail through the uprights in his first four field goals attempts before missing a thirty-yarder. It has not hurt the team yet, but Matt Katula’s snaps have been somewhat off target since his elbow injury occurred. Lardarius Webb showed tremendous speed on kick returns, getting the most from his blocking. His speed as a punt coverage gunner also forced a block in the back penalty on the Colts. Kick coverage was dominating overall. Reed’s fumbled lateral marred an otherwise strong performance.
John Parry and his crew were very impressive. For the most part they kept the flags in their pockets, which alone should earn a good grade. When they did make calls, they were right on the mark. They correctly called near fumbles by Webb and McGahee as non-fumbles. And although Reed’s knee may have been down on his fumble, it may not have been, and so Parry was right to let the call stand. They did a good job seeing Freddy Keiaho block Webb in the back when that call has not been made in the Ravens favor in past weeks. They also were correct in calling holding when Jeff Saturday tackled Ngata, but otherwise were smart to ignore less obvious holding on the interior. Their one miss was the non-call against Mathis when he smacked Flacco in the head. Even though most fans dislike the rule, it has been called in past games for the Ravens, and certainly against them.
The overall game plan was good. The Ravens flooded the defensive backfield and tried to keep the Colts offense in front of them. On offense it made sense to keep passes to the outside and away from safety help, although the lack of the deep throws down the middle against this Colts scheme is curious. It also made sense to run the ball against the smallish Colts defenders. Cam Cameron slipped, however, in having Flacco dump so many throws to the short Rice over the middle with so many Colts defenders coached to close fast against this attack. The decision to run the ball on the goal line was a good one. God knows all of Baltimore flipped out on Brian Billick when he tried passing from the one-yard line. But giving the ball to their 260 lb. fullback would have made more sense on the goal line when Rice and McGahee were only excelling on runs outside the tackles all game long.
Dan Dierdorf’s expressions of love at the altar of Peyton Manning were downright revolting. It’s one thing to admire the Colts, but Dierdorf and CBS took it to new heights. The close-up shot of the hometown scoreboard reading, “Indy” instead of “Colts” was treated as a comical oddity, while CBS had no qualms about turning around and un-ironically reminding viewers that a Dallas Clark catch just topped John Mackey’s all time franchise record. There was plenty of other slurping praise from Dierdorf. He mentioned that the deafening Baltimore crowd can cheer all they want but it won’t affect the great Peyton Manning. And while CBS showed B-roll of John Unitas in the Sports Legend Museum, Dierdorf jumped in with a comment that no one pays more homage to Unitas than Peyton Manning. As the Ravens offense was hurrying to put more points on the board before the half, Dierdorf was calling for them to run out clock rather than risk putting the ball back in Manning’s hands. He also overstated what he perceived to be a Ravens mistake in kicking the ball to the Colts to start the game when it led to an opening score (if it was such a bad call, why no mention prior to the score, Dan?)
Last week the Ravens endured a moral loss to the Browns. This week it was a moral victory against the Colts. Neither was very satisfying.
Next week Ravens fans should hope they just leave morals out of it and come away with a decisive win against the Steelers.
Playoff lives are at stake.