BALTIMORE RAVENS 31 CHICAGO BEARS 7
December 20, 2009
Their plane finally did land in Baltimore late Saturday night. But after watching the Ravens trounce the Bears 31-7 it may be accurate to say the Bears never really showed up.
Yes, the Ravens got another much-needed win to catapult themselves into leading contention for the fifth seed in the AFC Playoff race. But they didn’t get much of a contest. The Bears were dreadful. Six-turnovers dreadful.
In Chicagoland, the goat mantle continues to rest on the shoulders of quarterback Jay Cutler who was intercepted on his team’s first two possessions and then added a third pick in the fourth quarter for good measure. His understudy, Caleb Hanie, added a fourth interception. Add fumbles by Matt Forte and Rashied Davis and the Bears turnover misery totaled six for the day.
Despite the playoff implications for the Ravens, this game resembled a September pre-season tune-up, except for the snowballs in the stands instead of suntan lotion.
The Ravens starters looked sharp, got their work in, and then gave way to second and third teamers after mounting a 24-point lead midway through the third quarter.
In fact, against the bottom dwellers of the NFC North, the Ravens have quickly dispelled any question about their ability to mentally and physically prepare for games. In two consecutive home games that they were expected to win, the Ravens left no doubt securing a 79-10 margin of victory.
In the process, they were able to successfully test some new on-field combinations.
Billy Cundiff looks increasingly more solid than Steven Hauschka as their placekicker. With Jared Gaither nursing injuries, left tackle Michael Oher and O’Neil Cousins on the right side have held up just fine, thank you. Just as Marshal Yanda has been an upgrade over Chris Chester at right guard.
Demetrius Williams is beginning to validate the beliefs of his supporters while more than capably filling in for the injured Mark Clayton and Kelley Washington. Similarly Tom Zbikowski has very adequately assumed Ed Reed’s responsibilities while Dannell Ellerbe continues to make it difficult for Tavares Gooden to get back on the field as an inside linebacker.
And then there is Lardarius Webb, who has looked like the biggest find of the season filling in at corner for Fabian Washington.
Webb did look promising, that is, until he left the Bears game with a season-ending knee injury while taking on the Bears’ punt gunner with the team up 31-7. Now the Ravens will have to find one more player to step up and fill in if they expect to keep on winning. You can bet their next opponent, the Pittsburgh Steelers—coming off a record 503 passing yards by Ben Roethlisberger against the stout Packers defense—will be watching very closely who the next man up at corner will be for the Ravens.
As the coaching staff and front office sort it out, let’s reflect on this week’s performances.
When Joe Flacco threw a bounce pass to a wide-open Derrick Mason to start the game, it was fair to wonder if it was going to be another slow start for Joe. But he quickly righted himself and had a very good game. His 21 completions out of 29 throws added up to 72% accuracy on the day, giving him 234 passing yards and four TDs on the day, with no interceptions. When the Bears ignored recent history and showed the Ravens man coverage, apparently out of respect for Ray Rice, Flacco responded strongly with accurate throws all over the field. This included some patterns seldom called this year, including fades and slants to Todd Heap on mismatched corners and a nice throw to Derrick Mason on a crossing pattern. He also made a gorgeous throw to Mason at the pylon for another score. Anyone who questioned whether Flacco may be a little beat up probably raised a uni-brow after watching him run out of bounds at the twelve rather than putting his head down for a first down. For the second week in a row, Troy Smith received significant playing time and gave future opponents more to prepare for, particularly by what he did with his feet.
Running Backs: B-
Despite the Bears loading the box to stop him, Ray Rice started strongly, finding seams in the congested Bears defense and exploding into open space for long runs. The total for the day included 16 carries for 87 yards, with most of the damage done early. It is interesting to watch Cam Cameron move him around the field and find new ways to get the ball in his hands. That included a nifty end around on a counter-look. The Bears keyed on Rice out of the backfield and held him to just 17 receiving yards on five catches, so expect more game plan adjustments to counter this approach. Le’Ron McClain continues to be unsteady as a blocker, at one point allowing Nick Roach to slip past him and slap the ball from Flacco’s hands. Willis McGahee started slowly with a false start on the goal line, and accounted for just 9 yards on 4 carries.
Wide Receivers: A-
The Ravens’ receivers were the beneficiaries of the attention given to Ray Rice. Derrick Mason reminded the league he is too good for one-on-one coverage. His route running was pristine and his body control excellent, particular on the touchdown catch near the pylon. He had six catches for 87 yards. Mason did have a rare drop of a well-thrown ball. Most encouraging was the play of Demetrius Williams who showed sure hands and nice separation on slant patterns and great leaping ability and concentration on a touchdown catch with two defenders mauling him. Williams chipped in with four catches for 71 yards. He did have a mental lapse by failing to be on the line of scrimmage, leaving Oher exposed on the end of the line for a penalty. David Tyree and Justin Harper both saw playing time, but did not factor in the game.
Tight Ends: A
Todd Heap showcased one of his better games as a Raven. That included two first quarter touchdowns and a great diving catch while falling out of bounds in the red zone. He was apparently too much for the Bears’ secondary to handle despite being double covered at times. Heap also proved to be an attractive sideline outlet for Flacco in the two-minute drill while the first half winded down. It will be worth monitoring his health over the upcoming games after watching him nurse what appeared to be sore ribs.
It was not quite the same great performance from O’Neil Cousins on the right side that he showed the previous week against Detroit. But it was not bad, particularly considering the fact he was facing a good defender in Adewale Ogunleye. Ogunleye got the best of him early with an inside move. He also missed an assignment to allow Israel Idonije to cut inside on a free path to the running back. And there was a holding call and hands to the face call against the second year tackle that stalled drives. But as a run blocker Cousins at times looked dominant. Michael Oher was very solid on the left side in all phases of the game.
Interior Line: B
Ben Grubbs looked sluggish in the middle of the season, but has stepped up his game considerably since then. He made some excellent blocks in space to free Rice on his longer runs, and was solid in picking up protection. As the game was no longer in doubt, both Grubbs and Matt Birk seemed to let up a bit and were on occasion getting pushed back. The running game suffered accordingly. Marshal Yanda continued to be a dominant run blocker and very good pulling to his left. Bonus points to Yanda for his very funny clean and jerk greeting of Demetrius Williams during an end zone celebration.
Anytime you hold the opposing starter to a passer rating of 9, you had a good day as a secondary. Cutler was 10 of 27 for 97 yards passing and three interceptions. Domonique Foxworth was very good in all phases, pressing on the line of scrimmage or tailing receivers along the edges. He had two interceptions on the day. Frank Walker also chipped in with an interception. Walker played well enough for the injured Webb, although the officials allowed a lot more hand checking than in some past games, and Walker continues to push the boundaries of the rulebook in that regard. It is a shame to see Webb go out because he has been an excellent tackler, and Sunday was no exception prior to his injury.
Tom Zbikowski continues to be in the right position on the field filling in for the injured Reed. He did miss one tackle on the Bears’ Earl Bennett on the opening drive to allow a short gain to become a 25-yard play. But he tightened up after that and finished well. Dawan Landry continues to play with confidence and appears to understand Coach Mattison’s schemes better as the year progresses.
Dannell Ellerbe has made the most of the opportunities given to him. Whether covering Devin Aromashodu in the flat or closing on the line of scrimmage for tackles, he is performing at a high level. He still struggles playing in unison with Ray Lewis, for instance, failing to slide left with Lewis and allowing Matt Forte to split the linebackers for an eight-yard gain. But the team concept is coming for this unit. As for Lewis, he did a better job disguising blitzes this week. Jarret Johnson continues to impress. That includes an acrobatic interception, or just setting the edge to force runs back inside to waiting tacklers. Antwan Barnes continues to press for more playing time as a rush specialist. Terrell Suggs continues to sleepwalk through the season. Getting a personal foul for taking off helmet after a fumble recovery didn’t help his cause much.
Defensive Line: B-
Kelly Gregg put in one of his better games. Together with Haloti Ngata the defensive tackle position was stout. Forte averaged 3.5 yards on 20 carries. Ngata impressively stripped Forte and then recovered the fumble for the fourth turnover on the day, sealing the win. The team did not get a lot of pressure, however, from Trevor Pryce, Dwan Edwards or Paul Kruger. And the pressure they did get left openings for Cutler to run the ball, where he did his only damage for the day with 23 yards on the ground, net.
Special Teams: D
This unit did not seem ready to play. The coverage units did not play with a lot of discipline and it yielded the only points allowed on the day when Earl Bennett returned a punt for a touchdown. The punt team also allowed two near-blocks of Koch kicks. The special teamers also left points on the field. Matt Katula has been saved numerous times this season when Sam Koch hauled in poor snaps on tries. On Sunday there were two more bad snaps and one led to a missed kick by Cundiff. Jalen Parmele made a nice tackle on kick coverage. Webb will be missed as a returner.
With a lot of weather distractions, John Harbaugh’s team came ready to play. They looked sharp from the beginning and executed quickly and accurately. Cam Cameron made nice calls to take advantage of a defense designed to stop Rice. It was a great game plan to use Heap and the middle of the field more. Getting Troy Smith worked into the mix will pay dividends if the Ravens can make the playoffs. Credit the team for rolling on despite a number of key injuries on both sides of the ball.
Bill Leavy’s crew called just five penalties during the game, four against the Ravens. All were correct. The real credit goes for the penalties not called. After watching some games ruined by crews that felt the need to pull out the yellow flags for the slightest infractions, it was refreshing to see a game where the officials let the teams play. The also made quick decisions and kept the down time to a minimum, which has been a large problem with other crews through the year. Just one look at the questionable calls at the end of the Steelers v. Packers game is reminder enough of how bad officiating can mar good games.
Brian Billick made his return to Baltimore in the announcing booth, and was an excellent part of the broadcast. He managed to provide even-handed analysis sprinkled with examples of his own coaching career. He’s a gifted speaker. Thom Brennaman works well with Billick keeping the game moving. The production crew is to be commended for getting the game off without a hitch in what was certainly trying circumstances, and they are to be credited for focusing on the game and not over-dramatizing the weather story. The only complaint might be the lack of replay speed or camera angles.