BALTIMORE RAVENS 31, DENVER BRONCOS 17
OCTOBER 10, 2010
As they prepared for Sunday’s home game against Denver Broncos the biggest concern for the Baltimore Ravens may have been whether they would take this game too lightly.
With three of their first four games played on the road, this was a game sandwiched between tough road trips to Pittsburgh and New England. So it was easy to imagine John Harbaugh’s Ravens lacking the necessary intensity. After all, the Ravens have had the Broncos number at home. They came into this game 4-0 all-time at home versus the Broncos, winning by an average margin of 18 points.
Well, make that 5-0 now for the Ravens, thanks to a 14-point, 31-17 win.
Still, it wasn’t exactly smooth sledding. After jumping out to a 17-0 lead, the home team seemed to take their foot off the accelerator—and allowed the game to tighten back up, 17-10—before finally pulling away again 31-10, eventually putting any remaining doubts to rest.
Much of the talk prior to the game centered on the Broncos’ and their league-best passing attack squaring off against the Ravens and their league-best pass defense. Early on the Ravens seemed to frustrate Broncos quarterback Kyle Orton, with good pressure up front and tight coverage on his receivers, as the Broncos game plan featured a lot of sideline throws.
But with the Ravens offense moving the ball on long, time-consuming drives to take commanding leads in the first and third quarters, the Ravens defense seemed to relax a bit and give Orton and the Broncos enough room for long completions, including a pair of 40+ yard touchdown passes to Brandon Lloyd. Orton and his shifty receivers began to attack the middle of the field, and piled up enough yardage to tarnish the Ravens defense, statistically.
But it was too little too late for the Broncos. Too many penalties, no running game, and not enough defense added up to a winning formula for the Ravens, who were able to move the ball when needed, especially on the ground.
Joe Flacco had the kind of up and down game that typified the day for the Ravens. He started the game eight out of nine throwing the ball, with one throw-away out of bounds. That included a 58-yard completion to tight end Ed Dickson. Then he got sloppy with his footwork and struggled to connect on anything, missing on his next eight attempts as the Broncos crawled back in the game. Not only was he near perfect at the start, but he moved the ball with his feet too; he was the hammer, not the nail, as he popped the Broncos’ best tackler, DJ Williams on a quarterback draw in the red zone. He was then rewarded with a sneak for a touchdown. But he fell into a rut despite the fast start, losing his accuracy and his ability to find his check downs. He did manage to pull his game back together later in the second half with a couple swing passes and a scramble for a first down where he was able to juke a defender. His up and down day left him 14 of 25 for 196 yards, and the one touchdown run.
Running Backs: A
Ray Rice was back to being the player who makes the Ravens offense go. He showed patience finding his way, and then ran hard between the tackles and consistently squirted through tight spaces for extra yards. On the day he ran for 133 yards on 27 carries and two touchdowns, including his first of the year. He also caught all four balls thrown his way for another 26 yards. Willis McGahee started poorly, dancing in the hole too long on two goal line runs to allow the Broncos to turn back the Ravens’ initial scoring attempt. But McGahee came back as the power back late in the game to help ice it away, including a strong run of 30 yards for a touchdown. Le’Ron McClain led the way for McGahee, and had one of his better days as a Raven when used as a lead blocker.
Wide Receivers: C+
Derrick Mason had a couple of clutch catches along the sideline to help extend drives, but by and large it was a quiet day for Ravens receivers. Mason was able to niftily get his feet down for a first down to reverse the 0/8 streak for Flacco. Anquan Boldin had one catch for eight yards and dropped a hard-thrown ball when he let it through his hands and off his facemask. TJ Houshmandzadeh caught two balls for 24 yards. He seemed to be an indifferent blocker on running plays.
Tight Ends: B
Ed Dickson showed a veteran push-off move on the 15-year veteran safety Brian Dawkins to pick up 58 yards on his only reception. Todd Heap schooled the rookie corner Parrish Cox on out pattern for 22 more yards on his only catch on the day, despite being targeted five times. Heap continues to be an underrated blocker. Although Heap and Dickson seemed to have a communication problem when lining up together on the left side and failing to chip Robert Ayers on an all-out blitz to leave him unblocked to the quarterback.
Michael Oher and Marshall Yanda were exceptional providing Flacco time to throw, so his mediocre passing day cannot be attributed to any lack of consistency here. Oher made some textbook blocks one-on-one, with a wide stance, getting to the chest of the defender and locking him up, especially on a long dive play by McClain. He demonstrated a nice chip block on the goal line to open an easy touchdown run by Rice, and was effective pulling out front on a couple pitches to Rice.
Interior Line: A
Other than a missed assignment on Kevin Vickerson, who nearly pancaked Ray Rice in the backfield, Ben Grubbs had a dominant game. Both he and Chris Chester were excellent leading Rice between the tackles. Matt Birk again did a fantastic job orchestrating protection and picking up the middle linebacker on blitz attempts. The team rode this trio in the third quarter to ice the game.
The stat sheet makes the Ravens corners appear worse than they were. By and large they showed very good technique closing on receivers and tackling against a Denver team that has burned defenders with yards after the catch. Fabian Washington made some very good breaks on the ball, although he dropped an interception. Washington’s best play may have been when he showed press coverage to Orton prior to the snap, but then backed up and baited Orton to attempt a quick hitter that he was in position to break on, forcing a punting situation.
As a nickel, Lardarius Webb made a number of perfect breaks on the inside shoulder of the receiver. Josh Wilson started opposite Washington and closed fast with sure tackling early. He played a little too soft later, even with his team leading.
There was too much confusion between the safeties, and overall they did a poor job supporting the corners. Ken Hamlin and Dawan Landry allowed Jabar Gaffney to run free in the middle of the field far too easily. Both long touchdowns for the Broncos were balls where Tom Zbikowski and Dawan Landry allowed receivers to run right past them. They did a poor job locating the ball. Landry had trouble covering tight end Daniel Graham as well.
With the Broncos all but abandoning the run (eleven carries for forty yards for Broncos running backs), the Ravens linebackers were not tested much. Jarret Johnson was very effective applying pressure off the edge. Ray Lewis was just as effective blitzing up the middle, causing two holding penalties on Broncos linemen. Lewis did allow Eddie Royal to slip under a tackle for a first down. Jameel McClain showed poor instincts on an end around that would have gone for 33 yards if not called back on a holding call. Dannell Ellerbe was impressive covering tight end Dan Gronkowski when isolated on an all out blitz.
Defensive Line: B+
Haloti Ngata missed his start on defense after getting hurt as a tight end on offense. But he only missed a few snaps and quickly reminded fans why he is considered such an outstanding lineman after he split a double team and sidestep Daniel Graham to catch the running back from behind for a loss. Brandon McKinney was impressive pursuing the ball. Cory Redding was back after missing a week with a concussion and was a nuisance penetrating from the middle. The front four, including Terrell Suggs was effective flushing Orton out of the pocket even as he made plays. Terrance Cody was in on a few snaps and was a little slow getting off blocks. Suggs failed to hold the corner on third and short by taking an inside move to let Lawrence Maroney to rumble for 12 yards.
Special Teams: A-
Rarely do you see as fine an example of a special teams unit playing as a team. The most obvious example included four outstanding performances on the same play, starting with a Billy Cundiff kick five yards deep in the end zone that Demaryius Thomas chose to run out. Jason Phillips, in a full sprint, planted a shoulder into Thomas’ hip, hitting him so hard it appeared to cause whiplash. Edgar Jones stripped the ball from Thomas as he spun around, and Ken Hamlin recovered the fumble. It was redemption for Jones who was holding on the opening kick after Josh Wilson, subbing for Jalen Parmele, made the poor decision to run the ball out. Billy Cundiff was a weapon on kickoffs putting the ball into the end zone, or out of the end zone. Sam Koch was equally good kicking the ball, including an un-returnable 53 yarder to the sideline. Cary Williams as gunner was flagged when failing to line up on line of scrimmage. Williams also struggled a bit when blocking the gunner on punt returns.
Cam Cameron got too cute with the ball on the goal line to open the game, for the second week in a row. The decision to try to complete a pass to Haloti Ngata on fourth down was too aggressive. Credit Cameron for adjusting later as he allowed Rice to pound the ball in on the next trip. Play calling questions were probably being muttered again by Ravens fans as Cameron went to the pass again and again in the third quarter while Joe Flacco seemed to falter. But credit Cameron for another adjustment, going to the run on a 14-play drive that included 11 rushes, and took over seven minutes off the clock. With the Broncos doubling up the Ravens in penalties (five versus ten), and even having trouble getting the right personnel on the field, it was clear that overall the Ravens were the better-coached team.
Other than a terrible pass interference call against Josh Wilson late in the game, when he was pushed to ground by the receiver, Jerome Boger’s crew made all the right calls.
Give Dan Fouts credit. He is confident in his pronouncements, even when he’s completely wrong. For instance, he explained a Denver timeout by claiming they only had ten men on the field, but they had eleven and were simply out of position prior to the pending snap. Fouts told us that Lardarius Webb was all over the back of Jabar Gaffney on a slant route, but Webb was never near the receiver’s back as he stepped in front of the route. Fouts was also clamoring for Coach Josh McDaniels to challenge a catch ruled out of bounds, claiming Gaffney was in bounds. But it really wasn’t even a close call. Fouts has always been a cheer leader for the trailing team during his broadcasts, wanting listeners to believe games are closer than they really are. It’s annoying.