BALTIMORE RAVENS 17, TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS 10
November 28, 2010
Thanks to workman-like performance the Ravens outlasted a talented but young Tampa Bay Buccaneers team for a 17-10 victory, running their home record to 5-0 on the year.
For fans of pristine football this was no beauty contest. Any sense of continuity was up-ended by sixteen punts between the two teams, and interrupted by some shaky officiating and a handful of injuries.
While Tampa lost starting safety Cody Grimes to a leg injury, the Ravens saw Le’Ron McClain and Michael Oher go out with similar injuries, and lost Dawan Landry’s services after a concussion.
On the positive side of the ledger, there is the obvious: a win for the Ravens to maintain a slight edge in the divisional standings, setting up a huge game against the rival Steelers after they needed some overtime luck to get past the Buffalo Bills earlier in the day.
But there were other small positives the Ravens could take from this game.
On defense, the team was able to generate pressure on quarterback Josh Freeman with just their front four, flushing him from the pocket all day long to force off-target throws on the run, and keeping his passer rating at 67 on the day despite a fourth quarter Bucs drive that tightened the lead to seven.
Pressure up front suddenly made the defensive backs look pretty good. Tampa’s wide outs collected just seven catches for 31 yards on the day. The Ravens should also be lauded for holding the Bucs to an early field goal after yielding an interception on their own end of the field. It was the 17th time this year that the Ravens have allowed an opponent to start a drive on the wrong end of the field. Each time they’ve dug in and they have yet to surrender a touchdown in these situations.
Offensively, the Ravens held up nicely in the trenches despite being without both their planned-starters at tackle in the second half, and the down to their third-string right guard.
Most encouraging perhaps, against a Tampa-Two scheme that had been so vexing for quarterback Joe Flacco this season, the Ravens were able to generate some big-play offense, largely thanks to a suddenly repaired relationship between Flacco and veteran receiver Derrick Mason who was able to burn the Bucs secondary all day long and some clutch plays by Todd Heap.
Here’s how it netted out on the day.
Joe Flacco struggled with his timing early, looking a bit confused by the defense at times and throwing late. It led to some close calls on balls he should not have thrown and one interception when he hesitated on a throw to TJ Houshmandzadeh that allowed Aqib Talib to jump the route. Flacco did get more comfortable in the second quarter settling in the pocket despite rush pressure and was able generate some drives that at the very least allowed his team to maintain a big edge in field possession. With Freeman struggling to move the chains, the Bucs punted from inside their own twenty four times compared to just once for the Ravens, who frequently ended drives in the middle of the field – ten of the Ravens 12 drives extended at least beyond their own forty yard line. Workmanlike, indeed. Flacco peppered-in completions of at least 15 yards or more to Anquan Boldin, Todd Heap, TJ Houshmandzadeh, and Derrick Mason. It helped propel his stat line to 25 of 35 for 289 yards, two touchdown throws, and one interception for a passer rating of 103 – giving him six consecutive starts with a QB Rating of 100 or better (technically, he was at 99.5 in Atlanta).
Running Backs: B
Speaking of workmanlike, Ray Rice carried the team on his back at the end of the game to give his defense a break, making a spectacular catch and grinding out long runs to keep the chains moving. He looked very explosive hitting holes and running after catches and was a big part of winning the field-position battle. Despite having a 76-yard screen pass touchdown called back, Rice tallied 87 yards on 20 rushes and added 47 more on seven catches. He also flashed blocking skills as a pass protector. Willis McGahee saw scant action in reserve, with just three carries for nine yards and three catches for 13 more. The Ravens lost Le’Ron McClain on a special teams play where he was rolled up on, after David Reed elected to run the ball out of the end zone. Prior to that, McClain dominated at times as a lead blocker.
Wide Receivers: A-
A week ago Derrick Mason had words with his quarterback, upset that he had not been targeted more often. After being targeted 13 times this week, it’s hard not to think it was a coincidence. But truthfully, the Bucs’ Aqib Talib was singled-up on Mason in very soft coverage, and so it was a forgone conclusion that Mason and Flacco would connect on a number of dig routes. Still, Mason was feisty, jawing at the Bucs and at one point wrestling a catch away from Talib. He was impressive slipping a tackle on a bubble screen to pick up nine, and playing out of the slot positioned himself perfectly in zone coverage to nab a touchdown. He did have one drop on the day. TJ Houshmandzadeh and Anquan Boldin stood out for some tremendous blocking despite being targeted just seven times. Boldin seemed to come alive after being flagged on a questionable holding call that erased Rice’s touchdown, and he immediately grabbed a ball and barreled downfield for 22 yards to restore his team’s momentum.
Tight Ends: A-
Todd Heap proved he has not lost a step after catching a ball in the seam and outracing the defense for the longest completion of the year for the Ravens, 65 yards and a touchdown. He also looked a step faster than the defense across the middle for 14 more yards. An efficient day. Dennis Pitta was up in place of Ed Dickson, but was not targeted. With McClain likely out, expect to see more two-tight-end sets, where Pitta’s blocking will be relied upon.
Michael Oher left the game at the start of the second half with a sprained knee, and Oniel Cousins was inserted at left tackle. Considering his lack of reps, Cousins performed well enough. He was beaten once around the outside by defensive end Stylez White to force an early throw, and jumped offsides. But Cousins was an effective run blocker, getting out in front of Rice on a sweep and pancaking Barrett Ruud to allow Rice to run for nine. Not a huge drop off in terms of production compared to Oher, who also jumped offsides in the first half. Marshall Yanda was steady on the right side, and effective in the running game.
Interior Line: C
Tony Moll carried out his assignments but didn’t always finish his blocks. That led to some ineffectiveness at the second level. He also allowed Gerald McCoy to get a sack and a couple hurries, and he missed a backside block on a failed quarterback sneak. With the Bucs applying a lot of interior pressure, Matt Birk struggled some getting to his blocks. Ben Grubbs looked very sound technically, but was beaten once by White to allow a hit on Flacco.
Josh Wilson had a very good game, closing fast to make tackles at the line of scrimmage, including a bubble screen to Arrelious Benn that went nowhere. Chris Carr had another underrated performance on the opposite side, and withstood some shots downfield. Later in the game he was moved inside on the slot receivers, and Lardarius Webb looked a bit more vulnerable on deep balls. Webb benefitted by a dropped touchdown on a sixty-three yard throw to Michael Spurlock. While Webb showed good recovery speed, and tackled well, he needs to improve technique issues that allow receivers to run past him too easily.
Ed Reed was near the ball all day long and played well despite failing to haul in a near interception. He was particularly good at reading the young quarterback’s eyes and dropping off into the throwing lanes. He defended three consecutive passes in the back of the endzone to force the early field goal, and it took a great throw by Freeman to finally connect with Kellen Winslow for the Bucs only touchdown. Dawan Landry was used effectively as a run blitzer, but left the game in the second half after a big collision with Cadillac Williams.
The linebacking crew was not particularly effective on a number of inside blitz calls. There were also some tackling issues with Ray Lewis and Jameel McClain, althought McClain improved as the game wore on. Tavares Gooden was effective as a coverage linebacker, although a well-timed leap was not enough to prevent the taller Winslow’s touchdown catch. Jarret Johnson had a very nice game stopping the run and putting pressure on Freeman. Johnson was victimized once by seldom-used tight end John Gilmore who slipped into the flat for a catch and shed Johnson’s tackle for a gain of thirty. Johnson looked relatively indecisive at other times in coverage.
Defensive Line: A
The front four played very well in unison, scraping down the line of scrimmage, holding LaGarrette Blount and Williams to under 75 yards rushing on the day. Terrell Suggs was the standout performer constantly pressuring Freeman. Suggs also stood out covering a swing pass for no gain and shoving Williams to the ground with one hand as he was engaged with a blocker. Kelly Gregg was able to generate a lot of penetration on runs, but looked miscast dropping into coverage. Terrence Cody had a much more steady, but not spectacular performance this week after having trouble staying on his feet last week. Arthur Jones saw his first action on the year and played like a pro on the inside. Paul Kruger and Cory Redding rotated at defensive end on passing and running downs; Redding had a near interception on the goal line on a shuffle pass, but Ray Lewis knocked the ball to the ground. Kruger got caught once cheating inside on a spin move on a ball run to his outside. Finally, Haloti Ngata had one of his better games pressuring the quarterback.
Special Teams: A-
The coverage units were helped early by illegal blocking penalties on the Bucs Niko Koutouvides and Adam Hayward Koch, which helped the Ravens win the field position game. Sam Koch did the rest with a number of well placed punts. Billy Cundiff continued to build an unlikely case for the team’s MVP, perfect on a 45 yard field goal with a swirling wind, and two more touchbacks to extend his lead league. Ed Reed and Lardarius Webb split punt return duties. Reed muffed one punt and fell on the ball. The rookie punter Robert Malone was not particularly effective, with a number of short punts, so the Ravens return game did not get many chances despite nine punts by the Bucs.
On offense, credit Cam Cameron with taking shots downfield and surviving a second half that forced him to utilize a makeshift offensive line and two-tight end sets. Spreading the field, including Ray Rice on the outside, was effective, as was the hurry-up offense, something the Bucs’ staff failed to utilize early enough. Defensively the Ravens continue to flounder figuring out a blitzing scheme that works. Too often their linebacker/safety overload blitz packages did not get to the quarterback, and allowed Freeman to hit receivers as they came out of breaks. The team will need to maintain the effectiveness of the four man rush and continue to work on finding a blitz package that forces opponents to adjust.
A number of calls were flat out missed. One of the worst cost the Bucs at the end of the first half where Myron Lewis was flagged for pass interference on Houshmandzadeh down the sideline, despite looking back for the ball and not doing much to prevent the receiver from making a play. The gaffe allowed the Ravens to score from the five. The Ravens gain on that poor call was offset by the touchdown called back on the Ray Rice screen. Sabby Piscatelli lobbied for holding call against Boldin after missing the tackle on Rice and got a late flag from linesman Kent Payne to erase the touchdown. An early holding call against Mason on Cody Grimm looked just as innocent, and it erased a Rice run of eight yards. The most egregious non-call was Todd Heap being grabbed across the middle with the ball in the air; the officials all looked at each other as if to wonder who would call it, but the flag never came. They also allowed Spurlock to signal for a fair catch and run with the ball after fielding a punt. The game clock was also managed strangely, as a number of times a player ran out of bounds and the official had signaled for the clock to stop, but it was allowed to continue to tick on down.
With the Ravens rarely appearing on Fox, it was interesting to see the broadcast differences. Tim Ryan was excellent at providing commentary throughout the game and Sam Rosen is underrated in his understated role. Fox’s use of former head of officials Mike Pereira as a cut-in commentator is excellent. Although the fact that we need Pereira as an interpreter underscores the league’s problem with vague rule making.