On The Road Again
The Sunday night loss to the Steelers was a crusher in more ways than one. Emotionally, I don’t think I’ve seen or felt so much angst over a Ravens loss. “We had ‘em, and we let them off the hook” was the refrain heard from players and fans alike. For me, it was eerily similar to the January 2007 loss to the Colts in which we held the Colt offense to 5 field goals, Peyton Manning to QB rating of 30, generally kicked the Colts’ asses all over the field, and still lost 15-6.
This loss is about much more than emotion, though.
The Ravens really hurt themselves in the playoff hunt. Before the game, the Ravens were slotted as a number 2 seed with a projected bye and at least one home playoff game in the offing. After the Steelers loss, the Ravens are now a 6th seed, with no playoff berth assured, and destined to be a playoff roadie for the 3rd year in a row. A new football statistics site, advancednflstats.com, has the dreary news. After Sunday night, the Ravens now have a 35% chance of getting the 5th seed, a 42% chance of getting the 6th seed, and a 1 (ONE)% chance of getting a 1st or 2nd seed.
On the Road Again, indeed.
Channeling Your Inner Matt Cavanaugh
Everybody has taken their shots at Cam Cameron, and now it’s my turn. The Steelers game plan was the most poorly conceived and executed offensive game plan I’ve seen in the John Harbaugh/Cam Cameron era. The New England Patriots gave us the blue print for beating the Steelers and we totally ignored it. THROW THE BALL. Did we? A little, but we got away from that and decided to run against the number 1 run defense in the league.
Of particular note was the play where we had a second and 5, and Cameron calls a Donte’ Stallworth end-around. He must think the Steelers don’t watch game film. Since Stallworth was activated, the majority of his plays have been the end around variety. Why? I Don’t Know! The fastest receiver on the team and we have him running end arounds? Go figure. Dick LeBeau and the Steelers defense smelled that one like a dead rat. Instead of 3rd and short or maybe a first down, it’s 3rd and 16. Two plays later, punt. Same thing with the Troy Polamalu-initiated fumble. When the Big Hair squares up on the line of scrimmage, he’s not there to look at the scratches on Michael Oher’s helmet. He’s coming.
It’s notable that leaders on both the offense (Derrick Mason) and defense (Terrell Suggs) publically called out, however obliquely, Cameron’s play calling and offensive schemes. I wonder what’s being said in the locker room.
It happened on the second play of the game. If fans had any doubt that Todd Heap had reinvented himself this year as a major player on the offense saw what it was like when he went out with an injured hamstring on the second play of the game. With Le’Ron McClain already scratched, Heap was expected to pick up a lot of the blitz blocking when he wasn’t making plays against an allegedly out-gunned Steelers defensive backfield. This had a cascading effect in that, without effective blocking, both the running game and the passing game were adversely affected. Ed Dickson is having a decent rookie year and will be a fine pro as his career progresses, but he wasn’t prepared to do what the Ravens asked of him Sunday night.
Defense: Led by soon-to-be All-Pro and Pro Bowler Terrell Suggs, the Ravens defense had a 2000 caliber game. The Steelers were restricted to 54 yards rushing and 253 yards passing. They gave up only one big play that resulted in a field goal. On the train ride home a fan tried to the lay the blame for the loss on the defense. Repressing the urge to say “STFU,” I calmly (for me) told him that the defense gave up the TD after Flacco’s fumble was returned inside the 10. The defense has had its faults this year, but not on Sunday. Train fan then shifted to……
The Offense: Do I really have to go here? All we needed on that penultimate drive was to hold onto the ball, run the clock down with some running plays and, if we didn’t get a first down, let Sam Koch punt it to the Steelers 20. There is no way, no way, Ben Roethlisberger was going to drive 80 yards the way the Ravens defense was playing. Joe Flacco is no Manning or Brady (and may never be) but he’s better than this. The play calling is killing us.
Harbaugh and the Fans
This got out of hand in a hurry. Here’s my take. A caller to Harbaugh’s radio show all but baits him over the coaching of Clarence Brooks and the play of Terrence Cody. Harbs refuses to answer the call, fumes a bit, and then tells the fan (note singular, not plural) to go shove it. This was two days after a bitter loss to our most hated rival, a game in which the defense played one of their best games of the year. I think fans have to understand a couple of things: Harbaugh won’t give a smarmy, smart-ass, I’m-smarter-than-you-are answer like Brian Billick who enjoyed baiting the public and press alike. Harbs is passionate and you have to admit that he defends his players and coaching to the hilt. He has a temper, he’s not afraid to use it, and this time he let it get the best of him in a public forum.
He wasn’t calling out all fans, he was defending one of his coaches. John Harbaugh is very supportive of the fans at home and on the road. The sight of Harbs high-fiving the Ravens fans at Foxborough Stadium last January is still etched in my memory. Kevin Cowherd of the Sun thinks it’s no big deal. Neither do I.
The Steelers, Patriots, and Jets could, conceivably, all go in the toilet over the next 4 games, but let’s be real. The Ravens have the toughest schedule of all teams with 8 or more wins and will earn their way into the postseason. So, to assure themselves a place in the playoffs, the Ravens must win 3 of their last 4 games. The main pretenders for the 6th playoff slot are the Colts (7-6) and the Raiders and Chargers, both at 6-6. If the Ravens finish at 11-5, they will still beat out those three even if they run out their schedules to 4-0. That said, it won’t be easy. Houston has a first class passing attack. The Saints, in their own playoff push, will be formidable, even at M&T Bank. We never seem to play well against the Bengals, and who wants to play a rapidly improving Cleveland team, on the Erie Lake shore, in late December?
The battle begins Sunday in Houston against a team that has, to this point, excelled at shooting itself in the foot, particularly in the 4th quarter. Kinda like the Ravens, except that the Texans have done a much better job of it. Houston is 7th in total offense, so Greg Mattison and his boys will have to get over whatever residual funk they’re in and Man Up. The Texans are 29th in total defense, 5th against the run, and 32nd in pass defense.
What a minute. Is that a blue print? No, it’s a misprint. We’ll probably try to run the ball all day. This will be close.
Ravens 24 Texans 21
Note: All stats courtesy of NFL.com, advancednflstats.com, and the baltimoresun.com