BALTIMORE RAVENS 20, CLEVELAND BROWNS 10
DECEMBER 26, 2010
Twas the day after Christmas, when all through the stadium
Barely a creature was stirring — you could sense the tedium.
The Ravens’ points were hung on the scoreboard with care
In hopes that the playoffs would soon be there.
Apologies to Clement Moore.
There are some games where you’ll do anything to make it sound more interesting than it was. This snorefest was one of those games, despite the stakes. The Ravens beat the Browns 20-10 to nail down their most anti-climatic playoff-clinching win in team history. Ho hum.
It’s not that the Ravens played poorly. But the game certainly lacked spice. The Ravens merely needed 102 yards passing and 161 more on the ground to put away the Browns. They made it look easy in the process.
Why? Because the Browns running game was stymied and their passing game stunk, despite a mostly ineffective blitz from the Ravens. Quarterback Colt McCoy only completed half his passes, with three interceptions on the day. His receivers dropped balls – one after the catch by Mohamed Massaquoi for a fumble. His lost fumble erased any good feelings for Browns fans that had come from an earlier Massaquoi TD toss on a trick play.
The Browns lack of execution became laughable in the second half when a surprise onsides kick attempt dribbled out of bounds, short of the necessary ten-yard mark. Later in the half McCoy audibled to a run call, only to find no back to hand the ball to.
Give some credit to the Ravens defense for holding the Browns offense scoreless in the half. When coupled with the first offensive, second-half touchdown in six games, it also gave the Ravens a rare finish where they didn’t surrender the lead in the fourth quarter.
The Browns should have been playing to save the job of their head coach, Eric Mangini, but based on their collective performances, he won’t be missed. They should have been playing for their own honor, particularly after Ray Lewis compared their best player on offense, Peyton Hillis, to a blind cat—despite the 144 yards he pinned on the Ravens in their previous meeting. But Hillis was banged-up on the second play from scrimmage and totaled just 35 yards on the ground, plus a catch for five yards.
Perhaps it was the post-Christmas blahs for the players and fans, with half the wind-whipped stadium empty at kick-off. Nonetheless, they all count in the standings. The Ravens will go to the playoffs for the third consecutive year, and can only hope that the Browns awake from their long winter’s nap in time to beat the Steelers and give the Ravens a chance to host a playoff game in Baltimore.
Joe Flacco had a game much like the one the week before. His performance was ho-hum for fantasy owners yet he did make some nice plays when needed to seal the win. He was 12 of 19 for 102 yards, two touchdown throws, and one interception to mar his report card. On the interception he did not set his feet well, sensing the corner blitzing from the blind side, and under-threw Anquan Boldin to allow rookie Joe Hayden to come down with the ball. In general, however, he was excellent moving in the pocket and creating time to throw, and trusted his receivers to make plays. His touchdown throw to TJ Houshmandzadeh was beautifully placed and timed.
Running Backs C+
Ray Rice got his 25 carries, for 92 yards, and was effective running down the clock in the fourth quarter. After improving his timing a week ago to wait for holes to open, he took a slight step with impatience. Willis McGahee was even more impatient but at least he ran hard to the hole. Le’Ron McClain was impressive on two running plays, and made the most of one catch. He needed to be a better blocker in the red zone. The Browns were effective in taking Rice out of the passing game.
Wide Receivers: B
Derrick Mason and TJ Houshmandzadeh made a nice 1-2 punch splitting eight catches and two touchdowns. Mason in particular was very sharp with his route running and made the catch of the day on a slant, bringing a high throw down for a first down. He also hauled in his TD catch while being interfered with by Sheldon Brown. Donte’ Stallworth saw more action than usual (with Todd Heap still nursing an injury). While he was not productive, it was nice to see him make a strong play for a ball thrown up for grabs on a flea flicker. Anquan Boldin remained surprisingly limited again this week, making one of two catches while sitting on the turf.
Tight Ends: C
Ed Dickson actually improved on his blocking. He had a lot of opportunities, as he was rarely asked to be a receiving threat. He was targeted just once on the day.
Tony Moll got the start at right tackle, technically. The Ravens used him there on a handful of short yardage calls, hoping to add beef at right guard by sitting Chris Chester and sliding Marshal Yanda inside in these situations. It was not particularly effective. Marshall Yanda got most of his snaps at tackle and was effective. The Ravens are clearly running right more often in recent weeks. Michael Oher was less effective on the left side on run calls. On one notable play he overreached and Kenyon Coleman simply flipped Oher headfirst to the turf. On the next play Coleman beat Oher to pressure Flacco with just a three man rush.
Interior Line: B
Ben Grubbs had one of his better games all around. And Chris Chester was very consistent in his assignments. The interior group, including Matt Birk is playing well together. The threesome was winning most of their snaps despite the Browns crowding the line of scrimmage.
Josh Wilson had another nice performance. He was very aggressive in the red zone – including a nice break-up of a throw to ex-Raven Demetrius Williams – and tough along the line of scrimmage. He blew up the big tackle Joe Thomas on a pitch to Hillis to turn the run inside. The Ravens played more man coverage this week and Lardarius Webb also excelled, playing wide receiver and holding Massaquoi on his back to grab an early interception. He continues to be aggressive and tackles well in run support. Chris Carr had trouble staying with his man and giving up space on out-routes. On the Browns’ lone touchdown Carr also got turned around in the end zone by Brian Robiskie, despite being in good position to make a play.
Ed Reed was the most effective player on the defensive side of the ball for the Ravens. He came up to hammer Peyton Hillis in back on his second carry and Hillis never got untracked from there. Then there were the two interceptions where Reed baited the young Browns quarterback and then swooped in for the catch and run. Perhaps it’s still too early for New Years’ resolutions: telling Rich Eisen a week ago that he would try stop lateralling the ball after interceptions, Reed flipped the ball to the ground, near Lardarius Webb, at the end of his second pick. This week the bounces all went the Ravens’ way, however. Reed was blitzing on the Browns’ lone touchdown throw, otherwise it may have been a larger margin of victory. Dawan Landry was improved in coverage, though he did allow McCoy to escape a blitz on what should have been a sack.
Ray Lewis made it his personal mission to prevent Peyton Hillis from having another big game. Let’s label that, “Mission Accomplished.” Lewis was credited with just four tackles on the day, but his impact in the middle seemed bigger. Jameel McClain added seven more tackles, and other than a high tackle attempt on Hillis, McClain had a nice day at the office, including scooping up a game-changing fumble. Neither McClain nor Lewis was effective on multiple blitz attempts up the middle. Tavares Gooden and Dannell Ellerbe struggled staying with receivers in the middle of the field. Jarret Johnson looks to be getting healthier each week. He forced a holding call, dropped into coverage to defend a pass, and jumped a route for a near interception.
Defensive Line: B
Much of the credit for keeping Hillis in check goes to the big men up front. Haloti Ngata was very disciplined maintaining his gap responsibilities to stop the cut-back run. Terrence Cody saw some action in rotation and the quality of play did not drop off. Cory Redding was very good at meeting the ball carrier at or behind the line of scrimmage on a number of snaps. Terrell Suggs was quiet, but did flush McCoy from the pocket on a couple of occasions.
Special Teams: C
The Ravens surrendered too much field on kick coverage. It started with Billy Cundiff, who may be tiring as the season drags on and the air gets colder. Only one of his kicks reached the end zone and the wind prevented a few from getting past the ten. The Browns started a number of drives beyond their own thirty. Cary Williams was nearly the goat when he peeled back early on the onsides kick attempt. Later Williams made a highlight tackle of Cribbs after he caught a high punt. Sam Koch had another remarkable punt stick inside the five.
With the Browns self-destructing it was hard to judge the Ravens schemes. They ran out the clock and took the win. It would be nice to see the coaching staff figure out a way to use Anquan Boldin. He does not look like the same player who pasted three touchdown catches on the Browns earlier this year. But I don’t think the issue is the player. Defensively, the Ravens were back to throwing six rushers at the quarterback and getting stoned at the line of scrimmage. Credit the Browns offensive line, but Greg Mattison needs to find alternatives as the playoffs approach against better offensive fronts. John Harbaugh is now one for nine on replay challenges this year after giving himself the maximum time to throw the red challenge flag, and still getting it wrong. Credit the Ravens for being prepared for a tough holiday road game situation, and for closing out the game in the second half.
John Parry’s crew did a nice job. Offensive and defensive pass interference calls are not always handled well by NFL refs, but Parry’s crew got them all right, including the non calls. Holding is another area where refs struggle; they got an easy one right against John Saint Clair, but missed another obvious hold by Joe Thomas on Ray Lewis.