Tennessee Titans 26, Baltimore Ravens 13
September 18, 2011
Coming off a physically dominating win over the rival Steelers, the Baltimore Ravens ventured into Nashville feeling unbeatable.
And they swore there would be no letdown against the Tennessee Titans. The game plan was easy. Stop All-Pro running back Chris Johnson and make retread quarterback Matt Hasselbeck beat them.
He did. Doubling up on the Ravens 26-13 in a game that wasn’t even that close.
The Ravens secondary had no answer for Hasselbeck, Kenny Britt, or former Steelers receiver Nate Washington, who combined for 16 catches and 234 yards and a touchdown to spark over four-hundred yards of total offense against a reeling Ravens defense.
After surviving a poor first-half effort, the Ravens gave themselves a chance by knotting the score 10-10 at the break, thanks to a special teams spark by returner David Reed.
Perhaps the hangover from the buzz of week-one had finally lifted. Or at least that must have been what they told themselves at halftime. How could they not anticipate coming out in the second half and proving they were the better team?
After all, this is a Ravens team under John Harbaugh that had played 26 consecutive games without giving up a score in the third quarter. A curious record that had not been matched in the NFL since 1933. And his Ravens had gone 18-1 against teams with losing records.
So what happened next against the 0-1 Titans?
They received the ball to start the third quarter and promptly marched down the field to go right back up by seven points. And they never looked back. They picked apart the Ravens young, depleted cornerbacks, scoring on six of their final seven possessions to win going away.
Like the Steelers the week before, perhaps the Ravens were simply guilty of reading their own press clippings.
Time to put the old clippings away, and start studying what went wrong today.
Joe Flacco’s passing production was not pretty: under 50%, under 200 yards, and more picks—two—than TDs—one. Granted, he didn’t get a lot help from receivers who were not getting much separation, particularly in the first half. And he did move around in the pocket well. But he frequently ran out of time and forced throws that weren’t there. While his timing and production improved in the third quarter, there were too many throws and too many decisions on his part that were poor. With the Ravens headed to St. Louis in Week Three, Flacco will need to disprove doubters who say he does not play well on the road.
RUNNING BACK: B-
Ray Rice was one of the few bright spots, refusing to go down to the turf on the first or second hit. With the Ravens trailing early, he only got 13 carries for 42 yards, but he grabbed up a team-high five catches for 53 yards and scored on an impressive effort after hauling in a screen pass. He was effective as a pass blocker as well. Ricky Williams committed a critical fumble and accounted for just 2 yards on 4 carries. Vonta Leach was a non-factor.
WIDE RECEIVERS: C
Lee Evans, who has been nursing the same ankle that ended his season early in Buffalo last year, lacked explosiveness to separate in space or come out of breaks crisply. He did however manage to get behind the secondary on a couple occasions on all-out runs, with two catches, including a 32 yarder. Anquan Boldin missed out on catching a number of balls that were deflected just as they arrived. The Ravens got no production from Torrey Smith again this week.
TIGHT ENDS: B
Ed Dickson shorted-armed a tough crossing pattern catch in traffic, but looked better as the game wore on. That included a critical run after the catch, bouncing off a low hit by the cornerback Alterraun Verner to spin for a first down and a clutch catch down the middle into the red zone. He also made a fantastic block on the left edge to spring Rice to the outside for a long gain. Dennis Pitta was less effective blocking Akeem Ayers, for instance, who stuffed a Ricky Williams run. The two tight ends accounted for a quarter of the Ravens passing offense.
Michael Oher played poorly, falling back into the habit that plagued him last season with false starts in a road game – two in this game to stall drives. He made a poor cut block on Jurrell Casey to allow a back-side tackle, and could not contain Derrick Morgan on the edge when the team ran his way. After an impressive debut in Baltimore, Bryant McKinnie looked slow and awkward moving in space. He was better as a pass blocker.
INTERIOR LINE: C+
The Titans were effective in taking away cut back lanes in the Ravens zone-blocking scheme. Mark LeVoir, a surprise subtitute over Andre Gurode for injured left guard Ben Grubbs, was not effective. He struggled with stretch blocking and staying on his feet, and was pushed into the backfield once, tripping the fullback Leach, who tripped Ricky Williams for a loss. He was badly beaten across his face by rookie Karl Klug on a simple draw. Matt Birk and Marshall Yanda played well. Birk had two pancake blocks and looked surprisingly quick getting downfield to knock linebacker Barrett Ruud off of Ray Rice on his touchdown catch. The Ravens need to get Grubbs back, or get a better effort on the left side.
With veteran Chris Carr and rookie Jimmie Smith out with injuries, the Ravens were down to three corners with any experience, and the Titans picked on them all day, with nine different receivers catching thirty balls. They had no answer for the lanky Kenny Britt in particularly who continually beat them on hesitation moves. Domonique Foxworth was too small or too slow to be effective despite being moved into the slot. Lardarius Webb played well with receivers in front of him – and led the team with ten tackles after an 11-tackle performance last week — but was too easily beaten deep. Cary Williams struggled early, looking bad on a 37-yard catch by Britt down the side, but improved as the game wore on.
Ed Reed was forced to play more of man coverage role, and it took him out of his game. He played tight coverage well enough, but was no match for taller receivers in numerous jump ball situations. And he was flagged for an inadvertent facemask penalty on Britt. Tom Zbikowski was better in the open field this week, making a tackle to stop a drive, but was too easily blocked in run support.
The Titans were able to expose the coverage abilities of the Ravens linebackers to the outside. While this group was good in run support when keying off of Johnson, they were inconsistent in space. Jameel McClain was a model of inconsistency. He got caught in the wash on a couple of runs and simply whiffed attempting to stop running back Javon Ringer, as did Ray Lewis on the play. McClain did beat a LeRoy Harris block near the goal line, forcing the guard to clip him for a critical Titans penalty. Jarret Johnson was effective stopping runs and disrupting throws on the line, but less effective back-pedaling.
DEFENSIVE LINE: B
Cory Redding, Terrance Cody, Terrell Suggs and Haloti Ngata were very good controlling the line of scrimmage, holding Chris Johnson to 53 yards on 24 carries. Art Jones also played early and played well in run support. Ngata batted two Hasselbeck passes down. But the group did not register a sack. Terrell Suggs dropped into coverage and dropped an interception. He was also suckered inside on a fourth down pitch to the outside. Paul Kruger struggled to flow to the ball on the outside, over-pursuing and missing tackles.
SPECIAL TEAMS: B
David Reed was back from a suspension and contributed immediately as a kick returner, going 77 yards near the end of the first half to set up a game-tying field goal. Haruki Nakamura and Albert McClellan stood out in helping to improve the performance of the coverage units, which allowed just 17 return yards on 3 punts. Sam Koch averaged 45 yards on five punts despite a 27-yard shank. Billy Cundiff did not allow a kick return and was perfect on two field goals. Lardarius Webb was better this week stepping up in traffic to fair catch a punt.
If the coaches get credit for having the Ravens prepared to play the Steelers, then they get the blame for coming out flat on the road in Tennessee. Where was Chuck Pagano’s aggressive scheme? It is understood that Hasselbeck gets rid of the ball quickly, and perhaps Pagano needed his secondary to hang back and protect a beat up cornerback crew. But after watching Hasselbeck stand back in the pocket untouched while making pinpoint passes all afternoon—without ever taking a sack–you have to wonder where the blitz was.
Bill Macatee didn’t have much of a clue what was happening on the field oftentimes, but analyst Steve Tasker more than carried the load with excellent insights. Macatee seemed to struggle juggling promotional announcements with actual on-field observations. For instance, when Hasselbeck called timeout with :01 remaining on play clock, Macatee asserted that he must not have liked what he saw in the Ravens defense, and then CBS dashed off to another battery of commercials for their fall line-up of shows.
Not too much to complain about this week. One obvious miss was pass interference by Dave Ball who hit Dennis Pitta before the ball arrived in the flat. They missed a defensive holding call of Anquan Boldin in the end zone, which led to a delay call on the Ravens in the aftermath of griping. The ball was snapped right as the clock registered :00, but that is usually not whistled in the NFL.
There were some questionable calls that could have gone either way, including the Titans Derrick Morgan drawing a personal foul call for diving on Joe Flacco after he had fumbled and recovered the ball, but the play was not yet whistled dead. Cary Williams received an iffy holding call when he stuck an arm out and it was grabbed by a Titan to create the appearance of a hold.
There was nothing iffy about this loss, however – which was just as decisive as the opening week win for the Ravens, who will now have to go back on the road and prove they can assert their will against a lesser opponent in the Rams.