BALTIMORE RAVENS 24, CLEVELAND BROWNS 10
December 4, 2011
Admit it, you were nervous. Your Ravens were on the road, facing a Browns opponent they were supposed to beat. It was coming on the heels of a ten-day layover, after an emotional, national TV, Thanksgiving Day win in the Harbaugh Bowl. And their leader, Ray Lewis was again waving a towel and stalking the sidelines.
This had been the perfect formula for previous disappointment, with all three Baltimore losses this season coming on the road, to inferior opponents following emotional wins.
The bad letdown omens didn’t stop there. The Ravens were playing in front of a half-filled Cleveland stadium, in the pouring rain. You could measure the emotion in Cleveland Stadium with a teaspoon.
And then, after the Ravens had kicked off to the Browns to start the game, Cleveland’s Madden cover boy, Peyton Hillis, immediately began to gash the Ravens front seven on run after run, churning up field 41 yards on the opening drive.
But the Ravens stiffened and pretty much ended any threat by the Browns to establish momentum. From there, the win seemed like a foregone conclusion. Baltimore coasted to a business-like 24-10 win over a game, but undermanned Browns team.
Even when they gave up a field goal to Cleveland to make it a 10-3 contest in the second half, Baltimore immediately counter-punched to push the lead back up to 14.
So what was the key to the win? Run, run, and more run. Ray Rice. Ricky Williams. Even Vonta Leach, with more touches than he may have ever seen in his life. And throw in an appearance by Tyrod Taylor, taking a snap in the wildcat when the Ravens were in the red zone. Credit Cam Cameron for trying a creative solution to the team’s red zone woes.
The Ravens rushed the ball 55 times, to just 17 for the Browns. They seemed determined to never stop running until the Browns showed they could stop the run. And the Browns never came close to stopping the run.
This methodical dedication to the run worked like a stiff arm to the forehead of the Browns, who, no matter how hard they flailed back, could not damage the Ravens. This, more than any other game this season, was an example of the Ravens toying with an inferior opponent.
How do you characterize toying? Time of possession: 37:34 to 22:26 in favor of Baltimore. First downs: 24 to 13 Ravens. Third-down conversions 47% to 21%, Ravens. Total net yards: 448 to 233 Ravens. Throw in a special teams touchdown on a punt return by Lardarius Webb, and it adds up to total domination.
Now, for the first time this season perhaps, the Ravens can lay claim to being a team that can beat the best in the NFL, and can put away the teams they are supposed to put away. It’s a milestone that bodes well down the stretch.
Giving Joe Flacco an A- sounds absurd when he was only 10 of 23 for 158 yards with no TDs, and a QB rating of 67. But by the same token, beyond the stat line, it’s hard to point to anything Flacco did poorly. When the running game stalled, Flacco stepped into the teeth of the rush and made good throws. He was very good in the two-minute drill to end the first half. Credit the Browns for making some good plays on balls that Flacco threw well, to break up passes. Even the fumble Flacco committed is difficult to pin on him as he was hit throwing the ball. To demonstrate how deceiving the numbers can be, his best throw of the night may have been the incompletion he threw to Lee Evans down the right sideline for a near touchdown.
Running Backs: A
The Ravens leaned on Ray Rice, and he responded in a big way with a career-high 204 yards rushing on 29 carries. That included a 67-yard run to the five yard-line in the third quarter that broke the will of the Browns. Game over. Other than showing break away speed, Rice showed everything a running back can possible show in the running game, making cut backs and breaking tackles.
Ricky Williams also had his most impressive outing as a Raven, running downhill and wearing out the Browns secondary, that didn’t look very willing to tackle him. Ricky got 16 carries for 76 yards. Vonta Leach got four carries to move the chains, and a reception for 11 more yards.
Wide Receivers: C
Lee Evans had a tough day, unable to catch any of the three catchable balls thrown his way, including a ball in the end zone on a slant in front of Joe Hayden. In fact, the trio of Evans, Torrey Smith, and Anquan Boldin only snared 3 of the 11 balls thrown their way. Most were catchable. Perhaps you give them a pass on a rainy Sunday. On a day dedicated to running the ball, Evans and Boldin both blocked well downfield.
Tight Ends: B
The tight ends were much more effective than the wide outs, combining for four catches and about half the team’s total receiving yardage on six pass attempts. Ed Dickson looked strong fighting to gain separation, and he looked more committed to run blocking than any other game in recent memory. Dennis Pitta spun around to make a nice acrobat catch on a dangerous pass that was deflected as Flacco released it.
Michael Oher made rookie defensive end Jabaal Sheard look like an All Pro at times. Some credit goes to the rookie, but Oher was tested by the faster defender. Other than a false start, Bryant McKinnie played well. The Ravens ran behind him early for long gains. Jah Reid saw more action than any other time this season, inserted as an H-Back in short yardage. He was very effective in that role.
Interior Line: A
Guards Ben Grubbs and Marshal Yanda absolutely dominated by firing off the ball and moving the line of scrimmage forward. The Browns got no interior penetration even when it was obvious the Ravens were going to run the ball. Yanda was very effective getting into the underrated ILB, D’Qwell Jackson. Matt Birk, who was sidelined for a short time with a shoulder or neck injury, continues to play solid football.
Browns quarterback Colt McCoy was held to fewer than 200 yards passing despite dropping back to pass on 75% of the Browns snaps, and that was largely because the Ravens corners dominated the Browns receivers. Jimmy Smith saw his most snaps as a Raven, and responded with an interception. Cary Williams and Danny Gorrer also nearly had picks jumping routes. Gorrer also did a nice job stripping the ball from Jordan Norwood on a play that was later ruled incomplete. The lone black mark for this unit was Smith missing an assignment on a switch with Webb, and allowing the Browns lone TD on a throw to a wide open Evan Moore.
Bernard Pollard was a little slow in coverage, and he allowed Peyton Hillis to sneak downfield for a 53 yard completion after a Joe Flacco fumble. But he made up for it with excellent run stopping plays once the defense adjusted after the opening series. Credit Ed Reed for scooping up a fumble that was later ruled an incompletion.
Without safety support, Dannell Ellerbe struggled early to fill running lanes. But once he settled into the role, he played very well. On his best play of the night he showed tremendous quickness breaking on a screen and dropping the receiver for a loss. Jameel McClain continues to be a bit shaky dropping into coverage, but gets better each week in the running game.
Jarret Johnson dominated anything run to his side. He was excellent dropping into coverage and showed catlike quickness stuffing Peyton Hillis for a loss on third and one.
Defensive Line: B+
After a slow start, this unit had a nice game. Terrence Cody jumped up his game and was very stout in the middle. Art Jones also noticeable, getting a big hit on McCoy on a screen, which nearly knocked the QB out of the game early.
Cory Redding shed his blocks well but was a tad late getting to the ball carrier.
Terrell Suggs didn’t have his best game, but even his average effort is very good by any standard. He stoned Hillis in the hole for a loss by pushing tackle Joe Thomas into the backfield, and he dropped into coverage for a near interception to showcase his versatility. He also added his tenth sack of the season. Paul Kruger is still a work in progress in coverage, and was flagged for an awkward interference when he collided with the receiver.
Pernell McPhee continues to impress rushing the passer, picking up two sacks and a quarterback hurry.
Special Teams: C+
Billy Cundiff had a rough night. He doinked the first extra point just off the right upright for a near miss. Then he sailed two field goals wide right. We’ll give him the benefit of the doubt playing on a wet grass field on a windy night.
Credit the coverage unit with one of their better efforts against the ever-dangerous Josh Cribbs.
And credit Albert McClellan with a near block of a punt where he took a very good angle, having learned from some of his preseason mistakes.
No let down. Cam Cameron stuck to the running game, even when the Browns pulled to within seven. And Chuck Pagano kept the Browns contained, forcing them to dink and dunk on most of their offensive plays.
Other than a questionable replay reversal of a Jordan Norwood fumble, which could have gone either way on the field, but wasn’t conclusive enough to reverse, Ed Hochuli’s crew did a nice job. They correctly reversed a would-be Ricky Williams fumble. And they got all the difficult pass interference calls correct, both ways, all game long.