BALTIMORE RAVENS 9, KANSAS CITY CHIEFS 6
October 7, 2012
The Baltimore Ravens barely survived their trip to Kansas City, coming away with a 9-6 win over the lightly regarded Chiefs.
In many ways, it was old-fashioned Ravens football, with goal-line stands and field goals flying. Except it was the Chiefs who resembled those Ravens teams from a decade ago, with a solid-looking defense, and a pounding running attack that was hampered by inept quarterback play.
Chiefs running backs carried the ball 46 times for 200 yards against a Ravens defense that looked nothing like your father’s Ravens defense, particularly in the first half, when 165 of those yards on the ground came on 31 first-half carries by Chiefs’ backs.
Thankfully for Ravens fans back home, the quarterback play from Matt Cassel was dreadfully reminiscent of those old Ravens teams, too, right down to the accompanying boos that cascaded down from the home crowd as the Chiefs continued to keep the ball out of Cassel’s right hand, instead pounding the run in a close game even as the Ravens defense adjusted to stop the run.
And then when the Chiefs did ask Cassel to throw it more boos could be heard, as two of Cassel’s 15 throws on the day deflected off his receivers and into the waiting arms of Ravens cornerbacks.
Ravens fans should recall that feeling of frustration over poor quarterback play all too well. The similarities persisted right down to a hit by Haloti Ngata on Cassel with ten minutes remaining in the fourth quarter that caused the quarterback’s eyes to roll back into his head as he tried to rise from the turf.
As Cassel fell back to the grass, there was excited chatter, not quite cheering, heard throughout the stadium in anticipation of Cassel’s back-up, Brady Quinn, trotting on the field. It recalled that season opening game for the Ravens against the Colts back in 2005 when the much-maligned Kyle Boller lay on the ground with a hurt foot and some Ravens fans seemed to be cheering the opportunity to see the back-up come in.
Credit the Ravens’ defense with making some adjustments to slow down the Chiefs’ running attack and getting their own offense to move the ball a little better in the second half. And credit them as being lucky that the Chiefs committed inopportune penalties and twice as many turnovers compared to the Ravens–four in all, three by Cassel–to help hand the game to the Ravens and send them home with a 4-1 record.
Heading into this game Joe Flacco spoke about how he anticipated tight coverage from Chiefs defensive backs, and the need for his receivers to beat defenders off the line of scrimmage. So it was no surprise that over half of his 27 passing attempts targeted his very physical wide-out Anquan Boldin and his two tight ends, Dennis Pitta and Ed Dickson.
Flacco didn’t get much help from any of his receivers with multiple drops. But he didn’t help them much either with a number of balls thrown to the inside where defenders could make plays, rather than to the outside where his receivers could shield defenders. It led to one pick. Flacco also held the ball too long to allow coverage sacks.
Credit him with making one of the key plays of the game, late, deep in his own end of the field, when he tucked and ran with the ball for a first down on third and 15. It was a rare conversion. Flacco and the offense converted just three of eleven third downs – although two came on their final drive — and they were 0-3 in the red zone.
Running Backs: B
Ray Rice and Vonta Leach made the most out of their opportunities. Both dropped an easy pass completion, but otherwise played well. Leach made some very nice blocks on the day, two downfield on one play in fact to lead Rice down to the KC twelve. Rice was explosive after the catch. He followed up Flacco’s key run for a first down on the final possession with tremendous second effort to dive for the first down and seal the win. He also showed toughness when Derrick Johnson cracked down on his knee for a tackle that hobbled the running back, but did not keep him out for long. Bernard Pierce had two carries, including one for twelve yards when he showed surprising balance and ability to propel forward.
Wide Receivers: C
Boldin had two keep drops and just four catches despite being targeted ten times. But he made the most of his four catches for 82 yards – half coming on a very nice catch and run to swing momentum back to the Ravens after Ed Reed recovered a Cassel fumble and tried to run it out of the end zone. Boldin was flagged for a block in the back to reverse a 25-yard gain on a screen to Torrey Smith. He was also hobbled by a tweaked knee after a catch, but like Rice, came back into the game.
Torrey Smith’s speed was a problem for the Chiefs if for no other reason than it drew two holding penalties.
Jacoby Jones seemed particularly affected by the tight coverage, getting forced out of bounds and not coming down with a lofted pass down the side.
Tight Ends: C+
Pitta and Dickson chipped in with 33 yards on four catches. Pitta showed nice hands diving for an eight yard catch in the two-minute drill at the end of the first half, but also dropped a low pass. He continues to struggle as a pass blocker, even when trying to stop the defensive back Eric Berry on a run blitz.
Kelechi Osemeli had a tough day. He started out nicely, locking up Tamba Hali and drive blocking him into the ground to allow Rice to start the game with a run of six. But he really struggled in pass protection, allowing Justin Houston and Hali both to speed rush past him for sacks. And he was flagged for a false start as the crowd noise picked up.
He flashed tremendous athleticism to get out into space on the wide receiver screen to Smith that was called back on Boldin’s hold. And when is as asked to drive block in the running game, he mauls.
Michael Oher was a little steadier as a pass blocker, giving up pressure only when Flacco held the ball. He looked spectacular when asked to make difficult stretch block, stepping outside of Allen Berry and creating a running lane for Ray Rice.
Interior Line: C
The interior group did not get much push on the inside. The reliable Marshal Yanda missed a second-level block on Derrick Johnson to stymie the drive that ended in the first Ravens field goal. Matt Birk and Yanda looked best blocking downfield on a swing pass to Rice.
Cary Williams again this week played tight coverage, mostly against Dwayne Bowe, and certainly looked better than he did earlier this season playing off receivers. Bowe caught a comeback route that Williams had defended well and Brady Quinn later threaded a pass past Williams when in good position.
He was flagged for interference in the end zone when he shadowed Bowe in good position but failed to look back for the ball. It set up the Chiefs at the one just before Cassel fumbled the ball back to the Ravens. Williams did find the ball in the air headed for Bowe and got a hand in for a very well-played deflection, popping the ball up for a Webb interception at the Ravens thirty. Williams was later rewarded with his own pick of another batted pass.
Jimmy Smith was caught holding Bowe on the opposite side. Lardarius Webb did not bounce back this week from an iffy performance the week before. Same story, as Webb played off of receivers, missed a couple of tackles, and allowed Jonathan Baldwin to out-leap him for a long gain.
It’s tempting to fault the safeties for failing to support the running attack of Kansas City, but it appeared they were asked to hang back in two-deep coverage more often than not. Curious, given how infrequently the Chiefs threw the ball. When they did support the run, they each spent too much time complaining of stiff arms to the face. Pollard tied for the team lead with ten tackles, but most of those came at the end of six to 12 yard runs.
Reed and Pollard teamed up together as key players in two of the Chiefs’ fumbles. Pollard knocked the ball out of Charles’ hands and Reed tried to scoop and run with the ball, but could not hold onto it as it rolled out of bounds. Later Reed did scoop Cassel’s fumble in the end zone and unwisely tried to run it out behind Pollard. He should have stayed down. He should have been ruled down, in fact, as a KC lineman reached out and grabbed his arm as he was trying to get up with the ball.
It would be tempting to give this unit an F based on how poorly the inside backers played the run in the first half, overrunning the cut-back lanes, making arm tackles, and getting knocked backward by the Chiefs’ guards, and even the tight end at times. Ray Lewis looked small, slow and ineffective in the first half. To his credit he rallied in the second half and he and Jameel McClain both attacked the line of scrimmage much more decisively and got the ground game slowed.
On the plus side, the outside linebackers were very good at times, particularly Paul Kruger who exploded off the snap and was excellent in getting leverage and driving up field to contain the outside run, a real threat with Charles in the backfield. The ability to hold the edge doesn’t show up in the stats; still, Kruger finished with five tackles, three for a loss, and a quarterback hit. Courtney Upshaw also played well on the outside and seems to be playing in better shape each week. He showed good athleticism to chase down the running back from the backside for no gain. He also pounced on a fumble.
Defensive Line: C
In the first half the defensive line showed a lot of up field penetration, but they were not particularly effective getting off blocks to slow the running backs passing by – particularly Kemo Ma’ake and Terrence Cody. Haloti Ngata penetrated with more effectiveness, getting the hit that KO’d Cassel and at one point overpowering the line to reach Charles in the backfield and spinning him around to the ground like a rag doll.
This group played much more under control in the second half and tightened up the defense. Art Jones was doing a better job of getting leverage and sliding to meet the ball carrier. Pernell McPhee had a very good game, including beating left guard and Baltimore native Brandon Albert on an inside move for run stuff on third and eight.
Special Teams: B-
LaQuan Williams got the start over Christian Thompson and made immediate impact on a nice kick return tackle at the twenty to start the game. The Ravens covered kicks very well including Chykie Brown, James Ihedigbo, Anthony Allen, and Brendon Ayanbadejo all standing out.
There were some weak spots, including kicker Justin Tucker needing to make a tackle at the 35 to save a touchdown. And Deonte Thompson had a poor outing with a fumble on the kick to start the second half when former Ravens Terrance Copper and Edgar Jones combined for a strip and recovery. Thompson later ran into the back of his blocker on another return. And he was flagged for holding on a punt – not good news for him, not with David Reed lurking in the wings and ready to come off the PUP list.
Justin Tucker was money on three field goals of 28, 26 and 39 yards – not difficult kicks but critical kicks to secure the win.
The defense was not prepared for what everyone knew the Chiefs would do, run the ball. But credit Dean Pees and staff for making adjustments in the second half and giving the team the chance to come away with the win.
The play calling on offense in the second half was also a lot more creative, mixing in a lot of variety to help open up the middle of the field for some longer gains.
It was a difficult game to officiate in the secondary with both defenses playing aggressively. The officials allowed both teams to put their hands on receivers downfield and few calls were made. The Chiefs held Ray Rice and Dennis Pitta in the red zone on consecutive plays without drawing warranted flags, forcing a field goal. But it went both ways, and Jimmy Smith shoved Dwayne Bowe out of bounds with the ball in the air, which should have drawn a foul. A lot of holding on the interior lines was ignored, as it usually is.
Credit the back judge with doing a nice job catching the Chiefs perpetrating offensive pass interference by using illegal picks. These correct calls both reversed plays that otherwise would have won the game for the Chiefs; once catching Bowe making an illegal pick on Webb with ball in air to Dexter McCluster; and another where the roles were reversed and it was McCluster who was flagged for a pick that nullified a fourth quarter touchdown throw to Bowe.