WASHINGTON REDSKINS 31, BALTIMORE RAVENS 28, OT
December 9, 2012
What is it with the Ravens and backup quarterbacks? After losing a week ago to Charlie Batch and the Steelers, the Ravens this week faced the Washington Redskins and their vaunted rookie Robert Griffin III.
Except when the Ravens knocked Griffin out of the game with a leg injury in the game’s final minute, it was backup Kirk Cousins who engineered a touchdown pass and two-point conversion with 0:29 left to send the game into overtime, then beating the Ravens when rookie Richard Crawford returned a punt 64 yards to set up Kai Forbath’s third field goal of the day.
For the second consecutive week a winnable game turned into a loss and snapped a streak of positive results for the Ravens. Last week against the Steelers it was the 15-game home winning streak and the 12-game AFC North winning streak that was broken with the loss. This week it was a streak dating back to 2009 of 54 games played without two consecutive losses that was broken.
Unlike the Steelers game from the prior week the blame can’t be placed on a failure to put the ball in Ray Rice’s hands. He carried the ball twenty times, compared to 21 passes by Joe Flacco, the definition of a balanced attack, with eight effective runs by Bernard Pierce mixed in. All three were effective. It was the defense that could not get off the field in the first quarter and at the end of the game that limited the offensive chances for the visiting Ravens.
In a game in which it looked like the Redskins’ offense would be unstoppable, blasting through the Ravens defense to score touchdowns on their first two drives of 80 and 83 yards, the defense did finally stiffen and slow down the Redskins’ running attack, only giving up field goals from that point forward, until the final seconds of the game. Alfred Morris gashed the Ravens defense for 70 of his 122 yards rushing on the first two drives for Washington.
However, with middle linebackers Ray Lewis and Dannell Ellerbe sidelined with injuries, Defensive Coordinator Dean Pees shuffled Albert McClellan, Brendon Ayanbadejo and Josh Bynes into the Mike linebacker spot, but they never found an answer for the Redskins’ play action passing attack. Like the Steelers game the week prior, it became an open invitation to dump completions at will down the middle of the field.
If the Ravens are going to make the playoffs and do anything with that opportunity, this is the area of the field that will have to be fixed.
Joe Flacco made the most of this 21 throwing opportunities, connecting on 16 for three touchdowns, all in the first half, and one pick, for a quarterback rating of 121. Not bad for a guy who has struggled to put up numbers on the road. However, his chances were limited in the second half, throwing six of eight passes for 55 yards.
He showed nice patience to pump and get DeAngelo Hall to bite on a double move to lead Anquan Boldin with a perfectly thrown touchdown. And later he looked off the safety to hit Boldin on a skinny post in the end zone for a second TD. His timing with Torrey Smith was not as good, underthrowing a long ball and overthrowing a stop route – an ongoing issue for the pair.
Flacco continues to struggle with pre-snap reads at times, failing to change protections when outmanned at the line of scrimmage, leading to a couple of sacks and fumbles.
Running Backs: A
Ray Rice and Bernard Pierce combined for 177 yards, each averaging over six yards a carry against a defense ranked fourth in the league against the run entering the game. Bernard Pierce was particularly effective flashing speed to get to the outside and power to break tackles in the middle of the field. Vonta Leach destroyed Perry Riley at the goal line to lead the way for a Rice TD run up the middle.
Wide Receivers: B-
Anquan Boldin caught just two passes in the first half, both for touchdowns. He was targeted just once in the second half, for a completion on a monster grab down the sideline to set up another score. Torrey Smith was targeted three times in the first half, with one catch for 21 yards and would not see any balls thrown his way in the second half. Boldin continues to pick up penalties, getting nabbed for holding. Smith could have been more effective blocking at the second level for Rice.
Tight Ends: B
Dennis Pitta was back to being Flacco’s favorite target after minimal touches in previous weeks. He grabbed five of six balls thrown his way, including a nice grab of a touchdown with Perry Riley draped on him in the end zone, capitalizing on a turnover to take a 21-14 lead. Pitta also made a nice block on Rice’s TD. He failed to chip block Ryan Kerrigan, which allowed a free run at Flacco leading to a tipped ball and an interception when the Ravens had a chance to put the game away with the ball in the red zone. Billy Bajema was flagged for holding.
Michael Oher and pass blocking continues to be an issue. He allowed Kerrigan to run free to hit Flacco and another speed rush by Rob Jackson for a strip sack of Flacco, which allowed the Redskins to kick a field goal to pull within 21-17. Not to be outdone, Kelechi Osemele seemed to tire early in the game as the Ravens pounded the ball with the run and it lead to Jarvis Jenkins easily beating him across the face for a backside run stuff. Osemele also walked back in his stance to get flagged for a momentum-killing penalty.
Interior Line: B-
Matt Birk continues to be extremely effective executing stretch blocking in the zone rushing game, but yields ground when blocking straight-up one-on-one. Jah Reid had one of his better games, aside from a false start. Marshal Yanda was playing well until he left with what appeared to be a somewhat significant leg injury.
Ravens corners for the most part held receivers in check, with most of the damage coming in the middle of the field. Cary Williams missed a tough interception attempt in the end zone after the ball bounced off Leonard Hankerson’s hands on the opening drive. Chris Johnson was flagged for pass interference to extend a Redskins drive. Corey Graham tied for the team lead with eight tackles, although many of them at the end of long runs by Morris.
Ed Reed seemed to be a step late breaking on underneath throws as linebackers were slow to drop into coverage. He did a nice job cutting Morris for a sideline tackle but continues to look reluctant to put his shoulder into ball carriers. Bernard Pollard was used as an extra run stopper for much of the game, finishing with eight tackles, but was out-schemed early playing on the outside edge with the ball going up the middle on runs.
With Lewis and Ellerbe sidelined, it doesn’t appear that the Ravens have an NFL-caliber linebacker to play in the middle. Jameel McClain continues to miss tackles and struggles to cover. McClellan, Bynes and Ayanbadejo shuffled in and out as they all struggled to read cut-backs by Morris. The Ravens defense got no help in the middle along the goal line either, including an easy two-point conversion by Cousins.
Credit Bynes for stripping Morris, leading to a fumble recovered by Kruger. Kruger continues to offer help pressuring the passer, picking up 1 1/2 sacks to go along with seven tackles. He played the pitch very well. Courtney Upshaw was a solid tackler.
Defensive Line: B-
Arthur Jones continues to impress with his quickness, getting into the backfield to disrupt the run, and he put a big hit on Griffin on a sack. Haloti Ngata also got some shots on the quarterback, including the end of a run that lead to Griffin’s leg injury just from the whiplash effect. Ngata was flagged for an illegal hit on Griffin, but referee John Parry was in poor position to see that Ngata lead with both hands into Griffin’s chest, and not with his helmet. Terrence Cody looked tentative at times and spent too much time on the ground.
Special Teams: C
Sam Koch was killing the ball on punts, averaging 50 yards on five kicks. He likely outkicked his coverage on a 56 yarder that led to a big return in overtime. He did show speed to track down the returner to prevent a touchdown, although it was too little too late. One bad special teams play by the coverage unit was the difference in the end.
This unit was one play away from securing the win earlier however as Courtney Upshaw put a big lick on return man Niles Paul, forcing a fumble recovered by David Reed at the Redskins 14. It would have been the game winning play with less than five minutes left in the game and the Ravens already up by eight, but Reed was ruled to be bobbling the ball as he skidded out of bounds, and the fumble was reversed.
Jacoby Jones seemed to be a single cut away from breaking a few returns. It was that kind of game for the Ravens, a team that had won a couple of games earlier this season when it appeared they should not – now they have lost two in a row in games it appeared they should have won.
Why the loss is frustrating from a Ravens perspective, it’s difficult to point a finger at a particular game planning or game management problem. Defensively the team came out looking ill-prepared to stop a predictable play action attack, but adjustments were made and the defense held up despite missing key players like Ray Lewis, Terrell Suggs, Lardarius Webb, Jimmy Smith and Dannell Ellerbe.
The offense was productive when it had the ball, mixing the run and pass. The switch to the no huddle in the second half was an effective approach to waking up what appeared to be a stalled attack at the time.
There is a serious talent gap for this team at inside linebacker, and improvements are due on the line to be a consistently good offense.