THE GOOD, BAD, UGLY & THE MEGAN FOX
The past two months have been a whirlwind for the Ravens and their fans. It has been nothing short of an emotional rollercoaster.
It started back on November 25 in San Diego when after a successful fourth-and-29 conversion attempt the Ravens snatched victory from the jaws of defeat. The game was clearly one the Ravens shouldn’t have won – yet they did!
Staying with the rollercoaster, over the course of the following 3 weeks the Ravens lost to the Charlie Batch led Steelers, RGIII and the Redskins and they were dismantled by the Denver Broncos.
The future appeared bleak. Not only did the Broncos beat the Ravens at home, the performance by the home team was very uninspired. Many wondered if the team quit, particularly after the late season firing of offensive coordinator Cam Cameron.
But in a near miraculous fashion, the team turned things around and hopes were restored following a thrashing of the New York Giants.
Suddenly the rollercoaster navigated through the treacherous tosses and turns and into the tummy-tingling downhill adventures. The season was fun again.
We’ll discount the visit to Cincinnati for the season’s finale and call it for what it was – a quasi-bye/5th Preseason Game. But starting with the Giants the Ravens have defeated:
- The defending Super Bowl Champions
- The team formerly known as the Baltimore Colts
- A nemesis for years and the favorite to advance to the Super Bowl, Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos
- Brady & Belichick and their 67-0 when leading at halftime mark at Gillette Stadium
One by one, shot down in flames.
And now it’s on to the Harbowl.
Mix in Ray Lewis’ retirement following the Super Bowl and the drama builds. Art Modell’s posthumous induction into the Hall of Fame could be announced the day before the big game. And so the story builds…
Ray Lewis’ first career sack as a rookie was against the Indianapolis Colts. And whom did he take down? None other than Jim Harbaugh.
You can’t make this stuff up. Sometimes life is far more interesting than art and in the case of the Baltimore Ravens, it’s a great story with one final chapter to be written in New Orleans against the San Francisco 49ers.
THE GOOD: Anquan Boldin is killing it from the slot. In his last 4 starts Boldin has 33 catches for 369 yards and 3 scores. Dominating from that position helps free Dennis Pitta between the numbers and Torrey Smith on drags…Bernard Pierce has shown a knack for breaking through the initial contact and has developed a nose for the first down marker. This one-cut read and react back is a great compliment for Ray Rice…The current offensive line combination, regardless of how long it took to get there, is the best on the roster. The end result has been an upgrade at LT, LG and RT and those upgrades have helped Matt Birk and Marshal Yanda to take their respective games to new seasonal heights…
Vonta Leach was in full beast mode the last time the Ravens faced the Niners. Michael Oher was quick to point out that he had never seen former Ole Miss teammate Patrick Willis so physically beaten by anyone like he was on Thanksgiving Night 2011. Those memories won’t die easily if at all for the other No. 52…The shotgun, no huddle approach is a great weapon for the Ravens and they executed it perfectly in New England. While it does take Vonta Leach off the field the Ravens ability to run from the formation puts the 49ers defense at a disadvantage. Do they stay with a base set or do they go to the nickel? The Superdome being a neutral field where crowd noise should not be an issue, invites more of the same on Super Sunday.
Defensively the Ravens are gelling at the right time. Ironically they are the healthiest they’ve been all year and that adds to their physicality and that is likely to be an intimidating factor for Niners QB Colin Kaepernick and a trio of receivers, namely Messrs. Crabtree, Moss and Davis. The menacing presence of Bernard Pollard could force San Francisco receivers to redirect or round their routes ultimately disrupting the timing of the Niners’ passing attack. (Remember the Jamie Sharper hit on Ike Hilliard during SB XXXV?)
Mix in the low release point of Kaepernick with the Ravens ability to bat down (or up) passes at the line of scrimmage and it could lead to turnovers much like the Dannell Ellerbe INT in New England during the title game…Over the course of the last four meaningful games against some of the league’s best signal callers in the forms of Eli Manning, Andrew Luck, Peyton Manning and Tom Brady, the Ravens have surrendered just 58 points in total and only 17 points during the second halves of those games combined.
THE BAD: Jim Caldwell has had a tendency during the last two games of being conservative and overly predictable early in the down and distance sequence leading to too many three-and-outs. Let’s hope he learned something from the second half of the New England game. Or might this be part of a rope-a-dope strategy – to play possum in the first half and bring it in the second?…Let’s hope the two weeks between games allows Jimmy Smith to see more snaps at corner. As the games go by there is more and more evidence on film that Chykie Brown is a tackling liability on the perimeter when “supporting” the run and defending bubble screens.
Sam Koch has slumped somewhat in the playoffs and part of that can be explained away by the elements of winter. That said he’s down in most key categories (Regular Season v. Postseason): Punt Average 47.1 v. 45.9; Net Punt Average 40.8 v. 36.1. He’s also had 2 touchbacks in 3 games whereas he had only 7 in 16 regular season games…Justin Tucker has also experienced a slight decline. Kickoff Average: 67.1 v. 66.9; Return Average: 23.4 v. 32.5; Touchback %: 55.7 v. 50. Jerry Rosburg’s group needs to pick it up in New Orleans.
THE UGLY: When your team unexpectedly gets hot and finds its way into the Super Bowl, there’s very little to consider ugly except for flight fares, ticket prices and hotel rates near the French Quarter.
THE MEGAN FOX: It’s been said often that a team can win a Super Bowl with Joe Flacco at quarterback but that Flacco can’t carry a team to The Lombardi. Well during the 2012 postseason he sure is doing his best to put that notion to rest. Flacco has thrown for 853 yards during the playoffs with 8 TD’s 0 INT’s and a QB Rating of 114.7. During the modern era QB’s that have put up those kinds of numbers during the post season have all gone on to win the Super Bowl.
While Flacco is considered to be unflappable, many have wondered, myself included, if he could handle the pressure of playing in a contract season. Obviously he can and if anything, he’s developing a reputation for stepping up in pressure situations and THAT is when a quarterback makes his mark (and his money). Regular season statistics be damned, the only thing that matters is a win-loss record and the trophy, not his 86.3 career QB Rating.
Just ask Joe Montana (92.3), Troy Aikman (81.6) and John Unitas (78.2).
Image inspired by Brian Crane