In typical Ravens fashion, they sure know how to keep us fans on the edges of our seats. The first half was just maddening. It seemed like it was a continuation of the performance 10 days ago in Denver. Receivers couldn’t get open, the offensive line was porous, the running game was ineffective, Joe Flacco didn’t look to be in sync with anyone outside of Torrey Smith and the defense was absolutely bland and uninspired. The second half saw a completely different ball club take the field, especially on defense. The offense performed much better in the second half, but there are still some serious deficiencies that I just don’t know if Jim Caldwell will ever be able to mask.
As a caveat, I would like to state that Cleveland has a heck of a defense and played very well all things considered. Playing them in Cleveland later in the year might be quite a tough outing. In my opinion, Joe Haden is one of the best corners in the game and their defensive coordinator, Ray Horton, knows how to generate pressure. If Norv Turner can keep Brandon Weeden clean and confident, the Browns could definitely play the spoiler late in the year for teams on a playoff cusp.
Here are my grades for this week with a brief explanation, enjoy and discuss!
Joe Flacco: B
22/33 211 yards 1 TD 0 INT
In the first half Flacco looked off-target and uncomfortable. His wife did just have their second child earlier in the day, so perhaps he had his mind on other things? By the way, a big congrats to the Flacco family!
One play in particular that comes to mind was a throw to his left where he sailed the pass ever so slightly and overthrew a leaping Torrey Smith. The pass hit Smith on his fingertips, but it was way too high. In the second half, Flacco was just throwing darts and hit Marlon Brown on a few nice passes while also finding Smith and Brandon Stokley. My biggest critique of Flacco today came on a 3rd-and-5 when he scrambled to his right and threw a low probability pass to Stokley when he had a clear lane to run and pick up the first down.
Joe, you’re not a statue! Run man!
Ray Rice: F
13 carries, 36 yards (2.76 yards per carry), 1 fumble lost, 3 receptions, 9 yards
I don’t know what is going on with Rice, but unless the offensive line opens up a huge lane, he doesn’t seem to be as productive as he was in prior years. He gets lost in the mix a lot and he goes down on first contact quite a bit. Additionally, he fumbled a lot in the playoffs last year and losing a fumble today really killed the momentum on the offense.
Rice is still a dynamic playmaker, but one has to wonder if he is slowing down a little. That said, hopefully his hip injury is minor and he won’t miss any time because he is still a viable receiver out of the backfield and Joe needs all of the receivers he can get.
Bernard Pierce: B+
19 carries, 57 yards 1 TD
Pierce has always been a 1-cut and go type of back. He really does remind me of guys like Arian Foster and Matt Forte in that he is an upright runner with long strides. What I really like about Pierce is that he rarely goes down on first contact and a majority of his runs are for positive yards, even if it is only 1 yard. Against a team like Cleveland that did a great job getting into the backfield, Pierce’s style of running may have been better suited than Rice’s.
Tight Ends: F
This has to be the team’s weakest position. Dallas Clark makes one reception for eight yards, then gets the wind knocked out of him (or so I thought) and doesn’t return to the game. Ed Dickson has a pass go his way the first play of the game, which he drops. I’ll admit that pass was a tough one for Dickson to hang onto, but he has a history of dropping passes left and right. It is clear that Joe has no confidence in Dickson because after that first play Dickson was nowhere to be seen other than a holding penalty in the late 3rd quarter. Billy Bajema led the tight ends (yes, you read that correctly) with 1 reception for 18 yards.
Baltimore has got to do something about the tight end position because it is really bad right now. Why not give some reps to rookie Kyle Juszczyk? He isn’t as tall as Dickson, but he’s pretty athletic and was primarily used as a motion tight end/receiver while at Harvard. He can’t be any worse than what they’re trotting out there now.
Wide Receivers: C+
There are two things that this Ravens offense continues to show as their modus operandi: 1) dropped passes; and 2) a lack of separation.
I’m still not quite sure if it is by design or not, but I think that this is one of those situations where it won’t matter how great a game plan is; the Ravens just don’t have the skill players to execute it. Stokley has sure hands, but he’s slow and only good for a handful of snaps per game. Marlon Brown continues to impress, but he isn’t able to truly dominate yet, though I do think he has that upside. However, he dropped a sure touchdown pass from Flacco early in this game by catching a bad case of alligator arms.
Torrey, on the other hand, is clearly the only guy that Flacco trusts to make a play. Though Torrey led the team with seven receptions and 85 yards, he dropped an absolutely gorgeous pass from Flacco that would have been a definite touchdown. If Torrey wants to become an elite, #1 receiver for the Ravens then he has to make those tough catches every week. He’s a great receiver, but I think he definitely needs another player across from him drawing some attention.
Offensive Line: F
I thought the Ravens bringing in Juan Castillo to be the “running game coordinator” *coughoffensivelinecoachcough* was going to make the offensive line better?
I’m really beginning to question that decision now. The Browns have a decent front-7 with guys like D’Qwell Jackson, Paul Kruger, Jabaal Sheard, Phil Taylor and Desmond Bryant, but in two games the Ravens have averaged 2.9 yards per carry and have yet to go over 100 yards on the ground. To make matters worse, Bryant McKinnie was beat by a 187-lb beanpole, Barkevious Mingo (I jest…he looks like a good pass rusher in all seriousness), and Michael Oher got beat up on by Jabaal Sheard a few times as well. So, the offensive line can’t protect Joe and they can’t open up consistent holes for the running game. Unlike the issues at receiver, which are predominately a lack of experience and gelling, the offensive line just doesn’t look very good across the board and this may be the situation all season long.
Defensive Front: B+
5 sacks and multiple pressures
The first-half pass rush was non-existent. For a few series I thought Dean Pees was kidnapped and replaced by Greg ‘Pops’ Mattison. Multiple plays involved minimal pass rush with the linebackers and secondary dropping into a zone. As a result, Brandon Weeden and Davone Bess carved them up. Go figure, as soon as they adjusted and went to a press-man scheme with blitz packages, Weeden crumbled under the pressure.
The one thing that still thoroughly impresses me about this front-7 is their ability to crash the line of scrimmage and shut down the run. They held Trent Richardson to 58 yards on 18 carries, which is good for just over 3 yards per touch. Not bad at all.
I still think this is the strongest unit on the team and should be the cornerstone of the entire team. Suggs and Dumervil are only going to get better and Art Jones, Ngata and Canty are all excellent players. Even Terrence Cody played well when he got out on the field.
One area for improvement is linebackers dropping into coverage. The Ravens got away with a lucky Cleveland mishap when Weeden overthrew Chris Ogbonnaya on a wheel route. Josh Bynes should have recognized that and covered him because that would have been a TD for sure.
Other than one big play to Jordan Cameron in the 1st quarter, the secondary played extremely well. I still think that they are best suited to play press-man instead of zone, so I was not surprised to see Davone Bess have a lot of success against Corey Graham out of the slot. The Browns were paying attention to the Broncos game where Wes Welker abused Graham out of the slot. Bess ran pretty much the same routes over and over again until the Ravens switched and went to press-man coverage with blitz packages. Michael Huff almost had an interception late in the game though honestly, I think the combination of Matt Elam and James Ihedigbo as the starting safeties is better than Huff and Ihedigbo. Huff will still be a major contributor in Nickel and Dime packages as a 3rd safety. To all those who said Jimmy Smith is a bust, HA! That guy is playing really, really well.
Justin Tucker: D
Hey Tuck, what’s going on man? Are you hurt or something? Not only did you push two field goal attempts, but your kick offs were dying and falling short of what you normally do. I’m sure you’ll shake it off, but you did let Billy Cundiff show you up in your stadium…just saying.
Tandon Doss: A
I can honestly say that I never thought I’d be writing an “A” grade for Tandon Doss. You know what though? I’m glad that I get to write this. Tandon looked like a man on a mission returning punts and he even played well as a gunner. That is how he is going to get back into the good graces of this team. He’s always had the talent, but he just seemed to get complacent. Like I said in my “Guess Who’s Back” report, maybe getting cut and garnering no interest served as a wake up call for him?
In the first half, the defense gave up 174 yards to the Browns. Nearing the end of the 3rd quarter they had just given up 79 yards. Clearly, Dean Pees saw what was going on and made adjustments. The pass-rush in the second half was fantastic and the secondary played with purpose. Offensively, I thought the game plan was stale and uninspired. However, after watching the entire game I’m not sure that Caldwell could have done much differently. The fact is that the offense is severely lacking at the skill positions and the OL has been really bad as well.
Ravens fans, you guys rock. Three delay of game penalties on Brandon Weeden, haha! Yes!
At the end of the day, an ugly win is still a win. Sure, I’d love to see an offensive juggernaut display like the league has never seen before, but that just isn’t Ravens football. I still believe that the offense can get better as the season progresses. It all starts up front though because when Joe has a clean pocket to work with, he is about as good as any QB in the league.
Additionally, the Ravens really need to get the running game going. They can’t expect to win the division and make some noise in the playoffs averaging 2.9 yards per carry.
Defensively, I think we saw some growth and maturation in the young guys. My hope is that Dean Pees allows this defense to play to their strengths, which is pressure, pressure and more pressure. Let them dogs loose and let the secondary reap the benefits of errant throws!