DENVER BRONCOS 34, BALTIMORE RAVENS 17
December 16, 2012
Coming into this game against the Denver Broncos not many pundits in Baltimore expected a win, even against a team that had never beaten the Ravens in Baltimore. Despite knowing their Ravens had not lost two consecutive home games under John Harbaugh, Ravens fans had still never seen their team beat Peyton Manning. So the chances of accomplishing it with nearly half the defense sidelined seemed dim.
But how they lost this game – a 34-17 blowout – was somewhat of a shocker. Because the defense actually played fairly well, and it was the offense that could not get out of its own way, particularly in the first half, squashing any hope that new offensive coordinator Jim Caldwelll would be a quick fix to all the issues the team hoped they had swept out the door with the firing of Cam Cameron.
Not a chance. The offense put up four consecutive three-and-outs to start the game. In their six first-half possessions they punted four times, coughed up a fumble, and threw an interception that went 98 yards the other way for a touchdown and a 17-0 halftime deficit.
So what about that pick? After the game Harbaugh was asked if it was Caldwell’s call or Flacco’s audible that led to the disaster. Circling the wagon as he’s apt to do, Harbaugh outright lied by claiming he made the call to forego a timeout with 0:30 left, with three in his pocket, and it was he who called for the pass in the flat to Boldin, explaining it was a play they run all the time in that situation.
With the offense finally driving in that situation and perhaps salvaging the half by pulling to within 10-7, you have to question whether it was better for Harbaugh to just use one of those timeouts, settle the offense, and assure they get some points before the half.
Timeout or no timeout, if nothing else perhaps Jim Caldwell can rethink that particularl play design where Flacco’s first option was a fade to Torrey Smith in the corner, with Boldin on an out pattern in the flat as the second option. Even with Cameron gone, it’s an ugly play call.
First, because Flacco is forced to stare down two receivers in practically the same spot, allowing three DB’s to converge against a wide out in Smith who is not a physical, jump ball specialist, and against a possession receiver who is moving laterally two yards beyond the line of scrimmage, and who is likely to be tackled before the goal line if he does make the catch, best case scenario. It’s a play that offers no deception, not even a play action fake to an offset Ray Rice – who doesn’t even bother to circle out of the backfield and draw a defender — and no physical mismatches that favor the Ravens in the crowded corner of the end zone.
Of course, even with very few positives possible from such a play call, hesitation and a poor throw to the inside of Boldin by Flacco led to the worst possible outcome: a Chris Harris score at the other end of the field.
Some credit goes to Harbaugh for the team coming out with some intensity to start the second half despite the devastating interception that turned a would-be 10-7 game into a 17-0 halftime blowout. Some credit goes to the team for playing Denver to a 17-17 tie in the second half, rather than just laying down. There aren’t many, but we’ll try to find the positives.
He didn’t get much help from his offensive line, but Joe Flacco started the first half by fumbling the ball away on what appeared to be an easy sneak for a first down, and then ended the half throwing the interception – directly leading to ten points for the Broncos.
He was hit repeatedly throughout the game from the outside rush and it appeared to unsettle him. He simply was not very accurate on many of his passes, appearing not to set his feet with pressure constantly around him. He did throw for over 250 yards, with two touchdowns, but those numbers don’t reveal how lost he looked at times, even as he hung his head on the sidelines.
Running Backs: B-
Ray Rice had just twelve carries for 38 yards. It’s difficult to grade this group when the line looked so bad in front of them, and when the team fell behind so early, forcing them to nearly abandon the run. Vonta Leach continues to be effective out of backfield. And Bernard Pierce continues to do one or two impressive things each week, breaking a tackle to get up the sideline for 14 and exploding up the middle on the next play for 15 – a play that was called back on a Matt Birk holding call. Anthony Allen snuck into the game and could not make a tough catch on a wheel route.
Wide Receivers: C
Anquan Boldin went without a catch on six targets. He continues to make dumb penalties, taking a cheap-shot hit on a defenseless DB after the whistle out of sheer frustration.
His heir apparent, Tandon Doss looked much faster and was effective on two nice slants, turning up the field gains of 15 and 13 yards.
Jacoby Jones made a nice adjustment on a ball in the air for a 43-yard gain just prior the goal line interception. He later appeared to tweak his arm and David Reed subbed for him and snared a reception on an out route on his first snap.
Torrey Smith made a difficult sideline catch but was ruled to have come down with his backside on the chalk. He bounced his head off the turf and was wobbly getting up from the play. He was held out the rest of the game, but could be seen on the sideline with a disbelieving look on his face mouthing, “I’m fine.”
Tight Ends: A
Dennis Pitta started with two drops but finished with a career game, with seven catches for 125 yards and two TDs. One encouraging sign was to see how creatively he was used on underneath routes. He’s tough to cover and flashed great hands. The real surprise in his game came on a tight-rope catch down the right sidelines, spinning and breaking a tackle en route to a 61 yard TD. His 31-yard TD came on double coverage where he had the presence of mind to get off the turf and back into the end zone without being touched.
Three sacks, five tackles for a loss and nine quarterback hurries. It was a terrible game for the offensive line, and in particular Michael Oher and Kelechi Osemele, neither of whom could run block or pass block. They were beaten to the inside with quickness and the outside with speed. It was so bad that there was little chance to evaluate Flacco, who was constantly throwing under duress – and in third and long situations – because of the lack of help from his tackles.
Interior Line: D
With Marshal Yanda out Bobby Williams was in at right guard. He got little push in run blocking and was pushed backwards on pass blocking, collapsing the pocket. He also got flagged for holding. Jah Reid made a few nice blocks in the running game, particularly on traps, but was shaky as pass blocker. Matt Birk got the critical holding call to put the team in a first-and-twenty hole when they could least afford a loss of momentum.
The corners keyed the early success of the defense and they were surprisingly good in run support. That was typified by Corey Graham jamming a blocker behind the line and Cary Williams closing for a run stuff. Chris Johnson also chimed in with a run stuff.
Coming off a strained groin, Jimmy Smith played decently but was a bit slow coming out of breaks.
Cary Williams was in a brawl with Eric Decker all game long and came away with wins and losses. He was able to make very athletic plays on the ball twice to knock it away at the last second, but was also burned on a double move, as was Ed Reed on the backside of the play for a Decker TD.
Frustration got to Williams as he stopped Decker in bounds but then swung him to the turf out of bounds. Graham also made a nice play on a ball that might have ended up in Reed’s hands for an interception before Graham swatted it away.
Subbing for Bernard Pollard who was inactive, James Ihedigbo made some strong tackles at the line of scrimmage, doing his best Pollard impression. Reed continues to make vexing plays, guessing with the ball in the air. He was on the wrong end of a highlight play as he ducked his head to protect himself and Knowshon Moreno hurdled him for a big gain.
This group surprised with its resilience. Josh Bynes started, and while he was not always in the right spot, he finished with a team-high 13 tackles. He showed nice sideline-to-sideline speed. Albert McClellan, rotating in on running downs for Brendon Ayanbadejo, was a big hitting force. His highlight play was an all-will blitz up the middle, overpowering the undersized rookie running back Ronnie Hillman to stuff Peyton. The group didn’t offer much resistance on the goal line however.
Paul Kruger was limited in his snaps with Terrell Suggs back in action but Kruger did show good coverage skills. Suggs was in the backfield a lot but had trouble using his injured right arm to finish plays. Courtney Upshaw was also up field a lot but not always as a finisher.
Defensive Line: C
Haloti Ngata didn’t offer much, with just one assisted tackle and no pressure. Art Jones was the best of the group, though not as flashy as previous weeks. Terrence Cody is too inconsistent and spent too many plays on the ground. Credit Pernell McPhee with a powerful rush and sack. He also got two hurries.
Special Teams: A-
Another week and another impressive special teams performance. Justin Tucker was perfect on a 45-yard field goal. Sam Koch averaged over 45 net yards on seven punts, which tells you that the offense didn’t do much, but Koch was booming his kicks 50 yards, with good downfield coverage.
Jacoby Jones showed more shake this week in his punt returns and speed when he broke it up field. With Jones temporarily hurt, Tandon Doss made a good decision to split the seam up the middle for a return of 40 yards. Even Anthony Allen was impressive taking a short kick straight ahead for 27.
Last week it was Courtney Upshaw and this week it was Albert McClellan who made a devastating tackle on the coverage unit and knocked loose a fumble. For the second week in a row the Ravens pounced on it but were unable to keep the ball in bounds for a recovery.
The lone black mark for the special teams unit was a block in the back by LaQuan Williams to bring back a nice return and put the Ravens on their own five to start a drive.
When a team is beaten this soundly heaping blame on the coaching staff is easy to do. But it’s difficult to get past the poor play of individual players and point to any specific mistakes being made by John Harbaugh’s staff.
Despite playing with a slew of third-string defenders beyond the front four, and despite what the final score suggests, Dean Pees’ group put up a tough defense against Manning. Particularly with the Ravens’ offense constantly stalling and punting it back to Manning.
Offensively, this was the first chance to evaluate Jim Caldwell in his debut as an NFL offensive coordinator. You could see Jim wanting to run the ball more, without much execution up front and without the benefit of ever playing with a lead. You saw him cut down on the number of long bombs and getting the tight end much more involved on underneath routes.