SAN DIEGO CHARGERS 34, BALTIMORE RAVENS 14
December 18, 2011
When the mighty fall, they fall hard. Earlier in the day the Baltimore Ravens learned they were guaranteed a trip to the playoffs, thanks to a loss by the New York Jets. But rather than being buoyed by the news, the Ravens seemed to be sunk by it, losing to the San Diego Chargers 34-14.
The same Oakland loss that pushed Baltimore into the playoffs had also given the surging Chargers – one-time losers of six straight – something to play for: the AFC West title. With that incentive the Chargers, notoriously strong finishers under Norv Turner and Philip Rivers, pounded the Ravens in the second half to coast to an easy win.
Not only was it an embarrassing loss for the Ravens on national TV, but it also may have sunk Baltimore’s chance to finally host playoff games in January. They now must await the result of the 49ers and Steelers contest Monday night to see if their divisional lead over the Steelers will slip away, despite having pinned two losses on Pittsburgh this season.
For nearly thirty minutes, Sunday night’s game looked like it was going to be a seesaw affair. Other than Billy Cundiff falling back into a disturbingly bad habit this season of fading his field goal attempts to the right, this could have been a 10-10 game going into halftime.
Instead San Diego, leading 10-7, got the ball back with three minutes left in the half and flung the ball down the field to score, thanks to Rivers connecting on long throws down the sidelines to Malcolm Floyd and Vincent Jackson. The tall, veteran receivers outmatched the Ravens’ tall inexperienced corners Cary Williams and Jimmy Smith, who got the start over a hobbled Lardarius Webb.
That’s when the wheels came off the cart. The Chargers took the opening kick of the second half and immediately scored again. And then again, and again, and again. They never punted in the entire game. The Ravens defense simply had no answer for the Chargers downfield passing game, and their surprisingly stout offensive line.
To add insult to injury, the Chargers makeshift offensive line was anchored by one-time Ravens tackle and certified head-case, Jared Gaither. Gaither, playing for his third team in the last year after being cut by Kansas City, kept the Ravens pass rush off of Rivers, allowing him to throw deep.
While the Chargers’ offense held the Ravens defense to no sacks, the same could not be said for Baltimore’s offensive line, which gave up seven sacks on the night. Four of them were credited to Antwan Barnes, another Ravens castoff who had been discarded for being too one-dimensional, and for being a poor contributor on special teams.
It was a bitter pill for the Ravens to swallow, for how they got beat, how badly, and for what it may now mean to their playoff future.
Joe Flacco put up decent numbers: 23 of 34 for 226 yards and two touchdowns. But this is one time where he was worse than the numbers suggest. He also threw two picks, including a bad one directly to Takeo Spikes dropping into coverage. It erased any chance the Ravens had to climb back into the game, down 24-7 but driving into field goal territory at the time. The usually unflappable Flacco seemed to get flustered in the second half, unable to find receivers down field. Once the Chargers grabbed the lead, they dropped back into zone coverage and forced Flacco to dump off the ball to Ray Rice or hold onto the ball too long and take a sack. While he made some nice throws, particularly to Torrey Smith and his tight ends, it was an off night for the Ravens quarterback. Tyrod Taylor came in and finished-out the game with some meaningless snaps.
Running Backs: B
Ray Rice was one of the few positives for the Ravens offense. Early in the game he was shredding the Chargers defense with big chunks of yardage on each run or catch. But he only got ten carries on the night, for 57 yards, and the Chargers were able to use their zone scheme to corral him in the second half after each dump off. Ricky Williams made the most of three carries, for 20 yards, and looked strong pounding the ball up the middle. However, he showed suspect hands, allowing a pass to bounce off of him, nearly leading to a third pick.
Wide Receivers: C+
The Ravens receivers showed flashes, but mostly struggled to get open in the Chargers secondary. Anquan Boldin grabbed a big catch early for 33 yards, but was mostly silent after that, adding just one more for 18 yards. Torrey Smith was the more impressive target, catching six of seven balls thrown to him for 77 yards and a late touchdown where he showcased his speed after the catch on a crossing route. Lee Evans was no factor, seemingly out of synch with his quarterback. Despite the redundancy of the same 15-yard side-out route exclusively, Flacco could not connect with the former Bill.
Tight Ends: B
Other than Rice, the Ravens tight ends, Dennis Pitta and Ed Dickson were the team’s more reliable threats. They caught six of seven balls thrown to them, and most were key third down conversions or a touchdown to Dickson on a tough through into double coverage. Pitta did a nice job against the pass rush when asked to stay back and block.
Other than allowing Shaun Phillips to drive him back and squeeze-shut the pocket on one occasion, Michael Oher had a decent performance in San Diego. The same could not be said about Bryant McKinnie. He struggled against the faster Antwan Barnes, preventing Flacco the time he needed to look downfield. He also had a false start.
Interior Line: B
Marshal Yanda was doing a nice job run blocking, using the zone scheme and cut blocks to open up holes for Rice, although the run game was abandoned early. There were some interior slip ups once the Chargers line pinned back their ears. Yanda was stood up by Von Martin. And Ben Grubbs was beaten by Tommie Harris for a sack. Overall, this group did a decent job keeping a clean pocket and giving Flacco room to step into throws. Matt Birk played a nice game.
The Ravens young corners were exposed. Cary Williams was burned on a double move by Floyd to give up a critical 58-yard catch on a blitz package. The rush never got there and Rivers had time to connect over the top. Jimmy Smith struggled mightily filling in for Webb, who played sparingly in the slot. It could have been worse for Smith, who was beaten by Jackson on a go route, but Rivers failed to connect. Once the Chargers connected on deep throws, they effectively set up the Ravens corners with come-back routes. It was too easy.
Bernard Pollard and Ed Reed uncharacteristically missed a few tackles to allow San Diego to keep drives arrive. That included Reed allowing himself to get taken out at the goal line on a pitch to the outside for a touchdown run. While Pollard did a nice job picking up the receiver on a waggle throw to the right, he gave up too much space in centerfield and allowed a couple of long completions to Antonio Gates.
Ray Lewis was back after a four-week absence and he looked rusty despite 10 tackles to lead the defense. He failed to drop into coverage as Gates ran past him up the seam. He failed to drop Mike Tolbert at the goal line for a score, and he failed to wrap up Tolbert in the flat when he had him dead to rights, allowing the big back to spin ahead for a first down. He later got a big hit on Tolbert short of the sticks to force a field goal, but it was too little too late. Jameel McClain played better, although missed a tackle pursuing outside on Ryan Matthews to allow a long gain. Jarret Johnson was inconsistent holding the edge, at times playing the pitch perfectly, and other times seeming to lack speed to the outside.
Defensive Line: B-
Terrence Cody and Cory Redding played well in the middle. Most of the Chargers 145 yards on the ground went to the outside. Haloti Ngata pushed the line of scrimmage numerous times, but never got to Rivers. Terrell Suggs, however, was never a factor. The Chargers tight ends chipped him before heading downfield and it seemed to be enough to throw the Ravens’ sack leader off his game. Other than one big hit on Rivers late, Suggs was a non-factor. He was penalized for a head slap to erase what would have been the Ravens only sack. And Rivers was getting the ball out too quickly to allow Paul Kruger or Pernell McPhee to be factors.
Special Teams: C+
Billy Cundiff was a little shaky. Whether a strained calf on his plant leg had anything to do with it is a question. He missed a 36 yard field goal after the Ravens drove the ball downfield inside the red zone to start game. It was a bad omen. He also nearly kicked a ball out of bounds to start the second half. Sam Koch averaged 56 yards on two punts, including one he rolled out at the one. Tom Zbikowski was steady taking kick-offs straight up the middle of the field, but nothing special. David Reed was inserted late and showed much more speed as a returner, taking the ball out to the 45.
For the first time all year, coordinator Chuck Pagano was outcoached. He was unable to generate a pass rush, and unable to give his young corners help on the outside. On the flip side, once the Chargers got lead and went to two deep in the secondary, offensive coordinator Cam Cameron had no answer for getting his receivers open downfield. It turned his quarterback into a predictable dump-off artist. About the only positive coaching move was that at least the Ravens did not take a knee headed into halftime, knowing they were going to have to kick to the Chargers to start the second half.
Carl Cheffers crew had a quiet night, with just three penalties apiece called on both teams. There were very few controversial calls to sort out. The decision to pick up the flag on a would-be Ray Lewis facemask was a good call, as Lewis never actually grabbed and pulled. While head coach John Harbaugh may have commented coming out of halftime about his pass rushers being held it did not appear to be anything out of the ordinary.
Al Michaels and Cris Collinsworth seemed just as stunned as Ravens fans at what they were witnessing. It took them quite a bit of time to put the game into perspective. Once Collinsworth got into the swing of it, he became the snarky commentator that turns off a number of viewers. He’s an acquired taste for sure. The biggest plus for the NBC crew was that they finally dumped the six-year old picture of Jarret Johnson, with hair, and replaced it with a current shot.