BALTIMORE RAVENS 24, INDIANPOLIS 10
DECEMBER 11, 2011
Any Baltimore football fan over the age of 45 once rooted hard for the horseshoe. That was, until they felt the unthinkable sting of seeing their beloved Colts bolt to Indianapolis.
And then they endured the indignity of their adopted team, the Baltimore Ravens, losing the last eight contests to those Colts, including a gut wrenching 15-9 playoff loss in 2006.
So for the Ravens to finally beat the Colts Sunday, 24-10, it had to be an enthralling moment for Ravens fans, right?
Perhaps it was the lack of passion in Baltimore in the week leading up to this game. The Colts’ 0-12 record coming into Baltimore certainly could have had a lot to do with the ho-hum feeling after just another win for the 10-3 Ravens.
And with the two franchise faces–Peyton Manning and Ray Lewis–wearing street clothes and standing stoically on the sidelines, it was difficult to make believe this was a milestone game.
And yet, with this business-like win, the Ravens accomplished a lot.
They just stayed ahead of the 10-3 Pittsburgh Steelers atop the AFC North standings, by virtue of having given the Steelers two of their three losses this year. And they kept pace with the New England Patriots and Houston Texans, who both won games Sunday to make the race for the top-two seeds in the AFC continue to look like it will be a sprint to the wire.
So make no mistake, the game meant a lot. And maybe just as important as the magnitude of the result was the magnitude of the effort the Ravens put forth. There was never a question of a let-down against an inferior opponent, as had occurred in the three Ravens losses.
This win was a high-effort, dominating performance nearly from start to finish, except for a last-second touchdown managed by the Colts offense against the Ravens “JV” defense.
Head Coach John Harbaugh stated early in the season that he had a plan. His plan was to build his team up as the season progressed, and have them playing their best football in January. After watching his Ravens pound an undermanned Colts squad, Coach Harbaugh had to believe his plan remains right on track.
And if that’s the case, maybe, just maybe, there is still a thrill in store for old Colts fans, not playing against Indianapolis, but playing in Indianapolis, come February.
Again this week, Joe Flacco did not put up huge numbers, but he didn’t have to. When he did throw the ball, 31 times against a bad Colts secondary, he looked good doing it, connecting on 74% of his throws for 221 yards, two TDs, and one interception on a ball that he waited too long to throw to Dennis Pitta on a crossing route and eventually throwing into double coverage and into the waiting arms of safety Joe Legeged who had over the top coverage on the skinny post to the end zone. The good news, the league’s leading fumbler protected the ball today, something that can’t be said for his counterpart wearing the horseshoe.
Flacco played a lot of pitch and catch with his receivers and found plenty of room in the Colts zone coverage schemes. It was promising to see him effectively sell a pump fake to the right before coming back to hit Ray Rice on a screen with running lanes clear in front of him. And Flacco threw a nice deep ball to Torrey Smith down the sideline that dropped into his hands, but was not caught, with the corner tugging on Smith’s arm. Credit him for standing tall in the pocket and delivering timely throws, and also using his legs to get to the far right side of the field in the red zone and then throwing against the grain back to an open Dennis Pitta for the touchdown. Tyrod Taylor again this week got one snap in the red zone, lining up wide left as a decoy.
Running Backs: A-
Ray Rice played one of his better games, except for his second fumble of the year, which, like the earlier fumble this season, came when he ran into the back of Matt Birk. After getting 200+ yards last week against the Browns, Rice ran for 103 yards on 26 carries. He also caught all six balls thrown to him for another 46 yards, making the first tackler miss on nearly every catch. His jump cut looked more lethal than ever against very quick Colts linebackers. He also showed an added burst carrying the ball around the left side for a touchdown.
Ricky Williams seems to get more comfortable each week as the team’s downhill runner. He definitely was the hammer on a few carries, nailing a few Colts DBs.
Vonta Leach’s dormant ball carrying instincts seem to have awakened in Baltimore. He looked much quicker to the hole in short yardage, and he pushed his average to 4.7 yards on three carries. He also got seven on a lone pass catch for a first down. While he was guilty of one false start, you have to credit him for delivering big hits, notably running over middle linebacker Pat Angerer to spring Rice for 19.
Wide Receivers: B
Torrey Smith grabbed another TD pass this week, and was very effective using his speed to get separation from defenders and come back to well-timed throws. The Ravens also used him well on a reverse when the Colts were keying on runs between the tackles. However, he dropped a couple of catchable balls and seemed to lose focus as the game progressed. On the plus side, he was very effective blocking downfield, as was Anquan Boldin.
Boldin was extremely efficient, catching five of six balls thrown to him, for 57 yards, with the lone miss on a post pattern in the end zone on a ball he didn’t seem to find in the air. It was interesting to note that in two-tight-end sets, Boldin sat in favor of Smith. Lee Evans made the catch of the day, tight-roping the sideline as he fell out of bounds for a first down.
Tight Ends: B
Ed Dickson and Dennis Pitta were both very effective working the Colts zone coverages. They easily sat in open areas and grabbed five of the six balls thrown between them. Dickson should have been credited with missing a ball, but the catch went to Boldin after deflecting off of Dickson’s hands. Pitta made a terrific catch in full stride, snatching a hard thrown ball and rumbling into the red zone. He was rewarded with a TD catch. But he continues to struggle with the snap count, flinching to draw a procedure flag.
As run blockers, Bryant McKinnie and Michael Oher had a very good game pushing the pile and using good technique. Jah Reid also got into the game in short yardage as an extra tackle and had his best game as a pro, including a pancake block on Mario Addison as McKinnie was walling off Ricardo Mathews to give Rice a running lane.
In pass protection, Oher and McKinnie were not quite as stout. Dwight Freeney ran past McKinnie on first snap of the game, but Big Mac recovered. Later, he was beaten badly by a Freeney spin move that knocked him off balance. Oher held up until the fourth quarter when Robert Mathis ran right around him. And Oher really botched a fourth and one running play when he allowed Kavell Conner to take an inside route across his face from the back side to meet the ball carrier in the backfield.
Interior Line: A-
Matt Birk was coming off a shoulder issue, but it didn’t show. He was effective the entire game at the second level, particularly on Angerer. Marshal Yanda and Ben Grubbs were steady in both the passing and running game. The lone blunder on the interior came when Ben Grubbs didn’t’ maintain a strong base and got trucked by Dwight Freeney en route to a sack.
The Ravens corners gave up a lot of space underneath but they were very effective deep. Jimmy Smith continues to see a lot of snaps each week and he played very aggressively. Likewise, Cary Williams played good, tight coverage. But his ball skills are still a work in progress. He dropped an easy interception, almost looking surprised to see the ball come to him.
Lardarius Webb got flagged for a facemask on an off-tackle running play, although it appeared to be incidental. Chykie Brown and Danny Gorrer finished out the game in the dime package. Gorrer missed a tackle. They gave up a lot of space to receivers, but it was situational.
After struggling to cover Dallas Clark on a dig route to allow a fourth down conversion, Bernard Pollard picked up the intensity and covered very well, including a nice job singled up on Clark on a ball thrown into the end zone. He seemed to be near the ball the entire game although he only had one tackle to show for it. He did pick off a Dan Orlovsky pass in the fourth quarter. Meanwhile, Ed Reed was in on three tackles and forced the Colts to throw a lot of balls underneath and to the outside to avoid him.
Jameel McClain played better in coverage that he has all year. That included a very good break of a ball throw to Clark five yards deep and on the next play in the same spot to Pierre Garcon. McClain also found the right lane consistently to fill in the running game and had a team-high six tackles to show for it. While the Colts seemed to game plan to go after this group, the fine job they did can be seen in holding the Colts to just 50 yards on the ground, and 136 through the air (over half of which came in the Colts final drive, against second teamers playing a prevent scheme).
Dannell Ellerbe was also solid, and stood out on a looping run stunt where he perfectly met the runner in the hole for no gain. Jarret Johnson had a quiet day against the hapless Colts. He looked very quick getting to the ball carrier when bottled up behind the line, but he allowed Dallas Clark to get into him for a kick-out block on an effective inside run for the Colts.
Defensive Line: A-
Cory Redding began the game on fire. He absolutely clubbed Mike Pollak as he swam right by the left guard on his way to one of four Ravens sacks. He dominated the Colts front line early, including taking an inside move to blow up a third and one running attempt.
Rookie Left Tackle Anthony Castonzo will have nightmares about Terrell Suggs coming off the edge. Suggs swatted the ball out of Orlovsky’s throwing hand three times. It got so bad that Castonzo finally just tackled Suggs on his way to the quarterback. Suggs was also very good against the run. Terrence Cody picked up two tackles, including one for a loss, and played his assignment in the middle.
Paul Kruger once again was a handful rushing the passer, including two hits on Orlovsky, which seemed to rattle the quarterback. Sergio Kindle was active and saw action late, but did not factor.
Special Teams: C+
It was an up and down day for the special teamers. Billy Cundiff, despite nursing a calf, sailed the opening kick into the end zone for no return, and he banged his only field goal straight through from 36 yards out, with no sign of a fade or slice. But his next kick offs were low or short and returnable. Later, punter Sam Koch kicked off in place of Cundiff. Perhaps it was only precautionary. Koch boomed a couple of 50+ yard punts to keep the Colts pinned deep, and David Reed did a nice job dropping return man Joe Lefeged after he caught it. Reed was not so good, however on kick coverage, failing to contain after over running his assignment and paving the way for Lefeged to cross midfield on a kick return.
Tom Zbikowski and Lardarius Webb both chipped in with nice kick and punt returns of 28 and 27 yards. Edgar Jones got flagged for a hold to bring a punt return back from midfield to the 37. Sergio Kindle also played on coverage units, and while he didn’t look bad, he didn’t do anything impressive, either.
Ed Reed was given a chance to return a punt, and did his best to make it interesting, casually taking it on a bounce and unsuccessfully trying to run off with it.
The team was mentally sharp and saying all the right things before and after the game. They seem to have bought into Harbaugh’s system entirely. Cam Cameron put in some nice wrinkles, like an inside handoff to Rice coming in motion to the quarterback and cutting behind a zone blocking flow. He also seems to be setting up a future use of Tyrod Taylor in the red zone.
It didn’t appear to be a particularly difficult game to officiate, but Clete Blakeman’s crew still made some odd calls. That included a facemask call against Lardarius Webb that appeared to be an incidental grab. The officials also looked the other way on some rough play in the secondary with the ball in the air. That included Jimmy Smith mugging Garcon on third down. And Jacob Lacey grabbing Torrey Smith’s arm and preventing him from going up to catch a long throw down the side.
Paul Kruger could have easily been flagged for clubbing Orlovsky in head at end of half – had that been Peyton Manning’s head, six flags would have flown in. And Bernard Pollard could have been flagged for a hit out of bounds.
Bill Macatee and Steve Tasker gave us a dull broadcast of a dull game. There was not a lot of effort to analyze the ins and outs of the game. Perhaps that is what you get when one of the best teams in the AFC meets the worst. The biggest issue with the CBS telecast was a lack of timely replays on any of the questionable calls. That included a run by Ray Rice where he pleaded with the official to call a facemask. It would have been nice to see the play again to understand what Rice was reacting to. And the crew failed to cut away from a shot of Joe Flacco as he released the ball downfield, so we didn’t see a near interception as it happened, only heard about it from Tasker.