RAVENS REPORT CARD: Ravens 24, Giants 10

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BALTIMORE RAVENS  24, NEW YORK GIANTS 10

AUGUST 28, 2010

The Baltimore Ravens shook off early cobwebs and began to dominate the visiting New York Giants to pick up their seventh consecutive preseason win. 

In fact, the Ravens defense very nearly extended to 12 quarters their preseason streak of holding opposing offenses without a touchdown.  However, with just a few diehard fans still lingering inside M&T Bank Stadium, the Giants finally pushed the ball across the goal line in the games’ final seconds to make their 24-10 loss to the Ravens more respectable.

As they watched most of the second half from the sidelines the Ravens starters on both sides of the ball looked extremely pleased with their all-around efforts, and the results. 

But it was not all good news for the offense after the revelation that Donte’ Stallworth will miss the first two months of the regular season with a broken foot.  The player he has been battling for the third receiver spot, Mark Clayton, left the game with a concussion after Boldin’s former teammate in Arizona, Antrel Rolle, was flagged for leaving his feet and cold-cocking Clayton as he stretched for a ball just beyond his reach.

This bad news at the conclusion of the game mirrored the very disappointing start on both sides of the ball for the Ravens. The offense started with two incomplete tosses from quarterback Joe Flacco, two sacks, and a false start by right tackle Tony Moll in the game’s first five snaps. 

But then the Ravens embraced their no-huddle offense and never looked back.  Thirty-four of their impressive 46 first-half snaps were without a huddle, as they put the ball in the air 32 times, keeping the chains moving with 17 first downs.  That compared favorably to just five first downs in the half for the Giants starters. 

A number of poor tackles early by Ravens linebackers and defensive backs brought back bad memories of the last time these two teams met, November 16, 2008, when the Giants trampled the Ravens defense for 207 yards rushing as a team. 

But this time the Ravens defenders buckled-down their tackling technique and held the G-men to just 76 yards on the ground, nearly half of it coming from one Brandon Jacobs carry.

On the defensive side of the ball, two Ravens stood out. Game balls go to defensive tackle Cory Redding and safety Haruki Nakamura.  A third Ravens 24×7 game ball goes out to veteran tight end, Todd Heap, with punter Sam Koch standing out among the Ravens special teamers.

Here’s the tale of the tape:

Quarterbacks: B+

With a clear emphasis on the passing game by coordinator Cam Cameron, and with his offense moving the chains, Joe Flacco had ample reps to get comfortable with his receiving corps.  While he was not pinpoint precise with all his throws, he placed the ball in catchable spots the entire half, and more often than not a receiver rewarded him with a nice grab.  Flacco continues to improve with his progressive reads and spreading the ball around, trusting the depth of talent around him. In just over one half of play he was 21 of 34 for 229 yards, with two touchdown tosses and one interception – numbers that rival a full game of statistics from seasons past.  On both of Flacco’s touchdown throws he recognized single coverage in the left seam for Boldin and Heap, deftly pumping right before coming back to his slanting receivers to score just ahead of front-side help. Marc Bulger quickly picked up where he left off last week, hitting tight end Ed Dickson twice, early the third quarter, but Bulger’s night was limited to just the one series, stalled by a sack. Troy Smith came in behind Bulger and managed to dink and dunk his way down field, culminating in a touchdown toss to Marcus Smith.  Overall, he wasn’t given great protection by his line, but he also appeared to have trouble seeing down passing lanes, quickly opting to tuck and run with the ball.

Running Backs: B

Running backs were handed the ball just eight times, and Willis McGahee was given the night off, so there was not a lot of tape to look at.  Ray Rice did a nice job of snaring a safety valve pass and ducking under a tackle to turn nothing into six yards – unsung efforts that helps sustain drives.  He also showed a new wrinkle, setting up outside the box and releasing on go routes. The maneuver was successful once, an 18 yard connection but if failed in the red zone when Rice couldn’t hold on to a Flacco touch pass.  Jalen Parmele continues to look explosive with the ball in his hands.  Le’Ron McLain was a little sloppy as a blocking fullback as he was asked to alternate between that role and halfback.  As a group, the running backs managed to clean up their bad case of fumble-itis from earlier in the preseason.

Wide Receivers: A-

Ravens receivers looked polished in their route-running and bailed out their quarterback by flashing very good hands.  Anquan Boldin quietly caught four balls for over fifty yards, and finally showed how good he can be after the catch to get extra yardage, or how powerful he is as a blocker without the ball.  His touchdown catch required good concentration on a ball thrown away from him and the onrushing safety.  Derrick Mason and Mark Clayton impressively teamed with Boldin on the third series of the game in particular, and were simply too much for the Giants secondary to handle.   Mason, however, hurt his team by getting flagged for jawing with the ref when he thought he was held.  Marcus Smith had a good game, with four catches in five opportunities including a touchdown.  It made the race for the fifth receiver spot more interesting with Demetrius Williams sidelined with an ankle injury, and with camp phenom David Reed short-arming the only ball thrown his way.  The Ravens may need to keep all of these receivers on the active roster given the current rate of injury attrition.

Tight Ends: A

Todd Heap caught six of seven thrown his way for 69 yards and a touchdown. Not bad for a half of play. He was consistently able to take advantage of one-on-one match ups he rarely saw during the lean offensive seasons of years past.   The veteran tight end absolutely bullied Antrel Rolle for his TD catch after Rolle’s personal foul on Mark Clayton set up the Ravens in the redzone.  Picking up where Heap left off, Ed Dickson kept beating linebacker Gerris Wilkinson one-on-one and looked very athletic hauling in an unusual swing pass.   In limited play Dennis Pitta lived up to his strong hands label while catching a Troy Smith bullet for a first down.

Tackles: B

Third string right tackle Tony Moll—pressed to start again this week with both Jared Gaither and Oniel Cousins sidelined—came back to earth a bit.  Using an arsenal of stunts, swim moves and bull rushes, Justin Tuck and Mathias Kiwanuka made it a rough night for Moll.  As unevenly as Moll played, on the opposite side Michael Oher picked up his game noticeably from a week ago, and was moving his feet very well and keeping defenders off his body.  It was an excellent performance from the big left tackle.  Back-ups Joe Reitz and Ramon Harewood played adequately, although didn’t do enough to suggest they need to remain on the roster. Reitz was guilty of a hold, one of eight penalties on the night for the Ravens.

Interior Line: B

Other than missing Justin Tuck’s A-gap stunt for a sack, Matt Birk had a good night. He looked very agile holding his blocks on a couple of draw plays, and was excellent getting downfield in front of Ray Rice on a screen. Starting guards Ben Grubbs and Marshall Yanda were aggressive and maintained great protection the entire first half.  In the second half Bryan Mattison looked overmatched getting dumped into the backfield on a sack.

Cornerbacks: B

The cornerbacks continue to keep the ball in front of them and make plays.  Fabian Washington played excellent press coverage when asked, and was strong in run support.  After a shaky start tackling, Chris Carr was also quick to provide run support and did a nice job in the corner of the end zone to break up an Eli Manning toss.  He also closed fast to pick up a sack.  Prince Miller, who had played well earlier in his preseason opportunities, was tested more this week. Welcome to the NFL rook.  Miller was beaten when Derek Hagan clean picked him on crossing route that allowed Victor Cruz to snag a first down catch and move the Giants’ out from under the shadow of their own end zone.  Cruz was also too fast for Miller deep.  Travis Fisher was better near the line of scrimmage this week than he had been as a boundary corner in the first two preseason games.

Safeties: C+

Haruki Nakamura was the stand-out player in the Ravens secondary.  He was relentless closing to make open field tackles. He also laid the lumber to back-up quarterback Rhett Bomar on a blitz call.  Then the smallish safety made yet another big preseason play when he pick-pocketed an Eli Manning pass off the hip of intended receiver Steve Smith.

Dawan Landry had a poor night tackling, and Tom Zbikowski looked vulnerable allowing Steve Smith to simply outrun him on a post pattern that the rushed Manning completely misfired on.  Brad Jones dropped a sure interception after getting himself in good position.

Linebackers: B

Hopefully Ray Lewis is saving his best for the regular season, because he has yet to impress in the preseason. The fifteen-year vet whiffed on a couple of tackles.  Jarret Johnson also struggled to wrap up and failed to hold the edge to paving the way to a 30 yard Brandon Jacobs gallop. This was a game where the back-ups outplayed the starters. That may be understandable. They have more on the line. The battle for the starting job next to Lewis–and all the remaining linebacker spots on the roster, really–continues to be tight.  Tavares Gooden made a statement that he is not out of the running with a good effort this week, and not just using his speed on the edges. Gooden made key plays to stuff a third and one attempt and by scraping down the line to stuff another key attempt on his own fifteen yard line.  Jameel McClain and Dannell Ellerbe blasted their way to the ball with big hits multiple times.  Ellerbe was better dropping into coverage this week when he tipped the ball that led to Nakamura’s interception, but did not drop far enough when Steve Smith settled in front of the safeties for a 17-yard catch. Jason Phillips and Prescott Burgess also showed enough to suggest they will play in the NFL this year, with the Ravens or otherwise. Edgar Jones didn’t help his cause with a hit out of bounds, although earlier he too got a big sack on the Giants back-up quarterback.

Defensive Line: A

Playing against a good offensive line, the Ravens defensive line looked even better.  Cory Redding was outstanding. He stoned William Beatty head on, and then slid to the gap to stop Ahmad Bradshaw for a loss.  On the very next play, playing head up on the center, Redding applied quarterback pressure straight up the middle to force an incompletion.  His emotional approach to the game was a welcome sight. As a role player, Trevor Pryce also excelled at penetrating into the backfield. Kelly Gregg had tremendous leverage in the middle of the line the entire half, standing up blockers and sliding to make tackles.  Haloti Ngata continues to penetrate seemingly at will.  Even back-ups Kelly Talavou and Art Jones were strong in pushing the line of scrimmage. Jones was dominant in one bull rush move late in the game. Not to be outdone, Paul Kruger batted down another pass on the line.

Special Teams: A

Sam Koch was tremendous pinning deep punts to the sideline, with no returns.  Three of his seven punts were inside the twenty.  On the opening kick Bryan Mattison stood out as he locked onto Gartrell Johnson, backing him up ten yards and then pancaking him to open up a nice Jalen Parmele return. On kick coverage Tavares Gooden beat rookie Phillip Dillard’s block and then flattened Bruce Johnson after he unwisely tried to return a Billy Cundiff kick from six yards deep in the end zone. Cundiff seemed to edge ahead of Shayne Graham on the quality of his kick-offs alone. Edgar Jones also covered well.

Coaching: A

The Ravens seemed to come into this game with a stronger sense of purpose, especially on offense.  Cam Cameron should be credited for focusing on what the offense really needed to improve on, and the decision to use the third preseason game to work on their no-huddle approach should pay off in the regular season. It was one more aspect opposing defenses will need to seriously prepare for.

Broadcast: C

The in-booth crew was not bad, especially considering the standard that fans are accustomed to, which is set by national broadcasters who get 16 regular season games to build on.  Stan White can be actually very insightful on the inner workings of the game, and his timing has greatly improved.   Qadry Ismail is an acquired taste.  He can provide very good insight into the passing game one moment, but then will blurt out something completely incongruous.  Such as his random comment about Eli and Peyton Manning, saying, “They’re brothers, arrgh, they love each other!”  Okay. Whatever, Q. 

The in-the-truck crew was not quite as polished as the guys behind the mics.  The RaveTV graphics department flashed Graham Gano’s 2009 preseason stats on the screen as Billy Cundiff was prepared to kick a field goal.  And an open mic allowed viewers to hear the broadcast’s director in the background all night long, queuing upcoming graphics, recorded packages and breaks.

Despite these production slips it was still an enjoyable game to watch, not unlike the on-the-field performance of the Ravens players, over-coming a sloppy start.

Perhaps most interesting was witnessing the enthusiasm of new-comers Anquan Boldin and Cory Redding as they reacted to their new team’s success.   Seeing the former Cardinal and Seahawk players getting fired up, it was as if it had suddenly dawned on them, ‘hey, this place is different—we may have something special here.’
 

 
 

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