Hey Ravens’ Faithful…
What. A. Game!
This game was full of the lowest of lows and incredible highs. The first half was a snoozer – largely as a result of the weather. BUT…
The last 5 minutes of the game may have been the most exciting 5 minutes of any game this season. When it comes to Ravens football, you just never know when last minute heroics are going to come alive and take over a game. I think it’s safe to say that most fans would rather see the Ravens absolutely manhandle a team from the first to the final whistle, but wins like today can define a season and forge confidence.
The same thing happened last year on the 4th and 29 “Hey Diddle Diddle, Ray Rice Up The Middle” play and without those last minute heroics, the Ravens may not have won the Super Bowl. The Miami Dolphins and the San Diego Chargers both won today, so a Ravens loss would have meant possibly sitting at home during the playoffs.
So, while I’d love to have watched a Ravens team throttle Minnesota, a win is a win and the beer is always coldest after a win like today.
Offensive Grade: A-
Overall, I think the offense had a decent day. For once, the running game seemed to finally get to where it should have been all season. Typically, running in snow is not easy because the offensive line gets very little push on the defensive line. Ray Rice had 67 yards on 17 attempts, which is around 3.95 yards per carry. That’s not amazing, but Rice ran purposefully today. He was a lot more decisive in picking his holes, hitting them squarely and running downhill. Bernard Pierce, on the other hand, did a lot of dancing around and it just didn’t work out for him. Pierce had less than 2 yards per carry.
The offensive line did a nice job protecting Joe Flacco today and on many of the offensive snaps, Flacco had a decent pocket with more than sufficient time. Michael Oher continued to have issues with penalties and Marshall Yanda, Gino Gradkowski and Eugene Monroe had some problems today. However, Minnesota has some good players on the defensive line (Jared Allen and Kevin Williams), so all in all I thought the line did a solid job. Joe Flacco turned in an up and down game (28/50, 245 yards, 3 TDs, 3 INTs). Yet, if it weren’t for Flacco, I’m not sure the Ravens would have a win this season. His final throw to Marlon Brown was perfect and only where Marlon could get it.
My biggest issue with the offense today was their inability to get Torrey Smith more involved. Other than his 2-point converting reception, he only had 1 reception today and it didn’t come until the second half of play. I just think there is no excuse for this. Torrey is one of the best players on the team and is much more than a vertical receiver. He excels with crossing routes when Joe can get him the ball in space, in stride. The past few weeks it just seems like they’re trying to only hit Torrey on deep stuff. I see a lot of teams using bubble screens to allow their playmakers an opportunity to quickly get the ball out in space and make something happen. Denver runs this play to Demaryius Thomas almost every week and Minnesota ran it today multiple times to Greg Jennings and Cordarrelle Patterson. Don’t get me wrong, I’m glad the offense seems to be turning a bit of a corner, but I really do think they are not using their players to their fullest potential.
Defensive Grade: D
I’ve mentioned it several times prior to this game, but there is a disturbing trend we are witnessing from the defensive unit. This is the 7th time this season where the defensive has essentially given the game away after being in the lead. Some would say that the onus is on the offense to score more points and while there is certainly a degree of truth to that, a majority of the off-season energy and money was devoted to the defensive side of the ball. Right now, the defense ranks in the top-10 in a lot of statistical categories (they’ve only allowed 3 rushing touchdowns for example), but statistics are meaningless when the defense struggles late in the game to seal a victory.
To make matters worse, players like Matt Cassel, Jason Campbell and Josh McCown are dismantling them. The defense has talent, but the philosophy of Dean Pees is generic and easily identifiable. Opposing offenses are doing what they want because they can. If it weren’t for the Special Teams unit and the offense, the Ravens would have lost today. Lardarius Webb made some big plays today, but he was also picked on quite a bit. His game is predicated on burst and lateral quickness, which was all but nullified by the snow. Another player that has impressed is DeAngelo Tyson. Whenever he gets on the field, he seems to make a play, oftentimes in the opponent’s backfield.
Finally, this is the second week in a row where the Ravens have not had a sack. I know they were missing Elvis Dumervil, but where has Terrell Suggs been? Art Jones? Granted, Dean Pees doesn’t run the most brilliant defensive game plan in the NFL, but I’d still like to think that these guys can win their 1-on-1 match ups every now and then and get to the quarterback. This is one reason why the defense struggles late in games; there is no pressure at all.
Special Teams Grade: A+
When Jacoby Jones first came to Baltimore, I was a little skeptical because while in Houston he had underwhelmed a lot. However, he is just a good fit in Baltimore and he is always making plays when given the opportunity. Jones isn’t an outstanding receiver, but what he lacks as a receiver, he makes up for as a return specialist. Jones is arguably the best return specialist in the NFL right now. The way he tiptoed down the sideline today for a big time score just goes to show you what Jones can do when coaches aren’t meandering their way onto the field while watching the JumboTron…
The Ravens have clawed their way out of a 3-5 hole halfway through the season and are now 7-6. They currently hold the last wild card playoff spot and their fate is in their hands. They’ve got tough games coming up against Detroit, New England and the Bengals, all of which are winnable. It is very possible that the Ravens could win 10 games this season.
And once a team gets into the playoffs, nothing that happened during the regular season matters.
GIF courtesy of Gordon Dixon