BALTIMORE RAVENS 23 CLEVELAND BROWNS 16
September 27, 2012
Gene Steratore and his experienced crew of NFL officials were back on the field Thursday night shortly after the NFL had reached their new, eight-year labor agreement with their union earlier in the day.
Also back on the field to face the Cleveland Browns were the Ravens players, the same field where just four nights earlier they slugged their way through to the final whistle and came away with a last-second win over the New England Patriots.
The mental and physical fatigue that comes from a short week of rest showed, particularly on the offensive line and among the special teams units. Playing the entire second half in a steady rain probably didn’t help much either, although it didn’t seem to affect either quarterback with nearly seven-hundred passing yards put up in the game.
This game with the Browns also came down to the wire. The Ravens, nursing a touchdown lead, allowed Cleveland to drive the field in the final minute and withstood four tosses into the end zone, including an extra snap after a foolish unsportsmanlike penalty on Paul Kruger gave the Browns an extra, final down from their 18 yard-line.
The win was the ninth consecutive for the Ravens over the Browns, and ran their season record to 3-1, and 2-0 in the division.
It also earned them some well-deserved rest after playing three nationally televised home games at night, and a total of four games in 18 days—the kind of scheduling gauntlet that no NFL team had been asked to endure since 1939.
Joe Flacco faced a good bit of pressure, with four sacks and six quarterback hits, but still made smart decisions, rolling away from trouble, checking down, tucking, or throwing the ball away at times. He under-threw a fade pattern in the corner of the end zone to Anquan Boldin that allowed linebacker Craig Robertson to loop back and snare for an interception. It ended a streak of 125 red zone throws without a pick. He was at his best lofting balls over the top of the defense and dropping them perfectly into his receivers’ hands. He also locked into rhythm with Anquan Boldin in the second half with well-aimed back-shoulder throws. The wet football did not seem to bother him as he racked up 356 yards through the air, completing 28 of 46 throws including the one interception and a touchdown. He also ran it in from the one on a bootleg.
Running Backs: B
Ray Rice shared more carries with Bernard Pierce this week and it was an effective change of pace back. Pierce averaged eight yards a carry on six rushing attempts, nearly matching the 49 rushing yards for Rice on 18 carries. There was not a lot of running room for Rice with the Browns cramming eight in the box against him for most of the night.
Rice was most impressive catching the ball out of the backfield, including a one-handed Spiderman grab of a hard thrown ball, spinning to pick up extra yards in the open field. He finished with eight catches for 47 yards, but was shut down in the second half, held without a catch on three targets. Vonta Leach chipped in with two catches for 25.
Wide Receivers: A
With the Browns nipping at the Ravens heels, Anquan Boldin practically carried the team on his back in the third quarter as the Browns keyed on Rice. He had one, short catch in the first half, at the two-minute warning and then exploded for eight catches and 125 yards in the second half, leading the team down the field to start the third quarter and setting up Flacco’s TD run to stretch the lead to 16-7.
Torrey Smith ran effective patterns and made nice adjustments on the ball, totaling 97 yards and a TD on six catches. He also turned into an effective defender again this week on a ball thrown up for grabs. Tandon Doss saw a lot of snaps and came away with a nifty fingertip grab on a lofted pass for 39 yards. He was also powerful enough to bull past the defender and draw an illegal contact penalty. And Jacoby Jones showed he is more than a one-dimensional deep threat, picking up a first on a dig route. Together, this group is becoming a handful for defenses to cover while trying to keep Ray Rice in check.
Tight Ends: D
Despite starting two tight ends, neither Dennis Pitta nor Ed Dickson came away with anything to show for it. Both were held without a catch. It was a tough night for Pitta, allowing himself to be forced out of bounds on a throw down the side and falling down in the end zone and forcing Flacco to run the ball in. He was also flagged twice for offsides inside the Browns red zone.
Michael Oher and Kelechi Osemele looked tired. On one sack of Flacco both tackles were simultaneously beaten on the edges. Both were also flagged for jumping offsides during the game. Oher’s penalty came during the final two minutes of the first half during a rather rushed looking play. It was his first flag on the year after experiencing chronic offsides in previous seasons. He was later called for a holding penalty well behind a long run. It may have been an iffy call, but didn’t warrant his meltdown as he had to be restrained by Vonta Leach from going after the official. On the plus side, he showed tremendous athleticism for a man his size in the running game, something that the Ravens did not get from Bryant McKinnie at that spot last year.
Osemele looked rugged hand fighting against bull rushes and on one run destroyed the entire left side of the Browns line. His footwork is a work in progress against the rush and he is particularly vulnerable to the inside move. He whiffed on one such play and was flagged for a hands-to-the-face penalty on another.
Interior Line: C
Ramon Harewood seemed particularly run down playing on short rest. It’s not that he didn’t make plays, including riding defensive tackle Billy Winn down the line for a huge running lane and showing good footwork on a screen. It’s his inconsistency. He was tentative sorting out a twisting stunt and was too slow off the ball while allowing penetration on the goal line.
Matt Birk fared well when his run blocking assignment was close by, but struggled with range, getting beaten by Winn and Frostee Rucker on a couple of critical downs that required the veteran center to execute a stretch block. He was also beaten by nose tackle John Hughes for a sack in the red zone. Marshall Yanda was back to his steady self, effectively pulling. He got out quickly to the edge in front of Flacco to allow an easy bootleg score.
Cary Williams made adjustments in his coverage technique after getting picked on four nights early against the Patriots. Against lesser Browns receivers he effectively played bump and run coverage, or simply tightened up his zone coverage buffer. He is also finally looking for the ball in the air. It paid off when he watched Browns quarterback Brandon Weeden stared down Travis Benjamin and broke on a third-down out pattern, stepping in to grab an interception and go 61 yards down side for TD. His first NFL interception was nice redemption after a tough Sunday.
Lardarius Webb was not quite the same, sure open field tackler he normally is, but played well overall, making some key pass defenses, including a couple TD saving plays, and collecting six tackles. Jimmy Smith went airborne to deflect what should have been the final play of the game.
Bernard Pollard had good position in pass coverage and on blitzes, but seemed to be a step late most of the night. He was also flagged for hitting a defenseless receiver to set up a Browns field goal. James Ihedigbo was too easily blocked on the goal line to allow Trent Richardson to run in a pitch. Ed Reed seemed to struggle with press coverage and was out of position in a lot of coverage packages. He did make some critical deflections to stop drives and continues to close and tackle more effectively than much of what we saw last season. However, if the Browns receivers could catch the ball, the safety grade would have been ugly.
Other than getting pressure up the A gap, Ray Lewis was ineffective, getting knocked to the ground too easily, unable to cover receivers in the middle, and finishing with just four tackles.
Dannell Ellerbe had another good game, showing closing speed and was better than advertised in coverage. In on nickel coverages, he rotated with Jameel McClain next to Lewis and together they split nine tackles. McClain was dragged downfield trying to bring down Richardson.
Other than the dumb penalty at the end of the game, Paul Kruger looked fresh and played well on the outside. He held the edge and defended the pass well, including a nice break on swing pass intended for Chris Ogbonnaya out of the backfield. A potential interception was foiled when Ray Lewis batted the ball away. His penetration forced a holding call on Joe Thomas.
Albert McClellan, who finished with a team high eight tackles, two in the backfield, and Courtney Upshaw were both active and impressive finishers. While neither make up for Terrell Suggs, they are coming along, with Kruger.
Defensive Line: B
Trent Richardson was held to 47 yards on the ground. Credit this group. Haloti Ngata had a particularly good game, standing up ball carriers, scraping down the line, or swimming around blocks to make tackles. One near sack of Weedon drew an intentional grounding flag. Center Alex Mack will have nightmares featuring the number 92. Pernell McPhee was into the backfield a lot with two quarterback hits, but no sacks.
Special Teams: D
Missed FG, Missed XP, Long punt return, penalties
It was a bad night for the special teams units, starting with a botched snap and missed extra point to open the game. In the rain Justin Tucker pushed a 47 yard field goal to the right for his first miss on the year.
Jimmy Smith was flagged for hands to the face and could have been called for a block in the back on a call that went the Ravens way when Johnson Badmosi ran into the return man after a fair catch. Anthony Allen later ran into Benjamin after a fair catch to tack on fifteen.
The Ravens got little out of the return game and allowed a 40-yard punt return to Benjamin up the side.
In a scary moment, Dannell Ellerbe knocked the helmet off Josh Cribbs on a return, seemingly knocking the return man cold for a fumble recovered by the Ravens.
It was a good move to go to a quicker pace in the second half. Cam Cameron could not help himself but throw in some odd wrinkles, like inserting Tyrod Taylor as a receiver in the red zone and attempting a poorly designed flea flicker. It seemed to be more about setting up plays for future games than helping against the Browns. Credit Dean Pees for improving technique and communication in the secondary. Pass rush should be next on his agenda.
On a short week’s rest, all in all it was a respectable showing.
It was nice to see the regular zebras back. Not to say they were always on top of things. They called a tighter game, which was probably warranted after some raucous games under the replacements. That included a bench foul on the Browns. They got holding and pass interference calls right, for the most part.
The chief complaint against the replacements was poor game administration. This crew was better but not best. After Cribbs lay on ground for ten minutes, play resumed and the Ravens went to line, calling signals as the play clock ran, then the officials ran in with whistles blaring and announced the play under review. Ten minutes later? Really? So much for better administration of game. We also didn’t get much of an explanation on the bench foul after the grounding call.