The most interesting development of Kyle Boller’s season has been the way in which he has avoided the big mistakes. In the last 5 games he has thrown only 1 interception and that was on a Hail Mary pass to close the first half against the Eagles. Of his 6 interceptions this season, 3 were thrown against the Redskins and 2 of those were not even his fault. That leaves two other interceptions and those were both thrown in the season opener. And even one of those slipped through the very reliable hands of Todd Heap.
Yesterday, not only did Boller continue to protect the football, he picked up where he left off at the Meadowlands once the second half was under way. Despite the absence of Jamal Lewis, Todd Heap and a less than 100% Clarence Moore, Boller persevered and found his rhythm, distributing the ball to 8 different players indicating that he’s not locking in on any one particular receiver. And while Boller’s deep throws continue to need refinement, his intermediate throws have been accurate. Yesterday he hit several receivers in stride enabling more yards after catch (Y.A.C.). His laser to Darnell Dinkins was poetry in motion. Boller’s ball handling skills are also improving. He’s getting better at selling the run during play action.
RUNNING BACK 1/2
The Ravens produced only 59 yards in rushing offense. This can be attributed to 3 things: 1) Injuries to Jamal Lewis and Musa Smith; 2) Dallas’ commitment to stopping the run with 8 sometimes 9 men in the box; and 3) solid tackling by the Cowboys. The thin backfield did produce in pass protection demonstrating solid technique against a defense that is known to blitz the quarterback effectively. Chester Taylor picked up Cowboys DE Eric Ogbogu, a 270 pound former Terrapin on a key third down pass to Travis Taylor to keep the Ravens first scoring drive alive. The next play, Boller hit Darnell Dinkins for a 17 yard score.
Travis Taylor when healthy, has had a solid year and appears to have a good rapport with Boller. Since the playoff game last year against the Titans, Taylor has been sure-handed. Yesterday, he dropped a couple of balls yet he did get separation on a couple of key third downs. Kevin Johnson helped to move the chains yet missed an opportunity to make a tough sideline catch for still another first down. The ball slipped through his hands. Both Taylor and Johnson both coughed up costly fumbles, fortunately leading to only 3 Dallas points. Darnell Dinkins looks like yet another productive player that the Ravens have pulled from the scrap heap. Dinkins scored the games first touchdown and caught three balls on the Ravens first scoring drive. Daniel Wilcox contributed 2 catches, one on that first third quarter scoring drive. He also chipped in with effective pass blocking from the H back position.
OFFENSIVE LINE 1/2
This unit struggled to provide running room for Chester Taylor against a defense determined not to allow any. Zeus struggled in pass protection against speed rushers that stunted to the inside. He was caught flat-footed a few times. Once on a run by Chester Taylor, Zeus failed to sustain an outside seal block allowing the defensive end to release from the block and tackle Chester Taylor for no gain. Had he maintained the block, the play had some promise. The unit did provide solid pass protection for Kyle Boller allowing only 1 sack and even then, Kyle Boller should have escaped trouble had he cut left instead of towards the middle of the field.
DEFENSIVE LINE 1/2
The wide spreads by the Cowboys’ offensive line created some problems for the Ravens. This approach was also used effectively by the Kansas City Chiefs. The wide spreads create bigger running seems and they also allow the linemen to get into the second level easier and block the Ravens linebackers. Larry Allen’s target nearly the entire afternoon was Ray Lewis. He often found Ray or impeded his flow to the ball carrier. Kelly Gregg was kept from knifing into the backfield. Of his 6 tackles, 3 of them were 6 yards downfield. Jarrett Johnson and Tony Weaver were non-factors. Marquez Douglas was disruptive despite evidence to the contrary in the stat book. He also had a sack and a forced fumble following a missed assignment by the Dallas offensive line early in the fourth quarter.
Ed Hartwell had his best game of the season. The Cowboys offensive line focused upon Ray enabling Hartwell to move freely to ball carriers. And that is exactly what he did as if on a mission. Rarely was Ray Lewis first to the ball, thanks to Larry Allen. Terrell Suggs was very disruptive. On several occasions, Suggs altered running plays enabling Hartwell to come along and clean up. And although Suggs’ stats will show only 5 tackles and 1 sack, he was much more beastly than those numbers would suggest.
One has to wonder why the Cowboys didn’t go after Corey Fuller more often. Mike Nolan must have felt the same way because Ray Walls got the nod over Fuller in the second half. Neither was particularly effective although Walls seemed to get more comfortable as the game progressed. Walls was beaten badly by Quincy Carter at the 7 minute mark of the second quarter. Testaverde overthrew Carter for an easy 6 from the Ravens 23. Will Demps, save the Cleveland home game, has been in a season long slump. While rotating over in coverage to support the inside intermediate route, Demps back peddled so far downfield that he took himself completely out of position on a square in route by Terrance Copper that produced 22 yards and took the Cowboys out of a hole deep in their own territory. Ed Reed made an important interception after a big kick return from Copper, taking away any momentum the Cowboys had gathered. Chad Williams almost weekly, makes a play. He did it again yesterday, once again supporting our two year long claim that he is the league’s biggest playmaking dime back.
SPECIAL TEAMS 1/2
Coverage teams haven’t been as stout as they were earlier in the season and that could be due to fatigue and the effects of injuries on the team’s depth. The punt coverage squad was late to arrive and the kick coverage team, although explosive getting downfield, failed to tackle well. B.J. Sams needs to run more north and south on kick returns and he also needs to be more cognizant of the game situation and the usefulness of a fair catch. With 4:24 left in the third quarter and the Ravens holding a 14-3 lead, Dallas’ punt coverage team swarmed to B.J. Sams. A fumble there at the Ravens 36 and the Cowboys are right back in the game.
During the first half, the Ravens seemed determine to stay within the profile — the profile of a running team. And their determination was met by the Cowboys who were hell bent on preventing the run. The Cowboys were counteracting the Ravens two tight end set with 4 down linemen and 4 linebackers. They should have exploited that alignment in the air but in the first half, they chose not to. In the second half, the staff made the proper adjustments and used the two tight end set with Wilcox and Dinkins to move the ball through the air.
Once again, props to the coaches for making the proper adjustments given the plethora of injuries. Brian Billick has cultivated a “fox hole” atmosphere amongst his players. Adversity seems to simply pull this team even closer together, each man contributing just a bit extra to pick up the slack. In my opinion, this year has been Brian Billick’s finest.
Props to the coaches also for trying to drive the final nail in the Cowboys’ coffin by going vertical with a 14-3 lead. Time and again, we’ve watched this team sit on leads. You’ve gotta love the killer mentality.
* Even though it failed, I loved the idea of the Flanker Option Pass. Third and 5 is probably not the ideal time to run the play against a team known to blitz — and they did. The Cowboys blitz blew the play up. To bad — Kyle Boller was wide open down the left side. Let’s hope they come back to that.
** And speaking of coming back to a play, let’s hope the staff doesn’t ignore the play action on the first offensive play from scrimmage. A better throw and that play is there. When Kyle connects on one or two of those, running room will expand for Jamal and company.
*** The deepest Ravens penetration in the first half — the Cowboys 35.
**** Props to the 12th man — 3 false starts and a wasted time out. Keep up the great work!
***** All the best to Musa Smith….a guy that could play tailback for many teams yet he happily plays third fiddle here in The Land of Pleasant Living and contributes on special teams. A complete and speedy recovery we wish for you Musa. Thank you for all you’ve done. We look forward to more….