Going into yesterday’s game against the Browns, no one really knew for sure just how the Ravens might respond to the debacle in Detroit. Even Brian Billick openly worried that his team might peel back their emotions so much that they could lack passion in the Browns game. Fans didn’t know what to expect and judging from the way the national media previewed the game, they didn’t know either.
What we found was a team that while completely devoid of professionalism just last week, turned in a very professional and efficient performance. Granted, there’s plenty of room for improvement but there’s no denying, progress was made.
Anthony Wright played with poise and confidence while delivering a consistently nice ball nearly all afternoon. He executed the game plan well (as evidenced by the dominating time of possession 37:05 to 22:55) and finished the contest with an 89.9 quarterback rating. He utilized a hard snap count to gain a first down and converted key third downs to move the chains and maintain possession.
On the downside, Wright has tremendous difficulty, like his counterpart Kyle Boller executing a screen pass. The Ravens have rarely thrown the ball downfield this year and if yesterday’s deep pass to Hymes down the left sideline is any indication, they should probably keep it that way unless it is a thinly veiled attempt to force the opposing defense to respect the deep ball. Wright again committed a cardinal sin of quarterbacking when throwing an interception in the red zone. On second and 4 at the 13, there was absolutely no reason to try and force the ball into Todd Heap. None! Wright had another option with time to throw further downfield in Darnell Dinkins who ran a an out pattern in the end zone. Film study will show Wright that with a pump fake to Heap there, he draws in Gary Baxter who was bracketing Heap from behind and Dinkins is then wide open for the score. Wright also made the mistake of holding on to the football too long on a second and 15 from his own 27 with 6:38 to go and the Ravens holding on to a 16-3 lead. Wright failed to protect the football while being sacked (he needs to roll outside of the tackles and toss it away at that point) and the results were nearly disastrous. Fortunately, he recovered his own fumble.
Wright also needs to improve as a leader during the 2 minute offense. He needs to be more decisive and in control of the offense and avoid sloppy play like that towards the end of the first half. The 10 second run off caused by the procedure penalty could have cost the Ravens 3 points.
Jamal Lewis continues to get the tough yards yet he seemed to revert back to his early season form, hesitating a bit too much before exploding through the hole. Some might ask, “What hole?” and that would be a fair question yesterday when the Ravens played the Browns. The Browns were determined to take Jamal Lewis out of the game and committed 8 men to the box throughout the contest to do just that.
Part of the problem is that the Ravens are more committed to running the football when Jamal is in the game and establishing the over-hyped “identity.” They are more predictable and Jamal is viewed as a one-dimensional player. Defenses approach the Ravens differently when Chester Taylor is in the game.
On the season, Jamal has 98 carries for 292 yards (3.0 avg.) and Chester has 35 carries for 202 yards (5.8 avg.). Yesterday was very representative of the seasonal stats as Taylor continues to knife his way through defenses while doing an excellent job of following blocks and efficiently maximizing each of his opportunities. Taylor needs to do a better job of catching the ball before he looks to run. It cost him and the team two completions yesterday and on both plays, Taylor had room to run. His shiftiness in the open field presents problems for defenses. Jamal needs to explode to attack tacklers instead of dancing 3 or 4 yards before contact in an attempt to elude them. Film study might suggest to Jamal that he can bounce outside at times when the middle is clogged.
Ovie Mughelli prior to his ankle injury performed decently in place of Alan Ricard.
Todd Heap and Derrick Mason were outstanding! They will draw even more attention from defenses in the future, beginning with the Bears this week. It will be incumbent upon the Ravens to get the ball to the team’s other receivers like Clayton and Hymes to take advantage of man coverage while Heap and Mason draw double teams. Interestingly, Clarence Moore has made his way from the starting line up to the inactive list in three weeks. .Randy Hymes received playing time in Moore’s absence and even Devard Darling made his 2005 regular season debut. The only blemish against this group’s performance yesterday is the continuance of this habit of ignoring down and distance and running routes short of the first down marker. There was less of that, but it’s a flaw that still exists. Part of this problem can also be attributed to Anthony Wright and the play calling.
The steady improvement of this unit continued yesterday although they were flagged for four holding penalties. I’ve reviewed the game film three times and I’ve yet to see the holding call against Keydrick Vincent which nullified a ten yard gain by Jamal Lewis. Vincent pancaked his man on the play. The unit gave Anthony Wright plenty of time to throw; allowing only 1 sack and even that was one Wright should have avoided. The run blocking was tough sledding due in part to the Browns commitment to the run when Jamal Lewis was on the field. They were more effective against fewer bodies when Chester Taylor was in the game. Tony Pashos is improving against the outside speed rush although he was beaten once and called for holding on a third and 11 pass to Chester Taylor negating a 13 yard gain and a first down.
The Browns didn’t run the football until 12:32 mark of the second quarter. In total, Browns’ backs only carried the ball 17 times for 70 yards and one has to wonder why they didn’t try and get the running game untracked early on. It appeared as though they could grind it out against the Ravens front 7 as evidenced by the 13 play, 61 yard drive that chewed up 7:23. The defensive line pressured Trent Dilfer throughout the contest. Terrell Suggs had a sack, a forced fumble, several hurries and a couple of tipped balls one of which led to the Ray Lewis interception. Suggs certainly showed character responding to last week’s adversity and ejection. Kelly Gregg provided inside pressure at times in passing situations and he also had a tipped pass (although Chris McAlister appeared to be in position for the pick had Gregg not tipped it). Peter Boulware was a non-factor and was pancaked by Rueben Droughns in the third quarter on a passing play.
Adalius Thomas was solid in run support, defended a pass, applied steady pressure and added a sack of Trent Dilfer. Tommy Polley was solid in pass protection and also chipped in with 1 ½ sacks. Ray Lewis pressured Dilfer into a poor throw ending a drive in the first quarter and then picked off a tipped pass with 2:20 left in the third quarter at the Ravens 46. Ray was largely absent supporting the run. He had 5 tackles in total, three on running plays that on average gained 7 yards. Ray was leveled by Browns fullback Terrelle Smith and he was nearly run over by William Green in the second quarter on a 6 yard run. Bart Scott in limited action played well and is probably deserving of more playing time. But where?
When the secondary does little that is memorable, that is often a sign that they’ve done their jobs. The Browns didn’t take many chances down field and they did have some success hitting their tight ends. The failed to keep Dilfer and the Browns pinned inside their own 5 when Dilfer connected with Dennis Northcutt for a 29 yard gain. Northcutt was well covered but Dilfer’s pass was the best one thrown by either QB all day. Chris McAlister had a very solid day. Ed Reed made a couple of nice open field tackles, one to prevent a third down conversion. Demps was effective in run support but seemed a bit confused on double deep routes run by the Browns receivers. Chris McAlister was left to defend two Browns when Demps cut his coverage to the sideline where there was no receiver. Chad Williams was effective in the dime.
B.J. Sams was outstanding particularly when you consider the swirling winds at The Vault yesterday. He caught Kyle Richardson’s punts with confidence and with a purpose, while following his blocking very well. If B.J. Ward could have stayed on his feet another yard or two, it may have created enough space for Sams to take the punt return the distance. The punt team managed a net of gain of 40 yards on five punts despite a 29 yard return from the elusive Northcutt. Zastudil was decent and recovered on a low snap from Matt Katula to drill a line drive into the wind to the Cleveland 13. Daniel Wilcox was productive in coverage contributing 4 special teams tackles and Bart Scott was outstanding. He contributed three tackles, one of which forced a fumble on a kick off and he also landed a devastating block on B.J. Sams’ 51 yard return in the first quarter. Kickoff coverage was challenged by Aaron Elling’s short kicks. Once again, he offers no compelling reason to occupy a roster spot.
You have to give Brian Billick credit for mentally preparing his team to play the Cleveland Browns and to effectively face the self-inflicted adversity that challenged the team all week. The Ravens played as a team and that was extremely important for the Ravens entering the game. A loss yesterday would have all but assured their elimination from playoff contention.
Billick himself even kept his composure and the Ravens both offensively and defensively had a very solid game plan. They do need to do a better job of putting the ball in the end zone and taking some shots downfield if for no other reason than to force the opponent to respect that aspect of the game and then perhaps, to draw a big penalty. Gary Baxter has been known to make contact downfield after a double move and what player has a better double move than Derrick Mason? Against a better team, 16 points isn’t going to cut it.
It was good to see them use Jamal Lewis and Chester Taylor in the backfield at the same time. That may have been a move out of necessity but it does present some interesting possibilities. It was also nice to see the team use play action on first down and the creativity with the direct snap to Mark Clayton.
UPON FURTHER REVIEW
* The Ravens inactives yesterday included: Kyle Boller, Alan Ricard, Jason Brown, Adam Terry, Terry Jones, Tony Weaver and Clarence Moore. The list also included Patrick Johnson. Johnson has yet to be active for a game since his return and it begs the questions, why did he return at all and why did he take the place of Derek Anderson? Granted, Anderson is hardly a sure thing but why give up his spot for someone that doesn’t even play? If they wanted Kordell Stewart from the very beginning, why waste the draft pick on Anderson? It just doesn’t add up.
* Mark Clayton, Ovie Mughelli and Ed Reed all sprained ankles and left the game. The severity of the injuries is not believed to be serious. Confirmation should arrive with Brian Billick’s press conference this afternoon at 3PM.
* There was apparently and incident between the Ravens band and the Cleveland Browns yesterday just before the band exited the field. One of the female band members was reportedly knocked to the ground and was injured. No ankle injury – word is it’s her wrist. Not to make light of the situation, but it’s been suggested by others that the scene was the real life version of Don McLean’s American Pie:
Now the half-time air was sweet perfume
While the sergeants played a marching tune.
We all got up to dance,
Oh, but we never got the chance!
`cause the players tried to take the field;
The marching band refused to yield.
Do you recall what was revealed
The day the music died?
* While the yellow hankies weren’t flying as frequently, eleven penalties for 97 yards is still entirely too much and it will hurt the Ravens against less offensively challenged opponents.
The Ravens had to be thinking here we go again when Ray Lewis was flagged for a late hit out of bounds. It looked as though Ray was actually trying to curtail his momentum and avoid a collision. Then later in the game, Chester Taylor was forced out of bounds by Gary Baxter. Browns’ safety Brian Russell hit Taylor with force while he was clearly out of bound yet no flag was thrown.
* What was Romeo Crennel thinking when he elected to punt down by 13 with 4:08 remaining and facing a fourth and 6 from his own 28?
* Yesterday’s Umpire Butch Hannah was injured on a Ravens running play in the fourth quarter – the same Butch Hannah that was punched by Ronde Barber last week.
* Chester Taylor is looking more and more like the next Priest Holmes. And while Holmes was a natural to leave the Ravens because of the blossoming talent of Jamal Lewis, Taylor might not be. There’s a lot more mileage on Lewis now and Taylor’s game is more multifaceted than Lewis’. He’ll also be more economical and that could free up dollars to spend elsewhere. Until such decisions need to be made, the Ravens would be wise to milk all they can from these two talented backs both playing for their next contract.
* Are the Ravens now 2-1?