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During the first half yesterday, Steve McNair’s play much like last week was very reminiscent of the quarterbacking we’ve grown accustomed to here in Baltimore.  The Ravens managed 4 first downs in the first half, none in the second quarter.  McNair was 5 of 12 for 71 yards and a QB rating of 61.5 and the Ravens managed only 103 yards of offense against one of the league’s worst defenses and one of the most banged up secondaries.  They were also 0 for 6 on third down conversion attempts.
McNair’s struggles leaked into the second half as well when he threw a short pass well behind Todd Heap that should have been intercepted by S Sean Jones.  Fortunately it wasn’t.  McNair showing some resiliency, began to develop a little rhythm later that same drive resulting in the team’s first offensive touchdown in Cleveland since 2003.
The Ravens converted 7 of 11 third down opportunities in the second half while McNair was 18 of 29 for 193 yards and a score.  But most importantly, he calmly led a drive from the Ravens own 20 with 3:21 remaining – a drive that was  marred by some questionable play calling.
Jamal Lewis finished with 86 yards on 21 carries and while he ran hard at times, he left a few yards on the field by not capitalizing on a couple of cutback opportunities.  He also fumbled on his second touch of the game early in the first quarter after the exchange with Steve McNair despite the absence of penetration behind the line – an unforced and near costly error.  Musa Smith was surprisingly limited while Mike Anderson was surprisingly absent.  Ovie Mughelli was ineffective in pass blocking, allowing a nicked up Willie McGuinest to beat him badly on his way to a sack of Steve McNair.  Overall you would have expected more from the running game after New Orleans and Cincinnati shredded the Browns on the ground.
Derrick Mason was lights out and certainly made a statement on Sunday.  That statement said, “Give me a chance to make a play!”  And when the Ravens did, Mason delivered time and time again.  Mark Clayton showed that he can work the soft spots on the field and make clutch plays when called upon.  The unit’s route running seemed to create some problems for Steve McNair.  Mark Clayton, Todd Heap and Demetrius Williams were all at times not on the same with McNair.  Mark Clayton dropped a pass in the first quarter that could have gone for a touchdown but at the very least would have resulted in a first and goal.
The Ravens offensive line is extremely one dimensional and Jim Fassel’s play calling certainly didn’t help matters yesterday.  The Ravens run blocking is virtually 100% power zone blocking with very little trap blocking or pulling and that limits the variations and looks of the running game.  And when they are forced to take on a defensive anchor like 400 pound behemoth Sam Washington, usually the Ravens interior line will be pushed around.  Such was the case on Sunday.  In pass protection, the unit provided McNair with time on occasion but the Browns defensive front managed to hurry McNair 18 times and this is a team that ranked dead last in sacks in the NFL last year with 23.  They did come through to provide adequate protection during the game winning field goal drive.  By the way, can someone show Tony Pashos where he needs to line up?
Kelly Gregg,  Haloti Ngata and Justin Bannan were all stout on Sunday v. the run.  Granted they weren’t facing Cleveland’s best but they did hold the Browns to 38 yards rushing and they constantly harassed Charlie Frye.  This was easily Trevor Pryce’s best game as a Raven and Gregg was outstanding with 6 tackles, 1 ½ sacks and 2 QB hurries.  Terrell Suggs also played very well prior to his injury.
Bart Scott is an absolute force and shows outstanding timing on his blitzes.  I have to wonder why opponents don’t change up their snap counts more often to disrupt his timing.  It’s doubtful that the Chargers will implement such a strategy this week given the looming bedlam that will erupt at The Vault this coming Sunday.  Scott had 8 tackles, 2 sacks and 5 QB hurries.  He is tied for the NFL lead in sacks with 5.  His hit on Charlie Frye just as he released the football with 3:28 to go in the game helped pave the way for Chris McAlister’s game changing interception.  Adalius Thomas played well although not up to his outstanding play of last week.  He missed a tackle on Braylon Edwards that turned a two yard gain into a first down deep in Cleveland territory.  Ray Lewis wasn’t a big factor and was taken out of position by Browns’ linemen at times, particularly on a 13 yard run by Jason Wright midway through the second quarter.
Ed Reed was relatively absent for the second straight week although he did make a nice stop on Jason Wright at the Ravens’ four on first and goal, one play prior to the McAlister pick.  McAlister was beaten by Braylon Edwards on a little stop and go in the first quarter, biting a bit on Frye’s pump fake and then later was caught out of position on a pass interference penalty in the end zone.  He certainly atoned for his mistakes in the fourth quarter.  Sometimes you just get beat no matter the effort.  Samari Rolle was beaten on a 58 yard score by Edwards.  Despite fairly tight coverage, Frye dropped in a perfectly thrown pass leading to the TD.  Dawan Landry looked a bit lost at times in coverage and missed an easy tackle on Dennis Northcutt.  He did make a shoe string tackle on Kellen Winslow late in the fourth to set up the first and goal at the four.  Without that tackle, Winslow might have scored and the end result would have been significantly different.  Corey Ivy made a great play on a third down pass intended for Edwards at the start of the fourth quarter, while stripping the ball from the impressive receiver.
Sam Koch only had a 39.2 yard average on his 6 punts but 3 were dropped inside the 20 and one at the 7.  The kick coverage team was better holding the Browns to a 24 yard return average.  They were aided by a strong wind that led the way to 3 Matt Stover touchbacks.  And while his average won’t show it, B.J. Sams did a nice job fielding punts on the run while battling the 25 mph winds.  He kept the Ravens from starting deep in their own territory a few times.  A less confident returner may have let those balls die inside the 10 and with the Ravens early offensive struggles, who knows where that would have ended up.  Matt Stover once again lived up to his billing: “Money!”
Anyone questioning the Ravens offensive play calling would certainly be justified.  In the first half and into the second half, the Ravens offense once again seemed frighteningly familiar.  They once again dictated their play calling with their personnel packages and Todd Heap wasn’t even a thought in the first half.  The Browns secondary was very banged up and the Ravens did very little to challenge them.  The Ravens running plays are all virtual mirror images of each other and it seems as though the objective of each is for Jamal Lewis to cut back behind the mass of humanity with the hope of breaking one open.  Here’s a hint Jim – they’re on to you!  The Ravens don’t run outside, the quick back handed pitch to Jamal that was once effective is covered in moth balls and the line is never called upon to pull out and lead the way for Jamal outside the tackle.
The one bright spot is that they finally started to throw the ball downfield and at least give their capable receivers a chance to make a play.  The call on fourth and nearly 2 in the third quarter (straight away run to Jamal behind the left side) was as predictable death and taxes.  What about a boot or a waggle there?  And that reverse to Clayton just before the two minute warning in the fourth was an absolute joke.  Oh and the handling of the down and distance when facing a second and two with two timeouts remaining was a disaster.  They should have run for the first down and burned one of the timeouts to set them up for a few more chances to move Stover closer.  Had his field goal attempt hit the crossbar…well, you know the rest.
Defensively, the Ravens played well although they should not have been caught off guard by the Browns’ focus on Edwards and Kellen Winslow particularly with Rueben Droughns out.  It’s surprising that the Ravens didn’t at least try to take out Edwards by bracketing him much the same way they’ve done in the past with receivers like Randy Moss.  But credit certainly has to go to Charlie Frye who turned in a gutty and very efficient performance given the hell that the Ravens unleashed around him.
UPON FURTHER REVIEW: Steve McNair was hit late at least twice yesterday, once directly in the head, without a call.  These omissions are glaring when compared to some of the other ticky-tacky roughing calls during other NFL games yesterday.  Not surprisingly, one such game was the Giants @ Seahawks game officiated by Mike Carey’s crew…The officials also seemed to miss an interference penalty against Todd Heap by Brodney Pool on the winning FG drive.  Interference wasn’t but should have been called on Brian Russell during Mason’s big 38 yard one-handed catch at the end of the third…CBS’ Production was wretched.  They had very limited replay angles and Gus Johnson and Steve Tasker were equally as bad.  Johnson could have made a Charlie Frye trip to the grocery store seem like must see TV.  Maybe now that the Ravens are 3-0 they can lose this less than desirable tandem….Say what?  After Dennis Northcutt reversed his field for a 9 yard punt return, an excited Gus Johnson exclaimed, “Makes chicken salad!” 

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Tony Lombardi

About Tony Lombardi

Tony is 24×7 Networks, LLC’s founder (the parent of and His work has been featured on various sports websites and he is a regular guest on 105.7 The Fan and he hosts “The Fanimal” also heard on 105.7 The Fan, Saturdays from 8-9AM. Among his favorite things in life are his wife, kids, family, friends, The Beatles, Breaking Bad, Gladiator, The Godfather, Guinness, orange crushes, meatballs and Key West, not necessarily in that order. Follow Tony on Twitter @RSRLombardi.

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