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Like the rest of the offensive unit, Steve McNair was inconsistent in the first half short-arming the ball on a few throws, once failing to hit an open Derrick Mason for a first down towards the end of the first half. His fumble on the Ravens last possession of the first half cost the team no less than three points. McNair did rebound in the second half going 12 of 16 for 127 yards while playing mistake free football. His decision making and ball skills were solid and his patience to take only what Atlantaâ€™s Cover 2 defense provided was rewarded as the Ravens scored on each second half possession save the last drive which ended with McNair taking a knee.
McNairâ€™s poise on the fourth and one pass to Jamal Lewis from the Atlanta 8 yard line while down 7-3 was crucial to the success of a relatively risky call â€“ a call that sent the message that the Ravens were supremely confident in their defensive effort and that they would not throttle down offensively. He did miss a wide open Todd Heap deep down the middle. He would have found success had he thrown the ball to the spot where Heap was open instead of leading him towards the oncoming safety who broke up the play.
RUNNING BACKS: B+
Jamal Lewis had the kind of second half that everyone has been waiting for from the 2003 AFC Offensive Player of the Year. Lewis finally displayed better vision and took notice of his cutback lanes. He ran towards them with grit, determination and power to the tune of 79 yards on 16 bruising attempts. He even showed nice hands while fully extended on the fourth down pass deep in the red zone to set up his own 2 yard run to put the Ravens up 10-7. Ovie Mughelli is on a bit of a hot streak not only by developing a nice rhythm with Lewis in the backfield but also as an emerging dump off option in the passing game. Musa Smith was decent in limited action although the Ravens would be wise to continue to give him 10-12 touches per game. He seems primed to break off a big gain.
This unit save for Todd Heap, had a tough time getting separation from a rather weak Falconsâ€™ secondary during the first half. Lawyer Milloy and Chris Crocker arenâ€™t exactly the best cover safeties in the league while Lance Schulters was playing out of position at the corner opposite DeAngelo Hall. Mark Clayton got it going in the second half catching 3 passes for 42, 4 and 20 yards each being a third down conversion. Derrick Mason and Mark Clayton were both surprisingly on the sidelines when the Ravens were deep in the red zone, replaced by Demetrius Williams and Clarence Moore. Moore is relatively useless and was asked to do very little other than to sit in the backfield on the edge to provide maximum pass protection. Instead he looked more like an EZ Pass toll both. Mason made a clutch 9 yard catch on third down to set up Jamal Lewisâ€™ third and final touchdown which for all intents and purposes was the final nail in the Falconsâ€™ coffin. Heap was steady with 6 catches for 62 yards, most of them the result of finding the soft white underbelly of Atlantaâ€™s Cover 2. Heap did get open deep as well on a couple of occasions but he and McNair were unable to connect.
OFFENSIVE LINE: B+
After a very shaky first half, this unit answered the second half bell with flying colors. During the first half the line was completely out of synch. There was little to no cohesiveness and they were careless and sloppy with momentum killing false starts. They also did a poor job of providing protection for McNair despite the absences of DEâ€™s John Abraham and Patrick Kerney. Chris Chester playing in place of the injured Keydrick Vincent was beaten soundly by the Falcons patchwork defensive line in the opening half. The interior line got it together at the break and turned it around 180 degrees in the second half. They were dominant at the point of attack and both Chester and Jason Brown were able to drive their men to create gaping holes for Jamal Lewis. Jonathan Ogden continues his quest to recapture the title of best tackle in the game. He sealed off the edge completely in the second half. Mike Flynn and Tony Pashos like their line mates, also turned in solid second half performances.
DEFENSIVE LINE: A+
Clearly the best unit on the field yesterday on either side of the ball, the d-line was outstanding in applying pressure on Michael Vick and for the most part containing one of the leagueâ€™s most elusive players. Terrell Suggs continues to improve his all around game and made a couple of key stops on Warrick Dunn, one on fourth down and another on third down. He was also menacing in the backfield with two QB hurries and a sack. Trevor Pryceâ€™s play continues to improve and the teamâ€™s investment in the former Bronco is paying dividends. Pyrce had two sacks and was disruptive in the Falconsâ€™ backfield seemingly all afternoon. Kelly Greggâ€™s sack of Michael Vick was a memorable one, slamming Vick to the turf. The slowest man on the field captures the fastest. Greggâ€™s tackle was reminiscent of a hometown Oklahoma rodeo. Haloti Ngata slowly but surely is picking up his game. Dan Cody and Justin Bannan provided energy and relentlessness keeping the Falconsâ€™ O-line busy and honest while Aubrayo Franklin delivered a crunching blow to Warrick Dunn for a loss of one with about 4 minutes to go in the third. Dunn never did get it going (15 carries for 52 yards) in large part because of this unit. Taking away the Falcons legs (Vick 6 carries for 54 yards) is the way to beat Atlanta and thatâ€™s exactly what this unit did yesterday.
Jarrett Johnson seemed a bit out of place and early on he played like it as well. He took on blockers but was not that relevant. In fairness to him, his assignment was a difficult one particularly going against a team that feeds off misdirection. Overall he held his own and carried out his assignment. Adalius Thomas was playing on a bad ankle yet managed to help limit Alge Crumpler (2 catches for 16 yards) and he was able to provide consistent pressure on Vick. His hit on Vick after the TD pass to Michael Jenkins quietly impacted the game. On the play, Vick injured the thumb of his throwing hand, one of the culprits in Vickâ€™s accuracy issues yesterday. Bart Scott provided sure tackling and solid pressure when blitzing without losing containment.
Samari Rolleâ€™s struggles continued although he did play better after being burned by Michael Jenkins for the gameâ€™s first score. His recognition skills on a run by Jerrious Norwood were outstanding when Rolle adeptly side-stepped the receiver trying to block him and then taking down Norwood for a 2 yard loss. Rolle also sacked Vick on a corner blitz coming off the right edge without hesitation. Rolle was later called for pass interference defending Ashley Lelie to give the Falcons a 26 yard gain. Replays showed contact but the play should have been ruled illegal contact and a 5 yard penalty instead. Chris McAlister was solid throughout the day in coverage and he supported the run well. Dawan Landry made a nice play supporting McAlister on a jump ball in the corner of the end zone. Gerome Sapp played well in sub packages and helped apply pressure to Vick. He arguably could have been credited with two half sacks. Ed Reed was barely noticeable after pre-game introductions.
SPECIAL TEAMS: B+
During the first half Sam Koch struggled mightily and hit one low flying and returnable punt after the other. Kochâ€™s four first half punts netted only 25 yards on average. B.J. Sams made a couple of return blunders, once letting a punt go over his head despite there being a cover man standing behind him to field and down the punt. Later he chose to field a punt going backwards at this own 7 â€“ a punt that looked like it would roll into the end zone. The result: Sams was tackled at his own 4. But clearly Sams responded and nearly single handedly changed the gameâ€™s momentum with an electrifying 59 yard punt return to the Falconsâ€™ 17 to set up the go ahead score, 10-7. After the Falcons tied the game at 10, Sams answered again. Behind a beautifully set up wedge, Sams returned the ensuing kick off 59 yards to the Falcons 37. Three plays later the score was 17-10 and the Ravens would not look back. Sams also had a 65 yard punt return towards the end of the first half which was wasted by the gameâ€™s only turnover, a fumble by Steve McNair. Gary Stills was a beast, contributing 4 more special teams tackles. Matt Stover started a new FG streak to open the second half scoring. He snapped his string of 36 in a row when his first quarter attempt from 42 yards out drifted wide left.
COACHING: OFFENSE B+, DEFENSE A
Early on it appeared as though the Ravens wanted to exploit the Falconsâ€™ secondary but they discovered that 1) the Falcons were zoning up and playing Cover 2 and; 2) Steve McNair was being rushed through his progressions as a result of inadequate protection. The Ravens made the adjustments at halftime and came out firing on all cylinders in the second half. The Ravens used a variety of passes to help move the chains in the second half and they simply took the will away from the Falconsâ€™ front seven in the second half with a steady diet of physical smash mouth football.
On defense the Ravens had a few breakdowns in containment but that is to be expected when facing athletes like Michael Vick and Warrick Dunn. Overall the game plan was perfect and an obviously rattled Vick was the object of a menacing defenseâ€™s desire all day. The Ravens had 5 sacks but Vick was knocked down and hit hard at least twice that many times. After the game, Vick stated the obvious. "They give pressure to the quarterback and I think that’s the thing they take pride in, especially without their leader out there on the field. I think that was their main goal, to put pressure on me, make us try to beat them through the air and put us in third-and-long situations – which they did."
In the past the Ravens coaching staff has been criticized for not making the proper halftime adjustments. Nothing could be further from the truth so far in the 2006 campaign.
OTHER NOTABLES AND QUOTABLES: For some reason <wink, wink> Tom Pettyâ€™s song â€œItâ€™s Good To Be Kingâ€ lingers in my mind this morning, particularly after losses by the Colts and Broncos. If the season ended today, the Ravens would be the No. 2 seed in the conference. If the Ravens can maintain their winning ways, games of interest will be the Colts @ Jacksonville on December 10 and then the Monday Night game in Indianapolis against the Bengals on December 18â€¦I loved Mike Nolanâ€™s choice to wear his suit on the sidelines yesterday during the 49ers game at The Stick against the Seahawks. Could you imagine Vince Lombardi or Hank Stram or Tom Landry pimping NFL gear like the modern day coaches are forced to do. I say let them bring back the suits and bring back the classâ€¦Hey was anyone thinking that Jim Fassel returned to the coach’s booth in the first half?…Donâ€™t know if you noticed but there was only one player from the Ravens’ draft class of 2004 on the field yesterday. That player? Why none other than the biggest decoy south of Havre de Grace, Clarence Moore. (Well I guess it is hunting season, right?) Moore was a sixth round pick in 2004, the 199th player overall. The Ravens did not have a first rounder that year. In the second round they selected Dwan Edwards; Devard Darling went in the third; the Ravens traded their fourth for Kevin Johnson and in the fifth they chose Rod Green, released this summer. In the sixth round besides Moore the Ravens picked Josh Harris who is probably playing in a flag league near you and finally, Brian Rimpf was taken in the seventh round. If you are keeping score, that was Phil Savageâ€™s last draft with the clubâ€¦Yesterday in ESPNâ€™s post game coverage, Sean Salisbury stated that the Bengals are gaining momentum. Hey Sean, in case you havenâ€™t noticed, the Bengals had lost five of six going into New Orleans. I donâ€™t think that one win against a team that made way too many red zone blunders constitutes a notable and lasting change in momentumâ€¦Finally, could you imagine being an Eaglesâ€™ fan this season. Going into yesterdayâ€™s game the Eagles were 5-4 and one could make the argument that with a slightly different outcome on three plays the Eagles could have been 8-1. Now they are staring at 5-5 minus Donovan McNabb. Ouch! Wonder if that will hurt Chunky Soup sales?
Note: Pat from Baldwin and Guinness contributed to the "brilliance" of this Ravens’ Report Card.