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Whether itâ€™s boxing, baseball, basketball or in this case the NFL, if you let an opponent that hasnâ€™t lost its will to compete hang in the contest long enough, the outcome will remain in the balance and sometimes defeat can be snatched from the jaws of victory.
The Ravens came dangerously close to experiencing exactly that against the Jets yesterday as they failed to put away a seemingly willing victim.
The game was really a battle of halves. The first was won decidedly by the Ravens and the second by the Jets. Fortunately for the hometown team, Justin McCareins did his best Roberto â€œHands of Stoneâ€ Duran impression late in the fourth quarter. Otherwise we would be describing a Ravens overtime win or far worse, a crushing defeat to start the season at 0-2. Teams that start 0-2 rarely make it to the post season dance.
So when considering these grades, think of a student who passed a course only because he or she did well early during the semester and not necessarily how they did on their final.
Kyle Boller did a very fine job subbing for the injured Steve McNair and managed a conservative game plan well. (The plan wasn’t his.) During the first half the Ravens mixed up their offensive sets and gave the Jets many varied looks. The plays run off those looks were of the low risk variety but itâ€™s difficult to find fault with a 17-3 lead at the break or with Bollerâ€™s performance before the half (17 of 24, 125 yards, 2TDâ€™s and 0 INTâ€™s, QB Rating 110.6).
On the touchdown pass to Heap, a play nearly everyone in the stadium could anticipate, Boller placed the ball where only Heap could make a play on it. In the third quarter Boller made a very nice throw to Todd Heap down the left sideline for a 37 yard gain. He placed the ball over Heapâ€™s inside shoulder away from CB David Barrett and out of the reach of converging safety Kerry Rhodes. After that completion Boller was 2 for 6 for 10 yards while gaining only 1 first down. Boller did manage to avoid forcing any throws and knew when to let it fly out of bounds when the play wasnâ€™t there. Outside of some poor ball handling skills when selling the play action, thereâ€™s little to find fault with Bollerâ€™s overall performance (QB Rating 97.9). He was solid, not spectacular but that is a tough thing to be in an offense with parameters as tight and shallow as the Ravensâ€™ offense.
RUNNING BACK: B
Willis McGahee made the most out of the limited real estate provided to him to navigate. He had 97 tough yards on 26 carries with a long run of 9 yards. Several of his yards were the result of second effort and determination. McGahee also did a nice job of selling the run before kicking out to the right flat for his first NFL touchdown reception. Musa Smith needs to do a better job of picking up the blitz.
Derrick Mason had 7 first half catches and then disappeared for the most part after the break, with one catch for five yards. Todd Heap had a productive game showing great hands and footwork on the touchdown catch and strong hands on the 37 yards streak down the sideline. Where oh where has Mark Clayton gone (1 catch for minus 1 yard on the season). Who would have thought a month ago that Quinn Sypniewski would have more catches in one game than Clayton would have on the season after 2 games? Demetrius Williams made a very nice catch along the sidelines and showed great effort on a couple of near spectacular catches.
OFFENSIVE LINE: C
Chris Chester and Mike Flynn were knocked around at times by the Jetsâ€™ front 7. Ben Grubbs filled in for Chester at times and while the Ravens say they are just trying to get the rookie need repetitions, one has to wonder what that does to the lineâ€™s continuity. Two rookies on the right side is probably not a desirable combination. Jason Brown was stout at the point of attack. Adam Terry held his own but the false starts have got to end sometime soon. The run blocking needs to get better. The pass protection held up well for the most part keeping Boller clean throughout most of the day. They allowed no sacks.
DEFENSIVE LINE: B
The Ravens defensive front clogged the middle most of the day while keeping Thomas Jones in check (24 rushes, 67 yards, 2.8 average/carry). Pryce, Ngata, Edwards and Gregg all contributed three tackles while Pryce had a sack and 2 QB pressures before he left the game in the third quarter with a broken wrist. That will hurt Pryceâ€™s effectiveness. His quick and strong hands assist greatly in his ability to put pressure between the tackles. Pryce and Ngata dropped Jones for a 3 yards loss early in the second quarter when the Jets were driving into Ravens territory to force a third and seven. The Jets eventually settled for a field goal. Justin Bannan failed to hold at the point of attack on a couple of plays. This group applied little pressure on Kellen Clemens in the second half when not aided by blitzing linebackers.
Until his clutch interception on the Jetsâ€™ last possession Ray Lewis was a non-factor in the game making most of his seven tackles away from the line of scrimmage. Bart Scott started slow with only one first half tackle but finished with 8 tackles overall. Twice he assisted Jarret Johnson on stops of Thomas Jones for no gain. Scott also made a nice tackle on Jones along the left sideline on a short pass for a loss of one. Terrell Suggs dropped Jones for a three yard loss in the first quarter and he was disruptive at the line of scrimmage on short throws into the left flat batting two balls away. He also had 2 pressures. Suggs couldn’t hold on to a probable game clinching interception in the fourth quarter deep in Jets territory. Jarret Johnson had the best game of this group. Three of his 7 tackles were for no gain or less. He also forced a Jones fumble and he added a QB pressure.
Itâ€™s pretty clear where opposing quarterbacks want to go with the football particularly when Dawan Landry is partnered up with Samari Rolle. Rolle bites on double moves and Landry doesnâ€™t have Reedâ€™s speed to roll over from the top in support of deep sideline routes. McAlister had a solid day and the Jets took notice although one has to wonder why on a third and thirteen McAlisterâ€™s cushion was fourteen yards. Justin McCareins converted the third down with a catch at the stick. Landry and Sapp were solid in run support and both took down Clemens for a sack apiece. Sapp let another sack slip through his hands and into the mitts of Pryce earlier in the game. Ed Reed started strong but faded badly. He missed two open field tackles resulting in 94 net yards for the Jets. He was also caught out of position on a post route by McCareins which the Jetsâ€™ receiver fortunately dropped. Corey Ivy (1 sack) needs to tackle better as well in the open field. Jericho Cotchery took Ivy for a ride on a 44 yard catch in the fourth quarter.
SPECIAL TEAMS: B+
The Ravens average start after kickoffs was the 36 while the Jets average start was the 25. Yamon Figurs did well in kick return duties, showing patience following his blocks while averaging 44.5 yards per return. He found the going a bit tougher on punt returns. Ed Reed had 36 yard punt return called back for an illegal block above the waist by Dennis Haley leaving the Ravens in a bit of a hole to start a drive from their own 8 with 6:02 left in the third quarter. Sam Koch netted 39.8 yards on six punts while averaging 47.5 yards. Matt Stover hit a knuckler right when he missed from 46 yards out. Corey Ivy was very effective beating press coverage as the gunner lined up on the right helping to influence a couple of fair catches by Jetsâ€™ returner Leon Washington.
The Ravens game plan in the first half was conservative but effective on offense. They held a decided edge in time of possession (19:10 to 10:50) and they were out in front 17-3. The Ravens seemed to lose patience in the second half and they failed to counteract the halftime adjustments by the Jets. Before the break the Ravens netted 205 yards of offense compared to the Jets 63. After the break, the Ravens only managed 98 yards of offense despite a tired looking Jets defense. The Jets produced 241 net yards of offense, 222 of that total in the fourth quarter alone. The Ravens looked confused and broken down in the secondary and at least some of that has to fall on the coaching staff. Billickâ€™s use of the clock at the 3:12 mark of the fourth while leading 20-13 from their own 33 yard line was a bit questionable to say the least. The Ravens are killing themselves with penalties and they get too emotional at times while committing them (see the Suggs 15 yard leveraging penalty). The Jets were penalized twice for 10 yards, both courtesy of the crowd noise at The Vault. The Ravens were penalized 11 times for 100 yards. Thatâ€™s another 90 net yards of ball movement and again, the coaching staff has to take some of the blame here.
And finally on the topic of coaching, shouldnâ€™t game planning be the art of attacking another teamâ€™s weaknesses? You know, like the Bengals inability to stop the run (as evidenced yesterday in Cleveland) and the Jets inability to stop the pass (as evidenced by the Patriots on opening day).
OTHER NOTES AND OBSERVATIONS…Brian Billick looked stressed and beaten during his post game press conference. His words, â€œtime to move on to the next oneâ€ seemed like they were words directed towards the man in the mirrorâ€¦Good offenses use the snap count to slow down defenses. The Ravens rarely change it because they canâ€™t control their own false startsâ€¦Perhaps Ed Reed should return at least one punt per game. Brian Billick said last week that you canâ€™t play afraid. Then don’t!â€¦Speaking of playing afraid, Iâ€™m afraid of what opposing teams are going to do to Samari Rolle beginning this week. While watching the Patriots dismantle the Chargers, I couldnâ€™t help but think of how Tom Brady and Randy Moss might torture Rolle. Hopefully Rolleâ€™s performance against the Bengals is more indicative of what we can expect this season and not yesterdayâ€™s performance. But watching the lack of fluidity in his movements, thereâ€™s little reason to believe that this year will be any different than last year for Rolleâ€¦When all is said and done, a win is a win. How come it doesnâ€™t feel that way?