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The stats will show that Steve McNair was 29 of 43 for 214 yards â€“ a completion percentage of 67.4%. What the stat sheets wonâ€™t show you is that McNair regularly threw behind his receivers and that is not how an effective dink and dunk offense operates. A Steve McNair led attack depends on yards after the catch, particularly when you regularly throw short of the sticks on third down and expect to move the chains. Derrick Mason, Demetrius Williams, Willis McGahee and even Quinn Sypniewski bailed out McNair on passes thrown well behind their targets. McNairâ€™s attempts in the red zone were rather meek and his ability to get his team to the line of scrimmage in a timely fashion leaves little time to make pre-snap adjustments. The Ravens QB did show some of the best ball handling skills in recent memory on a nice waggle play to the right resulting in a connection with Demetrius Williams. The Ravens were once flagged for delay of game as the play ticked to zero. Given a rather unenthusiastic crowd at Monster Park, that is inexcusable for a veteran of McNairâ€™s caliber.
RUNNING BACK: B
Willis McGahee continues to show patience and is almost always leaning forward for additional yardage. He shows an instinctive ability to make something out of nothing. Proof of that lies in his 4 yards per carry on 22 carries v. Musa Smithâ€™s average of less than 1 yard per carry (5 carries for 2 yards). McGahee also showed again how he is a threat outside of the hash marks particularly in the passing game. I wonder if he can throw?
Derrick Mason has discovered the fountain of youth. The tough as nails drive sustainer had 11 catches for 85 yards, many in tight quarters. He took a vicious hit over the middle, leaving the field hobbling at one point. He later returned to seal the victory for the Ravens with a game clinching first down on 3rd and 4 with 2:26 to go and the Ravens leading 9-7. Demetrius Williams made a few nice grabs and beat his man on a deep pass down the sideline. Williams caught the errant McNair floater out of bounds. Mark Clayton remains absent from the Ravens offense. His disappearance remains an unsolved mystery. I know he can throw the ball.
Quinn Sypniewski held up well in relief of Todd Heap but he fails to command the attention of Heap making it more difficult for the wide receivers to find favorable one on one match ups, particularly against the solid CB tandem of Nate Clements and Walt Harris. As a result Ravens receivers fail to gain separation. Turn on any NFL game and inevitably youâ€™ll find a receiver from just about any team wide open at some point during the game. Ravensâ€™ receivers are never wide open and you have to wonder why. Thereâ€™s just too much talent there.
OFFENSIVE LINE: B
Injuries depleted the Ravens reserve linemen against the Niners. Adam Terry was helped off the field due to an ankle injury and Mike Flynn went down with a knee injury, not long after he was flattened by Bryant Young. That forced Jared Gaither into relief action at left tackle and Chris Chester at center. The youthful group held up well keeping McNair clean. On a few occasions McNair stood in the pocket for what seemed like an eternity, waiting for someone to break open.
DEFENSIVE LINE: B+
Kelly Gregg had 6 tackles including a quarterback sack. Haloti Ngata was menacing and made a nice ankle tackle on Frank Gore to save the Niners from gaining a key first down and/or additional yardage. Gore’s 2 yard gain set up Nedney’s errant would-be game winning field goal with 2:44 remaining. Dwan Edwards is still rather insignificant at the point of attack but does a nice job with backside pursuit and never quits on a play. He had only 1 tackle. Justin Bannan wasnâ€™t very noticeable (2 tackles) nor was Antwan Barnes.
Outside of a nice play in the open field to seal off a reverse and take down of receiver Bryan Gilmore for a loss of 8 on a third and two play with 1:47 left in the third, Terrell Suggs flew under the radar screen for most of the afternoon. Ray Lewis had a few nice hard tackles on Frank Gore when he didnâ€™t get tied up in traffic. Bart Scott got ended his sack drought when he dropped Trent Dilfer for a two yard loss. Jarret Johnson turned in the best performance of this merry band of backers with 4 tackles, 1 forced fumble, a sack and another QB hurry. He too did a nice job scraping down the line of scrimmage when trailing the action from behind.
Ed Reed anticipated Trent Dilferâ€™s pass nicely and was Johnny on the Spot when he picked off an overthrown pass from the Niners QB for the gameâ€™s only turnover. The unit was hardly challenge â€“ Dilfer threw only 19 passes in the contest and judging from their success on back to back pass plays that paved the way for the only touchdown in this rather dismal contest, one has to wonder why the Niners didnâ€™t attack second year corner Derrick Martin a bit more. Chris McAlister was beaten by Arnaz Battle on that TD with a simple move to the inside. McAlister was right there with inside help from Bart Scott but the pass was a perfect strike by the former Ravens QB. Gerome Sapp was effective in a few sub packages. Dawan Landry was not much of a factor.
SPECIAL TEAMS: C+
This group can thank Matt Stover for not having a failing grade here. The coverage teams regularly allowed the Niners to start drives with good field position after kick offs (31 yard line on average) while the Ravens struggled to make their way outside of the 20 with average starts after kickoffs of just the 20 yard line. The punt returners may have done themselves and the team a favor and simply rushed Niners MVP in this contest, punter Andy Lee. They seemed uninterested in fielding punts which bounced deep into Ravens territory. Three Lee punts landed inside the twenty, one settling at the two and another at the one. The Niners net punting average was 48.7 yards v. the Ravens at 34.6. Sam Koch had an off day. His punt into the end zone at the Niners’ 40 yard line brought back nightmarish memories of Dave Zastudil. Even Matt Katula was off a bit with his place kicking snaps a bit high and outside for holder Koch.
COACHING: OFFENSE F, DEFENSE B
Itâ€™s tough to even begin this assessment of Brian Billickâ€™s offense without being incredibly redundant. Idiocy is defined as doing the same things over and over the same way yet expecting different results each time. I’ll let you decide if the shoe fits…
Billickâ€™s offense just isnâ€™t getting it done time and time again. In fact itâ€™s not even close and if the Ravens donâ€™t try new things to improve their red zone efficiency (which continues to plummet, now sitting at 28th in the league) against inferior teams like the Niners, Rams and Bills, they will be annihilated by offenses that can score and are supported by good defenses. If things donâ€™t improve 10 wins is about as optimistic as this season will get and even that is a real reach with the Billick led offense.
Steve McNair had plenty of time to throw but no one to throw it to. On third and goal from the 10 the Ravens had to get in the end zone yet there wasnâ€™t a single receiver in the end zone. Was that two down territory with 3:26 to play in the second quarter? Of course not yet the Ravens opt instead to throw a three yard pass to McGahee on a third and goal from the eleven.
Why canâ€™t receivers gain separation? Is it because of the Ravens bland and familiar attack? Is it because they strike little fear in the hearts of opponents that have little respect for the Ravensâ€™ ability to produce big plays and they then compress the field on the Ravens? Was their ineptitude due to Mike Nolanâ€™s understanding of Ravensâ€™ offensive tendencies? Are the Ravens handcuffed in their play calling because of Steve McNairâ€™s lack of mobility? Does it limit their playbook? And if the answer to that is yes then why is he still in there?
When asked after the game what the contingency plan would have been had the Ravens lost another offensive lineman Billick said he didnâ€™t know. Does anyone have a problem with that? Does anyone have a problem with an offense that was on the field for 38 minutes could produce only 9 points? The Ravens had 76 plays to the Niners’ 41; nineteen first downs to the Niners’ six; 315 yards to their 163 and they won the turnover battle. Despite it all they were one wide right field goal away from losing.
Iâ€™m really tired of beating the Billick drum. I actually like him as the Ravens head coach. But there needs to be some intervention here. This team has far too much talent to play the embarrassing brand of football that they play. And Iâ€™m telling you, if the Ravens lose a game to say Buffalo by the score of 13 â€“ 10, you will hear from No. 52.
Defensively Rex Ryanâ€™s game plan seemed appropriate (stuff Frank Gore and make Dilfer beat them) although I have to wonder why David Pittman didnâ€™t get a look in this game. Why activate players that you have no intention of using (Matt Willis, Mike Anderson)? Why not see what Pittman can do against the great Darrell Jackson and Arnaz Battle?
And by the way Frank Gansz, Jrâ€¦your units looked a bit confused. For someone that is asked only to return punts, Yamon Figurs needs to have a better understanding of where he is on the field and what heâ€™s supposed to do when he goes on the field. His fair catch was a joke. Oh I know, the sun was in his eyes. Funny that the Niners returners didnâ€™t have those problems.
OTHER THOUGHTS AND OBSERVATIONS: Be thankful that we have M&T Bank Stadium. Candlestick/Monster Park is a dump and the creature comforts that we take for granted here like statistical updates and the big screens and wide, comfortable concourses are so far removed from the San Francisco presentation youâ€™d think it was back to Memorial Stadium days. The â€œjumboâ€ screen at one end of the stadium was the equivalent of a handheld TV hung from the ceiling of a sports barâ€¦When leaving the stadium one Niners fan engaged in a little trash talking with a Ravens fan. The exchange ended when the Niners fan said, â€œAt least I donâ€™t have to go home to Baltimore.â€ Ouch!…The Ravens are 10 point favorites against the Rams this coming Sunday. Interesting for a team that managed to score only nine points this past Sundayâ€¦Rhys Lloydâ€™s release is a flat out mystery. Given the Ravens apparent inability to get down on kicks (donâ€™t know if itâ€™s Stoverâ€™s kick offs or the coverage or both) Lloydâ€™s ability to put the ball in the end zone helps the team manage field position and it helps them to potentially cut back on injuries (touchbacks are freebies for the coverage team). If the Ravens were keeping a player on their squad that actually produced over Lloyd, then the team has reason to do what theyâ€™ve done. But does anyone really think that Matt Willis is going to make a difference? See the field?…Props go out to our sponsor Ravenstrips.com for putting together a great journey to the wide open spaces of the West. They made the trip hassle free and the tailgate in the Niners Red Zone that they provided was excellent. Great to see many familiar faces there outside of Monster Park as even the Niners fans were taken back by the purple invasion of the host cityâ€™s tailgate party. To all of you who attended, you represented well as Ed Reed, Ray Lewis and Terrell Suggs all acknowledged your support during the game.