SEPTEMBER 21, 2008
Outdoor Weather: Sunny
We all had heard the rationale why the Cleveland Browns could come into
“It’s a must-win game for the 0-2 Browns.”
“There’s nothing more dangerous than a cornered animal.”
“Their two losses came at the hands of the NFL’s topped-ranked teams.”
But by the time the game ended yesterday, the Browns proved that they are the team we all thought they were – a damaged team scrambling for answers. A team looking to plug holes created by injuries to Donte Stallworth, Joe Jurevicius, Kevin Kasper, Eric Steinbach, Ryan Tucker, Daven Holly, Sean Jones, Robaire Smith, Antwaan Peek, Kris Griffin, and Willie McGinnest. A team wondering if Derek Anderson, Braylon Edwards, Kellen Winslow, and Jamal Lewis could re-capture that magic they found at the start of the 2007 season; a team hoping to reverse a slide that started towards the end of last season and shows no sign of ending.
Coming off their semi-bye, the Ravens started Sunday’s game slowly, apprehensively, but they ended it powerfully, and decisively – a statement game. The Ravens essentially choked the life of Super Bowl aspirations from Browns’ backers and possibly ending the career of Derek Anderson as
But enough about the Browns. Here’s how the Ravens graded-out against the Browns by unit and contributed to the second win of their 2008 campaign, catapulting them into first place in the AFC North.
Joe Flacco continues to play better than his numbers. The numbers were 13 for 19, for 129 yards, two picks, no TDs, a sack, and one fumble (not lost). Add it up and his QB rating on the day was a paltry 48. That said there’s no hiding that big arm of his. He spread the ball around and hit receivers coming out of their breaks, especially early when the Ravens may have surprised the Browns by throwing as often as they did, when Joe started 9 for 11 (the two misses both being picks.) His completion percentage was a solid 68%. Cam Cameron directed receivers outside the hash marks for the most part, where Flacco continued to impress with crisp throws. The first time he was asked to throw down the middle to Heap, former Terp D’Qwell Jackson intercepted. His second pick on a flea flicker was forgivable–essentially a punt into the end zone. (A potential third pick was negated by a penalty.) Flacco’s ability to spot the second and third receiving option is still a work in progress. But Flacco also showed veteran-like savvy when fighting for a first down on a sneak, staying calm in the huddle and in the pocket, and dumping off to avoid blitzes. He also stepped up in the pocket to avoid pressure and reset to deliver a strike to Derrick Mason. Those intangibles suggest that a big game performance isn’t far away.
Running backs: B+
Wide Receivers: B
Mason, Mark Clayton and Demetrius Williams combined for just 8 catches and 88 yards but their team didn’t need a lot more than that from them, especially later in the game when the Ravens ran one or zero wide receiver sets. This group caught the throws that came their way early. And they continue to block when called upon later. Mason’s seal block on the left edge helped pave the way for McGahee’s TD scamper.
Tight Ends: B-
Interior Line: A
A game ball should go to Marshall Yanda. He got a good push all day and showed tremendous athleticism pulling left to lead ball carriers into the hole again and again. On Le’Ron McLain’s second touchdown Yanda pulled left and absolutely exploded on Browns linebacker Andre Davis, knocking him flat on his back in the end zone. Jason Brown handled Shawn Rogers all day (just three tackles), including an incredible job to spring McLain on a dive for 17 yards. Ben Grubbs was also solid. This group’s dominance was largely responsible for the Browns having the ball for just 102 seconds in the fourth quarter.
Offensive Tackles: B+
Adam Terry played a solid game. Jared Gaither again showed his athleticism, but at times showed a lack of urgency to finish blocks, and whiffed on a critical play. Although there was not as much unbalanced line play this week, we saw Willie Anderson later in the fourth quarter filling in at right tackle, with both Gaither and Terry playing on the left. Coupling this with the interior line play cemented the win.
There was some suspect tackling early in the game by Chris McAlister and Samari Rolle, which opened up extra yardage for the Browns. But as the momentum tilted to the Ravens side, this group played better. On pass coverage they were stout, although not really challenged on the edges. No Browns receiver had a catch of 20 yards or more. Despite being behind, Browns wide outs totaled just six catches for fifty yards. McAlister was beaten by Cribbs late, but
Defensive Line: B+
Haloti pushed around the Browns’ Hank Fraley and Ryan Tucker. Jamal Lewis did break some runs up the middle, when the Ravens front three played over aggressively. Still, the Browns’ runners were held to just 71 yards.
Defensive Ends: A
Trevor Pryce and Terrell Suggs were strong against the pass chipping in with three sacks between them. Trevor Pryce just wanted it more than Hank Fraley near the Ravens red zone to get his sack. Jarret Johnson beat Thomas on speed rush and kept containment on runs.
Special Teams: C+
Matt Stover missed his only field goal attempt, a 48-yarder that hit the upright. It immediately brought back bad memories of the Ken Dawson field goal a year ago that was in and out and in. Filling in for the inactive Yamon Figurs, Jim Leonard started slowly as a return man, bringing the ball out of end zone to just the 14 in his first attempt. But he was stronger and steadier later including a long punt return straight up the middle to set up the Ravens’ last score. The Ravens kept the dangerous Joshua Cribbs in check for the most part. Derrick Martin played well on coverage. Sam Koch punted three times, for 38, 49, and 59 yards.
The Browns out-foxed the Ravens on a blitz call for their lone score. There was a funky illegal shift call on the Ravens offense. And a strange penalty on a kick off for having just three defenders to the left of Matt Stover. Still, the Ravens controlled the game more and more as the clock ticked. Rex had Justin Bannan playing safety on the game changing interception to start the third quarter. Cam Cameron was not afraid to call for running plays in the red zone, to his credit, even after Flacco’s fumble caused a scare. They used their personnel well.
This was referee Ed Houculi’s redemption game, and there were no major incidents. Umpire Chad Brown, despite not being in position to see the play very well, made what appeared to be a bad call against Tavares Gooden for holding, which brought back a long return. Later, Brown strangely called tripping on the Browns only to wave off the call.
It was a pedestrian but decent game call by Bill Macatee and Steve Beuerlein. They were respectful during Dawan Landry’s injury without pimping CBS sitcoms, and quick to provide updates on his condition. Kudos to Beuerlein for calling M&T one of the loudest outdoor stadiums in NFL.
If the Ravens continue to play this well, it will only get louder.