This column was not supposed to be written. Missed opportunities, uneven quarterback play, 3rd quarter offensive lulls, and the inability to beat a journeyman quarterback filled the notebook section of my ‘Droid. Sitting in a sports bar with my Ravens Roost friends, I thought, we’re really not Super Bowl contenders. We can’t beat a good team in a game that really counts. We can’t even beat Charlie Batch. After the Ravens failed to score from the Steelers 2 yard line, the crowd moaned in unison. Some patrons even left. It didn’t look good.
The Steelers had to make one, just one, first down to seal their 9th victory in the last 10 meetings at home over the Ravens. But they didn’t. In their arrogance, Pittsburgh played it safe and punted. Added by a holding call, the Ravens got the ball back on the Steelers 40. Then in less than a minute, the support of Ravens Roost 94 and the best trio of Ravens fans I know, the lovely Fox sisters (a shameless plug for my Roost and my friends) were finally rewarded.
In the space of 50 seconds it all changed. Joe Flacco threw 4 flawless passes to drive 40 yards for the game-winning touchdown, and a Ravens legend sealed the deal with a diving, acrobatic interception of a Charlie Batch pass. So, Instead of being 2-2 and behind the divisional eight ball with only 4 games played, the Ravens are tied for the lead in the AFC North, are 2-1 in the division, and 3-1 in conference play. What a difference a play makes.
It’s time for Studs and Duds, but there’s a change this week. When you beat Steelers at Heinz Field, there are no Duds. Instead, it’s going to be Studs and “Opportunities for Improvement.”
The Offensive Line: The Steelers defense is used to wreaking havoc on opposing offenses; they’ve done it on numerous occasions to the Ravens. But the line played magnificently. The Ravens allowed just one sack, and quarterback Joe Flacco was hurried on only two other times. They deserve a share of the game ball.
Missile Defense: Lost by many in Flacco’s game winning TD pass to Houshmandzadeh, was Todd Heap’s block on human missile Troy Polamalu coming from the left side on a blitz. Watch the replay of the TD pass and you’ll see Heap cross from the strong side in front of Flacco to stand up Polamalu dead in his tracks. That was the play that had Polamalu holding his head after the game.
While we’re at it, T.J. Houshmandzadeh beautifully set up cornerback Bryant McFadden for his game-winning touchdown catch. For 3 plays, Flacco sold the Steelers on sideline patterns, then T.J. ran an out and up and, combined with Flacco’s pump fake, left McFadden in the dust.
Haloti Ngata was virtually unblockable all day as he racked up 11 tackles to go with one sack, two tackles for losses and two quarterback hits. At one point he even dropped back into coverage. He leveled Rashard Mendenhall in the open field.
I can’t wait for Lardarius Webb to get really healthy. Wow – what a fast closer. He made two game saving plays on passes meant for Steelers speedster Mike Wallace. If he doesn’t knock those passes down, I’m not writing this column.
One last Stud. It was almost fitting that the game closed on a diving, acrobatic interception by the most iconic of all Ravens, Ray Lewis. On the Steelers first play after the Ravens’ TD, he read Charlie Batch’s eyes perfectly and put the game away.
OPPORTUNITIES FOR IMPROVEMENT
Paul Kruger continues to show why the brain farts are keeping him on the sideline. He made two penalties, jumping offside on a 3rd and 9, and was called for holding that negated what would have been a 41-yard kickoff return by Jalen Parmele. On the positive side, Kruger did bat down a pass at the line of scrimmage and produced a sack and forced fumble later negated by a penalty on Ray Lewis. Now he’s returning to the bench, this time due to a knee injury. I’m getting a whiff of Dan Cody.
Pass Rush, Pass Rush, Pass Rush. The Ravens are getting to the point in the schedule where we’ll be facing the gunners of the league. We need to step this up.
Around the Ravens and Around the League – a Fan’s Football Tweets
· A Bad Day at Work Defined: In the Sunday night game, the New York Giants sacked Bears quarterback Jay Cutler nine times, forced him to fumble three times, intercepted him once, and then, for good measure, gave him a concussion.
· The Kiss of Death: Peter King wrote in his MMQB that “There’s no clear best team in football after four weeks, but Baltimore’s the best, for my money. I pick the Ravens because I think after four weeks they can win games in more ways than any other team.” To make matters worse, the Ravens lead his “Fine Fifteen.”
· The Fickle Finger of Fate: Titans defensive coordinator Chuck Cecil’s gave the officials the single finger salute to protest a roughing the passer call during Sunday’s game with the Broncos. The TV cameras caught it and Chuck’s wallet is now $40,000 lighter.
· Donavan McNabb got a standing ovation from the Philly fans during the intros for the Eagle/Skin game, then he proceeded to show them why Andy Reid should have kept him.
· Dead Men Walking: At the Quarter Pole, the coaches most likely to walk the plank, some sooner than later. 1) John Fox, Carolina. 0-4 and heading nowhere except the unemployment line. 2) Chan Galley, Buffalo. Just awful. I hope Dwan Edwards and his “fantastic” Bills fans are enjoying this. 3) Eric Mangini, Cleveland. The win over the Bengals saved the Browns from starting 0-7, but it just postponed the inevitable. 4) Marvin Lewis, Cincinnati. Because he lost to the Browns. 5) Tom Cable, Oakland. Because of his employer, he will always be on this list.
Before the season started, most observers rightfully considered the Ravens secondary to be the weak link on the team. However, since the opening game the secondary has surprised coaches, fans, and pundits alike. According to NFL.com, the Ravens pass defense leads the league with 119 yards/game average, an astounding 20 yards less than the second place Giants. That said, everyone also agrees that the pass defense hasn’t really been tested.
Well, guess who’s coming to town this Sunday?
The Denver Broncos lead the NFL in pass offense, averaging 339.5 yards/game with 6 touchdowns and only 3 picks. Kyle Orton, who was practically run out of Chicago for perceived ineptitude, has a very respectable 96.3 quarterback rating and, unlike the player he replaced, Jay Cutler, still has his wits about him. Conversely, the Broncos are dead last in rushing with 220 yards total and 25 yards/game average. So, I don’t think the Ravens will spend much time this week planning run defense strategies.
The Ravens historically don’t play well the week after beating the Steelers, but they’re playing at home and looking to put some distance between themselves and the Steelers, while improving their in-conference record. This is a hard game to pick. Denver can’t or won’t run, and we don’t know if the secondary will stand up to the unrelenting passing attack the Broncos will bring, or if we can generate the sustained pass rush that’s been lacking for much of the year. I think we’ll see a barn burner.
Ravens 30, Broncos 27.