BALTIMORE RAVENS 37, CAROLINA PANTHERS 13
November 21, 2010
John Harbaugh doesn’t like to answer questions about his safety Ed Reed’s laterals during interception returns. We know this, because the coach bristled when asked about it this week on his radio show, prior to Sunday’s trip to Charlotte to meet the Panthers.
It’s a question the conservative head coach is certain to continue to hear for a couple more days after Reed snagged his 50th career interception Sunday and promptly pitched the ball to fellow safety Dawan Landry, who took it the final ten yards and dove across the pylon to score the decisive points in the Ravens 37-13 win against the Panthers.
Harbaugh may keep on keeping his feelings to himself on this topic, choosing to let Ed be Ed, but his Ravens answered plenty of other questions that have lingered into the second half of this season.
Questions like, could this defense hold a late lead? After the Panthers pulled to within 20-13 late in the game, it was hard not to reflect on whether another unlikely fourth quarter collapse loomed.
But not this game, against a decimated Panthers offense that featured a fourth string tailback in Mike Goodson and journeyman quarterback Brian St. Pierre, signed off the street just a week ago. The Ravens defense became the aggressor this time as future Hall of Famers Ed Reed and Ray Lewis snagged scoring interceptions on consecutive series to ice the game away.
On the offensive side of the ball, the questions of late have centered around slow starts, particularly in road games. The Ravens promptly answered that with a Joe Flacco to TJ Houshmandzadeh 56-yard touchdown hook-up on their first offensive series. The quick points should also help alleviate any contentiousness on Houshmandzadeh’s part about his role in the offense—at least for this week.
Finally, there were questions about the Ravens’ kick return game, ranked 22nd in the league in per-return average. David Reed, who recently took over the starting returner duties from Jalen Parmele, responded by taking the opening kick of the second half 84 yards to the Carolina 18. On three kick returns Reed averaged 45 yards per touch, more than doubling the team average through nine games.
While it can be argued that all this was accomplished against the league’s weakest team, and the Ravens hardly played a perfect game, the positives far outweighed the negatives on a beautiful day for football enjoyed by more than a few bus and planeloads of fans wearing purple and cheering for R-E-E-E-D.
Facing a very underrated Panthers secondary, Joe Flacco piloted the offense effectively, racking up 24 completions on 33 attempts for 301 yards and the touchdown throw to Houshmandzadeh, good enough for a 111 quarterback rating, which adds to a string of top-ranked performances over the last seven games. It was the start of a very effective day where Flacco connected with eight different receivers. He was helped with good protection from his offensive line. The long touchdown throw was notable because accuracy on the deep ball had been a focus this week for the team. He continues to show more confidence running the no-huddle offense, which is worth watching as the team makes its playoff run. While Flacco made mostly good decisions on his throws, aside from a couple predictable check downs to well-covered backs, he did slip by putting the ball on the ground twice, for one lost fumble. He was impressive moving in the pocket to escape pressure however.
Running Backs: B
Ray Rice and Willis McGahee did not put up flashy numbers, but they ran hard and effectively to keep the chains moving and the Panthers off balance. They were able to easily reach the second level of the defense multiple times but did not slip many tackles beyond that against an aggressive secondary. Together they were held to 88 yards on 26 carries. Rice went up to make a nice catch in the red zone out of the slot and then got the ball on the next three carries to walk in for the team’s second and final offensive touchdown.
Wide Receivers: C+
Houshmandzadeh joined Derrick Mason and Anquan Boldin in the career 600-yard-reception club with his opening touchdown. He did a nice job shielding the ball on the play and keeping away from safety help over the top on the catch. Mason and Boldin were a little up and down for the day, combining for just six receptions, with some drops and a Boldin fumble as he fought for extra yards. With Mason appearing to be a little dinged up in the middle of the game, Donte’ Stallworth saw time, and showed nice footwork to haul in one 15 yard side-out catch, and was again effective on an end around call.
Tight Ends: A-
Todd Heap had one of his better performances. He caught five of the six balls thrown his way for 69 yards, including a 30 yarder. It would not be a complete game for Heap without getting blown up like a race car hitting the retaining wall, and Sunday was no exception as he and the ball went flying out of bounds after a catch and collision. Ed Dickson saw a lot of snaps but did not have a great game. He allowed a ball to go through his hands and twisted himself around trying to get into position on the other ball thrown his way. He also made a poor block on a pitch to the left side that could have gone for a long run.
Marshal Yanda and Michael Oher both pushed the line of scrimmage all day, and they protected well for the most part. Oher stood out blocking downfield on Stallworth’s end around and he cleaned up on the goal line to allow Rice to stroll into the end zone. Oher faltered once against a three man blitz to force Flacco out of the pocket early, but most of the three sacks and five hurries were a result of good coverage downfield by the Panthers. The team ran effectively behind Yanda in the fourth quarter. Oniel Cousins made a late appearance as an extra tackle.
Interior Line: A
Tony Moll got the start for an ailing Chris Chester and played as well as could be expected. He was a little rusty finishing run blocks, but otherwise was effective. The interior line provided very good protection, particularly Ben Grubbs who was outstanding picking up stunts and blitzers. Aside from one poor series run blocking on the goal line, Matt Birk played very well.
The cornerbacks were not often tested by St. Pierre, so it was discouraging to see Josh Wilson confuse the coverage, expecting help from Chris Carr over the top, to allow the rookie David Gettis haul in a wide-open pass as far as St. Pierre could heave it, and run in for an 88-yard touchdown. Communication continues to be a challenge in the secondary. Wilson was better closing on short throws for sure tackles. He had four tackles but no passes defended on five balls thrown his way. Chris Carr was better, particularly defending the flat and on zone blitz calls. Fabian Washington checked in last as an extra defender but did not factor much.
Dawan Landry was very effective as a run blitzer, finishing with five tackles, one for a loss. He also closed well on pass receptions plus he teamed with Ed Reed for the pick-six to seal the win. Landry and Reed together took away the deep middle of the field.
With Dannell Ellerbe inactive, Jameel McClain got the start and didn’t start particularly well. He struggled with the most basic role for an inside linebacker: reading, reacting, and tackling. For example, he was obliterated by Jordan Gross, one-on-one to allow Goodson to ramble for 45 yards up the middle. However, he was very good when attacking the backfield on the snap of the ball in a role reminiscent to his predecessor, Bart Scott. Ray Lewis played hard, with mixed effectiveness. At times he got knocked around and allowed the unheralded Goodson to churn for eight to ten yards at a time. However, in crunch time he was in perfect position to make the interception for a touchdown. Jarret Johnson had one of his more effective games as the Will linebacker, looking healthier than in previous weeks, controlling the outside edge and putting some pressure on the quarterback. Prescott Burgess got a couple early snaps and was effective in coverage.
Defensive Line: A
Terrell Suggs put together his second straight outstanding performance, whether he was asked to play the run, drop into coverage, or rush the passer. He finished with one quarterback hurry and seven tackles (six solo), including one sack, plus he defended one pass. Terrence Cody received a lot of early snaps and played his assignments, although he fell down too easily on the long Goodson run. Cory Redding had one of his more active games, slicing through the line and showing that he could play a big part in the Ravens rotational approach along the line. Paul Kruger checked in with one overpowering sack.
Special Teams: B+
Credit the coaching staff for a game plan that addressed so many questions coming into the game. Cam Cameron was excellent mixing up the play calling on offense, spreading the ball around. Greg Mattison was a little more creative this week in his blitz calls.
Other than a couple of unexplained flags that were picked up and some extra discussion between officials before signaling the proper call, Alberto Riveron’s crew was excellent. Riveron was particularly good explaining challenge decisions. The call on Everette Brown for jamming Michael Oher under the chin is rarely called, but correct. The lack of booth review on an apparent Josh Wilson interception at the end of the half was curious, but not critical. The crew correctly called offensive pass interference on Todd Heap ten days after the Ravens were victimized by Roddy White’s much more blatant, but uncalled, interference penalty on Josh Wilson.
With this sure-win behind them, the Ravens now set up with four of their remaining six games at home, including next weeks’ game against their third-consecutive NFC South opponent, the pesky Tampa Bay Bucs.