The Baltimore Ravens are returning to the playoffs with their 21-13 victory over the Oakland Raiders today after enduring several key injuries and playing an extremely difficult schedule (5 of their 7 losses were to division champs). Kudos to owner Steve Bisciotti, GM Ozzie Newsome, Coach John Harbaught, the players, and the rest of the organization for going back to back into the post-season for first time since 2001.
Now here are 9 thoughts on the season, today’s game, and the upcoming playoff matchup as the team heads to New England to face Bill Belichek, Tom Brady, Randy Moss, and the rest of the Patriots:
– A win is a win, but if Charlie Frye doesn’t get hurt at halftime do the Ravens still win that game today? I’m not so sure, Frye was moving around well and negating any Baltimore pass rush and the banged up secondary continued to be shredded by a vagabond QB. Oakland’s backup QB Jamarcus Russell was clueless as he continued to force the ball to his tight end when his receivers were open all day. A Raiders fan friend of mine was so confident that Russell would stink that he congratulated me on the Ravens win when he saw Frye going to the locker room before the first half ended.
– Harbaugh’s decision to try for a 51 yard field goal late in the game given Billy Cundiff had already missed a 37 yarder and the fact that long snapper Matt Katula continues to send snaps back to holder Sam Koch like he is pitching for the Orioles (off target) was just assanine. As bad as the Ravens defense can be at times, I’d take my chances with the Raiders going 80+ yards with Russell the bust #1 pick behind center. Punt the ball there John!
– While I did not like the fact that the Ravens seemed to try and force the pass early and Baltimore did their typical awful two minute drill play calling once in the red zone, overall I thought Cam Cameron did a decent job of sticking with the running game against the 29th ranked run defense in the league. Kudos to Willis McGahee for a monster day, he was the right back for pounding it against a team that tackles very poorly.
– Just how bad is the Ravens pass defense? Frye threw for a 180 yards and a score in the first half!! For some reason defensive coordinator Greg Mattison hasn’t figured out the best way to cover up that terrible crew on the backend is to bring more rushers. Why does he often rush only three players when it is 3rd and over 10 yards? If you make the QB get rid of the ball quickly the receivers don’t have time to get to the first down markers or even open for the catch. I really think the organization needs to look hard at whether they bring Mattison back next year. This team clearly has missed Rex Ryan and his effective aggressive schemes more than any player on defense (losing Bart Scott hurt too given Terrell Suggs injury riddled training camp and season).
– Now having said that, Newsome has to seriously look at this past off-seasons personnel decisions in the secondary. Fabian Washington showed last year that he was susceptible to injury and the Ravens had to know that Samari Rolle could not be counted on so was bringing in just Dominque Foxworth and Chris Carr the best solution? Frank Walker has contributed to several Baltimore losses this season with untimely bad penalties to include the first Bengals game, the Vikings game, and last week’s Steelers contest, just to name a few. Why was this guy still on the team after he played so poorly in 2008? Ed Reed appears to be on the verge of retirement due to injury as well so it will be a busy off-season for the defensive backfield. Hopefully Eric DeCosta and his scouting crew have some good players lined up in the draft for the secondary because I think Baltimore needs at least 3 new players back there (combination of picks and free-agent signings).
– Well the Matt Stover decision, apparently by Harbaugh, did not cost the Ravens the playoffs but it might have cost them the AFC North title and a home playoff game. #3 made a big kick in Tennessee from 43 yards in rainy conditions to win that playoff game last January 10th and put Baltimore in the AFC Championship game. So what do the Ravens do? They cut Mr. Automatic out of the picture primarily due to his weak kickoffs and money. Stover likely would have made that 43 yarder in a dome to win the game in Minnesota and who is to say that he doesn’t miss any of the six kicks against the Colts and get Baltimore a win there (and he kicked the game winner against the Ravens to pour more salt in the wound). Bottom line, that decision stunk and still stinks given what we saw in Oakland again today. The Colts have Adam Vinateri back and they are STILL not letting Stover go!
– QB Joe Flacco threw for only 102 yards today going 11 for 19. Most of that was because the Raiders are good against the pass and brutal against the run. As stated above, Cameron did the smart thing by running the football. However, you have to put the rest of that on a trio that can’t get it done in the passing game right now: the offensive line, the wide receivers, and #5 himself. Flacco was sacked 4 times and the average yards per passing play was a pitiful 3.9 yards. The blocking was terrrible, the receivers could not get open, and #5 needs to do a better job of reading defenses and improving his pocket presence. Flacco, since his foot injury in Minnesota and the injury to Jared Gaither in New England, seems to have regressed on his ability to successfully scramble or feel the pressure when dropping back to pass. Clearly the team needs more talent at wide receiver but Ravens fans have been calling for that for what seems like forever. Flacco threw for over 3600 yards this season and improved his QB rating to almost 90 so clearly he is the guy going forward. As for Troy Smith, if he wants to be traded then get rid of him, his moving on would not hurt this team one iota.
– The Ravens lost a close one in New England, 27-21, back on October 4th when Mark Clayton dropped a pass inside the Patriots 10 yard line on fourth down in the closing seconds so Baltimore showed they can compete with the three time World Champions. However, given all of the Ravens injuries, the problems in the secondary, the poor pass blocking, and the talent that the Pats have at QB and WR they are heavy underdogs. The injury to Wes Welker, who had 6 catches for 48 yards against Baltimore in the first match-up helps the Ravens, but they still have Brady and Moss. I don’t feel very good about this one but that is why they play the game, right? As Drew Forrester mentioned in his post game blog, the Ravens have to play a perfect game and that means no more stupid penalties!
– Overall, any time you make the playoffs in the NFL you should be happy. I pointed out a lot of issues to address but overall I have supreme confidence in Newsome and his staff to correct things personnel wise. Anyone who says Harbaugh has to go needs to be readily dismissed. Despite his mistakes with the kicking decision, staff, and time management, he is 2 for 2 on making the post season and clearly deserves to come back for the third straight year. He is a young NFL coach and should improve. Many fans called for Brian Billick’s head because of a perceived lack of team discipline that led to numerous 15 yard galactically stupid penalties. Well Billick is now blogging on this site and doing television yet the penalties are still happening so let’s not blame the head coach anymore and focus more on the players making the mistakes. And yes Haloti Ngata and Suggs you are two of the guys I am talking about, you need to learn to keep your head and not hurt the team with those blowups. So be thankful we have playoff football in Baltimore once again, I know I am, and it is even sweeter with the Pittsburgh Steelers out! But this team isn’t really a Super Bowl Contender right now and clearly has issues to address, but we have at least another week to not worry about several of them right now.