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Fairly or not, when Ravens fans look back on yesterday’s game (and it will be one that we will remember for a LONG time), it will be Steve Hauschka who many remember as the goat.
Not the vaunted Ravens defense, who, suddenly awful, gave up 426 yards, 167 of those on the ground, and over 20 points AGAIN. The defense is giving up a woeful 21.7 points per game, and if you take out the Week 3 game against Cleveland High School, that number shoots to 25.4 ppg against “real” NFL teams. This is a full 10 POINT PER GAME increase over what 2008′s defense managed, with very similar personnel.
I’m not going to sit here and burn the 2nd-year kicker in effigy. Yes, it was a very make-able kick – 44 yards in perfect (indoor) conditions. Yes, had he made it, all the negatives that we saw from our purple and black during the previous 59 minutes and 58 seconds would have been seemingly washed away. And yes, going into the bye week at 4-2, in a virtual tie for the division lead, would be much more desirable than where we currently sit, riding a 3 game losing streak and a full game plus behind Cincinnati and Pittsburgh in the AFC North.
But it was a game in which the Ravens’ defensive deficiencies, both on the ground and in the air, were on full display for the entire NFL to see, and any team that is worth their salt will be able to exploit this Ravens defense as it is currently constructed. Adrian Peterson started things off ominously, gaining 26 yards on his first touch. For the day he managed 143 yards on 22 carries, a video-game like average of 6.5 yards per rush, and the Ravens were unable to pry the ball from his hands even once, despite his well-documented fumbling issues.
And even when AD sputtered (basically throughout the 2nd and 3rd quarters), Old Man Brett (Favre) was able to torch the Ravens in the passing game. Favre was 21/29 for 278 yards and 3 touchdowns, his favorite target being Sidney Rice, who pulled in 6 for 176. When the Ravens were able to pressure Favre, he was rendered ineffective; however, those instances were far too few and far between to make much of a difference. Greg Mattison’s vanilla 4-3 defensive schemes are simply not getting the job done with the personnel he has at his disposal. Let’s hope he fully realizes and accepts that fact, and adjusts accordingly over the next 12 days.
The book on beating the Ravens has become painfully obvious for all to see. At this point, teams are likely to be calling the likes of Clarence Moore to sign for one game when they see B’More on their schedules. I kid, but barely – the aforementioned Rice stands 6’4″, and was yet another example of the intricate offensive scheming it takes to beat the Ravens: “send your tallest receiver deep.”
Yesterday, it was Frank Walker who was picked on during Minnesota’s final drive. However, Walker was only in the game because Fabian Washington had already been benched for his terrible play against Minnesota receivers up to that point. A huge disappointment, considering Fabe had started to step it up a bit since being named our “did not play like a Raven” in Week 2 against San Diego. On the other side, Dominique Foxworth had a slightly better game. His open field tackle of FB Naufahu Tahi stands out, but he whiffed on at least one other. And who’s to say that his “decent” game was nothing more than a function of Washington’s ineptitude?
The safeties were no better. Dawan Landry seems but a shell of the player he was prior to his spinal cord concussion last season. On Favre’s second touchdown pass to TE Visanthe Shiancoe, Landry looked like the most confused person in the building, as he stood with his back to the line of scrimmage watching Shiancoe run his route uncovered. And, on the decisive 58-yard pass to Rice that set the Vikings up for the go-ahead FG late in the game, there was no safety to be seen. John Harbaugh said after the game that there was “supposed” to be help for Walker over the top, but “the safety” bit on an underneath route. I don’t think I’m going out on a limb here assuming “the safety” wears #20. Skirting our responsibilities to freelance again, Ed? How many times does that have to bite you in the rear this season for you to realize that maybe, just maybe, you should stay in position?
Perhaps the most infuriating part of the defensive “effort” was that it managed to overshadow a Ravens offense that nearly pulled off an extremely improbable comeback. Despite scoring only 10 points over the game’s first 52 minutes, Joe Flacco had himself in prime position to out-comeback Favre the comeback king, leading the Ravens to 21 points in the game’s final 8 minutes. Those three touchdowns came on consecutive drives of 7, 3, and 1 plays, and the final (kick missing) drive was a beautiful 9 play succession that covered 41 yards and bled all but two seconds off the clock to set up what (would’ve, could’ve, should’ve) been the game winner.
Flacco finished the day with a career-high 385 yards and 2 touchdowns, with no turnovers. It was a good enough effort from Joe Cool to win. His defense just let him down, time and time again.
Of course, he had help. Ray Rice was absolutely outstanding in the loss, and is quickly becoming an NFL star. He led the Ravens in rushing (10-77-2) and receiving (10-117-0). His 33-yard scamper with 3:44 to go gave the Ravens their first and only lead of the game. If I had one criticism of Rice for the game, it would be that he did not do all he humanly could to get the ball to the middle of the field on his final carry, which COULD have helped Hauschka a bit.
Even though it’s never a good sign when a RB leads your team in receiving, the Ravens’ wideouts were far from invisible. Both Mark Clayton and Derrick Mason caught touchdowns, Todd Heap and Kelley Washington each had 3 receptions, and there was even a Demetrius Williams sighting, who caught his first pass of 2009 for 17 yards and a critical 3rd down conversion early in the comeback.
Sure, we had hoped to see Cam Cameron’s offense get back to the things they did last year, running the ball and controlling the clock, but an early 14-point deficit combined with terrible field position due to special teams ineptitude conspired to work against that plan of attack. Cameron looked like he had every intention of establishing the run, but in the end was forced to air it out to try to overcome the Vikes’ big lead.
The optimist will look at the Ravens’ last 3 games, each decided in the waning seconds, and say that they are, realistically, 3 plays from being 6-0. However, the harsh reality is this: over those 3 games, not once did the Ravens manage to put together 60 solid minutes of football on both sides of the ball, and THAT is the reason that those games came down to the wire like they did.
The Ravens, both coaches and players, need to do some soul searching during this much-needed bye week, and find those 60 minutes of football. If they do, then the playoffs are still very much within grasp, with games remaining against Pittsburgh (2), Cincy, Cleveland, Indianapolis, Oakland, and Denver in the AFC, along with winnable inter-conference matches with Detroit, Chicago, and Green Bay. But if they can’t, for instance, figure out a way to mask the gaping holes in the secondary, then a once promising season may be on its way down the proverbial toilet.