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Ranking the Ravens’ biggest special teams needs

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Ranking the Ravens’ biggest special teams needs

Posted on 17 February 2012 by Luke Jones

As the start of free agency moves closer and teams prepare for April’s draft, the Ravens continue to evaluate their needs in all three phases of the game.

Earlier in the week, I looked at Baltimore’s biggest needs on offense as well as essentials for the defense. In the conclusion of a three-part series, we finally take a long at the often-forgotten but always-important phase of the game: special teams.

Offensive coordinator Cam Cameron undoubtedly receives the most criticism among the coaches on the Ravens staff, but special teams coordinator Jerry Rosburg may deserve the most heat after a disappointing 2011 season. According to footballoutsiders.com, the Ravens’ special teams ranked 30th in the league in a percentage contrived from efficiency in field goals, kickoffs, kickoff returns, punts, and punt returns.

Looking from a more simplistic stance, Rosburg’s units struggled in both kickoff coverage (31st) and punt coverage (24th) and allowed three returns for touchdowns. In the return game, the Ravens ranked ninth in kickoff return average and 19th in punt return average, rarely getting a significant spark from either group as injuries and ineffectiveness forced them to shuffle returners in and out of the lineup.

Kicker Billy Cundiff converted only 75.7 percent of his field goal attempts, ranking 28th in the league. The 2010 Pro Bowl kicker made only one of six attempts from 50 or more yards and was only 11-for-20 away from M&T Bank Stadium — where he was perfect on 17 attempts. And that’s not even taking into account his heartbreaking 32-yard miss in the closing seconds of the AFC championship game that would have sent the Ravens into overtime against New England.

If you’re looking for a bright spot, punter Sam Koch ranked 10th in punt average (46.5 yards) but 19th in net average, which was affected by the Ravens’ suspect coverage.

While it’s difficult to target a laundry list of special teams’ needs from a position-by-position standpoint — the units simply need to improve across the board — but two positions stand out this offseason.

1. Kicker

Before you get carried away, this isn’t the pitchfork mentality we’re talking about here. Cundiff isn’t going anywhere for now. However, his disappointing season topped off by the most devastating moment in the 16-year history of the franchise can’t be forgotten as the Ravens assess their special teams.

To their credit, the organization and Cundiff have handled the miss with as much dignity as can be expected, with no one publicly questioning whether the Ravens should have kept veteran Shayne Graham to kick in the postseason. It’s been a credit to coach John Harbaugh and the family atmosphere in the locker room.

But what everyone is thinking privately is a different story. In his defense, Cundiff battled a left calf injury late in the season, but it doesn’t excuse what was a very inconsistent year after signing a five-year contract last January. For a kicker without a proven track record beyond his Pro Bowl season a year ago, Cundiff may have reverted back to the inconsistent performer seen early in his career.

The Ravens need to bring in another kicker to seriously compete against Cundiff during the preseason. The organization will keep Cundiff for now in hopes of avoiding the situation in which they found themselves in 2009 after parting company with Matt Stover. Neither Steve Hauschka nor Graham Gano were fit for the job, forcing the Ravens to scramble during the regular season until they settled on Cundiff.

It needs to be a serious competition, whether the Ravens elect to find a rookie coming out of college such as Randy Bullock of Texas A&M or a veteran on the open market. Graham wasn’t good enough to win the competition against Cundiff two years ago and has struggled with long-distance kicks in recent years, so it makes little sense to bring him back for the competition.

Even if Cundiff performs admirably in the preseason and wins the battle, the Ravens and their fans simply won’t know whether he’s recovered from the disappointment in Foxborough until he finds himself in another late-game situation. It’s difficult to envision the Ravens ever fully trusting Cundiff again, but they’ll at least give him a chance in the preseason before moving on for good.

2. Kickoff-Punt Returner

The Ravens had 10 different players return kickoffs — three of those only returned squibs or pooch kicks –  in 2011 and never found stability at the position. Second-year return specialist David Reed was demoted after two fumbles on returns against the Seattle Seahawks and then tore his ACL when he finally earned another opportunity to handle kickoffs.

While Reed will certainly find himself in the mix if he proves healthy in recovering from the knee injury this offseason, the Ravens must look to add an impact returner, preferably someone who can handle both kickoffs and punts to allow Lardarius Webb to focus solely on his duties at cornerback. Field position is critical, and the return units rarely aided the Ravens offense in setting it up on a shorter field.

Of course, the new kickoff rule limited many returners across the league, but the Ravens cannot settle for a returner downing the ball in the end zone constantly as they did down the stretch with reserve safety Tom Zbikowski this past season.

The Ravens could look to the draft for a returner such as Arkansas receiver Joe Adams in the middle rounds, who could add depth in both areas. One name to keep an eye on in the preseason is receiver Phillip Livas, who was signed to the practice squad in the final weeks of the season. Though only 5-foot-8, Livas was a record-setting return man at Louisiana Tech and could be a sleeper to watch in the preseason.

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Morning Reaction Tuesday Top 7 Ravens of the Divisional Round

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Morning Reaction Tuesday Top 7 Ravens of the Divisional Round

Posted on 17 January 2012 by Luke Jones

Below are our Tuesday Top 7 players in the Ravens’ 20-13 win over the Houston Texans in the divisional round of the playoffs. To hear our full explanations for our lists, click HERE.

Luke Jones’ Top 7 …

7) Billy Cundiff
Cundiff

6) Bernard Pollard
Pollard

5) Ray Lewis
Lewis

4) Anquan Boldin
Boldin

3) Sam Koch
Koch

2) Ed Reed
Reed

1) Lardarius Webb
Webb

Drew Forrester’s Top 7 …

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The Five Plays That Determined The Game – Ravens / Texans

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The Five Plays That Determined The Game – Ravens / Texans

Posted on 17 January 2012 by Glenn Clark

Following every Baltimore Ravens game this season, Ryan Chell and I will take to the airwaves Tuesdays on “The Reality Check” on AM1570 WNST.net with a segment known as “The Five Plays That Determined The Game.”

It’s a simple concept. We’ll select five plays from each game that determined the outcome. These five plays will best represent why the Ravens won or lost each game.

This will be our final analysis of the previous game before switching gears towards the next game on the schedule.

Here are the five plays that determined the Ravens’ 20-13 win over the Houston Texans in the Divisional Round of the AFC Playoffs Sunday at M&T Bank Stadium…

Glenn Clark’s Plays…

5. Neil Rackers misses 50 yard field goal (3rd quarter)

4. Kris Wilson 1 yard TD catch from Joe Flacco (1st quarter)

3. Lardarius Webb intercepts T.J. Yates at Houston 35 (4th quarter)

2. Lardarius Webb intercepts T.J. Yates at Baltimore 34 (1st quarter)

1. Jimmy Smith recovers Jacoby Jones fumble forced by Cary Williams after Sam Koch 64 yard punt (1st quarter)

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Our Ravens-Texans Pats on the Ass

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Our Ravens-Texans Pats on the Ass

Posted on 15 January 2012 by Glenn Clark

After every Baltimore Ravens victory, Ryan Chell and I take to the airwaves on “The Nasty Purple Postgame Show” on AM1570 WNST.net to offer “Pats on the Ass” to players who have done something to deserve the honor.

We give pats to two defensive players, two offensive players and one “Wild Card”-either another offensive or defensive player, a Special Teams player or a coach. We offer a “Pat on Both Cheeks” to someone who stands out, our version of a “Player of the Game.” Ryan & I select five different players to receive pats.

Here are our “Pats on the Ass” following the Ravens’ 20-13 win over the Houston Texans in the AFC Divisional Playoff Round at M&T Bank Stadium…

Glenn Clark’s Pats…

5. Ricky Williams

4. Ray Lewis

3. Bernard Pollard

2. Anquan Boldin

1. Sam Koch (Pat on Both Cheeks)

Ryan’s Pats on Page 2…

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Ravens-Chargers: Five predictions for Sunday night

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Ravens-Chargers: Five predictions for Sunday night

Posted on 17 December 2011 by Luke Jones

Never have the Baltimore Ravens found themselves in this position so late in the season, with every goal firmly in their grasps as they travel to San Diego on Sunday night.

Waiting for them is a Chargers team suddenly roused from a mid-season stroke with two straight wins that followed a frustrating six-game losing streak that erased a 4-1 start and placed them on the outside looking in at the playoff picture. However faint their playoff hopes might be — the Broncos-Patriots outcome earlier in the day will either be a nail in the coffin or a ray of hope — San Diego is suddenly revitalized in welcoming the Ravens to town for Sunday Night Football.

A win puts the Ravens in the playoffs for the fourth straight year and shortens the path to the No. 1 seed and a first-round bye. A loss places Baltimore in a familiar position: needing help to gain the ideal postseason position.

Sunday marks the eighth all-time meeting between the AFC teams, with the Ravens holding a 4-3 edge in the series. Baltimore is 2-3 playing the Chargers in San Diego. The last time these teams faced in 2009, it took a last-second tackle of Darren Sproles by Ray Lewis to preserve a 31-26 victory for the Ravens in a game in which Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers threw for a then-career-high 436 yards.

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Here’s what to expect when the Ravens take the field at the temporarily-named Snapdragon Stadium on Sunday night …

1. Terrell Suggs will pick up two sacks, but the Ravens will have difficulty finding the right combination of pressure against the San Diego passing game. The 29-year-old linebacker has been a one-man wrecking crew since Lewis went down with a toe injury, collecting seven sacks in his last three games. While former Ravens tackle Jared Gaither has done a fine job at left tackle since the Chargers signed him two weeks ago to replace the injured Marcus McNeill, it’s hard to envision him or right tackle Jeromey Clary containing Suggs. However, the Chargers’ ability to go vertical in the passing game while using tight end Antonio Gates and running backs Ryan Mathews and Mike Tolbert underneath creates a dilemma. Sending extra defenders will leave the Ravens vulnerable to Rivers dumping the ball off to releasing backs, but playing it conservatively puts a lot on the front four to create enough pressure to disrupt the San Diego quarterback’s timing with receivers down the field. Defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano considers it a major challenge and compared the Chargers offense to the Ravens in how they like to use their running backs in the passing game. Everyone knows Gates is a future Hall of Fame talent, but Mathews and Tolbert have combined for 90 receptions this season, which might make Baltimore think twice before simply pinning its ears back against a San Diego offensive line that seems to have stabilized in recent weeks.

2. With Lardarius Webb unlikely to play, Chargers receivers Vincent Jackson and Malcom Floyd will get the best of Jimmy Smith and Cary Williams. The timing could not have been worse for Webb to suffer a turf toe injury with the Ravens facing the most challenging passing offense they’ve seen since Pittsburgh on Nov. 6. Though the 5-foot-10 Webb is at a size disadvantage going up against either of San Diego’s 6-foot-5 receivers, he’s played at a Pro Bowl level all season and will be replaced by the highly-talented, but still largely unknown commodity, Jimmy Smith. The rookie has looked terrific at times, intercepting two passes, and lost at others, allowing touchdown passes against Cincinnati and Cleveland. His 6-foot-2 frame was drafted exactly for these types of games, but Smith’s preference to be physical will be tested — and watched by officials ready to throw yellow flags — in the most extensive work he’ll receive all season. Williams has been very solid this season, but he’s struggled on the rare occasions when the defense has been unable to generate enough heat on the quarterback. At 6-foot-1, Williams has the height to hold his own against tall receivers, but it’s questionable whether he possesses enough strength to match up against Jackson or Floyd. Jackson has caught eight touchdowns this season, and he’ll earn his ninth on Sunday night.

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In absence of leader, Suggs in full control of Ravens defense

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In absence of leader, Suggs in full control of Ravens defense

Posted on 11 December 2011 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — As I watched the Ravens’ 24-10 dismantling of the hapless Indianapolis Colts on Sunday afternoon, the same theme kept sounding in my head.

As strange as it was watching a Baltimore-Indianapolis matchup without quarterback Peyton Manning and linebacker Ray Lewis lining up on opposite sides of the line of scrimmage, it was painfully clear how much more the Colts offense missed Manning than the Ravens defense missed Lewis. Of course, that’s no knock on Lewis, whose impact as an inside linebacker simply cannot match the effect of a team missing its future Hall of Fame quarterback, but it’s a statement you thought you’d never hear given his unquantifiable effect on the Baltimore defense.

Before Indianapolis’ 76-yard touchdown drive that concluded the game — against several backups on the Ravens defense — Baltimore had a chance to set a franchise record for fewest yards allowed as the Colts had just 91 before taking over with 2:18 remaining in the fourth quarter. With Lewis out of action for the Ravens’ last four games, not only has the defense survived but it’s flourished, allowing just 12.5 points and 263.3 yards per game over that span.

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In Lewis’ absence, linebacker Terrell Suggs has gone to the head of the pack, posting seven sacks over the Ravens’ last three games. His three-sack performance against Indianapolis matched his single-game high and gave him 13 for the season, setting a new career best for the nine-year veteran.

But ask the boisterous pass rusher if he’s having the best year of his career and you’ll get the humble version of “T-Sizzle” who’s more concerned with winning championships than hearing his name in the Defensive Player of the Year discussions.

“I don’t know,” said Suggs in response to the career-year query. “It only counts if we get to [the Super Bowl in Indianapolis] and the confetti drops. Right now, I think we are all just doing our parts — holding [the] levee until the general gets back. That’s how I honestly think we are playing.”

While the Ravens are certainly looking forward to Lewis’ return — quite possibly next week in San Diego — the lieutenant general is leading the troops with similar success, even if Suggs’ leadership style isn’t quite as obvious as the authoritative 36-year-old linebacker leading the Baltimore defense for the last 16 seasons. Injury or not, it’s becoming more and more apparent we’re seeing a changing of the guard with Suggs subtly taking the reins of the defense as Lewis and safety Ed Reed move closer to the end of their respective careers.

As has been the case several times this season, Suggs took over the game on Sunday, chasing overwhelmed Colts quarterback Dan Orlovsky all over the pocket as the Ravens improved to 10-3 to remain tied with the Pittsburgh Steelers atop the AFC North.

“Terrell Suggs was just a game-wrecker,” coach John Harbaugh said. “He was a game-wrecker in the run. He was a game-wrecker in the pass rush. I think he had three caused fumbles. Unfortunately, we didn’t come up with any of them.”

Despite Suggs’ reluctance in discussing the personal accolades, his 2011 season may go down as one of the best in the history of Ravens defenders. His 13 sacks are tied with the number Trevor Pryce collected in 2006 for third in team history, and only defensive end Michael McCrary (14 1/2 in 1998) and linebacker Peter Boulware (15 in 2001) remain ahead of Suggs, who still has three games remaining to set a new franchise mark.

Even if the four-time Pro Bowl linebacker isn’t willing to acknowledge his increasing role as a leader, there’s no question who’s become the best player among a plethora of greats on the Baltimore defense. Lewis may remain the general inspiring his troops with pre-game speeches, but Suggs is the most gifted soldier in the trenches, the guy you want on your side when the stakes are at their highest.

“Don’t be fooled; this is still Ray Lewis’ team,” Suggs said. “He is still the general of this team, and he has a personal relationship with everybody on this team, and it’s showing. As I said, his presence is still very much there.”

Suggs may be right about Lewis’ presence, but the Ravens are just as fortunate to have No. 55 standing right next to him. His performance in Lewis’ absence proves it.

Rice running all over

Following his career-high 204-yard performance against the Cleveland Browns, running back Ray Rice hit triple digits again on Sunday, rushing for 103 yards on 26 carries in the win over Indianapolis.

It was the first time in his four-year career that Rice was able to achieve back-to-back 100-yard rushing games. The 2008 second-round pick has reached the century mark in rushing in three of the Ravens’ last four games after offensive coordinator Cam Cameron came under fire at several points earlier this season for not giving enough carries to the 5-foot-8 running back.

“I guess I have to say I’m pretty fresh right now considering the amount of workload I had in the first half of the season,” Rice said. “I’m not saying I saved my best for the end of the season, but I’m doing a great job of keeping myself fresh. I get a great relief when Ricky Williams is in there. I am just looking forward to being consistent.”

Rice has now compiled 30 games with at least 100 total yards from scrimmage during his career, including 28 since he became the full-time starter in 2009. His 28 games dating back to that season are the most in the NFL.

His 103 yards against the Colts also gave Rice 1,029 yards in 2011, marking the third straight season he’s surpassed the 1,000-yard rushing barrier. Rice joins Jamal Lewis as the second Raven to post at least 1,000 in three straight campaigns. Lewis accomplished the feat from 2002 to 2004.

“It means a lot to me,” Rice said. “Anytime I do something, I give my credit to the offensive line. But to do three straight [1,000-yard seasons], it does say something, consistency-wise. I try to just stay the course.”

Cundiff’s calf

After veteran Shayne Graham was on standby all weekend in case Billy Cundiff’s left calf wasn’t ready for action, the Ravens kicker proved able to play on Sunday, making his only field goal attempt, which came from 36 yards near the end of the first quarter.

However, Cundiff experienced some soreness on kickoffs in the first half, prompting Harbaugh to turn to punter Sam Koch in the second half. Fortunately, the Ravens would only need Koch to kick off one time and Cundiff was still available for field goals and extra points.

The move was considered more precautionary with the Ravens holding a 14-point lead at halftime.

“It was important for [Cundiff] to be able to kick,” Harbaugh said, “but he started feeling [something] on the kickoffs as we progressed in the first half, so we went with Sam in the second half on kickoffs.”

Odds & ends

Wide receiver Torrey Smith tied Jamal Lewis’ rookie record for touchdowns in a season when he posted his sixth score of 2011, an 8-yard touchdown catch in the first quarter. … The Ravens accumulated four sacks against Indianapolis, giving them a league-high 45 on the season. With three games remaining, Baltimore is on pace to record 55 sacks in 2011, more than doubling its total of 27 last season. … Opponents have now gone 21 straight games without scoring on their opening drive against the Ravens, the NFL’s longest streak over the past 20 seasons. … Veteran wideout Lee Evans passed the 6,000-yard mark for his career with a 21-yard reception in the third quarter. … The Ravens have now won 17 of their last 18 games at M&T Bank Stadium and are 7-0 at home this year. Baltimore is 26-5 at home in four seasons under Harbaugh.

Visit the BuyAToyota.com Audio Vault to hear from John Harbaugh, Terrell Suggs, Ray Rice, Jarret Johnson, Torrey Smith, Bernard Pollard, and Jameel McClain right here.

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The Reality Check Presents “The Five Plays That Determined The Game: Ravens-Cardinals”

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The Reality Check Presents “The Five Plays That Determined The Game: Ravens-Cardinals”

Posted on 01 November 2011 by Glenn Clark

Following every Baltimore Ravens game this season, Ryan Chell and I will take to the airwaves Tuesdays on “The Reality Check” on AM1570 WNST.net with a segment known as “The Five Plays That Determined The Game.”

It’s a simple concept. We’ll select five plays from each game that determined the outcome. These five plays will best represent why the Ravens won or lost each game.

This will be our final analysis of the previous game before switching gears towards the next game on the schedule.

Here are the five plays that determined the Ravens’ 30-27 win over the Arizona Cardinals at M&T Bank Stadium…

Glenn Clark’s Plays…

5. Ed Dickson 14 yard catch from Joe Flacco on 3rd & 4 (3rd quarter)

dickson

4. Jameel McClain intercepts Kevin Kolb after Terrell Suggs hit (3rd quarter)

kolb

3. Torrey Smith 36 yard catch from Joe Flacco (4th quarter)

torrey

2. Sam Koch 40 yard punt downed by Bryan McCann inside Cards’ 5 yard line (4th quarter)

koch

1. Anquan Boldin draws pass interference call on Patrick Peterson in endzone on 3rd down (3rd quarter)

q

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Our Ravens-Cardinals “Pats On The Ass”

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Our Ravens-Cardinals “Pats On The Ass”

Posted on 30 October 2011 by Glenn Clark

After every Baltimore Ravens victory, Ryan Chell and I take to the airwaves on “The Nasty Purple Postgame Show” on AM1570 WNST.net to offer “Pats on the Ass” to players who have done something to deserve the honor.

We give pats to two defensive players, two offensive players and one “Wild Card”-either another offensive or defensive player, a Special Teams player or a coach. We offer a “Pat on Both Cheeks” to someone who stands out, our version of a “Player of the Game.”

Here are our “Pats on the Ass” following the Ravens’ 30-27 victory over the Arizona Cardinals at M&T Bank Stadium…

Glenn Clark’s Pats…

5. Jarret Johnson

jj

4. Dennis Pitta

pitta

3. Sam Koch

koch

2. Joe Flacco

flacco

1. Terrell Suggs (Pat on both cheeks)

suggs

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Morning Reaction Tuesday Top 7 Ravens for Week 7

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Morning Reaction Tuesday Top 7 Ravens for Week 7

Posted on 26 October 2011 by Luke Jones

Below are our (day-late) Tuesday Top 7 Ravens players in the shocking 12-7 loss to the Jacksonville Jaguars on Monday night. We’ll track our rankings throughout the 2011 season with the following point system:

No. 1 – 7 points
No. 2 – 6 points
No. 3 – 5 points
No. 4 – 4 points
No. 5 – 3 points
No. 6 – 2 points
No. 7 – 1 point

To hear the full explanation for our respective picks, click right HERE.

Luke Jones’ Top 7 …

7) Haloti Ngata
Ngata

6) Ray Lewis
Lewis

5) Jameel McClain
McClain

4) Sam Koch
Koch

3) Cary Williams
Willliams

2) Terrell Suggs
Suggs

1) Bernard Pollard
Pollard

Drew Forrester’s Top 7 …

7) Dennis Pitta
Pitta

6) Ed Reed
Reed

5) Terrell Suggs
Suggs

4) Jameel McClain
McClain

3) Bernard Pollard
Pollard

2) Sam Koch
Koch

1) Ray Lewis
Lewis

SEASON TO DATE:
Luke Jones:

1. Ray Rice (24 points)
2. Haloti Ngata (24 points)
3. Terrell Suggs (22 points)
4. Joe Flacco (15 points)
5. Ed Reed (8 points)
5. Anquan Boldin (8 points)
5. Ray Lewis (8 points)
8. Bernard Pollard (7 points)
8. Cary Williams (7 points)
10. David Reed (6 points)
10. Torrey Smith (6 points)
10. Terrence Cody (6 points)
13. Bryant McKinnie (5 points)
13. Lardarius Webb (5 points)
13. Billy Cundiff (5 points)
16. Sam Koch (4 points)
17. Cory Redding (3 points)
17. Jameel McClain (3 points)
19. Matt Birk (1 point)
19. Jarret Johnson (1 point)

Drew Forrester:
1. Ray Rice (21 points)
2. Haloti Ngata (18 points)
3. Joe Flacco (16 points)
4. Terrell Suggs (15 points)
5. Ray Lewis (12 points)
6. Lardarius Webb (11 points)
7. Ed Reed (10 points)
8. Anquan Boldin (9 points)
8. Bernard Pollard (9 points)
10. Bryant McKinnie (7 points)
10. Torrey Smith (7 points)
10. Sam Koch (7 points)
13. Ed Dickson (6 points)
14. Jarret Johnson (5 points)
15. Jameel McClain (4 points)
15. Billy Cundiff (4 points)
17. Marshal Yanda (2 points)
17. Andre Gurode (2 points)
17. Cary Williams (2 points)
20. Dennis Pitta (1 point)

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“Rating the Ravens” after Baltimore 29-14 victory over Houston

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“Rating the Ravens” after Baltimore 29-14 victory over Houston

Posted on 17 October 2011 by Ryan Chell

The Ravens may have had some difficulty Sunday versus the Houston Texans getting in the end zone, but with Baltimore getting their third straight win, there is little to be upset about with the AFC North-leaders.

The Ravens (4-1,) not only earned another win to stay atop the division; they earned a quality win over a Houston Texans squad that was seen as an elite team in the AFC despite coming in with a 3-2 record.

The Texans of course were without All-Pro wide receiver Andre Johnson, DE Mario Williams, and had injuries to their entire backfield Sunday in quarterback Matt Schaub, RB Arian Foster, and fullback James Casey.

With another quality win under their belt and seeing some offensive production out of running back Ray Rice, receivers Anquan Boldin and Torrey Smith, and four sacks on defense, the Ravens should have a lot of confidence going forward as they take on the lowly Jacksonville Jaguars next Monday night.

Quarterback

Joe Flacco

After Joe Flacco’s poor performance two weeks ago against the New York Jets in which Flacco recorded 10-of-31 passes for just 136 yards (2 turnovers), it was on Flacco to have a rebound game.

Flacco finished Sunday 2o-of-33 for 305 yards and one interception versus the Texans. Give credit to Flacco for making plays on the run, being hit after letting go the ball, and not being able to fully step into his throws.

The Houston Texans built their team in the draft and in the off-season to off-set a dominant quarterback in their division in Peyton Manning, and it also affected Flacco Sunday.

Third-year man Tim Jamison stripped Flacco once and recorded two sacks of the Ravens quarterback, and rookies JJ Watt and Brooks Reed were breathing down Flacco’s neck all game long.

Flacco’s lone interception came on a tipped pass intended for tight end Ed Dickson that found its way into the hands of Texans CB Jonathan Joseph. Dickson could not have been more wide open, and Flacco sailed the ball.

Rookie wide receiver Torrey Smith-on his highlight of the day, a 51-yard catch in the 3rd quarter that helped Baltimore go up 16-14with 5:06 in the third-had to go back to get Flacco’s pass.

But later on in the quarter, after Houston punted on downs, Flacco’s pass from his own 34 to Anquan Boldin-over the outstretched arms of Joseph-could not have been in a better spot for Boldin to get the ball.

Best assessment? A better game for Flacco.

Rating-”C+”

Running Backs

Ray Rice

Ray Rice continues to show that he is the gas that makes the Ravens offensive car go. If anything were to happen to Rice, Ravens fans can make other plans the first couple of weeks of January. He had 161 yards of total offense against the Texans, and a lot of those yards were hard fought through an aggressive Texans defensive line and linebacking corps.

Giving the ball to Rice 23 times on the ground showed that Cam Cameron and the Ravens offensive coaching staff continue to realize that good things happen when you give him the ball, and his added five touches for 60 yards on passes down the field backed that statement up.

The only area of concern would be Rice’s inability to punch it in the goal line on back-to-back occasions at the end of the Ravens first drive that put them up 7-0 over Houston-one of which had a huge hole for him to run through.

Ricky Williams had a four-yard score in the four quarter to ice the game, 26-14. It was his first touchdown as a Raven, and given the team’s ineptness toward the goal line earlier in the contest and his ability to punch it in, he might be called on more in those opportunities.

Rating-”A”

Wide Receivers

Anquan Boldin

Glenn Clark said this on “The Nasty Purple Post-Game Show” following the game: this may have been the best/second best game Anquan Boldin has had in a Baltimore uniform. He did have 100-yard games twice against the Steelers and his 3-TD performance against Eric Wright and the Browns in 2010, but given the man going up against him in Jonathan Joseph, Boldin had a phenomenal game.

Boldin not only performed his role as a possession receiver (8 catches), he of course made plays down the field highlighted by his 56-yard grab in the third quarter, setting up the fourth quarter field goal by Billy Cundiff that put Baltimore up 19-14 with 14:44 left to go.

On the other side, Torrey Smith was frustrated after being bottled up by the New York Jets before the bye week. Smith had five catches for 152 yards and three touchdowns against the Rams three weeks ago, and his rookie flame faded against Darrelle Revis.

Torrey Smith

Flacco found Smith three times Sunday for 84 yards, highlighted by his 51-yarder that Smith made over Kareem Jackson. Smith did a great job coming back for Flacco’s ball to make the catch, and held it after the hit. Flacco barely missed Smith earlier in the game on a bomb in the back of the end zone, and they were toes away from a connection for a score.

No other receiver caught a pass, and tight ends Dennis Pitta and Ed Dickson combined for four passes for 29 yards.

Rating-”B”

Offensive Line

This unit dominated. This unit also struggled as well. All depends when you were looking.

Early, the Ravens offensive line had issues protecting Flacco from the likes of bull rushers like Antonio Smith, Tim Jamison, JJ Watt, and Brooks Reed. They also had difficulty clearing a lane for Ray Rice and Vonta Leach to punch it in the Texans’ 1-yard line.

Four times. And they were aided by Antonio Smith’s two personal foul penalties mixed into those opportunities.

But as the game went on, the offensive line appeared to wear down the Texans defensive line. You have to play for 60 minutes of football in the NFL, and the O-line did help Ray Rice get over the century mark for yet another game this year.

Rating-”B”

Defensive Line

Matt Schaub

The Ravens got four sacks Sunday of Matt Schaub, and the defensive line earned two of those sacks (Haloti Ngata, Pernell McPhee). However, you can credit Clarence Brooks‘ unit with absorbing blocks to allow Ray Lewis and Jarret Johnson to earn the other two sacks of Schaub. Schaub was constantly on the move in the pocket, and the Texans were forced to leave tight ends Joel Dreessen and Owen Daniels in to block Ngata and Terrell Suggs-taking away other options for Schaub.

Ngata still found a way to earn eight tackles Sunday through the double and triple-teams.

Also key in stopping the Texans was containing running back Arian Foster, the NFL’s leading rusher from a year ago. Foster earned 100 yards against the Ravens in their 2010 contest, and it was clear the Ravens saw him as a threat. They did a great job containing the back, only allowing him 49 yards on the ground on 15 carries.

They were disciplined in their over-pursuit of Foster as well, not allowing him the cut-back lane to get his signature extra yards.

Local guy Ben Tate did have some success in relief of Foster (9 carries, 41 yards), but he also had a fumble that ultimately helped the Texans earn one of their two scores.

Terrence Cody did an impressive job stuffing Arian Foster in several short-yardage situations, earning three tackles.

Terrence Cody

Rating-”A+”

Linebackers

This unit was helped by the play of the guys in front of them.

Able to flow smoothly to the ball without fear of blocks, Ray Lewis led all tacklers with 12. Both he and Jarret Johnson (7 tackles) earned sacks blitzing from the right side of the Texans offensive line, and had clear lanes to the QB.

Brendon Ayanbadejo had four tackles-mostly in obvious passing situations, but he continues to prove that he is the best option the Ravens have at covering the opposing tight end or running back in the flat.

Much like the defensive line, give them credit for stopping Arian Foster and playing well in coverage a few yards off the line of scrimmage.

Arian Foster

Rating-”A”

Secondary

This unit probably received the greatest news in the world last week when they heard that Texans WR Andre Johnson would miss Sunday’s game with that prolonged hamstring injury.

That left quarterback Matt Schaub without his weapon, and it was obvious that he was “naked” without Johnson in the lineup.

Schaub made his plays in short yardage in front of the receivers-taking few shots down the field. Mostly because he didn’t have the time to throw either with the Ravens pass-rush keeping him on the move.

Corners Lardarius Webb, Cary Williams, and safety Bernard Pollard combined for 17 tackles, and made sure that there weren’t any plays made after the catch and that no receiver got past them.

The longest play of the day for Houston came on Jacoby Jones‘ 32 yard touchdown in the third quarter that put the Texans up 14-13, and it appeared like there was a blown coverage on the play.

Ed Reed

Safety Ed Reed-who often takes risks in his own right-was left on his own against Jones, and the speedy Jones made a play behind Reed in the back of the end zone.

Fortunately for the Ravens secondary, it was the only mistake on their part.

Rating-”B”

Special Teams

The key here was Billy Cundiff, who went five-for-five on field goals on a windy Sunday afternoon at M&T Bank Stadium. You could almost give him the game ball here.

Billy Cundiff

He continues to prove to the coaching staff that he is not a liability, and that his Pro-Bowl year from 2010 was not a fluke.

He had eight kickoffs-all of which reached the end zone-and seven of them were downed for touchbacks.

New CB Bryan McCann had two kickoff returns for 26 yards, and punter Sam Koch only had to line up twice.

Rating: “A”

Like my analysis? Disagree? Comment below, or tune in Monday afternoon on “The Reality Check” as Glenn Clark and I discuss Sunday’s win! WNST-We Never Stop Talking Baltimore Sports!

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