Archive for September, 2009

Week 3: Ravens – Browns Wrap Up

Raice Rice celebrates his first career NFL touchdown with the help of Mark Clayton.

Raice Rice celebrates his first career NFL touchdown with the help of Mark Clayton.

The Ravens did a great job yesterday of staying focused and not overlooking an inferior team. They came out of the gates strong and didn’t let up. They played smart football and the result was a 34-3 domination of the Cleveland Browns before 70,950 at M&T Bank Stadium.

I honestly thought the game would be a little closer, but I guess I didn’t realize just how bad the Browns really are. There are numerous problems with the team, but it seems like the solution is a mystery. Is it head coach Eric Mangini? Is it the quarterback situation? Or is it owner Randy Lerner? I just don’t know. After reading some of the reader comments on the Cleveland Plain Dealer‘s website, I almost feel sorry for what Browns fans have to go through.

But that’s enough sympathy for the Browns. Let’s talk about the Ravens and their stellar performance.

The offense is so fluid right now. Willis McGahee and Ray Rice went literally untouched on all three of their touchdown runs. Huge credit goes to the offensive line, especially tackles Jared Gaither and rookie Michael Oher.

Joe Flacco was efficient, completing 25 of his 35 throws and amassing a career high 342 yards. His confidence has to be extremely high going into Foxborough next Sunday after throwing no interceptions for the first time this season.

Derrick Mason caught 5 passes for 118 yards and he surpassed the 800 catch plateau for his career. His most impressive play came with a little over eight minutes remaining in the game. He adjusted to catch an underthrown pass by Flacco. He made the leaping catch, and proceeded to make two Cleveland defenders miss on his way to the endzone for a 72 yard TD.

The defense took advantage of Jamal Lewis being out with a hamstring injury and shut down the Cleveland rushing attack. Jerome Harrison was limited to 52 yards on 16 carries. With that the Ravens have now not allowed a 100-yard rusher in 38 consecutive games, the longest current streak in the NFL.

Ed Reed, Dawan Landry, Dominique Foxworth, and Brendan Ayanbadejo all had interceptions. The secondary limited Braylon Edwards to 35 yards receiving.

Final Thoughts: The Ravens are playing some the best football in the history of the franchise. Never before have the offense and defense been so balanced and so good. The offense is explosive and the defense is as rough and tough as it’s ever been. But their toughest opponents are still in front of them. Next week’s game at New England is going to be a HUGE test for this team. Whether or not they can go into a tough environment and beat a very talented football team will speak volumes.

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Week 3 Game Preview: Cleveland Browns (0-2) at Baltimore Ravens (2-0)

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Game Info:

Kickoff: 1:05 p.m. (EDT)

Site: M&T Bank Stadium (71.008) · Baltimore, MD

TV: CBS

Announcers: Gus Johnson (play-by-play), Steve Tasker (color)

Fast Facts:

-Since 1999, Baltimore has allowed 18 100-yard rushing games. The Browns have allowed 18 100-yard rushing games over their last 32 games.

-Since 2003, the Ravens’ defense at home has ranked first in the NFL in yards allowed, points allowed and interceptions.

-Ravens wideout Derrick Mason needs just 3 catches to put him at 800 for his career, a mark which only 22 players in NFL history have hit.

– The Ravens have had at least 1 sack in 14 straight games.

-Free safety Ed Reed has 7 career interceptions against the Browns and has returned 3 of them for scores.

– The Browns are 3-7 in their previous 10 visits to M&T Bank Stadium. The last time Cleveland won in Baltimore was in 2007 in a game that will forever be remembered for Phil Dawson’s wild field goal at the end of regulation.

Josh Cribbs: I have never made a section in a game preview for just one player. But Browns return specialist Josh Cribbs is good enough to warrant his own preview. Consider these stats: From 2005-09, Cribbs is ranks first in the league in kickoff returns for touchdowns (five), and second in combined return touchdowns (seven). He also ranks second in kickoff return yards (5,707 for a 26.2-yard average). During last season’s Ravens-Browns game in Cleveland, Cribbs ran a kickoff back 92-yards for a score, and totaled 237 kickoff return yards and 41 yards on punts. He returned another kick for a TD in week 1 against Minnesota. The Ravens showed last week that their special team coverage has some holes as the Chargers’ Darren Sproles averaged 32 yards per kickoff return including a 52 yard burst that gave his team great field position.

Ravens Offense vs. Browns Defense: Last week the Ravens showed that their 501 yard outburst in week one was no fluke. In fact, Baltimore now ranks first in the AFC in yards per game (406) and points per game (34.5). On paper, this is as big of a mismatch as you will ever see. Defensively, the Browns rank all the way on the other end of the spectrum. Cleveland has given up an average of 30.5 points in their first two games. The offensive line has been VERY impressive so far in this young season. Jared Gaither held Shawne Merriman to one tackle and zero sacks last week. Center Matt Birk has the tough task of blocking Browns all-pro nose tackle Shaun Rogers. Rodgers is strong and takes up lots of space. He can disrupt the running game by closing holes before they even open. Said Birk, “He’s a great player. He combines power and quickness, and that’s rare in a big guy like that to be so explosive. That’s why he’s been a good player for so long in this league. He’s just a big, powerful guy. All you can do is get in there and try to battle.” The three headed monster of Ray Rice, Willis McGahee, and Le’Ron McClain will once again give Baltimore fresh legs the throughout the game at the running back position. Joe Flacco has been solid in 2009, but has thrown a pick in each game. It will be interesting to see if he can avoid throwing one for the third straight week.

Browns Offense vs. Ravens Defense: Cleveland is having a great deal of trouble scoring points on the offensive side of the ball. They have scored just one offensive TD in their past 33 quarters! That is a stretch of just over 8 full games. Former Raven Jamal Lewis is questionable with a hamstring injury. If Lewis is unable to start, Jerome Harrison and fullback Lawrence Vickers (three combined rushing attempts in ’09) will get the bulk of the carries. As if going up against the NFL’s #1 rush defense wasn’t hard enough, doing so without your starting halfback makes it that much harder. Receiver Braylon Edwards has been very quiet through two games so far this year, hauling in only 7 receptions. But he could be due for a big game, especially against a Baltimore secondary that got lit up last Sunday in San Diego. But Edwards having a succesful day is largely dependent on whether or not quarterback Brady Quinn can play smart football and avoid costly turnovers. Since his debut last November, Quinn has started 5 games, thrown 3 touchdown passes, 4 interceptions, and won just one game. He will have to battle a tough pass rush from Ray Lewis and company as well as a loud M&T Bank Stadium crowd.

Prediction: These two teams are going in two very different directions. Baltimore is thinking Super Bowl and Cleveland is trying to establish a solid foundation with Quinn at quarterback and Eric Mangini as head coach. Take a look at the Baltimore Sun’s
staff predictions for this game. They all pretty much agree that this will be a lopsided affair. I disagree. The Browns have talent and will put up a good fight on Sunday. I would be shocked if they were to escape town with a win, but this will be much closer than a lot of people think. RAVENS 24 – BROWNS 13.

Chip Kelly Is a Man of His Word

Oregon Ducks Head Coach Chip Kelly

Oregon Ducks Head Coach Chip Kelly

The following is a fantastic article. It’s a quick read and I think it’s worth a look. It’s about an Oregon football fan who wrote to head coach Chip Kelly regarding the team’s poor play on the road at Boise State. He simply asked for a refund of his travel expenses. You might be surprised at the response he got!

Here’s the link

Ravens, R. Lewis Come Up Big in San Diego

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The Ravens victory over the Chargers yesterday wasn’t pretty, but when have the Ravens ever been a team of style over substance? Never.

The defense gave up 476 yards, but Ray Lewis, who on fourth and 2 made the game’s biggest play, summed it up best. “You see a couple of big plays here or there, but I told the defense earlier, those third- and fourth-down goal-line stances will win us the ballgame. I’ve been in games where we’ve held under 150 yards. That’s cute. Stats are pretty. But if you don’t win, you’re sick.”

The franchise’s M.O. for winning over the past decade has been to play great defense, and hope the offense can do SOMETHING. However yesterday, in front of a crowd of 66,882 at sun-splashed Qualcomm Stadium, it was a bit of a role-reversal as the offense picked up the slack for the defense.

Willis McGahee rushed for 79 yards and was able to find the endzone twice. Dan Fouts made mention during the CBS telecast of how motivating it can be to a player when he has to earn his carries. This is a remarkably different McGahee than the one we saw in 2008. He has a great attitude this year and is looking even better than he did in 2007 when he averaged 81 yards per game and had almost 300 carries.

Joe Flacco, aside from throwing an interception early in the fourth quarter, was brilliant. He completed 17 of 24 passes for 190 yards and a pair of touchdowns. His 27 yard lob to Kelley Washington looked great. He pumped to Mark Clayton who was setting up for a screen, and the Charger defense bit hard. What a great piece of play calling from offensive coordinator Cam Cameron.

The receivers were decent; I was expecting a bit more from Clayton and Derrick Mason. Together they only totaled 4 receptions. Kelley Washington is quickly becoming one of Joe Flacco’s favorite targets. Todd Heap only caught one pass, but it was good for six and gave Baltimore their biggest lead of the game. Mason needs only 3 catches to become the 23rd player in league history to amass 800 or more receptions.

For the Ravens’ defensive front seven, it was business as usual. They held the explosive Darren Sproles to only 26 rushing yards and the Chargers as a whole to 53. The play of the secondary was cause for concern though. Sproles and Phillip Rivers connected on a 81 yard catch and run that went the distance. And receiver Vincent Jackson snagged in 6 balls for 141 yards. Down the road, teams are going to exploit corners Fabian Washington and Dominique Foxworth like the Chargers. Each is only 5-foot-11, and when the Ravens face big, tall receivers, (i.e. Braylon Edwards next week and Randy Moss in 2 weeks) they are going to have get help from the safeties and use double coverage. If they don’t figure out a way to contain these playmakers, yesterday’s game will not be the only time Baltimore gives up 400+ passing yards.

Overall, a win is a win and the play of this team right now should excite any fan. Both games this year have revealed weaknesses that could have potentially led to losses. Yet both times, the Ravens have found ways to come out victorious.

With Pittsburgh losing in Chicago yesterday, Baltimore now sits atop the AFC North. I know, I know, it’s early, but starting out 2-0 historically bodes well for the Ravens. The last three times they’ve done it, they’ve made the playoffs (2000, 2006, and 2008). An excellent opportunity to improve to 3-0 awaits this Sunday when Baltimore hosts the 0-2 Cleveland Browns.

Week 2: Ravens vs. Chargers Preview

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Game Info:

Kickoff: 4:15 p.m. (EDT)

Site: Qualcomm Stadium (71,500) · San Diego, CA

TV: CBS

Announcers: Dick Enberg (play-by-play), Dan Fouts (color)

Overview: Both teams did not live up to expectations against inferior teams last week. The Chargers were given all they could handle from the Raiders, and were able to snatch a victory in the final seconds of the fourth quarter. And the Ravens had to overcome some costly mistakes to finish off Kansas City. Because they played on Monday night, the Chargers have a short week to get ready. Baltimore will travel to San Diego on Friday, a day earlier than usual, to try and get accustomed to time change. They will practice Saturday at San Diego State University.

Ravens Offense vs. Chargers Defense: After their 501 yard outburst in Week 1, it’s clear the Ravens are capable of putting up big offensive numbers. A balanced attack of Ray Rice and Willis McGahee will once again be the critical early in order to establish the pass and to wear down the Chargers’ front seven. San Diego has two speedy corners in Antonio Cromartie and Quentin Jammer. They won’t be as easy to burn as the Kansas City defensive backs, but they are aggressive and the right play action call could open the door for a big pass play. The offensive line has to deal with Jamal Williams at nose tackle; he is so talented and at 348 pounds, often requires a double team because he takes up so much space. Shawne Merriman is an elite pass rusher and Jared Gaither is going to have his hands full with him. The running backs are going to have to do a good job of protecting Flacco because the pass rush is going to be there all afternoon. The rushing attack is the heartbeat of this offense and if it struggles early, the Ravens could be in for a long day.

Chargers Offense vs. Ravens Defense: On paper, it’s hard to think how San Diego ever loses a game. Phillip Rivers has really blossomed into one of the league’s best young quarterbacks. Tight end Antonio Gates is an incredible athlete. He is such a mismatch to any defense. Cover him with a linebacker and he will use his speed to beat you. Put a quick defensive back on him and then he turns into a basketball player who catches everything. He is such a threat in the red zone and must be accounted for at all times. LaDainian Tomlinson, a former league MVP, is still a very dangerous running back (UPDATE: As of Friday afternoon, 9/18,  LaDainian Tomlinson has been ruled out of Sunday’s game due to a sore left ankle). But it is the 5-foot-6 Darren Sproles who will be the biggest challenge for Baltimore. He is short, built like a fire hydrant, and very explosive. He returns punts and kickoffs as well. Ravens defensive end Trevor Pryce, who is 6-foot-5 and 290 pounds noted the challenge of playing against him. “It’s a lot harder, because you have to leave your feet to dive at him. You can’t squat that low. The bigger you are, the harder it is to tackle a small back. The lower he gets, the lower you have to get. By that time, you’re sitting on your behind.” It is very critical for the Ravens to take advantage of the Chargers’ offensive line, which is dealing with two major injuries. Both starting center Nick Hardwick and guard Louis Vasquez left Monday night’s game with ankle and knee injuries respectively. Both did not practice Wednesday and are questionable for Sunday’s game. If Baltimore is able to blitz effectively and get pressure on Rivers, keeping Gates in check will be much easier. Stopping the run is what the Ravens do best and it will be a quite interesting to see how they gameplan for Tomlinson and Sproles. I believe whether or not the Ravens can generate a turnover that leads to a score will be the difference between a win and a loss.

Prediction: There are a few trends that favor the Chargers on Sunday. They are 20-4 at Qualcomm Stadium since 2006, which is the league’s second-best home record in that stretch. And the Ravens have lost seven of their last eight road openers. I’m going to go against those trends. Baltimore is confident and disciplined, and I predict this one to be a tight one that goes right down to the wire. RAVENS 24-23.

Thoughts on Ravens – Chiefs

WR Mark Clayton hauls in a 31-yard touchdown pass over the Chiefs' Brandon Carr. The score put the Ravens ahead 31-24

WR Mark Clayton hauls in a 31-yard touchdown pass over the Chiefs' Brandon Carr. The score put the Ravens ahead 31-24

Yesterday’s 38-24 win was very satisfying for me as a Ravens fan. Some wouldn’t agree, but I’ll explain a little later. Many people are quick to point out that the ravens were heavy favorites, and that they were given a tough fight by one of the worst teams in football. I don’t share that same opinion.

I wasn’t surprised at all by the Chiefs’ effort yesterday; you can always expect great effort from any NFL team on any given Sunday. I was a little shocked though, with the two long scoring drives they had in the fourth quarter. Fabian Washington seemed to be struggling with coverage and the pass rush was decent but not getting to Brodie Croyle as nearly as quickly as it should have been.

And aside from the special teams mishap which resulted in a blocked punt for a TD, and a poor interception by Joe Flacco which led to another TD, the Ravens looked superb yesterday.

Flacco was very sharp and it definitely looks as if he has a much better feel for the pocket than he did last year. He really know when to scramble, when to throw it away, or when to just take a sack. I loved his touchdown pass to Willis McGahee. It was very Roethlisberger-esque, if that’s a word. He bought himself time, kept his head up and extended the play long enough for a man to open up and he capitalized beautifully for the score.

Ray Rice and Willis McGahee were great; they combined for 152 yards on a score on the ground. While Le’Ron McClain caught 3 passes and rushed 6 times for 42 total yards and a score. The running back by committee works! It really is the heart and soul of the Ravens offense.

Mark Clayton’s beautiful game winning touchdown capped a solid day for the receiving corps. He, Mason, Heap, and Washington combined for 2 TD’s, 17 receptions, and 241 yards!

As I mentioned earlier, the defensive play in the early part of the fourth quarter was cause for concern in my opinion. But let’s go over the performance of this defense on their first four series of the game. Four straight 3 and outs! They did not yield a first down until the 4:38 mark in the 2nd quarter! That is dominant. KC was 2 for 10 on third downs and only made 2 trips to the redzone all day. One of those was courtesy of Joe Flacco, not the D.

So back to my first sentence, you only get better when you make mistakes and learn from them. The Ravens made a few yesterday. 2 of them ended up costing them 14 points. Against tougher teams, it won’t be as easy to put up 38 and negate those two scores. You got to believe head coach John Harbaugh will have these guys ready and even more focused for a west coast trip to play the Chargers next Sunday.

Week 1: Ravens vs. Chiefs Preview

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Game Info:

Kickoff: 1:05 p.m. (EDT)

Site: M&T Bank Stadium (71,008) · Baltimore, MD

TV: CBS

Announcers: Ian Eagle (play-by-play), Rich Gannon (color)

Overview: Baltimore enters the 2009 season with extremely high expectations. After a loss in last year’s AFC Championship Game, the Ravens have their sights set on Miami and Super Bowl XLIV. On the other side of the field, Kansas City is looking to rebound last year’s franchise worst 2-14 record. With a new GM in Scott Pioli, a new head coach in Todd Haley and a new franchise quarterback in Matt Cassel, the future looks bright for this old AFL franchise, which is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year.

Ravens Offense vs. Chiefs Defense: Look for Joe Flacco to have plenty of time today as he faces a weak front seven. The Chiefs recorded only ten sacks in all of 2008, the fewest in NFL history. If you remember back to last year’s season opener, Cam Cameron had a few tricks up his sleeve which included a Mark Clayton end around. I loved seeing the statue of liberty play in the preseason game vs. the Jets. I would not be surprised to see some fancy formation or trick play today. I was listening to Gerry Sandusky on the radio this morning and he said to look out for what he calls “the I-Gun” formation. The I-Gun has the quarterback in the shotgun, and then directly behind him is a back or a receiver. That brings up the possibility of options and sweeps and other different plays. Ray Rice and Willis McGahee will see a great deal of touches today. The Ravens will rely on them to establish momentum and help set up play-action. And then later to help eat up clock and wear down the Chiefs

Chiefs Offense vs. Ravens Defense: Matt Cassel is going to be a game time decision. I don’t think it will make a difference whether he plays or not. If he does go, he won’t be 100%. Earlier this week, head coach Todd Haley indicated that Tyler Thigpen and Brodie Croyle could both see playing time if Cassel cannot go. The Ravens are healthy on defense and that is very dangerous. Larry Johnson can be one of the premier backs in the league when he is on his game. He was the last running back to gain 100 or more yards on the Ravens.

Prediction: The Ravens are so focused right now. I believe they will win this one 31-10. More to come later today with a recap.


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