Posts Tagged 'Darren Sproles'

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) Β· 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.

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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) Β· 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,Β  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.


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