Sunday, October 19, 2008

Postgame Report Card: Ravens 27, Dolphins 13

The word of the game is... vindication. On several levels, that is. The Ravens got off the mat after three straight losses, Joe Flacco regained his early-season poise, Willis McGahee finally broke out in a big game, and Cam Cameron helped dissect the team which so harshly dismissed him after last season (by the way, I would like to personally thank Dolphins management for firing Cam Cameron such that he could become the Baltimore’s offensive coordinator). While the defense had some issues containing Chad Pennington (particularly in the second half), and the offense did not quite light it up, the Ravens put together an effectively balanced game. This game was a rare occasion in which both the offense and defense contributed in equal parts. When that happens in Baltimore, it’s not hard to guess the outcome.

Offense - Overall Grade: B+
Quarterbacks: A-

Joe Flacco returned to the form all Ravens fans were hoping for: steady. Flacco certainly did not light it up down the field (75 of his 232 yards were on a pair of screen passes), but he made sound decisions and moved the ball steadily. Flacco completed 74.9 percent of his passes, and while he missed a key touchdown opportunity to Todd Heap, he was by and large very accurate, particularly on timing routes with Derrick Mason. One of the most apparent flaws in Flacco’s game continues to be his inability to get more of his receivers involved, but it is hoped that that will improve with time.
Running Backs: A
Willis McGahee had a party on his birthday. *badam-ching!* Thank you I’ll be here all week! But seriously. Willis McGahee had by far his best game of the season, his fourth-quarter fumble not withstanding. Willis showed the burst that seemed to be lacking all season, but the enormous holes opened up by the offensive line in the second half certainly didn’t hurt. Ray Rice got a surprising amount of playing time, and had an excellent 40-yard screen pass despite doing little in the ground game.
Wide Receivers: B
Derrick Mason had another outstanding game, hauling in six catches for 87 yards and a touchdown. Mason clearly has outstanding chemistry with Joe Flacco and still has superb run-after-the-catch ability. As mentioned previously, the lack of production outside of Mason is somewhat disconcerting.
Tight Ends: A
Todd Heap had a great game! How good does that sound to say? It feels like it has been far too long, but Todd seems to finally have some rhythm in this offense. Todd was missed wide open in the end-zone on the first possession of the third quarter; it seemed at first to be an error by Flacco, but Cam Cameron quickly went over to talk to Todd after the play on the sidelines, so there’s a chance that Todd ran the wrong route. Problems such as that should be relieved when Flacco and Heap have more time to refine their chemistry.
Offensive Line: A-
Although this unit gave up three sacks, generally Flacco was kept clean and Joey Porter was the only Dolphin who was able to attain any modicum of success rushing the quarterback. The greatest contribution from the line was in the running game, particularly early in the second half. The Ravens’ line pushed around that of the Dolphins and thus helped the Ravens take hold of the game in the second half. Chris Chester and Willie Anderson stepped up in a very big way for the injured Marshal Yanda and Adam Terry. Their admirable performance is certainly an encouraging sign for any future success for the Ravens’ offense this season.

Defense - Overall Grade: B+
Defensive Line: B+

This group did an admirable job controlling the line of scrimmage and shutting down the running game of the Dolphins. The ‘wildcat’ offense which has been so talked about was shut down, more than anything else, by the consistent penetration by the defensive line. While the unit got some pressure on Pennington, on several drives he had far too much time in the pocket. The line did a very good job this game, but not dominating in both the run and pass.
Linebackers: A-
The linebackers had another superb game, coming up with key pressures on Pennington and stifling any attempt at a running game. Suggs returned to his old form, not only sacking Pennington but picking him off for a touchdown to boot. It should be noted, however, that it was the excellent play of the line that facilitated the linebackers’ success in the running game. Ray Lewis had another strong game – apparently there just might be such a thing as the Fountain of Youth.
Defensive Backs: C+
The defensive backs did what they could, but at the end of the day they’re accountable for allowing as many passing yards as they did. It is important to note that Walker and Washington did not have terrible games. Both played decent coverage, however Pennington put the ball in spots where it would be impossible to make a play on as a defensive back. This was not the finest game for this group, but the corners and safeties certainly did not embarrass themselves. Jim Leonhard, again, played big and his blitz on Pennington was a key to Suggs’ interception.

Special Teams - Overall Grade: A
Kicker: A

Stover connected on both of his field goals, including a 47-yarder. There is a sigh of relief in Baltimore that maybe, just maybe, their franchise kicker is back to form.
Punter: A+
Koch had three punts, with a net average of 48.3 yards. Oh, and did I mention that each punt pinned the Dolphins within the 20-yard line?
Returners: B
Ray Rice averaged a little over 25 yards on kick returns, and showed good aggressiveness in his style. There was little hesitation and went primarily north-south, which is what you want to see from a solid kick returner. Jim Leonhard, again, showed he is surprisingly adept in the punt return game.
Coverage: C+
Ted Ginn was allowed far too much room for most of the game, and by and large the return men for the Ravens had little room to work with.

Coaching - Overall Grade: A
Offensive: A+

Cam Cameron put together a superb game plan. Flacco was not asked to do too much this game, and it seemed as if each button pushed was the right one. Certainly this was by no means a dominating offensive performance, but by Ravens standards it was pretty close. The running game, particularly in the second half, settled down the game and kept the pressure off of Flacco. Todd Heap was made a part of the offense for the first time, and hopefully more of that will be seen going forward. A very good job of not over-stretching Flacco after he tasted some success. There was no reason to shift to an overly aggressive gameplan, even if Miami has an awful pass defense. He let Flacco have his success and put together a winning offense; that’s how you win games and build a franchise quarterback.
Defensive: B+
Rex Ryan was clearly not phased by the ‘wildcat’ offense. Ryan knows better than anyone that if you get penetration into the backfield, no offense will work. Ryan put on the heat and got the desired results. A few questions do remain from this game, including why McAlister was not in the starting lineup while he was suited up to play and why he took the heat off of Pennington in key situations.

And for my MVP/LVP...
MVP (Most Valuable Player) –Terrell Suggs–
Suggs put together one of the most complete games possible for an NFL linebacker. Suggs accounted for six solo tackles along with one sack, and an interception for a touchdown. Even when he did not get the sack, Suggs did get consistent pressure on Pennington. Baltimore fans can only hope that this represents the return of Terrell Suggs to his pre-2007 form.
LVP (Least Valuable Player) –Antwan Barnes– Barnes did not have a terrible game, however he failed to make a significant contribution, only recording a single tackle for the game. The infraction that gives him this distinction is the 15-yard personal foul penalty at the end of the first half. His unsportsmanlike conduct put the Dolphins in a position to potentially score. They didn’t, but it did open up the opportunity. Take this as something of a statement to the fact that there really isn’t a single LVP in this game.

Bonus grade:
Cam Cameron: A+ -
Cam, you deserve this. You handled yourself with class and dignity amongst all of the negativity around your firing. You have done a superb job handing this offense during the year, effectively managing a rookie quarterback and the youngest starting offensive line in the league. You did not take any shots at your former team leading up to this game, but in the end you had the last laugh. After the final whistle sounded, I don’t know whether or not you were feeling this, but I can say what we as Ravens fans felt on your behalf. Vindication.

Not to mention vindication for a certain person's Report Cards.

(Photo Credit: Derrick Mason(Lloyd Fox/Baltimore Sun), Terrell Suggs(Elizabeth Malby/Baltimore Sun), Matt Stover(Elizabeth Malby/Baltimore Sun))

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