The word of the game is... gutsy. This is a cliché word, I know, but what else can you say? The Ravens came into a very hostile Dallas stadium on a historic night for the home team, and beat a team with, quite honestly, superior talent. This was not the perfect night for offense; the Ravens sputtered through nearly the entire game, failing to get into the endzone in the first half despite numerous opportunities. This wasn’t the perfect game for defense; there were significant coverage breakdowns that the Cowboys didn’t exploit and the defensive line was pushed around most of the game.
So what was so great about this game, and how did the Ravens win? The Ravens won with guts. They played hard, they played for each other, and they played disciplined. It sounds awful melodramatic to say that, but anyone watching that game could see the difference between the two teams playing. Both were sloppy in execution, but the Ravens had every man on the field playing hard each snap. Those intangibles trumped talent yesterday.
Offense - Overall Grade: B-
Joe Flacco didn’t light the world on fire, but he certainly was poised. Flacco was battered heavily in the first half, as his offensive line allowed him to get mauled to the tune of five sacks. Occasionally Joe held onto the ball a little bit too long, and some of his passes sailed on him that could have been big plays. Still, Joe answered the critics claiming that he had hit the ‘rookie wall’.
Running Backs: B-
Willis McGahee and Le’Ron McClain had the highlights of the game with their 77 and 82 yard touchdown runs, respectively. Those two runs sealed the game for the Ravens, both responding to Dallas scores late. However, it’s important not to forget that this group got next to nothing done prior to those runs. Le’Ron McClain had a few good runs, but neither was reading the lanes particularly well. Hopefully McGahee’s excellent few runs down the stretch will propel him forward.
Wide Receivers: B
Derrick Mason. What can you say. The man played with one arm, played in pain, and ultimately made the key plays in the game. He recovered the Le’Ron McClain fumble, caught Joe Flacco’s touchdown pass, and converted several other first downs. His performance was a microcosm of the attitude the Ravens showed in this football game.
Tight Ends: B+
Todd Heap was excellent as a pass receiver, getting open several times down the field. Flacco wasn’t able to make a couple of key connections with him, most notably on a sure-fire touchdown to Todd Heap in the first half, but the point is that he got himself open and in a position to make plays. Heap got beaten very badly as a blocker; the assignments were tough but he has to make them for the offense to run. As I’ve said many times before, Quinn Sypniewski has been missed.
Offensive Line: C-
After the first half, make no mistake, this grade was a flat-out F, no doubt about it. They hung Joe Flacco out to dry, missed a key block on what would have been a touchdown throw to Mark Clayton, and opened up no lanes in the running game. However, this group was somewhat redeemed in the second half; they didn’t let Flacco get sacked and the late-game run blocking was brilliant.
Defense - Overall Grade: B-
Defensive Line: B-
The Ravens’ defensive front was uncharacteristically bullied around by the opposing offensive line. For much of the game even stalwarts like Haloti Ngata were getting pushed off the ball by the Dallas line. There was very little penetration in the running and passing game.
Again, an uncharacteristically poor performance, as there were several missed tackles by usually sound tacklers in Bart Scott and Ray Lewis. The coverage on flare patterns to the running backs in the flat was excellent, and the blitz execution was sound.
Defensive Backs: C+
They got lucky. Tony Romo missed an awful lot of deep throws that could have won this game for the Cowboys. Credit Rex Ryan for putting Tony off balance, but those lapses could have been devastating. Ed Reed, however, had a couple of interceptions and his big return on the latter turned into an unlikely late field goal in the first half.
Special Teams - Overall Grade: A
Until the late runs, Stover was the offensive MVP of this football team. He made four field goals, accounting for twelve of the Ravens’ 16 points heading into the fourth period. The kickoffs were hurt somewhat by the deactivation of Hauschka for the game.
Sam Koch was absolutely brilliant this night. He averaged a net punt of 46.6 yards (with a long of 61) and converted a fourth-and-8 with a 9 yard run out of a fake field goal. Sam Koch is the most underrated punter in football.
Jim Leonhard was outstanding. Yamon Figurs was not. Just when it seems that Yamon might be back on track, he has this game in which he not only failed to produce field position on kickoffs, he almost gave the game away late with an inexcusable fumble. Jim Leonhard is getting better and better on punt returns; he doesn’t have blazing speed, but boy can he stop and start on a dime.
Miles Austin got some good chunks on kickoff returns, and Adam Jones broke loose late for a significant return. Other than that the coverage was OK, particularly on punts. The blocking was decent on punt returns but certainly on kickoffs Yamon could have used more help; then again, he could have just missed the lanes so it’s hard to say.
Coaching - Overall Grade: A
This wasn’t a particularly good offensive showing, but Cam Cameron did what he could to move the ball against Dallas. The most important thing that Cameron did was to tweak how to attack the Dallas defense as the game went along. The reappearance of Troy Smith in the offense was a welcome sight, along with the use of the tight end screen and a couple option looks with Flacco. Against great pass rushes, Cam needs to start going to the short passing game earlier instead of letting his quarterback get beat up waiting for deeper routes down the field.
Rex Ryan and his defense shut down the explosive Cowboys offense for three and a half quarters yesterday, and that was an immense accomplishment. Tony Romo was harried and confused for nearly the entire game yesterday. An excellent adjustment by Rex was to shut down the draw game that the Cowboys were running so effectively early in the game.
And for my MVP/LVP...
MVP (Most Valuable Player) –Derrick Mason– Not only was it his six catches and a touchdown, but his attitude. Derrick Mason was a warrior and embodied what the Ravens did last night. Undermanned, hurt; didn’t matter.
LVP (Least Valuable Player) –Corey Ivy– Yet again, he was the major weak link in the secondary and let some big plays be made over top of him. Late in the game, in the red zone, why do you let Jason Witten get behind you?