Sunday, January 11, 2009

Playoff Report Card: Ravens 13, Titans 10

The word of the game is... miraculous. How a team like the Ravens could grab a victory in that environment, with a rookie quarterback, after being wholly outplayed for nearly the entire game? I would characterize that as miraculous. Considering the yardage statistics, the Ravens should have had no place winning this game as they were outgained by over 180 yards of total offense. What kept the Ravens in the game were costly turnovers by the Titans and a couple serendipitous calls by the officials. But that was not the whole story.

Make no mistake the Ravens won this football game, and the better team is going to the AFC Championship. The Titans decided that, to break down the Ravens defense, they were going to air the ball out. This is a fair and smart strategy for moving the ball, but note to the Titans: if your game plan involves 40+ throws by Kerry Collins, don’t be shocked when there are multiple turnovers. The Ravens defense was gashed, yes, but the turnovers were not just good fortune. And on the flipside, the Ravens offense played smart conservative football all game which ensured that there were no turnovers and no sacks on Joe Flacco. The Ravens gambled that ball security was far more important than yardage. They were right.

And by the way, I think we should all chill out over that non-called delay of game penalty. It was a blown call, and that gaffe really is not excusable. That being said, it is simply a five yard penalty on a 3rd and 2. The game does not end if the call is made, and there is nothing to say the Ravens don’t convert. If folks in Tennessee think that that play lost them the game, then they just weren’t paying attention.

Offense - Overall Grade: C-
Quarterbacks: B

Like last week this grade is bumped up for the fact that he is a rookie quarterback, made the key throws when they counted and, well, is making history to be quite honest. That being said, Joe was inaccurate on several throws throughout the game which cost the team precious first downs. He needs to stop throwing too high on short patterns, as that not only lays out the receiver but could lead to interceptions. His poise and decision making were both excellent, but if he could get his accuracy back on track this offense can go to the next level (which it will need to).
Running Backs: D+
Awful, awful game for the backfield tandem of Le’Ron McClain and Willis McGahee. Le’Ron, even before his injury, was running poorly and couldn’t hit the holes quickly. Willis ran slightly better, but still the production was not there. 24 rushes between the two for an average of less than two yards? The running game has to be effective for this offense to move.
Wide Receivers: C+
Derrick Mason had some outstanding catches, and Mark Clayton had a beautiful deep reception close to the goal line, but the highlights just about end there. The depth on this receiving corps is absolutely nonexistent, and that fault could easily come back to haunt this team.
Tight Ends: B-
Catch of the day, drop of the day for Todd Heap. But the catch was far more important, so the grade is a B- rather than a C+. The 23-yard reception was Heap’s only of the game, and Wilcox only had one catch for four yards. Flacco needs to be able to lean on this group more in the passing game, as they are big and easy targets, particularly Heap who can be a matchup nightmare.
Offensive Line: C-
Yes, Flacco didn’t get sacked, but that was more a product of his decision making and athletic ability than superior protection by the offensive line. The fact of the matter is, this group could not establish running lanes and that cost the Ravens dearly. Because of that the running game could not get going and thus the offense continually stalled and the defense was hung out to dry.

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

They were pushed around by the Tennessee defensive front all night. You can talk all you want about the play of Kerry Collins, Justin Gage, Chris Johnson, but there’s no secret as to how they ran over the Ravens defense; their offensive line dominated the line of scrimmage. It was clear that this group was tired, as they had difficulty wrapping up and generated no pass rush whatsoever.
Linebackers: B
Overall not a bad job, but their performance was far from their lofty standards. The blitz could not get to Kerry Collins, and the pursuit of Chris Johnson was sloppy and undisciplined. The missed tackles and slower movement to the football are most likely a product of fatigue, and hopefully with an extra day to rest this week they will be re-energized for the AFC Championship Game. (sidenote: doesn’t that sound fantastic to say?)
Defensive Backs: D-
Poor tackling, poor position, and slow footed. This was a terrible day for the Ravens secondary as they made Collins-to-Gage look like Montana-to-Rice. The lack of a pass rush exposed this group, but they are playing hurt. Nice interception by Samari Rolle, but that was a pure product of a rare pass rush.

Special Teams - Overall Grade: A
Kicker: A+

Matt Stover won the game with a 43-yard field goal. Yep, Stover is clearly all washed up at this point in his career.
Punter: A
Sam Koch had one of his usual excellent games, and was put in some very tough spots to boot. His punt to the 2-yard line was absolutely gorgeous.
Returners: B+
Tom Zbikowski is looking like a better and better pickup each day, and what can you say about Jim Leonhard? He doesn’t have the measurables that leap out at you, but there’s no arguing with his production. He’s smart, catches the ball, and makes plays. The most underrated offseason pickup in the NFL this year.
Coverage: B-
Considering the Titans have the best kickoff return team in the NFL, not a terrible day. Harbaugh was right in saying that the Ravens’ kickoff coverage has to improve. The discipline in coverage and returns are improving.

Coaching - Overall Grade: B
Offensive: C-

A very bad game for Cam Cameron, as he was unable to get the running game going and did not get Flacco into a good rhythm by letting him make some short throws early. If McClain hurts his ankle, why not give Willis McGahee more carries? Instead he threw in a gimpy McClain until very late when McClain was in significant pain. And if neither of those is successful, why not get Ray Rice involved? Ray Rice has the special ability to make things happen in the open field; a quick screen would be low risk and high reward, but it wasn’t even attempted. Also, it might have been smart to run some quick misdirection or a reverse, because the Titans were stacking the run straight up the middle.
Defensive: C
It’s a whole lot tougher to be a brilliant defensive coordinator when your line is dominated by the opposition. I understand that Ryan didn’t want to expose his secondary to the big play, but it took him far too long to send significant heat at Collins. Bart Scott is a pass rusher at heart, not a coverage linebacker. It was good to see more guys coming in and making plays like Nakamura and Jameel McClain.

And for my MVP/LVP...
MVP (Most Valuable Player) –Matt Stover–
There are a number of people who made huge contributions—Joe Flacco, Ray Lewis, Jim Leonhard for certain—but Stover won this game with an impressive 43-yard field goal. Without his clutch kick, this would have been in the loss column for the Ravens.
LVP (Least Valuable Player) –Le’Ron McClain– Le’Ron played through injury, but he rushed for only 12 yards on 12 carries in a game when the Ravens needed him big. The coaching staff is heavily responsible for this, as he should have been out of the game when his ankle went bad.

(Photo Credit: Derrick Mason(Gene Sweeney Jr./Baltimore Sun), Jim Leonhard(Lloyd Fox/Baltimore Sun), Ray Lewis/Matt Stover(Doug Kapusitin/Baltimore Sun), Matt Stover (Lloyd Fox/Baltimore Sun))

1 comment:

Falco said...

Matt Stover's a man! He's 40! He's not a kid!