Sunday, January 4, 2009

Playoff Report Card: Ravens 27, Dolphins 9

The word of the game is... confident. The Ravens were certainly not perfect on offense or defense, but their calm, collective effort suffocated the Dolphins in their first playoff game since 2002. Coming into this game the talk around Baltimore was that the Ravens would have no place losing to the Dolphins and fans were sizing up future playoff matchups against the Titans or Steelers prematurely. Miami still said the right things in that they felt they could make noise, but there was not that same conviction that has fueled the Ravens. That disparity showed itself today in that the Ravens did not blink in the face of adversity, and while Miami still made it a game they still stumbled notably under the playoff pressure.

For the Ravens, their effort was flawed to be sure. Joe Flacco was somewhat erratic, only completing 9 of 23 passes on the game, but he did not turn the ball over nor did he take a sack through the course of the game. The defense, while brilliant, did let Miami make sustained drives down the field in the third quarter. The running game was hot and cold, and its ineffectiveness through much of the second half put the defense in terrible spots. However, the Ravens overcame these flaws just as any great NFL team must do, and prevailed to a victory against a very competitive Dolphins team.

Hide the women and children. Baltimore is about to come crashing into Nashville.

Offense - Overall Grade: B-
Quarterbacks: B

Joe Flacco protected the ball well, but he was erratic throughout the game. He missed several wide open throws which contributed to the defense not getting a significant rest throughout the second half. Make no mistake, he must play better against Tennessee, but no, I don’t think that this is a case of the playoffs being too big for him. Joe was poised and made smart decisions with the football with the exception of one dropped interception in the first half. This young signal caller is the first rookie quarterback to win a playoff game on the road.
Running Backs: B-
Le’Ron McClain ran fairly well today, but seemed slow in finding the hole and lost a key fumble on the Ravens’ opening possession. In the second half the Ravens needed this unit to step up a whole lot more and churn out first downs, but they couldn’t do it until late with McGahee’s big run. And speaking of which, I believe McGahee just made a strong case for getting the ball more often.
Wide Receivers: B-
Derrick Mason is an absolute star, a consummate professional. That being said, someone else has to step up in the passing game. Mark Clayton was open for a few big plays, and while Flacco missed on several there was one deep pass in which Clayton did not extend on what could have been a catchable ball. Marcus Smith has to stop being invisible.
Tight Ends: B
A big catch in the first quarter to set the Ravens up for a field goal, but also a big drop which stopped them from getting a potential touchdown. Todd Heap is working his butt off on blocking, particularly on the unbalanced line, and as a receiver. Expect the Ravens to draft at least one tight end come May.
Offensive Line: B
Not a terrible day by any stretch, but the Ravens really needed this group to assert itself in the second half in the running game and they just didn’t. Also, the procedure penalties in the first half were killer. Flacco was kept clean for the most part, and there were certainly holes that McClain failed to exploit, so the grading shouldn’t be too harsh on this bunch.

Defense - Overall Grade: A
Defensive Line: A+

The Dolphins’ running game was knocked out in the first quarter and never got back up. This is rooted in the success of the Ravens’ front, which controlled the line of scrimmage and got consistent penetration into the Dolphins’ backfield. Trevor Pryce played a monster of a game, and came close to several very big plays.
Linebackers: A
The famed linebacking corps of the Baltimore Ravens did not disappoint on this afternoon, as they shut down Ronnie Brown and the much-hyped Wildcat formation along with putting consistent pressure on Chad Pennington. Each of those four picks were influenced by the constant pressure of the Ravens’ front seven, and they deserve just as much credit for them as the secondary.
Defensive Backs: A
Were it not for the long Miami drives in the second half, this would undoubtedly be an A+. All week long the Ravens had heard about how the Dolphins never gave the ball away; so instead, the Ravens decided to simply take the ball themselves. Fabian Washington and Ed Reed had very strong games; by contrast, Corey Ivy set new lows for tackling in the secondary with his whiff on Davonne Bess resulting in a 45-yard catch and run.

Special Teams - Overall Grade: B
Kicker: B+

Matt Stover converted on his opportunities, but the kicks certainly did not inspire confidence. What was both uninspiring and ineffective was the performance of Hauschka on kickoffs, which certainly must improve.
Punter: A-
As always, Sam Koch put together a very strong performance, albeit not one of his best. He did pin Miami back on the 2-yard line once, and came close to pinning them deep on one other occasion but just missed.
Returners: B+
Is it just me or is Tom Zbikowski a halfway-decent return man? It’s a good thing too, because with Figurs reaggravating his hamstring, the Golden Domer is now the primary for the rest of the playoffs.
Coverage: A
A very solid day for the Ravens coverage teams; Miami had no room to run on returns, and the Ginn was kept in check all day. There was some success by Cobbs on kick returns, but he seemed to be the Ravens’ proverbial kryptonite in both offense and special teams on this afternoon.

Coaching - Overall Grade: A
Offensive: B

Cam Cameron put together a good, solid game plan; the Ravens held onto the football and kept Joe Flacco from getting hit too hard or asking him to make too many plays. Certainly there does need to be more consistent production from the offense, as the short-lived drives kept the defense from properly resting. I am somewhat surprised to not see more trickery today, but I certainly expect to see some next week against a far superior defense to Miami’s in Tennessee.
Defensive: A+
Rex Ryan had this group in the right mentality this week, and the Ravens were all over what the Dolphins wanted to do on offense. They controlled the line of scrimmage, stopped the running game before it could get going, and rattled Chad Pennington into coughing up the game.

And for my MVP/LVP...
MVP (Most Valuable Player) –Ed Reed–
I know he gets this award constantly, but when he doesn’t deserve it I promise I’ll stop giving it! Reed picked off two more passes today, and returned one for a touchdown which gave the Ravens their first lead. His second interception closed the door on a drive that most likely would have resulted in a touchdown for Miami. Ed Reed is invaluable to this team.
LVP (Least Valuable Player) –Corey Ivy– I know he gets this award constantly, but when he doesn’t deserve it I promise I’ll stop giving it! Corey Ivy has neither the speed, nor the strength, nor the skills to be a nickel cornerback in this league. He is a liability in the secondary, and it’s only going to show more as the Ravens move deeper into the playoffs. p.s. I freely invite Corey Ivy to make me look like the idiot that I am by having a big game down in Nashville this coming Saturday.

(Photo Credit: Ed Reed(Gene Sweeney Jr/Baltimore Sun), Ray Lewis(Doug Kapustin/Baltimore Sun), Cam Cameron (Doug Kapustin/Baltimore Sun))

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