Monday, January 5, 2009

Some Final Thoughts on the Ravens Wild Card Win

Baltimore has won their first playoff game since 2001, and it was a great one. A Gatorade bath for Cam Cameron (but not for John Harbaugh? Come on now.), a classic defense domination, and an upset that almost none of the analysts were predicting. Though in retrospect, I am not sure why. The Dolphins were a hot and trendy team going into the playoffs, the winners of 5 straight, while the Ravens still hadn’t distinguished themselves by beating a top level team at their zenith. I am not sure if the Dolphins qualified, but they came close and they came to play. After a win like that, I think I need to give a few more thoughts before moving on to next week’s matchup against the Tennessee Titans.

The Ravens could be facing some familiar enemies these last few weeks. 2 of the 3 other remaining teams in the AFC have faced Baltimore at some point in the season. If the Dolphins game was any indication, that doesn’t seem to be a problem for this squad. In fact, I spent much of the game waiting for that big innovation, that new wrinkle on offense that the Dolphins would throw at the Ravens to confuse them and cause some hesitation in their attack. I never saw it. Yes, there was Patrick Cobbs, who caused the Ravens fits but was quickly abandoned after his fumble, but that was more of a change in personnel than a legitimate change in the offensive approach. Anyone who expected the wildcat to be run in a different style or with some new elements to it was sorely disappointed. Miami ran out of the wildcat formation only twice this week, with a net of 6 yards.

What was most telling to me about the Ravens’ reaction to the Dolphins’ attack took place in the 3rd quarter when Ricky Williams took the handoff to the far side and paused, looking to throw. With the way the Dolphins like to run the football, I expected the defense to have hesitated or broken some of their discipline downfield. In fact, running backs are notorious for throwing the ball on those pass option plays even when it isn’t open downfield. Williams instead was forced to run the ball for a short gain as there was absolutely nothing available. This speaks to two points. First of all, Williams (like the rest of the Miami squad at that point) was terrified of challenging the Ravens defense and daring them to make an interception. There was none of the fearlessness that must naturally come with running a trick play. The hesitation was on the part of the offense that was paralyzed by the opportunism of the Ravens coverage unit. Secondly, the Raven defense was staying disciplined, a product of incredible faith in one another. No one lost a step (except Corey Ivy) and no one allowed themselves to get sucked into the play. Everyone knew their assignment, and as we have been treated to for years, the D executed perfectly on the play.

Am I the only one very pleased by Joe Flacco’s performance? I have been extraordinarily harsh on the rookie quarterback this season, but yesterday I saw a lot more than a 9-23, 135 yard performance. Only a few feet separated Flacco from some major completions downfield, and he was attempting these with only 2 receivers (aside from Marcus Smith, who remains “invisible” as Windsor has lamented). Todd Heap was being used primarily as a blocker to keep the Dolphin pass rush at arms length, and was not available for those short 1st down routes that Flacco needs him for. As such, his performance looked more like those of early in the season, when he had no short option and Todd Heap hadn’t yet taken off as a receiver. Joe was consistently stepping up in the pocket to avoid pressure that was all-too-often just around the corner. He didn’t turn the ball over, and most importantly, never got rattled. Sometimes we forget the nerves that must come into play in a player’s first playoff game. While we know Joe Flacco as a cool-headed quarterback, one never to get flustered or upset, but it must be tempting to think about the gravity of the situation. This 1-AA star seemed to know all about playoff football, and fulfilled his role in getting a Ravens’ win. He will have to make more plays going forward, but this week was certainly promising.

Take a deep breath, Ravens fans. Tennessee comes up on Saturday, and they will be waiting for us.

Photo Credit: (Baltimore Sun: Doug Kapustin)

1 comment:

Tyler Radecki said...

Flacco was decent, but he had all day on some of his throws. He's going to have to be better against the Titans.

That said, for a rookie starting in his first NFL playoff game, he was fine. He's showed promise all year and Sunday only added to that. Ravens fans have a lot to look forward to.