Sunday, September 13, 2009

Postgame Report Card: Ravens 38, Chiefs 24

The word of the game is... uncharacteristic. The Ravens’ traditional formula of coupling a suffocating defense with a conservative run offense was thrown out the window today. Instead, Harbaugh and company opted for a wide-open game plan against a weak Kansas City secondary. The results were mixed, in that while the Ravens prevailed, the outcome was far more in doubt than it should have been based on the state of the Chiefs’ franchise. Regardless, Joe Flacco was able to execute the aerial attack and showed a new side of the Ravens offense.

The defense began the game in its typical dominant fashion, but after a couple of bounces put Kansas City back into the game, the defense began to falter and allow Croyle to gain a rhythm in the second half. In the end it was the Ravens returning to the running game late while mixing in a few clutch passes which put them over the top. Clearly the issue of run/pass balance will be one that the coaches will have to be more judicious with, but unlike season’s past, that decision isn’t being made for them.

Offense - Overall Grade: A
Quarterbacks: A-

Joe Flacco was asked to carry this team and he proved more than able. He passed for a career high 303 yards, with three touchdown passes and one interception. While Flacco did make some poor throws, his decision making and pocket presence was outstanding throughout the game. His preseason exploits are not looking like a fluke.
Running Backs: A-
This unit stabilized the game for the Ravens in the second half. When Kansas City gained momentum, it was the three headed monster of Ray Rice, Willis McGahee, and Le’Ron McClain which took control. While Ray Rice took the headlines with his 100+ yard performance, attention should be given to Willis McGahee. McGahee looked the best he has in years, and was able to notch on a touchdown for good measure to finish the game. When Cam learns how and when to use these running backs, watch out.
Wide Receivers: A
This unit made all of the plays they were asked to make. No, they still did not display much deep play ability (although that was a pretty reception by Mark Clayton on the 31-yd touchdown pass), but they were consistent throughout the game. Ravens fans have to be pleased with the performance of Kelly Washington, who reeled in three catches for 43 yards and appears to be headed for a solid season from the third wide position. The one negative is that I would’ve liked to see Demetrius Williams get involved at some point.
Tight Ends: A+
Welcome back, Todd Heap. The ‘stormin mormon’ appeared to be back to his old form, as he hauled in five catches for 74 yards and a touchdown. It’s true, he did drop a pass, but the sheer joy of having a guy like Todd return to form is enough for me to warrant giving this grade.
Offensive Line: B+
All in all a very good performance, as Flacco had a good deal of time to throw and the running backs did have space to run. Their excellent pass protection is what allowed Cameron to finally utilize Heap as a receiving threat, and first rounder Michael Oher looked excellent in his first start. At the same time, I don’t feel like this unit was as dominant as it could have been, particularly early in the running game. It wasn’t until late that Rice and McGahee had the holes they needed to break off some runs.

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

This unit put consistent pressure on Brodie Croyle, particularly at the start of the game. Ngata, Pryce, and Gregg all were able to get into the backfield early on several running plays, and they made Larry Johnson make moves behind the line of scrimmage all afternoon.
Linebackers: A-
There is no corps of linebackers in the NFL as deep and talented as this one, and they continue to show that to the world. The least heralded of the bunch, Jarrett Johnson, probably had the best game, but it’s good to see Suggs back and healthy. The Ravens gave Suggs plenty of money this offseason, it’s good to see that he’s playing just as hard as he was beforehand.
Defensive Backs: B+
Dominique Foxworth impressed in his regular season debut, as he was able to shut down the Chiefs’ most prolific receiver in Dwayne Bowe. Bowe’s only reception came on a mismatch against Dawan Landry, who played well despite that misstep. This unit showed some chinks in the armor in the second half, but still played a solid game.

Special Teams - Overall Grade: C+
Kicker: B-

Despite missing a 41-yard field goal, Hauschka still converted a 44-yard field goal and was excellent on all of his kickoffs. Don’t panic, Ravens fans, he’ll be just fine. No need to call Mr. Stover.
Punter: C+
Not sure if Sam Koch is really the one to blame on the blocked punt (I'm sorry, I'm no Ron Jaworski), but he's the one taking the hit in the grade. Aside from that he had his usual excellent performance, but that block allowed KC back into this game.
Returners: C+
Chris Carr had some room to work with, but failed to take advantage in any of his punt or kick returns. The Ravens picked him up for his return abilities, but there’s plenty of depth behind him so he can’t have many more days like this one. Not that he was terrible, but the Ravens would want more from their returner than what they got today.
Coverage: B+
Kansas City got little if anything going on in the return game despite using a few different return men. The Ravens were disciplined in their coverage and sound in tackling, and Chris Carr was given solid blocking on returns. A good, not great day for the coverage and return units.

Coaching - Overall Grade: B
Offensive: A-

I know that there are a lot of Baltimore fans who don’t like how heavily the Ravens relied on the pass for much of the game. Still, I for one am behind Cameron’s game plan; it made sound football sense in that the Chiefs were without their two best cornerbacks and the Ravens had good matchups to exploit. And what’s more is that Cameron actually has an offense which can execute that plan. At the same time, he did move to the running game when the situation called for it. A little more balance overall would have been the best way to go, but still a very good game for Cam Cameron and his staff.
Defensive: A-
After a hot start, the Ravens defense was put into tough spots and began to show some cracks. Greg Mattison seemed to keep things much the same as they have been in past years, which is a good sign. However, he should have dialed up the blitz more when Brodie Croyle began to establish a rhythm in the second half. The defense started to get a little bit relaxed and vanilla, and I think that helped encourage Kansas City’s rally.

And for my MVP/LVP...
MVP (Most Valuable Player) –Joe Flacco–
A career day for the franchise quarterback. It wasn’t perfect, but the Ravens are starting to resemble a real NFL offense.
LVP (Least Valuable Player) –Sam Koch– Again, I'm not certain how much blame for the block goes on Sam Koch versus the members of his protection team, but regardless he can't let that happen. Without that play, I doubt Kansas City is ever in this football game.

(Photo Credit: Baltimore Sun)

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