Baltimore Ravens: 3 Up 3 Down Heading Into Week 10
Week 9 Synopsis
It wasn’t pretty, but the Baltimore Ravens escaped last Sunday with a win over the host Cleveland Browns. Despite trailing early in the fourth quarter, the Ravens put together two scoring drives to win by a deceiving 10 points. By pulling out the win, the Ravens extended their winning streak over the AFC North to 11 games and have not lost to Cleveland since 2007, a 10-game winning streak over the team that resides in the Ravens old home. The Ravens got out to another fast start as Ray Rice waltzed into the end zone just over six minutes into the game. Bernard Pierce also ran for a first quarter touchdown as it seemed the Ravens were poised to run away with the game. Then the Ravens hit their customary mid-game lull, as they didn’t score in either the second or third quarter. While the Ravens' offense faltered and basically spun its tires for half the game, the Browns offense started to awaken in the middle two quarters. Trent Richardson started to run with authority and Brandon Weeden led 5 drives into the Ravens’ red zone. The Ravens’ defense did get stiffer the closer the Browns got to the end zone, as the Browns converted zero of their five red zone trips into touchdowns. Phil Dawson did drain all five of his field goal attempts, but the Ravens ability to keep the Browns out of the end zone proved paramount in pulling out the victory. The Ravens then went on to put up 11 unanswered fourth-quarter points to pull out the 10-point victory. Those 11 points came via a Torrey Smith 19-yard touchdown, as he caught the ball around the 10-yard-line and made a nice spin move towards the sideline to elude Browns’ cornerback Joe Haden. Justin Tucker then banged through his 15th field goal of the season to ice the game. The following three players were key components to the victory, while the latter three were cause for concern.
Up: Dannell Ellerbe
There has been a lot of pressure on Dannell Ellerbe since he replaced Ray Lewis in the starting lineup at inside linebacker. The fourth-year linebacker out of the University of Georgia has led the team in tackles in both games since Lewis went down with a season-ending triceps injury. Against the Browns, Ellerbe had a sack and nine total tackles as he anchored the Ravens’ slumping defense. More impressively, Ellerbe did all that with two injured thumbs. The extent of the thumb injuries are not known, but both of Ellerbe’s thumbs were in casts during the victory over the Browns. With Terrell Suggs having a quiet game, and the rest of the linebacking corp also having little impact on the game, Ellerbe’s effort must be commended. Ellerbe has a bright future and will need to continue to step his game up if the Ravens’ 26th-ranked defense is to right the ship. It is never easy filling in for a legend, which is the case here, but if Ellerbe can help stabilize the defense it won’t go unnoticed.
Like the linebackers, the secondary is also trying to gel after losing a Pro Bowl talent in Lardarius Webb. It was a brutal first game for the secondary in their first tilt without Webb as the Houston Texans carved up the Ravens secondary, namely Jimmy Smith. Smith looked vulnerable, especially against the double-move, as it appeared the Ravens’ secondary was headed for a disastrous second half of the season. However, Cary Williams continued to impress as the new number one cover cornerback, as he had his fourth interception of the season against the Browns in week 9. Williams is now tied for third in the NFL with those four interceptions. The aforementioned Smith played much better against the Browns, and cornerback Corey Graham looked solid as he saw increased action. Safety Bernard Pollard’s seven tackles gave him the team lead in that category, while safety Ed Reed effectively ended the game with an interception in the waning moments. In all the Ravens secondary accounted for 46 percent of the team’s tackles, while intercepting two passing and allowing no touchdowns on the day. It was a great bounce-back effort from a much-maligned group.
Up: Bernard Pierce
It has been a pretty quiet rookie season for Bernard Pierce. Considering Ray Rice hasn’t had the biggest workload (15th in the NFL with 16.4 rushes per game), it seemed it would be another quiet game for the rookie out of Temple. However, Pierce ran the ball a season-high seven times and had 26 yards, which was the second-highest total for him this season. Pierce’s two biggest games of his rookie campaign have come against the Browns, and his efforts were rewarded with a first-quarter touchdown, the first of Pierce’s career. Pierce has become a solid option when the Ravens are giving Rice a breather, as the rookie has rushed 30 times for a robust average of 4.9 yards per carry. All in all, Pierce has 32 touches and has not turned the ball over. His emergence as a legitimate number-two running back means the Ravens don’t need to overburden Rice with too many carries, thus wearing him down for the stretch run. Pierce should continue to be a factor in the Ravens’ rushing attack as he helps to keep Rice healthy for a Super Bowl run.
Down: Defensive Line
It was another total disappointment for the Ravens’ once-feared defensive line. The biggest concern has to be defensive tackle Haloti Ngata. The four-time All Pro tweaked an MCL in the Ravens’ costly victory over the Dallas Cowboys in week six. Then Ngata dinged up his shoulder and has been a shell of his dominant self since then. Ngata had zero tackles against the Browns despite playing in 56 of the Ravens’ 72 defensive snaps. It was the first time Ngata had been held tackle-less since week 14 last season in a trouncing of the Colts in which Ngata’s services were not really needed. Ngata had only two tackles against the Texans in the previous game as he continues to deal with injury problems. Starting left defensive end Pernell McPhee missed the Browns game with an injury, while nose tackles Terrence Cody and Ma’ake Kemoeatu continue to severely under-impress. The Ravens are on pace for their worst defensive season in franchise history, and the lack of pressure and ability to win the battle at the line of scrimmage has been a major reason for the massive struggles. This unit needs to turn things around quickly or else the Ravens will continue to get the ball run right down their throats.
Down: Joe Flacco
Joe Flacco had another uninspired effort until the fourth quarter. He awoke in enough time to salvage the game for the Ravens against an inferior opponent. Flacco’s pedestrian line of 153 yards passing, one touchdown and no interceptions did little to reassure those who have put a lot of stock in Flacco that he is turning things around. Considering he was facing the league’s 25th-ranked passing defense, it was very discouraging that he didn’t have a bigger game. The Browns had decided that they were going to take Ray Rice away in the second half, yet Flacco still struggled against a defense he carved up for 356 yards passing in week four. Flacco needs to step his game up in a hurry because the sledding gets much tougher after hosting the Oakland Raiders this weekend. The problems with the defense have been well documented, but if you pair that with Flacco’s deteriorating play, the Ravens may see their division lead evaporate, as the Pittsburgh Steelers appear to be hitting their stride. With two match-ups with the Steelers in the next four weeks, the season could slip away if Flacco doesn’t step up and revive the stale offense.
It was another penalty-marred game for the Ravens, as they pulled out another victory. It was the fifth time in eight games the Ravens had more penalties than their opponent. The three times they had less penalties than their opposition came against the likes of the dysfunctional Eagles, Cowboys and Chiefs, so nothing to hang your hat on there. Baltimore is living dangerously as it would be tough to imagine them continuing to win despite out-penalizing their opponent routinely. Four of the Ravens’ six wins have come in spite of the Ravens racking up more penalties than their opponent. The Ravens’ offense has been the biggest culprit with 66 penalties, but the defense is also at fault with 57 penalties of their own. Those 66 penalties are second-most for an offense and the 57 on the defense rank tied for seventh most. Needless to say, the Ravens need to cut down on the mistakes as the defense is banged up and the offense has become mediocre. With massively important games on the horizon, this is another area that the Ravens need to sharpen up at because even though they haven’t really paid for it yet, they will at some point if they continue to be mistake-prone in the penalty department.