Baltimore Ravens: 3 Up 3 Down Heading Into Week 11
Week 10 Synopsis
It was a dominating effort that had been MIA for weeks for the Baltimore Ravens, as they trounced the Oakland Raiders to the tune of a 55-20 final score. It was the 15th straight home win and the 55 points scored by the Ravens were the most in franchise history, and they scored in nearly every way. There were three passing touchdowns, two rushing touchdowns, a fake field goal for a touchdown, and a 105-yard kickoff return for a touchdown as the Ravens spread the wealth around on Sunday afternoon. It was the second straight game against an inferior opponent, but unlike last week against the Cleveland Browns, the Ravens wasted no time in piling up the points this week. Joe Flacco had a monster day as he had his best game since week four. Tight end Dennis Pitta had his best game since week two, while the Ravens’ forgotten tight end, Ed Dickson, had his best game of the season. Torrey Smith reeled in two touchdowns, the offensive line didn’t allow a sack for the first time since week three and the offense as a whole had only one turnover. On the defensive side of the ball, there were some positives and negatives to be taken away from the game. The run defense was solid, as the Ravens allowed their second-lowest rushing yards in a game this season. Passing-wise however was a different story, as the defense did allow 350 yards passing to Carson Palmer, which were the second-most passing yards allowed this season for the Ravens’ defense. Overall, it was a great way to pick up some steam as the Ravens now get their archrival, the Pittsburgh Steelers, in two of the next three weeks. Thus, it was important to work out the kinks and gain confidence before two huge divisional games that may determine the AFC North champion. The following three aspects of Sunday’s win over the Raiders were the positives to take away from the game, while the latter three aspects are cause for concern moving forward.
Up: Joe Flacco
Yes the Raiders did own the league’s 21st-ranked pass defense coming into the game, but facing poor pass defenses hasn’t always equated to big games for Joe Flacco. That certainly wasn’t the case against the Raiders as Flacco had his way against Oakland’s defense. Flacco ended his stretch of poor performances at four games as he shredded the Raiders for 341 yards, three passing touchdowns and one rushing touchdown. He had the fourth-highest QBR of any quarterback in week 10, and completed 64 percent of his passes. He had a robust average of 10.3 yards per pass and was basically flawless besides the one interception he threw in the first half. It was a great time for Flacco to end his streak of bad play as the offense will need to be clicking as the Ravens will travel to Pittsburgh next week to take on the Steelers. With the fate of the division hanging in the balance, the Ravens must hope that this game by Flacco was the catalyst for their quarterback to get back on a hot streak as he was in the first four games of the season. If Flacco can get on another hot streak it will come at a perfect time with those two games in three weeks against the Steelers.
Up: Special Teams
It was a banner day for the Ravens’ special teams, as every member of the unit had a major contribution. Jacoby Jones had a 105-yard kickoff return for a touchdown, and by doing so, made NFL history. Jones is now the only player in league history with two kickoff returns of at least 105 yards in the same season, as he had an NFL-tying 108 yard kickoff return against the Dallas Cowboys in week six. Jones was brought in during the offseason to help a stagnant return game, and Jones has been the catalyst in the return game. Jones wasn’t the only member of the special teams to score a touchdown though, as punter Sam Koch scampered seven yards for a touchdown on a fake field goal. The Ravens’ coaching staff noticed the Raiders’ propensity to overload the right side of the line on field goal blocks this season, so they drew up a play that sent Koch through the left side for the 7-yard touchdown run. Koch also had a solid day in his usual role of punter, as his average of 52.5 yards per punt was his best average for any game this season. Throw in kicker Justin Tucker going 2-for-2 on field goals and 7-for-7 on extra points and it was a day to remember for the Ravens’ special teams.
Up: Paul Kruger
With a lot of pressure on the defense to step their game up, no Ravens’ defender had a bigger impact than linebacker Paul Kruger. It had been a relatively quiet season for the fourth-year defender out of Utah, but Kruger had his best game as a pro on Sunday against the Raiders. Kruger had a brilliant interception, as he batted a Carson Palmer pass straight up in the air, then went up and snagged the ball out of the air for the interception. The athletic interception was the first of the season and second of the career for Kruger. Additionally, Kruger had two of the Ravens’ three sacks on the day, as Kruger had more sacks on Sunday as he had all season (1.5), so it was a marked improvement in that department as well. The six tackles were also a career high for Kruger, as he already has more tackles this season than he did all of last year. Kruger was one of the players the Ravens needed to step up the most after Ray Lewis went down with his season-ending injury. Along with Dannell Ellerbe, Kruger has helped to fill the void of the future hall of famer Lewis, who was fourth in the NFL in tackles when he went down. If Kruger can continue to emerge with his increased amount of snaps, he can soften the blow of losing Lewis and help stabilize the Ravens’ vulnerable defense.
Down: Running Backs
If you didn’t watch the game at all and just saw the final score, you would assume that Ray Rice and Bernard Pierce would have had a monster day. Considering the amount of points and margin of victory, a steady diet of Rice and Pierce seemed to be reasonable. However that was not the case as the unit combined for a measly 58 yards rushing on 25 carries, averaging 2.3 yards per carry. It was an extremely disappointing performance when you consider the Raiders’ 21st-ranked run defense had just gotten destroyed by the “Muscle Hamster” Doug Martin. Martin’s 251 yards and four touchdowns on the ground were the numbers running backs dream of, so Rice and Pierce had to be licking their chops in anticipation. Rice did find the end zone on a 7-yard run up the middle, but that was his longest run on the day. His 35 yards rushing was his worst output on the season and lowest since a week 10 loss last season on the road against the Seattle Seahawks. Pierce meanwhile, had a brutal day. A week after the rookie scored his first career touchdown, Pierce had a day to forget on Sunday. Despite receiving a career-high 10 carries, Pierce had a paltry 23 yards which was his second-worst game in terms of yards per carry. If you take away Pierce’s long run of 12 yards, he had just 11 yards on his other nine carries. The Ravens have now rushed for under 90 yards in three of their last four games as the running game clearly isn’t on track. That needs to turn around quickly, as running the ball is paramount in the AFC North in the latter months of the season. Considering what a great match-up this was for the Ravens’ rushing game, this week’s performance has to be seen as a total failure.
Down: Pass Defense
It had been a pretty good run for the Ravens’ pass defense in the previous four games. They had allowed only 198 yards per game passing in the last four games after a brutal start. Then Carson Palmer went off on Sunday. Yes the Raiders were out of the game for basically the entire second half, but the Ravens still allowed Palmer to complete 64 percent of his passes for 368 yards and two touchdowns. Aside from the inspiring effort from the aforementioned Paul Kruger, the Ravens’ pass defense did little to halt the Raiders from racking up yards. Despite the 35-point difference, the Raiders actually had more total yards than the Ravens did. Cornerback Jimmy Smith missed the game with a groin injury that further thinned-out the Ravens’ depleted cornerback corp. The Ravens’ pass defense will have to be stout in the remainder of the schedule as they will take on Ben Roethlisberger (twice), Philip Rivers, Robert Griffin III, Peyton Manning, Eli Manning and Andy Dalton. That impressive list of quarterbacks will not be easy to stop as the Ravens’ season hangs in the balance with the difficult second-half schedule. If the pass defense reverts to its early-season form against some of the more potent quarterbacks in the league, it could be an ugly finish to the season.
Down: Defensive Line
I don’t enjoy beating a dead horse, but the Ravens’ defensive line is doing nothing to curtail all the criticism, as they continued to be nearly invisible against the Raiders vulnerable offensive line. Haloti Ngata is still battling injuries to his sprained right knee and right shoulder, and did not play a single snap against the Raiders. The move was more precautionary than injury-based, as the Ravens have to travel to Pittsburgh and San Diego in the next two weeks. Rookie DeAngelo Tyson got his first reps of the season and did deflect two passes, but was held without a tackle. Nose tackle Terrence Cody had three tackles but was largely unnoticeable. Arthur Jones had only two tackles, while Ma’ake Kemoeatu had one. Rookie outside linebacker Courtney Upshaw was being used as a defensive tackle when defensive coordinator Dean Pees and defensive line coach Clarence Brooks removed Cody and Kemoeatu from the game. Upshaw’s lack of size was traded off for his speed, as Pees was trying to find an answer to the recurring defensive line problem. Upshaw has plenty of upside, but has not gotten many reps as a defensive lineman, so he may not be the answer. Pees must get more from his normal defensive linemen if the unit is to persevere through the Ngata injury.