Friday, April 25th, 2014

Ravens 37 Panthers 13 (The DEFENSE AND SPECIAL TEAMS FINALLY SHOW UP Game)

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Despite leading by just a single touchdown two plays into the fourth quarter, the Ravens dominated the Carolina Panthers over the final ten minutes of play, and two defensive touchdowns gave B’More a comfortable 24 point victory.

The defensive touchdowns were the Ravens’ first two of the 2010 season, an oddity for a unit that has historically had no problem finding the end zone. The first came on an Ed Reed interception (his fourth in four games this year), but it was Dawan Landry who ultimately crossed the goalline, after receiving what may well have been the prettiest lateral of Reed’s lateral-happy career. It looked almost like an offensive option play, the way Reed hit Landry in perfect stride. For all the headaches he induces with those flips of the ball, when it works to perfection like it did yesterday, we hardly have any room to complain.

The second defensive score, on the Panthers’ very next play from scrimmage, was by the other Hall of Famer, Ray Lewis. It was Ray’s first touchdown since 2007 against Cleveland, and his 30th career interception. That puts Ray-Ray into the 30 sack/30 interception “club.” I say “club” in quotes because the only other member is former Patriot Rodney Harrison. Thats right, Lewis and Harrison are the ONLY NFL players to ever amass 30 interceptions and 30 sacks in a career. Watching Lewis get to waltz into the end zone one more time was a great sight for Ravens fans, who know that the sun is (slowly) setting on #52′s time on the field.

While the defense provided the points to finally put the game away, special teams nearly provided the nail in the coffin much earlier in the contest. Rookie David Reed took the opening kickoff of the second half 84 yards to the Carolina 18-yard line. Although he didn’t score on the play, Reed’s return was easily the Ravens’ best of the year, and it looks like the speedy first year player out of Utah has finally brought some stability to the kick return position.

Had the Ravens’ offense been able to capitalize on the great field position, the game would have been effectively over. A touchdown at that point would have put the Ravens up 24-3, and with Brian St. Pierre floundering under center for the Panthers, that would have been all she wrote. Unfortunately, we saw those same old red zone woes rear their ugly head, as Joe Flacco and Co. managed just 3 yards on 3 plays before settling for a 33-yard Billy Cundiff field goal.

It seems like the Ravens’ offense is just completely determined to sleep-walk through at least some portion of games these days. Last week a big deal was made about how they always start so slow in games played outside of M&T Bank Stadium. Well, that problem was solved quickly yesterday, as Flacco hooked up with T.J. Houshmandzadeh for a 56-yard touchdown on the team’s second offensive snap. After one quarter, the Ravens led 10-0, and looked to be moving the ball at will against Carolina’s defense. They racked up 258 yards of offense in the first half, and led 17-3.

Then they went into the locker room at halftime and…

took naps?

got deep tissue massages?

hung out in the sauna for 8 minutes?

Whatever the cause, they came out extremely lethargic after the break, looking nothing like the team that had dominated the first half. Taking possession with 9:40 left in the game, the Ravens had amassed just 63 total yards of offense in the second half.

What was most disappointing to me was their complete inability/refusal to run the ball.

Listen, I’m as big a Joe Flacco fan as you’re going to find. Two and a half years into his tenure, I am as “Wacko for Flacco as ever.” But holding a lead in the second half on the road is the time to pound the football, unleash the offensive linemen, and get “downhill” on your opponent.

Not in the mind of Cam Cameron, I suppose.

In the third quarter, the Ravens ran 17 plays – 12 passes and 5 runs.

That’s playcalling. That’s on the coaching staff.

Those 5 runs went for a total of 18 yards (3.6 ypc).

That’s execution. The blame there goes on the offensive line and running backs.

It’s obvious that this team just doesn’t have the make up or mentality to totally stomp on inferior teams – at least not on offense. While frustrating, that’s not necessarily a fatal flaw. What it is though, is a call for the coaching staff to realize it, and stop trying to keep throwing the ball all over the field when the team is leading. Especially as we get into the colder weather here in December, it would be nice to be reassured that the Ravens have the ability to “take the air out of the ball” when they get up, and use their running game to effectively hold onto leads.

Another sign that the Ravens may not have been 100% into the game mentally was the severe case of “fumbleitis” they experienced throughout the day. It started when Flacco and Rice botched a hand off at the Panthers’ 11-yard line midway through the second quarter (Flacco stated that it was his fault; the play was supposed to be a reverse, not a handoff to Rice). It then continued with normally very sure-handed guys like Anquan Boldin and Todd Heap. On the day, the Ravens put the ball on the ground a total of four times, and lost two of those. With three of their next four games against teams with winning records, those types of things could be detrimental to the Ravens’ chances.

Although they provided the knockout punches, it was hardly a dominant effort overall from the Ravens defense. Third string running back Mike Goodson ran 22 times for 120 yards, including a long of 45 (in fairness, 22 of those came in junk time when John Fox should have had his team taking a knee). It appeared the Ravens had gotten their run defense straightened out after back-to-back strong performances against Miami (to a degree) and Atlanta (vintage Ravens run-stuffing), but the gaping holes were there again yesterday. Against a team whose starting quarterback was literally a stay-at-home dad two weeks ago, and who can do next to nothing (88-yard touchdown passes notwithstanding), there is no excuse for a team to run wild like that. I have some ideas for things the team can try to plug up those holes, and I’ll write about that later in the week. For now though, suffice to say that Tampa Bay running backs LeGarrette Blount and Cadillac Williams will be licking their chops looking at film this week.

The Ravens are now 7-3 – their best record through 10 games in the John Harbaugh era – and have four of their final six games at M&T Bank Stadium, along with two very winnable road games. While Ravens fans seem to be eternal pessimists, the fact of the matter is that everything this team set out to do is still well within their grasp.

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