The Ravens scored 22 points in 2 minutes and 5 seconds. The last time the Ravens scored more than 22 points in an entire game was October 6th, against the Miami Dolphins—that was the week after the Orioles had wrapped up their baseball season.
For those of us that put an emotional investment into our sports watching, this game ranks very high on the “best of” list because of the frequency of emotional peaks and valleys within such a short span. True euphoria followed by pure melancholy. True euphoria followed by pure melancholy. Finally, true euphoria. (Actually, with four seconds remaining, I would not have been completely shocked to see Vikings’ running back Matt Asiata take the final kick to the house.)
Where does this game rank on the list of all-time greatest Ravens’ games? What other games would be on that list? It is hard to quantify the list because there are emotional, or great, games for different reasons—high-stakes of the game, rivalry games, comeback wins, breakthrough moments, defining moments for the franchise, etc. The game against the Vikings falls into the pure thrilling comeback category. Again, what a game!
Below is a poll of some select games, but I am sure there are other games that merit consideration. Make a case in the comment section for games not listed below that you feel should be included. One caveat—let’s take out both Super Bowl wins for consideration. Super Bowl XXXV could be on the list because it was such a defining moment, and Super Bowl XLVII could be on the list for its defining moment and thrilling elements.
Some people believe that the Ravens are riding high on confidence because of the current three-game winning streak. The “mo-jo” has returned and the good fortune the Ravens experienced in 2012 is beginning to re-form itself in this year’s team.
While confidence can be a very powerful tool, I do not believe confidence makes tackles, catches balls, or suddenly makes an offensive line be able to run block. This team has glaring flaws; flaws that do not behoove a team when playing in the post-season. A non-existent running game, a three-and-out prone offense, and a defense that cannot close out games are not what you want in a playoff team. And confidence won’t change any of these elements.
The Ravens may not even make playoffs, and if they do, they will be an overwhelming underdog throughout. But if the Ravens manage to make the post-season tournament, they will have earned it the hard-way (albeit the self-imposed hard-way). And if they do make it, not many teams may want to play a team that is battle-tested, and has a penchant for making game-changing big-plays at opportune times.
Confidence, luck, “mo-jo,” or whatever you want to call it merely masks true deficiencies. The real question is can the Ravens find consistency here at the end of the season?
Pitta Will Drastically Change the Offense
Dennis Pitta’s re-acclimation to the offense could be a huge factor into the equation of finding consistency on offense. His presence was certainly felt against the Vikings, especially after halftime. Pitta had five of his six receptions after halftime, three of which converted first downs, and one reception was a brief game-winning touchdown.
Pitta will not only reclaim the title of “Flacco’s Security Blanket,” but he will also help the Ravens to scheme more creatively. A healthy Pitta and Jacoby Jones alters the Ravens ability to scheme in a positive way. The speed of Torrey Smith and Jones on the outside, coupled with an emergence of competency across the middle of the field on intermediate routes gives much more flexibility to offensive coordinator Jim Caldwell. Moreover, though he is not a miracle worker, with the field theoretically stretched vertically and horizontally, there may be more running lanes for the running backs. I know, that last part is wishful thinking.
Let’s examine the vast hole that was the tight end position, pre-Pitta. Excluding Billy Bajema’s two receptions on two targets, Dallas Clark and Ed Dickson have combined for 49 receptions on 86 targets, with nine drops. That means they caught a combined 57% of the passes thrown their way. Using Pro Football Focus’ metric of drop rate—percentage of dropped passes relative to catchable balls—the Clark and Dickson experiment is abysmal. Clark has an 11.43% drop rate (82nd in the league), and Dickson has a 21.74% drop rate (100th in the league). Top tier tight ends have a drop rate in the 5-9% percent, and the top tier tight ends have a much higher volume of targets. Clark and Dickson limited the offense greatly.
In Pitta’s career, he is quite productive. While he struggled on Sunday (six receptions on 10 targets, with two drops—25% drop rate), rust was to be expected for missing four and a half months of practices, and not playing a live game in over 10 months.
Over the last two seasons, Pitta is in the “elite” category in the drop rate metric. According to Pro Football Focus, in the 2012 season, Pitta had 61 receptions on 90 targets (68% targets completed), with a 4.69% drop rate. In 2011, he had 40 receptions on 54 targets (74% targets completed), with a 0% drop rate (that is not a typo). That means for the combined ’11 and ’12 seasons, Pitta has snared 70% of his total targets, and he has a drop rate of measly 2.88%.
With Pitta re-joining the offense, there is now more creatively infused into the offense because there will actually be production garnered from the tight end position.
Woes of the Defense
The defense’s propensity for letting teams rule the fourth quarter is confounding. Whether it is because they are tired because of the offense’s ineptitude, of sloppy technique, or from miscommunication in alignment, it needs to be corrected if this team wants to accomplish anything of significance.
In the beginning of the year, the Ravens struggled with communication, mainly within the secondary. The defense was guilty, at times, of over-pursuing the ball-carrier, but the pass rush was bailing them out the defense many of times. Now, the pass rush has become dormant and the secondary is bailing out the team with blanket coverage.
James Ihedigbo is having a career year, but he is struggling in pass coverage. Matt Elam still looks like a lost rookie, and I am beginning to wonder if this first round pick will pan out. The linebackers are getting a better drop in coverage, but the safeties and linebackers are still not patrolling the middle of the field with confidence. This, coupled with a lack of pass rush, is causing issues that the stellar secondary can’t always cover up.
Coach Harbaugh said this week that many of the fourth quarter woes can be corrected by focusing on smaller details. Per the team’s official website, “There are things we’re looking at in practice, things that we feel we can emphasize in practice a little bit more and try to put them in certain situations to create the emphasis to just do the right things in those situations. For us, it really comes down to execution, in terms of assignment and technique.”
While Harbaugh is correct, sometimes you need the killer instinct, and that can’t be coached. A killer instinct on defense has been missing all year. A killer instinct can’t mask technique and personnel issues, but it can lock in the team’s focus. Can a killer instinct be discovered? Will the entire defense finally gel together making it a complete defense?
Ray Rice Ran with a Ruthless Aggression
Ray Rice didn’t just pass the eye-ball test on Sunday. The numbers also support that he had a good day—67 yards on 17 attempts, with a very respectable average of 2.1 yards after contact, according to Pro Football Focus.
Tempering the excitement a bit is that this came against the Vikings’ lowly-ranked run defense, but Rice had a burst through the line of scrimmage and he was assertive at the point of contact. Encouraging signs.
Next game up—the Detroit Lions provide a stiff test. We shall see if this three game sweep on the recent homestand was a springboard towards consistency, or if it was merely a portion of fools’ gold. Either way, last week’s exciting game has many fans, me included, riding that familiar emotional high we experienced many times last season.