Though the Thanksgiving game came down to a nail-biting, thrilling end, the defense’s mentality of “bend, don’t break” withstood the Steelers’ final push, preserving the season for the Ravens for another week.
Now, the Ravens must continue to handle their business as this week’s game against the Minnesota Vikings concludes the crucial three game homestand for the Ravens. Though the Ravens control their playoff destiny by winning the last four games of the season, difficult games loom against the Detroit Lions, New England Patriots, and the Cincinnati Bengals. A loss in one of those games will allow the San Diego Chargers and Pittsburgh Steelers back into the race. The Miami Dolphins and Tennessee Titans don’t provide a real threat because they both have schedule and quarterback issues.
Here is a special edition of the Reality Assessment and Plotlines, mashup style.
The wildcat lit the proverbial fire under Joe Flacco. He performed extremely well against the Steelers—hell hath no fury like a Flacco scorned.
Though it make have taken 12 weeks, I believe the Ravens are starting to become comfortable with their identity on offense. The Ravens are beginning to focus on doing a few things well, rather than trying a plethora of strategies and hoping one will work.
The deep ball is back. The timing between Joe Flacco and his receivers, Torrey Smith and Jacoby Jones, is beginning to click. The offensive line is pass blocking more consistently which is allowing Flacco to push the ball downfield.
Today will be another test, and it is not because of the Vikings, who own the 30th ranked pass defense. No, today’s challenge with the deep ball will be against Mother Nature.
Since the deep ball is back, it has opened up a sliver of more room for the run game. The numbers don’t support that argument, but the deep ball will push back the safeties. The deep game may also open up the middle of the field for more intermediate routes. If the Ravens only had a tight end… Oh, wait!
Return of the Pitta
Dennis Pitta will not be the savior for the Ravens’ season, but his return is a welcomed sight. So welcomed, that Dallas Clark is inactive today. That should tell you enough about the state of the tight end position for the Ravens.
Pitta will play in obvious passing situations, and he could be a crucial factor on third down and in the red zone. If the Ravens are able to stretch the field, even in this weather, Pitta’s impact will be felt even more because the middle of the field will be open for his slot receiver-like talents.
If the Ravens slide into the playoffs, there will have been four weeks for Pitta to matriculate into the offense. If that does happen, we may see a more accurate picture of what the offense was suppose to be after the offseason overhaul. Yes, that is a lot of “ifs,” but Pitta’s return could be enough of a spark to continue the clarity of an offensive identity.
Too Many FGs—Finish Drives
In the beginning of the year, the Ravens were respectable when converting in the red zone. They have not been respectable as of late. The games against the Jets and the Steelers should have been blowouts.
A putrid running game limits options in the red zone, and that does not appear to be changing any time soon. The Ravens are going to need to scheme better, and/or hope that Pitta’s impact will be felt here. More pick and rub plays would be my suggestion, but we rarely see them for the Ravens.
The four man rush is not getting the job done enough on a consistent basis. Today, Elvis Dumervil is inactive which may put more pressure on the pass rush to perform.
The pass rush has disappeared against the better quarterbacks. Peyton Manning, Aaron Rodgers, and Ben Roethlisberger have had success because they have mostly stayed clean in the pocket. In addition, quarterbacks that have a quick release have had success—Jason Campbell and Josh McCown.
Vikings quarterback Matt Cassel has a quick release which has allowed him to get into sync with receiver Greg Jennings. However, today’s game may not be a true test for the pass rush. Between the snowy, wet weather and the fact that the Vikings have running back phenom Adrian Peterson, the Ravens may not get a chance to apply too much pressure on Cassel.
However, moving forward, this is an area that the Ravens need to address and improve.
Three Random Observations
Jacoby Jones was someone I thought during the offseason was not quire worth his contract. His big plays were huge during the playoff run, but I felt that they could not be consistently counted on throughout an entire season. While that has proven to be true, he is hitting his stride in the return game and receiving game. His play has been transformative for the team.
Marlon Brown has played a high percentage of snaps at the receiver position. In fact, he is second to only Torrey Smith in this category. Why? Watch the dude block downfield and you will have your answer. He seems to be a young player that has embraced his role and what he is asked to do. That will serve him well in his development, especially with this coaching staff.
I don’t know what it is, but Corey Graham has more trouble with pick/rub plays inside the 10 yard line. He is constantly having miscommunication with his fellow secondary mate on that play. Three games stick out to me—New England in the AFC Championship, opening game in Denver, and now last week against Pittsburgh. I don’t know if he is the culprit, but he sure is the common denominator. It is frustrating to watch him throw his hands up in the air after two players take the outside receiver slanting inside, while the inside receiver rubs outside wide open.
One Last Tomlin Assessment
One could make the argument that the whole Mike Tomlin-stepping-on-the-field-causing-Jacoby-Jones-to-not-score-a-touchdown-on-the-kick-return is being over-discussed. On the other hand, in light of the recent spate of unsportsmanlike conduct from coaches—Jason Kidd and Kevin McHale—this can’t be talked enough.
Desperation causes stupid decisions. Tomlin is becoming a desperate coach. He had most of his success coming on the heels of Bill Cowher and his players. Now there are locker room issues, questionable coaching philosophies, draft misses, and a team that was routinely a playoff participant is in danger of missing the playoffs for the second consecutive year. Reading the tea leaves here, Tomlin knew exactly what he was doing on that sideline.
The fine satisfies the grievance, and I never thought the loss of draft picks should have ever entered the equation. Moving forward, it will be more interesting to see how Tomlin, the coach, pans out in Pittsburgh.
Unsung Player to Watch, aka the “Corey Graham 2012 Postseason Award”
In lieu of a prediction of the score of the game, I will pick a Raven player each week that I think will have an impact on the game. I won’t pick an obvious player (like Joe Flacco, Ray Rice, Terrell Suggs, etc.), but a player that flies a bit under the radar. Think of this as the “Corey Graham 2012 Postseason Award.” Who would have predicted that Graham would have been last year’s postseason-player-of-the-game in Denver?
Pernell McPhee is the pick this week. With Dumervil out, McPhee will be counted on in a more regular role, and he will answer the bell.