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The Baltimore Ravens kicked off the season with an explosive start, winning their first three games and scoring over 30 points in each. Their streak was broken after a close game in New England which then kicked off a three game slide which left the Ravens 3-3 at their Week 7 bye.
After the bye, the Ravens couldn’t get on a roll, following victories with losses. However, winning three out of their last four helped them secure an AFC wild card slot in a division where Cincinnati surprised and Pittsburgh disappointed.
However, this is a team that sticks around for games, except for their Week 13 loss to Green Bay the Ravens always kept the score close. This is a 9-7 team that could easily be 12-4.
Key Victories: San Diego (Week 2), Pittsburgh (Week 12)
Key Losses: Cincinnati (Week 5), Indianapolis (Week 11), Pittsburgh (Week 16)
In Week 4, the Ravens came into the game determined to beat the Pats through the air. Joe Flacco threw the ball 47 times, completing 27 passes for 264 yards and two touchdowns. Despite only rushing the ball 17 times, Ray Rice racked up 103 yards over 11 carries and broke off an impressive 50 yard run.
The game was a very even match between the two teams, however the Ravens actually looked better on paper edging the Pats in third down efficiency (64% vs. 40%) and in Net Yards (363 vs. 319.)
So why did Baltimore lose this game? They stuck with the pass and saw drives end short while the Patriots ran the ball and ran down the clock. Sure, the Ravens could of easily won this game had Mark Clayton caught a 4th Quarter pass with :32 left on the clock but the Ravens had their chance all throughout the game.
But that’s the story of the Ravens, always a play away from winning close games.
The Ravens O-Line is built for the run. The Ravens love to run the ball to the right through first round draft pick Michael Oher. The Oscar film subject/rookie finished second in AFC Offensive Rookie of the Year voting. While the line excels at the running game they are somewhat below average in protecting the pass, ranking 20th in sacks allowed.
Joe Flacco actually improved over his rookie year, with better numbers across the board. Compared to 2008, he threw seven more touchdowns while keeping his interceptions the same. After the bye, Flacco endured a cold streak of games but his four touchdown game against Chicago in Week 15 demonstrates his ceiling. He’s developing perfectly fine in his sophomore year.
Ray Rice is the other young star of the team, leading the team in both rushing and receptions. After making a minimal impact in the three-headed rushing monster last year, he has enjoyed a breakout year.
Sporting a small 5’8″ frame and weighing only 210 pounds, he is the team’s feature back between the 20 yard lines. In the red zone, the team typically hands the ball off to Willis McGahee 13 of his 14 total touchdowns were scored within the 20 yard line. With both players average 5.0 yds/carry or higher – this duo could easily be compared to the last season’s thunder & lightning duo of Chris Johnson and LenDale White.
The biggest weakness for the Ravens offense is in the receiving game. When wide receiver Derrick Mason considered retirement in the pre-season the team would of surely been done for in the passing game. The cagey veteran leads the team in receiving and can still break out a long catch and is stretching his time in the NFL at 35.
Rice is also heavily involved in the passing game, often catching screen passes from Flacco. In the red zone Todd Heap is a big target with his 6-5, 245 pound figure. He’s enjoying a bounce back year after a decline from his 2006 season. Watch out for Heap when the Ravens are at the 10 yard line, over half of his receiving touchdowns have come with in 10 or less yards to go.
The run defense is still staunch, ranked fifth in the NFL with a 93.2 rushing yards/game average. The defense has only given up eight rushing touchdowns all year. The passing defense is ranked somewhat lower, albeit eighth in the NFL against the pass is still pretty good. They aren’t getting to the qaurterback as they would like with an average number in sacks – however they are still racking up interceptions while keeping passing touchdowns low.
Ray Lewis continues to be the defensive leader on the team, leading the team with 134 combined tackles, good enough for fifth in the NFL. Their pass rush appears to be most successful on the left side where DE Trevor Pryce and LOLB Jarret Johnson lead the team in sacks. However Pryce can be handled with a double team and Johnson isn’t as effective in the open field. Nose tackle Kelly Gregg is a big body that can stuff the run.
A possible weakness could be the secondary where Domonique Foxworth is asked to go man-to-man, a possible exploit with the Pats spread offense. Up top Dawan Landry is great when asked to stay close to the line and Ed Reed is a renown ball hawk.
Kicker Billy Cundiff isn’t asked to kick field goals very far, only completing 18 for 23 this season with his longest coming in at 46 yards. Sam Koch is an above average punter who is good at trapping teams behind the 20 yard line. The return game is adequate, nothing special
The Ravens are still a “run first” team, but have become more balance as of recent with the addition of Joe Flacco. However the lack of receivers has seen the team use less 4-5 wide spreads.
With the confidence of the Rice/McGahee running game, the Ravens will gladly power run the ball in order to set-up a play action pass. With an O-Line designed more to block the run, Flacco often works out of the shotgun for additional protection.
Last year the team experimented with a Wildcat formation involving Quarterback Troy Smith, however this year the formation has been left largely on the shelf.
On Defense the team is comfortable with their three man line to rush the ball and nose tackle Kelly Gregg has been been hot when it comes to sacking the quarterback. The blitz can come from anywhere with the Ravens and have been known to rush has many as 7 players.