Last week’s result was pretty much exactly what I expected. The Ravens always own the Broncos in Baltimore, where they are now 5-0 all time against them. Denver is soft, and when they play physical teams like those in the AFC North, they get punched in the mouth and quickly fold. Last week was no different. The Ravens jumped out early (it could have easily been a 28-0 game before halftime) and coasted the rest of the way.
That said, there were some good and bad things to take away. The most promising – and fantasy football players will agree with me here – was the game that Ray Rice had. After starting the season slowly and being nicked up against Cleveland, and not 100% in Pittsburgh, Rice had 31 touches for 159 total yards and two touchdowns. Even with all the big name wide receivers, Rice is still “the straw the stirs the drink” for the Baltimore offense – the better he is going, the better the team is going. After the first four games, Ravens fans were worried that offensive coordinator Cam Cameron was a bit too enamored with all his toys in the passing game, and was putting the running game – and Rice – on the back burner. That’s just not a recipe for success for this team. They need Ray Rice playing at a high level – which he does every time he touches the ball enough – to truly consider themselves contenders.
Patriots fans know all too well what Ray Rice is capable of.
As far as negatives, the only thing that stands out for me are the two 40+ yard touchdown passes that Kyle Orton threw to Brandon Lloyd. The Ravens’ safeties were victimized on both plays, and the lack of Ed Reed (see below) was more glaring than it has been so far this season.
2. How do you think the secondary has played without Ed Reed for the first five games of the season?
In a word, outstanding.
The secondary was supposed to be the Ravens’ biggest weakness coming into 2010, and I think they took that insult to heart, and their play reflects it. They had the #1 pass defense entering week 5. Sure, Kyle Orton got his 300 yards, but the majority of those came when the game was already firmly in hand for Baltimore.
The cornerbacks, even after losing Dominique Foxworth for the year in training camp, especially have been very strong. Fabian Washington and Lardarius Webb are coming off ACL surgery last year, so there were obviously concerns with both of them. Washington had his best game as a Raven against Denver though, and Webb played very well against Pittsburgh’s Mike Wallace, perhaps the fastest WR in the league, two weeks ago. They appear to both be at, or close to, 100%. Throw in Chris Carr, who has steadily improved since he started getting reps at corner last year, and the newly acquired Josh Wilson, and the Ravens have four cornerbacks who I feel could start on most teams in the league.
On top of that, backup safety Haruki Nakamura played some corner during the preseason, and more than held his own.
However, I’m afraid that Denver may have exposed the safeties a bit. On Lloyd’s first TD, it was strong safety Dawan Landry who was beaten badly. On his second, free safety Tom Zbikowski was slow getting over to help out Wilson.
One thing you can’t ignore is that the Ravens as a team have only a single interception in 2010. That pick came from Ray Lewis, so the secondary as a group has laid a goose egg as far as turnovers are concerned. However, that will change quickly and dramatically once #20 is back on the field.
I’d be much more worried if Randy Moss was still a Patriot, but I still know Tom Brady will be licking his chops to go after Landry and Zbikowski. Reed will be back week 7 against Buffalo; I really wish Buffalo and New England were transposed on our schedule, but, as they say: “dems da breaks.”
3.Before the Week 2 loss to the Bengals, I heard Bob Holtzman say that Joe Flacco told him that there is not one go-to receiver in this offense? Do you think that has a negative impact on this pasing attack or is it something Flacco can develop over the course of the season?
I think you’re taking that quote a bit out of context. Baltimore has three guys who all feel that they are true #1 wide receivers – Anquan Boldin, Derrick Mason, and T.J. Houshmandzadeh. Now, most fans would argue that only one of those three is truly a #1 in 2010 – Boldin – but none of the three have any problem telling you, or anyone who will listen, that they should be getting the ball.
All three have a history of voicing their displeasure when they feel like there aren’t enough passes coming their way – Mason sporadically throughout his tenure in Baltimore, T.J. Houshmandzadeh in Cincinnati and here as recently as last week, and we all remember Boldin blowing up on the sideline in Arizona.
So Flacco and Cameron have the unenviable task of keeping all three of these guys happy. When Joe said that to Bob Holtzman, I feel like he was playing politician more than anything, speaking lightly to avoid offending anyone who he didn’t call the “go to” receiver.
All three have contributed so far in 2010. Boldin had 3 TDs against Cleveland, Mason was the leading receiver against Pittsburgh, and of course Houshmandzadeh made the biggest catch in that Steeler game. Opposing secondaries simply cannot key on one of them and hope to stop the passing game dead in its tracks – there are too many other good options. Houshmandzadeh or Mason will eat up most nickel corners in the NFL, and it takes a hell of a corner (say, Champ Bailey) to keep Boldin down. Todd Heap is also having a good year, with 18 catches for 210 yards.
Flacco already has a great chemistry with Mason. As he continues to develop with Boldin and Houshmandzadeh, I think this offense will only improve throughout the course of the season. If that happens, and the defense continues to perform well, the victories should keep coming and the old adage “winning solves everything” will likely hold the three egos in check.
4. What do you make of Joe Flacco’s progression over his 3 year career? Do you think he can become an elite QB within the next five years?
Flacco is tough to figure a lot of the time. He runs hot and cold far too often for my liking at this point in his career. When he’s hot, he’s as good as anyone in the league (thanks in no small part to the aforementioned strong receiving corps). Against Denver, he started 8/9 and put together three long drives to start the game. It looked like the Ravens could do whatever they wanted on offense.
But when he’s cold, he’s brutal. Through the 2nd and 3rd quarters Sunday, I think he missed on like 9 or 10 passes in a row. And, unfortunately, he seems to go cold at least once a game.
When he’s playing well, his mechanics are strong, and he can make every throw. Since his rookie season, he’s had the best deep out ball in the NFL. But when he gets flustered, his mechanics go to shit. He has what I like to call his patented “back foot floater” where he’ll throw with all arm, usually falling backwards. If you see these kinds of throws on Sunday, be excited as Pats fans, as interceptions are likely to be on the horizon. If you see him stepping into throws and putting zip on them, be worried.
The other knock on Joe is that he can’t figure out the Cover 2 defense – the type run by Cincinnati and Indianapolis, two teams that have had the Ravens’ number as of late. If you watch his 4-interception game in week 2 against the Bengals, he looked terrible and indecisive all afternoon. Then he comes back the next week against Pittsburgh and plays very well.
So when you ask me about “elite” status, it’s all about consistency for Flacco. He has all the physical tools that you look for, and I don’t worry about any Roethlisberger-type off the field issues or Vince Young-esque mental breakdowns with Joe. “Good” Joe can be a Top 5-10 QB in the league for the next decade. “Bad” Joe reminds people in Baltimore way too much of Kyle Boller. Here’s hoping as his career progresses, we’ll see more and more of “Good” Joe and less and less of “Bad” Joe.
5.As of right now, is this the best team in the AFC? Are they the favorites to win the Super Bowl this year?
I hate throwing out Super Bowl favorites in Week 6. Also, as a Baltimorean, I have the eternal inferiority complex where I like to think everybody is disrespecting me, my city, and my team. The Ravens have always done best as underdogs as well, going back to Brian Billick.
All that said, if you had to name the “best” three teams in the AFC right now, most would say, in some order: Ravens, Jets, Steelers. Well, the Ravens have beaten both of those other teams already, and done so on the road. So I guess logic would dictate that they are the “best” team in the AFC right now.
I’ll agree with Derrick Mason, who said that (paraphrasing) “as long as we stay healthy, we have as good of a shot as anyone.” If they can stay healthy, and get players like Ed Reed and Dante’ Stallworth back, I can’t see where any team would be a clear-cut favorite against the Ravens, especially on a neutral site.
6. What is your prediction for the Patriots the rest of the season? What are your thoughts on the Randy Moss trade to Minnesota?
I can’t see the Patriots missing the postseason, and even after their loss to the Jets in week 2, I’d still honestly be a little surprised if they didn’t win the AFC East.
The Moss trade throws a whole new dynamic in, though. Getting Deion Branch back helps, but will the Pats still be able to light up the scoreboard enough to overcome what looks like a fairly mediocre defense? If the special teams are anywhere near as good as they looked against Miami, they could win another game or two on their own.
I’m glad Randy Moss is out of the AFC, and I’m glad we don’t have to see him this week, that’s for sure. But that doesn’t mean I think the Patriots just went from a 10 or 11 win team to an 8 or 9 win team.
7. How much do you think revenge plays a factor in this game after Baltimore’s 33-14 win at Gillete Stadium last year in the Wild Card playoffs?
Are you kidding? The Ravens straight up punked New England in their own house in that game. There is no way that won’t be fresh in the mind of every Pats player who was on the roster, and every Pats fan packed into Foxboro on Sunday. If Bill Belichick is as petty and conniving in actuality as he is portrayed, then I can see revenge being a huge theme in his addresses to his team all week.
I’ll channel Ray Lewis here and say this: Bottom line, those are professional athletes, men, competitors, who the Ravens made look silly last January. Human nature dictates that they’ll be one pissed off group come kickoff.
8. Who wins this game on Sunday and Why?
As much as I think the Ravens have the personnel to at least match up with, if not beat, New England all over the field, I can’t look past something I saw earlier today:
The Patriots have won seven consecutive games coming off their bye week, dating back to their last loss in 2002, and they’re 8-2 after their scheduled regular-season bye weeks since Belichick took the reins in 2000.
What’s more, the Pats are 14-4 under Belichick after a week off, and they have won 12 of their last 13 such games.
Players play and coaches coach, but that kind of track record isn’t insignificant. The Pats have had two weeks to look at the Ravens and put together a game plan, and I am resigned to the fact that Belichick will have something up his sleeve that John Harbaugh and staff just aren’t prepared to handle.