Packers Push Past Ravens in Penalty Filled Game; 24-14

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Lambeau Field is a place of great tradition and history. Last night both teams almost made a bit of their own but not in a way that either would want to be remembered for.

Green Bay and Baltimore combined for 23 penalties for 310 yards in a sloppy, frigid ball game that almost took the title of most penalized game in the history of the NFL.

However, the Packers were able to overcome their eleven flags on the strength of three Aaron Rodgers touchdowns and a defense that turned Baltimore over four times to move to 8-4 with a 24 to 14 victory.

Green Bay went to work right away after a solid kick off return Rodgers completed 6 of 8 passes to set up a Mason Crosby 28-yard field goal to draw first blood.

Baltimore appeared ready to answer but the usually dependable Ray Rice fumbled stalling the drive inside the Green Bay twenty. But, Rodgers gave it right back as he failed to identify Tom Zbikowski (making his first start for an inactive Ed Reed) as he intercepted a deep pass. The next series Joe Flacco returned the favor forcing a Flea-Flicker into double coverage that was intercepted that mercifully brought the First Quarter to an end. (His first of three on the game).

The Second Quarter was ignited by Baltimore’s Achilles Heel on defense, pass interference. This time the culprit was Frank Walker and after two passes to Jermichael Finley Green Bay was up 10-0.

The bleeding didn’t stop as Baltimore’s offense went three and out and the Packers engineered another drive with Donald Driver scooting past Domonique Foxworth for an 8-yard touchdown to put Green Bay up 17-0 with 32 seconds left in the half.

After intermission it took two Green Bay turnovers to energize the sleeping Baltimore attack. Two Ravens touchdowns in 30 seconds cut a 17-point deficit to 17-14.

A Donald Driver fumble caused by Chris Carr’s tackle led to a Joe Flacco 12-yard touchdown pass to Kelley Washington and an errant Rodgers pass bounced off the leg of Driver on the next series that was picked off by Jarret Johnson. After a pass interference call on Green Bay, Willis McGahee rushed up the middle for a 1-yard TD and a new game was born with 2:58 left in the Third Quarter.

The momentum appeared to be going all Baltimore’s way, even more so after Mason Crosby missed a chip shot due to a bad snap. But the Ravens simply couldn’t capitalize as their next series appeared doomed from the start. Ray Rice was thrown for a 7-yard loss off a screen pass and Derrick Mason was hit with a double penalty that pushed the Ravens into a 3rd and 32 deep in their own territory.

After being forced to punt, Rodgers once again used the Six foot Five Finley to haul in a 19-yd touchdown grab to push the advantage to 24-14.

But Baltimore appeared ready to answer spurred on by a fantastic kick return by Lardarius Webb. Another pass interference penalty later and the Ravens were knocking on the door again at the Green Bay goal line.

Willis McGahee was stopped behind the line as he tried to sweep off to the left side and after a Raven time out to avoid a delay of game the crucial play was set up. On second down Flacco faked the handoff and rolled to his right he then snuck away from the pressure and threw a floater intended for Demetrius Williams that was easily picked off in the end zone.

The turnover was a backbreaker but still the defense forced a three and out from Green Bay. But on the next play Flacco again tried to squeeze the play into coverage as A.J. Hawk stepped inside of Todd Heap to notch the defense’s third interception of the game.

The loss knocks Baltimore pack with the Wild Card pack at 6-6. Even though they haven’t played like it their playoff chances aren’t dead yet as they ready to host the Lions this Sunday.

Points to Ponder

What was the offensive game plan for the Ravens tonight?

I plan on addressing this in a larger article over the next few days. But in short the plan is as unbalanced as one of Cam Cameron’s line packages. Baltimore started in power formations similar to last week against Pittsburgh. The Packers loaded up the box and got penetration and rendered the run game ineffective. Then Baltimore geared up and threw a few deep balls with several resulting in positive plays (pass interference is considered one) with passes to Clayton and Demetrius Williams. (He is still on the roster) The goal line packages are still puzzling. Ngata is brought in for a jumbo package and they go play action. The first time they run it in with McGahee and well all know what happened on the second goal line situation.

However I can’t place all the blame on Cam Cameron. These plays look much better if you execute them properly. The Offensive line looks weak and either can’t get push in short yardage or has trouble identifying blitzes in pass coverage. Receivers are still having trouble getting separation on a consistent basis. And of course Joe Flacco had one of his worst games as a Raven on the frozen tundra.

That’s a lot to address. But since the question is about game plan I’ll just say this. Last season it was clear that this team was a rushing team first, they could throw the deep and out pattern well and once in a while you’d have to be prepared for a Gadget play. Every player had a role to play in the team’s success and that’s not the case now. I also think they have rushed things in trying to give Flacco too much responsibility when he only has one play maker on his offense.

What about Joe Flacco’s leadership ability?

It’s strange how these questions crop up. My brother and I were discussing recent national articles about our young quarterback and he referred to a possible Flacco backlash. And now as he comes off of such a poor performance you have to ask a few questions about him.

First, his laid back demeanor has become a detriment. This has been a problem for weeks since their offensive slide after the Minnesota game. There is no tempo to the offense and there have been many more delay of game penalties compared to a year ago. There is no urgency or fire in getting his group together and executing their assignments. It’s another reason why so many have been calling for the no-huddle because it forces him to be aggressive.

Second, he hasn’t led this team to a win in a close game. In 2008 the Ravens won 2 games by 7 points or less out of their 13 total wins. This season they have lost 4 by 7 or less.

To be fair it’s not totally his fault. A Mark Clayton dropped pass and a Steve Hauschka missed kicked contributed to those losses as well however he also threw a crucial pick in the Colts game a few weeks back. But these are the growing pains that we expected to see last season and didn’t. He set the bar higher for himself and as a result the natural expectation is that he should be able to supercede last season’s output.

And he will. Just wait until the end of 2009. He will have more Touchdown passes, more Passing Yards, a higher Passing Yards per game average. more completed passes, a higher completion percentage and more interceptions. Also remember that last season he was thrown into the starting job and the schemes protected him. They ran the ball and gave him safe routes with few reads. It’s all about adjustments. Defenses have a plan for him and he must adjust and grow. He will still be a very good quarterback and he’s only 24.

Why can’t the Ravens seem to pressure anybody on defense?

They need to get younger and more athletic. Sacks are only a part of the story but Trevor Pryce registered the only one of the night. As Al Davis said, “The Quarterback must go down and he must go down hard.” If they start doing that then the secondary looks better but there is also a lack of talent here and even though the defense plays hard in some positions they are a step slow. Having two of your highest paid defenders out didn’t help either and I was as amazed as anyone that Ed Reed was inactive last night. But this was an issue that creeped up even last season. They will need to develop players on the roster or find some that can get the quarterback.

How much of the team’s problems fall on John Harbaugh?

Penalties and team discipline fall to him. On offense, false starts, delay penalties and holding calls and of course on defense pass interference and unsportsmanlike conduct are the norm. There must be some kind of accountability and since Harbugh doesn’t really explain, well anything, fans are only left to wonder why this team is the most penalized in the league. These were the same questions that plagued Brian Billick during his tenure and they are all back again in 2009. Harbaugh has been branded a no-nonsense guy and I have no idea how he addresses players behind closed doors all we do know is that the same mistakes continue. There was also something that really bugged me seeing his brother Jim suited up on the sidelines barking at the officials. Last I checked he wasn’t on the staff. Clock management and how time outs are used are also areas that have been in need of explanation too.

But as I said before with Coach Cameron, the players aren’t clean in this mess either. Make a play, not excuses. Some either can’t due to a lack of talent or won’t because of some other reason. If that’s the case, change the roster for 2010.

Who was the Offensive player of the game?

I can’t really name a player who played consistent enough to pick a winner. Rice was bottled up most of the game, Mason was enaged in a battle with Charles Woodson and his double penalty was inexcusable. Heap looked too slow and dropped a few. Mark Clayton became the “Magic Man” again. The Offensive line was simply dreadful especially in the Second Quarter. Only Kelley Washington made a few big catches and was actually open several times so he’ll get it by default.

Who was the Defensive player of the game?

The unit as a whole got the Packers to turn it over three times which is excellent considering they’ve only have 10 for the season. The secondary was a mess without Reed and they were flagged for their 12th Pass Interference call of the season with 4 for the game. The pass rush was also uneven as well with only 1 sack. Webb continues to play hard and exhibit solid closing speed. The front four did a decent job stuffing the run and aside from one run held Rodgers in the pocket. The linebacker group was also good against the run with Lewis and Johnson leading the way. Lewis’ facemask penalty hurt. So I’ll go with Johnson who had a good game in pass coverage alertly snagging an interception and in run support.

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