Well, they did it. For the second straight season the Ravens are AFC North champions. For the fifth straight season they return to the playoffs.
After enduring a three-game losing skid that saw Baltimore drop two in a row at home, the Ravens busted out in a huge way this afternoon dominating both sides of the football.
There was a lot to like about today’s game so let the lovefest begin.
- Joe Flacco. After going through what might have been his worst month as a professional the Ravens quarterback responded in a big way today going 25 for 36 for 309 yards tossing two touchdowns and sneaking one in too. He looked sharp as he got in the flow, showed mobility (his throw to Pitta on the run was fantastic), and used all parts of the field to connect with seven different receivers. Today he reinforced that if he gets time to get comfortable he can make a variety of throws and can be extremely effective. I think it’s all but certain that he’ll end up getting franchised for next season but let’s not worry about that now. Troy Aikman made an asute observation that I totally agree with - if the Ravens are to make a deep playoff run it will be because Joe Flacco took them there.
- Ray Rice and Bernard Pierce. The duo combined for 224 yards rushing and dominated the Giants defense which gave the franchise it’s first game with two rushers to hit over 100 yards. Finally someone has gotten the memo. The Ravens are a running team-first. The team now has two dynamic backs that provide different styles for a defense to contend with and each should get their touches. Of course it all starts with Rice and you could see that there was a concerted effort to get him going in the game plan. From there Flacco was able to use play-action more effectively and buy some space for his receivers. The offense had a much better flow to it and it finally allowed Baltimore to control the Time of Possession (39:21 to 20:39) for the first time in recent memory.
- Jim Caldwell. It was hard to get a gauge on his abilities as a playcaller last week due to the horrid blocking of the line. This week with a much better performance from the blockers Caldwell called a good mix of run-pass and had the offense humming. It’s hard to argue with these results – 33 points – 533 Total Yards on 81 plays – 11 for 18 on Third Down. This is still Cameron’s offense but I noticed some subtle changes that paid off well. Using the middle of the field with Boldin out of the slot and even Rice out of the backfield which resulted in a 27-yd TD. Receivers on third down settled their routes past the sticks and not before (I loathed the catch and run strategy that Cameron often employed) which gave Baltimore several big pick-ups on third and long. I also liked the return to more play-action and moving Flacco around in the pocket to set up easier throws. Cameron’s play-calling always felt boom or bust and didn’t value First Downs enough. The offense got 26 today. Over the next few games we’ll see if Caldwell can build off of today’ strong performance.
- The Offensive line was much better today and that was partially due to the return of Marshal Yanda. They kept Flacco clean most of the day as he was able to get off his throws without much difficulty. Michael Oher had an unusual series where he was penalized three times during the drive. Oher has never seemingly lived up to his “Blind Side” -first-round draft pick status but I do think he’s a better than average Tackle … on the Right side. Next season, the team should look to shuffle Osemele to Guard, Oher to Right Tackle and plug holes at Left Tackle and Center to re-establish the consistency on the line. That way I’d have no problem with the Ravens extending Oher if they’d only play him in the right spot.
- Anquan Boldin and Torrey Smith. Boldin was a beast over the middle and was a perfect 7 for 7 on targets until he left the third quarter with a shoulder injury. When Smith catches a touchdown the Ravens win. Smith caught 5 for 88, a touchdown and a thunderous jam afterwards.
- The defense was very aggressive and harassed Eli Manning most of the day. They ended up with three sacks and numerous quarterback hits as their swarming style took it’s toll on the the Giant signal caller. The Giants were only 1 for 9 on Third Down. It also helps well you only have to play defense for Twenty minutes. You deserved a chance to rest today defense.
- The secondary did a very nice job limiting big play opportunities and had their hands on most of Manning’s passes. Chykie Brown (4 PDs) and Ed Reed (3 PDs) were standouts.
- Baltimore has won 10 straight regular-season home finales and has 13 consecutive home victories over NFC foes.
- The officiating crew didn’t have its best game this afternoon and I’m glad that the Ravens took this one going away. Forget the Second Act, Jacoby Jones scored a touchdown.
- Troy Aikman is a very solid commentator and I really enjoyed hearing his insights today. Joe Buck on the other hand makes me wish I watched the game without sound. He lends little to football or any other sport he calls.