Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Monday Night stars aligning for Ravens?

The NFL season is but 3 weeks old and about the only thing that you can predict with any degree of certainty is that the remainder of the season will be unpredictable, particularly in the AFC, which by the way and seemingly overnight, looks like the weaker conference of the two.

You aren’t as good as your best game and not as bad as your worst. That must be music to the ears of Browns’ QB Derek Anderson whose QB rating over his last 8 games is hovering in the mid 60’s and skies above have thickening clouds. Look for Phil Savage to create separation between himself and Romeo Crennel if the Browns lose to Cincinnati with Anderson at the controls.

Here’s a staggering stat for Savage and Crennel to chew on…only two teams since 1993 have started a season 0-3 and made the playoffs. Of the 78 previous 0-3 teams, 68 ended with a losing record. Crennel is struggling to get his arms around the Browns’ struggles.

"Why [the loss to the Ravens] turned out the way it did, I'm trying to figure out myself."

I doubt that was the answer Phil Savage was looking for.

The Ravens have physically crushed both the Bengals and the Browns in the fourth quarter. In the final quarter of both games the Ravens have controlled the ball a total of 26:35 out of a possible 30 minutes. That is a beat down. Paving the way for such clock dominance is the team’s ability to convert third downs, particularly on the ground.

So far in 2008 the Ravens are 7 for 7 on third and 1 conversions – all by running the football. Looking back at 2007, the Ravens converted 13 of 22 third and 1’s (59%) but inside of that number is a rather staggering stat to tuck away and save for an appropriate day. Of the 13 successful third and 1 conversions in ’07, 10 were by way of the run. The Ravens failed only once on the ground in 2007 which by my math means they are 17 of 18 on the ground over the last two seasons in third and 1 situations. For the record, Brian Billick’s offense was 3 of 11 (27%) on third and 1 when throwing the football.

No one expects the Ravens to dominate time of possession in a similar fashion at Heinz Field on Monday night. That said, the Ravens will catch a break in Pittsburgh due to a few injuries that will sideline or limit a couple of key players and probably alter the way the Steelers play the game.

First there is the injury to Ben Roethlisberger who was battered by the Eagles last Sunday. The Steelers’ QB is toughing out a sprained shoulder but adding to his physical woes is a sore throwing hand that was stepped on in Philadelphia. X-rays were negative but those injuries spell blood in the water for the sharks in white (aka the Ravens No.1 ranked defense) on Monday. With a struggling offensive line and a rookie running back Rashard Mendenhall who will be asked to pick up blitzing linebackers and DB’s flying in from all angles, Roethlisberger will look to get the ball off quickly. Maybe Bart Scott will get a chance to even the score with Hines Ward by hitting him repeatedly within 5 yards of the line of scrimmage.

And speaking of the line of scrimmage, the Steelers’ Casey Hampton has certainly presented a host of challenges for the Ravens in years past. But the All-Pro nose guard will miss the Monday Night affair due to a groin pull. That injury coupled with the loss of DE Brett Keisel can only mean good things for the Ravens’ rushing attack.

The stars look like they are aligning for the Ravens this Monday night. The wild card in the equation is how Joe Flacco handles the pressure of his first road game before a national TV audience in a very hostile environment.

The Steelers haven’t lost at home on MNF since October 14, 1991 (13 consecutive wins). Back in 2005 the Ravens nearly pulled off an upset on MNF at Heinz before falling 20-19. Anthony Wright cost the Ravens that win. It will be interesting to see if Flacco manages the pressure under the spotlight more effectively.


austin said...

i think the ravens need to work on blocking because joe got sacked so many times i was shocked.