Monday, January 12, 2009

If the Ravens don't step up on offense their season will end in Pittsburgh

The Ravens victory over the Titans on Saturday night had a very familiar look and feel to it. When the Ravens traveled to Nashville back in January of 2001 to take on Jeff Fisher’s No. 1 seeded 13-3 squad in a Divisional Playoff after winning a wild card game, they were beaten on the field convincingly in all facets of the game.

Back then, the Ravens were outgained to the tune of 317 yards to 134. In this year’s Divisional Playoff showdown, six days removed from a wild card playoff victory over the Miami Dolphins, the Ravens again fell far short of the No. 1 seeded Tennessee Titans (again 13-3) in yards gained (391-211). In 2001 the Titans had 17 (23-6) more first downs than the Ravens while controlling the ball for 40:29. This time around Tennessee moved the sticks 12 more times than the Ravens (21-9) and held on to the ball for 34:07 even with leading rusher Chris Johnson on the sidelines for more than half the game.

Fortunately for the Ravens the striking similarities don’t end there. Despite being beaten up and down the field, they outpaced the Titans in the only measurement that really counts – the scoreboard.

And again they’ve earned a chance to represent the AFC in the Super Bowl.

The feelings of déjà vu are hard to ignore and it’s difficult to not view the Ravens as a team of destiny particularly with the less than flattering expectations entering the season. But if the Ravens don’t make philosophical changes to the way they approach Sunday’s game offensively the only thing they are destined for is watching the Super Bowl at home on February 1.

Let’s make no mistake about it, the ’08 Ravens defense is not on par with the Super Bowl winning defense. Moreover, the ’08 Pittsburgh Steelers are not the ’00 Oakland Raiders. Put it together and the conclusion is clear and present – Rex Ryan’s unit can’t carry the team through the land of steel. The truth be told, they looked a bit fatigued against the Titans. You only need to look at some rather shoddy tackling for proof.

The Ravens offense must show up!

Cam Cameron must attack the Steelers defense and if he thinks for a second that he can bring the same conservative, unimaginative Billick-esque game plan to Pittsburgh that he traveled to Tennessee with and be successful, he is in for a rude Terrible Towel awakening on what promises to be a frosty night in Western PA.

If Cameron does employ the passive, play-not-to-lose approach in Pittsburgh, the Steelers will flat out make the Ravens one dimensional and force them into many third and long situations. That will be music to the pinned back ears of James Harrison and LaMarr Woodley. And that will force turnovers and force the Ravens consequently into a long winter’s nap.

During the regular season the Ravens were the fourth best rushing offense producing 148.5 yards per game on average – less than 9 yards behind the league leading Giants. On Saturday Titans’ defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz, just as he did in the ’04 playoff game at M&T, dared the Ravens to throw. Regularly he jammed 8, sometimes 9 players in the box to choke off the Ravens’ running game.

Mission accomplished.

The Ravens ran thirty times for a paltry 50 yards. They ran it 12 times out of a possible 18 first down plays and produced 34 yards. Eight of their rushing plays were for losses and one went for no gain. The failure to run effectively forced the Ravens into many difficult to manage third down attempts. Overall they were 3 of 13 on third down with six of those attempts being from 10 or more yards away from the first down marker. On average the Ravens’ faced third down attempts of 8.3 yards.
Something has to give here and it probably won’t be the Steelers. They’ve done a nice job of protecting the football of late and didn’t turn it over once against the Chargers. The Ravens have feasted on turnovers thus far in the playoffs but such treats will likely be few and far between at Heinz Field.

The Steelers front 7 is as good as there is in the league. And as solid as Troy Polamalu is inside the box defending the run he is almost equally vulnerable defending the intermediate and deep pass. Bryant McFadden and Ike Taylor aren’t exactly prototypical cover corners and they’ve been protected to a large extent by Pittsburgh’s impressive defensive front and their ability to get after the quarterback, particularly when opponents are forced to pass.

In the first half yesterday, Philip Rivers was 4 of 5 for 77 yards and a TD on first down passes. On first down runs, the Chargers managed 6 yards on 6 carries. On the entire day even as San Diego saw the game slipping away and being forced to throw, Rivers was 10 of 16 for 133 yards, 2 scores and an interception when throwing on first down.

Against the Steelers it’s important to set up the run with the pass.

The Ravens cannot be meek or sheepish. The meek may inherit the Earth but they don’t win in the NFL during the postseason.

Yes the Ravens have played with a ton of heart this season. Their perseverance is impressive and their will inspiring. But to advance to the Super Bowl, they need to unleash Joe Flacco. They need to stop buying into the “he’s just a rookie” discussion.

So what, he’s a rookie – but he’s an uncommon one and they need to let him make plays. They need to let him be a quarterback and not just a caretaker. If the Ravens stare down third downs of 8.3 yards on average against the Steelers, Flacco will not stay clean and he will be forced into game altering mistakes. Make no mistake about that!

So Cam it’s up to you…get busy living or get busy dying.

Get busy attacking or get ready to watch your quarterback be attacked.

The choice is yours and hopefully you will make the right one come Sunday.

5 comments :

Nick SantaCroce said...

I agree. I think that the Chargers weren't able to do what I had hoped... Even in defeat, run the ball, pound the defense, and get to Roastbeefburger. They weren't able to do any of those things, but they did open up their offense and were able to pass on them. I hope Cammy was watching all those deep balls. Our offense has got to be a good defense and help keep our boys off the field. Time of possession is gonna be HUGE.

Harryos29 said...

Harry O 29 Jan 12th
... Nick is right-on, on the deep Balls. On ESPN Merrill Hodge made the following statement.. and I am para-phrasing.."Right now.. Joe Flacco is the Best Deep Passer in the league" .. I don't know how much that counts in the P/R wars.. but it was nice to hear some RESPECT.
.. We are truly up against it Sunday: with all of our Injuries. I think we need to MAKE IT A THROWING GAME, AND IF IT TURNS INTO THAT.. I'M PUTTING MY MONEY ON THE NON-ROOKIE JOE FLACCO
.. Go Ravens

Anonymous said...

BRAVOO!!!!

I could not have said it better myself.

Everytime Joe has been asked to deliver when we have HAD to throw he has,why cant he do it early in the game when they arent looking for it?

Take the training wheels off or we are gonna get killed,13 points isnt winning this game.Our defense is battered,beaten and bruised and we cant expect 10 pt performances every week.

Anonymous said...

I have been disappointed in the offensive game plan the last 2 weeks. Cam must have lost his playbook and picked up Brian's by mistake. Go out there and throw some quick slant passes on first down. Gain 8 yards. Then you can run for 2 yards and have 2 shots to do it. This is what the Colts do to win games.

As far as the defense, they need to learn how to tackle big men. You do it by going for their feet. Our tackling leaved much to be desired and cost us time of possession in Tenn. Also, forget the Marchibroda prevent defense. It is a stupid strategy that never works.

The motto is play to win and never, let up, offensively or defensively.

Anonymous said...

Spot on, Tony. The thing that I honestly don't get is why, when this is so obvious to so many people, and Cam Cameron is a professional who is paid to understand this, it appears that he does not. Or at least that he has not gotten it when we've been up against teams like the Steelers and the Titans. This is history in the making here. And he simply HAS to get it in time to help us get to Tampa.

And frankly, the same goes for Ryan and Rosburg as well. We need to fire on all cylinders in Pittsburgh, or this Cinderella season is going to come to a crashing halt. Let's hope everybody gets it right on Sunday.