Monday, October 31, 2011

THE GOOD, BAD, UGLY & THE MEGAN FOX: Ravens v. Cardinals

So will the real Baltimore Ravens please stand up? Are they the team that opened the season in dominating fashion against the archrival Steelers or are they more like the team that looked dazed and confused in Jacksonville last Monday night?

Yesterday against the Cardinals in their own crib, they were a little of both while providing little evidence to dispel their burgeoning reputation as a Jekyll & Hyde squad.

THE GOOD: Let’s hope that Joe Flacco provided enough evidence to Cam Cameron to convince him to use the shotgun and no huddle offense more regularly. Looking back on Flacco’s career his best performances seem to take shape when running a no huddle. Unfortunately, the Ravens rarely employee the approach unless they are desperate (see Falcons and Vikings on the road). Flacco is a rhythmic passer and the no huddle obviously helps him to find that rhythm. The up tempo approach also seems to help the offensive front provide adequate time to throw as the no huddle serves up a secondary benefit of wearing down opposing pass rushers. Flacco’s second half QB rating was a solid 94.0…Terrell Suggs was menacing contributing a whopping 13 tackles, 4 of which were for losses, a sack and 2 QB hurries…Paul Kruger chipped in with 2 sacks and 2 QB hurries…Bernard Pollard is a menacing presence when he can play close to the line of scrimmage. He had 5 tackles plus a sack and a QB hurry…Chris Carr’s return provided a boost to the secondary. It was good to see him contributing and getting back in the flow. He’ll be counted on in situational sub packages against the Steelers’ speedy receiving corps…Vonta Leach was a wrecking ball in short yardage and goal line situations.

THE BAD: Joe Flacco’s first half at home against an inferior opponent…Torrey Smith dropping a pass in traffic leading to an easy and potentially devastating interception…The offensive line, particularly the left side. Bryant McKinnie and Andre Gurode looked like they dressed up as zombies for Halloween…Jarret Johnson was unusually weak holding down the edge against the run.

THE UGLY: No matter how you dress it up, losing to a (1-5) team at home by the score of 24-3 U-G-L-Y, for this there is no alibi…Special teams were anything but. The coverage was shoddy, tackling pathetic and the plan of attack suspect. It’s difficult to understand why David Reed insists on coming out of the end zone when he accepts a kick 7+ yards deep particularly when you consider that teams have to run 5 fewer yards to make the tackle. Reed lacked purpose and failed to follow the little blocking provided. Jerry Rosburg’s return teams (both kick and punt) seem to be missing a plan and if there is one it’s either poorly executed or they need a new one. It sort of reminds me of watching 6 year olds playing soccer. Both teams just follow the ball all over the field like honeybees...The penalties (11 for 99 yards) were ridiculous and the Ravens better clean that up before heading into Heinz Field on Sunday night.

THE MEGAN FOX: Sometimes you throw to excellent receivers that aren’t really open because you know that at best they can make a play or at worst they will become an effective defender if the pass is poorly thrown. Anquan Boldin is one of those guys. Boldin was targeted 12 times and hauled in 7 of those Flacco tosses for 145 yards, 80of them coming on one 88 yard drive to close the deficit to four (24-20) in the third quarter.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

T.O. to B'more is enough to make you cry!

When you struggle on offense and your receivers are stuck to opposing defensive backs like they are Siamese Twins it’s only natural to want someone, anyone who can get open. Terrell Owens could be that guy!

But it ain’t gonna happen! Not here in Baltimore.

You may recall that the Ravens brokered a deal with the 49ers back in the day to obtain Owens but the deal fell through after Owens threw a tantrum like a toddler who just got his lollipop taken away. The tantrum included some unflattering remarks about Ozzie Newsome.

Per Owens vis-à-vis his then agent David Joseph, Newsome allegedly said that he, “was a black man from Alabama just like T.O.” and added that “sometimes a black man’s gotta be slapped.”

In his narcissistic diva autobiography Owens claimed that he was stunned by the alleged remarks from Ozzie and that they were the primary reason he refused to report to the Ravens.

Newsome would later scoff at the allegations and explain, “I did tell T.O. that he should check with the veterans we brought in over the years. I told him to call Rod Woodson, Shannon Sharpe, Michael McCrary, and Sam Adams, and they will let him know how we treat veterans here.”

So let’s just scratch T.O. off that rumor list and while you’re at it, deep six any thought of Randy Moss as well. Volatile receivers just aren’t going to work here – not with an offense lacking identity and leadership.

"How to say "I f'd up" in 293 words", by John Harbaugh

“Now, that I’ve had some time to think about it, I’m even more sure that it was the right thing,” Harbaugh said. “And I think you can go both ways on it, but we had a chance to do a probability study, and that’s another thing that Matt Weiss does, and the probabilities are for kicking the onsides kick. And that’s giving a 21-percent onside kick recovery rate, and that’s assuming that that’s a touchback, so that they get the two-minute warning – which to me, if I’m them, I’m bringing the ball out, unless it’s kicked out of the back of the end zone. So, you know what? I think it’s fair to say you can do it either way.

“I felt strongly about the onside kick, and the main reason was because I thought we were going to get it. So, you can take that 21-percent and make it 50-percent-plus in my mind, because I liked our scheme on that play. And if you look at the way, we had them outnumbered at the point of attack. If that ball goes 10 yards, which is not asking too much, then we’re going to recover that ball. Now we’ve got the ball with two minutes, plus two timeouts, plus the two-minute warning, to go from the 45- to 50 into close field goal range and give us the best chance to make a kick and win the game. I felt strongly about it then, and I feel even more strongly about it now that it gave us the best chance to win. But, I also acknowledge you can definitely make the case the other way. If everything works out perfectly the other way, you have a chance to win the other way, too.”

For some reason this spin has me thinking about an old Wings song from 1979…

You want percentages coach?

Billy Cundiff has had 70% of his kickoff go for touchbacks.

And Blaine Gabbert up until Monday had won exactly 0% of his starts.

Just admit it Harbs, you were wrong!

Hey and since I’m showing my age (see video below), I have a new nickname for you… “The Fonz.”

Ravens Lack Leadership

John Harbaugh’s decision to try the onsides kick against the Jaguars made no sense. Sure he can try and spin it his way but I’d respect him more if he just said, “Sorry guys, I screwed up!”

But don’t hold your breath on that.

Let’s reset the situation.

The Ravens score their first points of the night and close the gap to 9-7 with 2:02 to go. They have 2 timeouts left and the benefit of the 2 minute warning as an additional timeout.

Billy Cundiff, aka Mr. Touchback knocks it through the back of the end zone as the Ravens give it back to rookie quarterback Blaine Gabbert. Now you know Jack Del Rio isn’t going to put the ball in the air at this point. He’ll grind it out on the ground and eat up some clock and force the Ravens to burn their timeouts.

So chances are the Ravens would get the ball back and take over around their own 35 yard line with about 1:30 to go and tasked with advancing the ball 40 yards to set up Cundiff for a walk off win. If after 3 plus seasons and 61 starts you don’t have confidence that your quarterback can make that happen, then you’ve got the wrong guy leading your offense.

Look, this wasn’t Tom Brady, Drew Brees, Aaron Rodgers or even Ryan Fitzpatrick that the Ravens were going up against. This was Blaine Gabbert who after 4 sacks and 92 yards passing to that point was probably one more nervous play from soiling the bed.

Now compare Harbaugh’s clock management in this contest to that in the team’s other loss in Tennessee. Down 23-10 with 7:03 left in the game and facing a 4th and goal from the Titans 11, Harbaugh decided to kick the field goal and give it back to a red hot Matt Hasselbeck and ask his tired defense to stop the Titans’ offense not once but twice AND answer those stops with two scores of their own.

Add it up and the logic is missing. Harbaugh was willing to send out a struggling defense to thwart a hot 3 time Pro Bowl QB yet afraid to ask an effective defense to stop a rookie QB in the national spotlight.

Seems to me the Ravens head coach is about as “consistent” as his quarterback.
Where Harbaugh does show consistency is in his highly crafted ability to spin doctor team issues without really meeting them head on – at least not publicly.

“I decided I wanted to go for the onside kick because I felt like we needed the short field and I felt we were going to get the onside kick,” Harbaugh said.

“I think when you watch the way it was executed, we would have gotten it if it was kicked a little further. You’ve got to kick it 10 yards; Billy [Cundiff] knows that. If we could have gotten it, we would been in good shape and it gave us the best possible chance to win. That’s why we did it. But you can certainly make a case the other way.”

That’s your leader ladies and gentlemen. Come to think of it the only effective leaders on this team (and this includes the coaching staff) are all on the defensive side of the ball and it’s this lack of leadership that suddenly brings the team’s coaching staff into question.

The Ravens offensive line is a mess. Is first year offensive line coach Andy Moeller capable of fixing it?

Cam Cameron’s track record speaks for itself and the message isn’t all that great. But as bad as he is, what would the Ravens do if he says, “I’ve had enough” or if he and Joe Flacco have such a strained relationship that they can’t work together? Who would create and implement the game plan and make the in-game play calls?

Harbaugh? A guy who has never been an offensive or defensive coordinator?

You know Brian Billick was many things, some good and some bad but one thing he wasn’t was afraid to surround himself with the best coaches available, many of whom have gone on to be head coaches in the NFL. The Ravens faced one on Monday night.

Who on Harbaugh’s staff is head coaching material? You could make the argument that Chuck Pagano could one day be capable but other than that, where is the depth and quality in coaching? Who has the cache to step up and challenge Harbaugh when needed?

Could it be that Harbaugh doesn’t want coaches surrounding him who during tough times could threaten his job? Maybe that explains his unwavering support of Greg Mattison.

Sure, this loss in Jacksonville was just one game but I can’t help to think back to the 2007 season when a talented Ravens team with a struggling quarterback was 4-2 and coming off a very sloppy win at home over a bad St. Louis Rams team. The signs and the problems were there but masked brilliantly by Brian Billick’s clever spinning – at least temporarily.

Eventually those problems manifested themselves in a 9 game losing streak and the end of the Billick era.

That’s not to say that the same can or will happen to the 2011 Ravens. But once again, the signs are there. Ray Lewis’ face says it all.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

The Scenery Only Changes for the Lead Dog

We all know how bad the Ravens offense is. I fully expect to see a “Parental Guidance Suggested” warning sign when I finally muster up the courage to torture myself and review the game again on DVR.

Where do Cam Cameron and Joe Flacco go from here?

Well the optimist might say the Debacle by The Landing was merely a temporary blip on the radar screen and things will get better this week with a little home cooking while hosting the Arizona Cardinals.

The pessimist might tell you there’s only one way to go but up.

That’s a bit like the Lennon/McCartney penned, “Getting Better.” McCartney in his enthusiastic vocal sings, “It’s getting better all the time” only to be answered by Lennon’s sobering, “It can’t get any worse.”

Let’s hope both Beatles are spot on but I have my doubts.

We’ve seen this kind of offensive offense before during the Boller Era. The complete futility was evident in their play and in their body language. The hopelessness on Ray Lewis’ face on the Ravens bench told the story. It was painful.

In this new NFL, the era of high flying offenses and rules geared towards producing points the Ravens could only muster ulcers for the Ravens defense and their fans. After three quarters Joe Flacco & Company produced just 57 yards of offense – just a few shy of the total number of points the Saints put on the Colts this past Sunday night.

It took them until the third quarter to get a first down – A FIRST DOWN!

This is supposed to be a Super Bowl contender?

And in the midst of this horrific performance Cam Cameron came up with an epic idea –let’s pull the best offense player by a mile and put in Ricky Williams. Well even Cameron was bright enough to realize that wasn’t going to work but by then the damage was done. Ray Rice’s mojo was zapped. Let’s call it Cameron Kryptonite.

We could go on and on about Cameron’s play calling; Flacco’s execution; an offensive line which engages oncoming pass rushers like Republicans embrace Obamacare; receivers suffering from separation anxiety.

This year it was supposed to be better. We’re all aware of the expectations, about how Flacco would come into his own in year 4 and have a greater stake and say in the offense; how the team would attack and put opponents away. We heard about the addition by subtraction as it relates to the departures of Jim Zorn and Al Saunders. We remember how John Harbaugh declared he would be more involved in the offense.

But not much has changed. It may even be worse now than it was last year.
Good or bad, one game doesn’t make a season. Yet the signs are daunting and the smoke is visible.

The Ravens offense just doesn’t look big league and they struggle mightily when teams mix up zone coverages and get pressure with four or five pass rushers. They don’t seem to adjust in game, preferring to stick with an obviously faulty game plan. Is it Cameron? Is it Flacco? Is it both?

There are subtle things that might not go on the stat sheet but things that better offenses do that the Ravens are seemingly incapable of. They have no sense of urgency; they look confused; they lack leadership; they can’t get to the line in time to check out of plays; they don’t change up cadence and place and already challenged line at a greater disadvantage; and they seem to refuse to try a no huddle before it’s too late to change the pace, tempo or more importantly the results.

Quite simply put, Cameron’s offense just looks dysfunctional and the fear is they will bumble away another outstanding season for the defense, like this organization has so many times before.

Something has to give – something has to change.

Apologists will argue that this is just one game, a momentary lapse of reasoning. But is it?

Consider the games against the Titans, Jets and Jaguars, even the Texans – all subpar offensive efforts. The Ravens are 20th in the league overall on offense; they are dead last in red zone efficiency among teams with winning records; and Joe the Quarterback is 19th in the league in QB rating with a very pedestrian 76.2.

How can they expect to be a title contender with such egregious inconsistencies on offense?

Soon the Ravens will have to make a decision about the future of their offense. You can’t fire all of the players so the crosshairs will center upon Cameron. Harbaugh managed to save Cameron for 2011 and he can thank Steve Bisciotti and the lock out for winning that battle. But you have to wonder where it goes in 2012.

Do the Ravens give Cameron another shot and risk losing the defense? Wouldn’t it be wise to see what Flacco can do free from the Cameron’s play calling, particularly in a contract year? Apart maybe we can really see where the fault lies.

But nothing will change this year. There’s not a coach on staff who is equipped to design and implement a game plan or make the in game calls – and that includes Harbaugh.

So how do they get better?

Well for starters they all need to stop kissing each other’s ass and be accountable. Cameron could start by stop being such an apologist for his inconsistent QB. Harbaugh can start saying things like, “I blew it by going for the onsides kick!” Flacco might want to accept responsibility for the offense’s lack of tempo, confidence and sense of urgency. Take control and please spare me the, “Well that’s not really part of Joe’s make up!” because IT BETTER BE! If he doesn’t have it, force it upon him and if he can’t take it, get him the hell out of the way.

In today’s NFL quarterbacks must be leaders. They can’t just hitch their wagon to a great defense.

The time has come for someone on offense to take charge and if they don’t there will be more meltdowns like yesterday.

One looms on November 6 if they aren’t careful.

THE GOOD, BAD, UGLY & THE MEGAN FOX: Flacco's play like a fart in a phone booth

The Baltimore Ravens won’t admit it but they are so hard up to have a franchise quarterback that as an organization they are willing to look away and away and away from the inefficiencies of Joe Flacco. They will stick their heads so deep in the dirt hoping that when they shrug off the topsoil and raise their collective head that Flacco actually has a game face of confidence.

Dive back in the dirt – Flacco looks like he’s seen a ghost.

Who you gonna call?

The guy just doesn’t have “it”. After 3 plus seasons isn’t it painfully obvious that he will never be a Top 10 QB in the NFL?

When all is right in the world and the Ravens have a lead, are at home and they are running the ball ok, Flacco can do some damage. But when things unfold as they did in Jacksonville, Flacco is like a ship without a rudder. He’s lost in space and possesses the poise of Rainman when he’s about to miss the next episode of “Wheel of Fortune” or heaven forbid, he farts in a phone booth.

Maybe that should be the name of the team’s offense – Farts in a Phone Booth.

I mean why not, they stink!

How many Super Bowl caliber teams have ever said, “Hey remember in Week 7 it took us almost 2 ½ quarters to get a first down against a 1-5 football team?”

Yes that’s a rhetorical question.

Look, there is no redeeming quality, silver lining or something to build on in this Debacle by the Landing. Going forward it will be all about will, determination and desire. I have no doubt that the defense is willing to suck it up and respond to this adversity.

As for the offense, let’s just say they might be Pittsburgh’s favorite unit in the NFL. Is there any doubt that Steelers’ fans were dancing in the street and rejoicing in their new position atop the AFC North as a result of the inept performances of Joe Flacco, Ray Rice & Cam Cameron?

I can’t help but think back to Steve Bisciotti’s comments pertaining to the team’s offensive coordinator -- “we like Cam under fire.”


Maybe it's time to shoot, aim and FIRE!

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Congrats Ray!

Big props to Ray Lewis for being the first member into the 40-30 club (sack-interception). To continue to play at such a high level in his 16th season is a physiological marvel. This man, this leader will be incredibly missed and only when he’s gone will we fully realize just what he means to the Baltimore Ravens. As Ravens fans we’ve been blessed by No. 52 whose echo in Charm City’s heritage will nearly approach that of Johnny U.

Say Your Prayers!

During Sunday’s game against the Texans, the first half ended with a Hail Mary pass from Matt Schaub into the Ravens end zone. On the play Chuck Pagano, after a time out mind you, decided to rush only 1 player, Terrell Suggs. The other 2 defenders at the line of scrimmage could have called Domino’s and got their delivery. They just stood there.

In hindsight, Schaub could have stood there too and waited until a player decided to break out of the end zone cluster and then completed a TD pass. Chuck, here’s hoping you take that play to the shredder. If another team has an opportunity to “pray” against the Ravens and they’ve seen this method of defending the prayer, it could prove costly.

Above Average NFL Quarterbacks

Carson Palmer is heading to Oakland! I must admit that I didn’t think Palmer would play this season and that he’d be involved in a draft day trade next year. But a possible two No. 1 picks is really hard to turn down, particularly for a guy who almost can’t return as a Bengal. Big win for Mike Brown and Marvin Lewis.

The deal places a lot of pressure on Palmer. Can he step out of the gym and on to the field and justify the hefty price tag? One thing going for Palmer is a great running game which might become even better since the big right hander’s resume commands more respect than Jason Campbell and certainly the next man up, Kyle Boller.

Trades don’t happen often in the NFL. Being the ultimate team game, it’s hard to pull and plug players from one system to another and expect similar results. This isn’t baseball. But given all of the frustration from fans regarding Joe Flacco, I wondered if given the opportunity to make this same deal and you were Ozzie Newsome, would you?

I happen to consider Flacco to be an above average quarterback and in the case of the NFL that means he had to fall in the top 15 quarterbacks. If you take Peyton Manning out of the equation because we aren’t exactly sure at this time if he’ll ever resume his career, the top 15 in my opinion are:

Tom Brady
Drew Brees
Aaron Rodgers
Philip Rivers
Ben Roethlisberger
Sam Bradford
Matt Stafford
Matt Schaub
Josh Freeman
Michael Vick
Matt Ryan
Joe Flacco
Tony Romo
Eli Manning
Ryan Fitzpatrick

Arguments could be made that Cam Newton, Jay Cutler, Kevin Kolb, Matt Hasselbeck and Mark Sanchez all belong in this grouping. Some might argue that players like Andy Dalton and Colt McCoy will soon be part of this group. And certainly Carson Palmer qualifies as above average. Add it up and that’s 23 quarterbacks, probably 12 of which could jockey for the bottom five spots in the Top 15.

Where does Flacco sit in your opinion?

And if you have him towards the bottom third of the top 15 it remains an interesting, volatile and debatable question, “Would you trade an above average QB for 2 No. 1’s?” You can vote here.

The Palmer deal might evolve into a win-win but if the Bengals don’t bungle those picks, it is a big win for them particularly since Palmer was never going to take another snap as a Bengal and Mike Brown’s dusty wallet can remain dusty. He won’t have to pick it up to pay Palmer again.

And I thought that the cinema adaptation of Mike Brown’s life would feature the dude from Weekend at Bernie’s! Brown deserves credit for this fleecing.

It's 1 O'clock Somewhere!

One thing that as a fan I can’t get behind is a night game. I hate night games at M&T. Sure the national stage has some allure to it and your team gets exposure but I’d rather speak softly and carry a big stick; fly under the radar and pull a surprise attack. Besides, if you are like me and enjoy a great tailgating event, it’s always nice to do have a nice opening act (pregame tailgating) followed by the headliner (the game) and of course an encore is quite nice (the postgame tailgate).

Night games, you lose the encore and it’s replaced by miles of red tail lights because nearly everyone leaves at the same time when it’s midnight.

Just give me some good old fashioned, “It’s 1 o’clock somewhere!”

The Main Event

Why is it that Jim Harbaugh and Jim Schwartz won’t be fined for their little stiff arms while Ray Rice gets a $7,500 bill for his – one that was so offensive it wasn’t even penalized on the field.

On the surface it looks to me like Schwartz overreacted but then who knows if Harbaugh said anything to the Lions’ skipper after the exchange. Some of you may recall that Schwartz was a Ravens assistant during the Marchibroda years – one of which Jim Harbaugh was the Ravens QB. There are rumors floating about that the two never really liked each other back then.

Hey how about a 3 round bout for charity guys?

Proceeds will go to the RPA.

I’m sure the Commish could get behind that…

Fines, fines everywhere there's fines!

Count me among those who think the fines in the NFL are out of control. Count me also among those who think that these unruly fines are part of a conspiracy.

Stay with me here…

It’s no secret that the Retired Players Association wasn’t exactly thrilled with their slice of the pie in the newest Collective Bargaining Agreement. Law suits have been tossed around and meetings were scheduled between God Goodell and the RPA to try and settle the differences.

But perhaps to ease the pain, $25,000 fines are being levied as quickly as those cameras around the Baltimore Metro area can take a picture of your license plate for keeping up with traffic and mailing you an invitation to pay $40. It’s ridiculous. Matt Birk was fined $5,000 by the league for taking a mic out of his shoulder pads (one that the league requires to enhance viewer enjoyment for the game’s sights and sounds) because it was sticking him in the neck.

So what does this have to do with the RPA? Well those retired players are the beneficiaries of those fines. Maybe this is Goodell’s way of still getting what the owners wanted at the bargaining table for the retirees without it costing the owners.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Danger in the Meadowlands?

The Baltimore Ravens and the New York Jets have more in common than just Rex Ryan, Bart Scott and Jim Leonhard. The temperament of the 2007 vintage Ravens and the 2011 Jets seem to be about the same. Back in ’07 there was a lot of frustration simmering at the surface during Brian Billick’s last season with the team. They got off to a 4-2 start after an ugly win in San Francisco (9-7) and a win against a hapless St. Louis Rams (22-3) at home. But despite the decent start, you knew things weren’t right.

Following that win over the Rams the Ravens would go on a 9 game losing streak, including a loss to the then winless, Cam Cameron led Dolphins – the only win Cameron had as a head coach. The streak ended on a gift from the Steelers whose playoff seeding was set, win or lose game 16.

Given the offensive struggles of the Jets in 2011, a defense that isn’t performing to its standards and their volatile temperament fostered by the head coach, this season could turn on the Jets like the Ravens ’07 season. And the balance of their schedule suggests this isn’t an impossibility or just wishful thinking on the part of yours truly.

Mason deserves more from B'more!

For the life of me I don’t get all the hate and bile directed towards Derrick Mason from Baltimore Ravens fans. All Mason did during his 6 seasons in Baltimore was to give all that he had. Sure he yapped when things weren’t going well offensively and ok, I get that the needle leaned towards the selfish side but from his arrival in B’more to his departure, no one was a more consistent or more reliable starter than Derrick Mason.

No one!

Mason never missed a game as a Raven, playing in 96 consecutive regular season games and 8 playoff games. He is the franchise’s all-time leading receiver in receptions (471) and yards (5,777). He was also a leader on offense, a role normally reserved for the quarterback but given the temperament of the men behind center the Ravens have employed, Mason seemed more like the offensive alpha male than anyone else.

He played fearlessly, practiced hard and always respected the game.

If the Ravens had 53 Derrick Masons during his 6 season here, there would be another Lombardi Trophy in the Ravens’ trophy case at The Castle.

Monday, October 17, 2011

The Good, Bad, Ugly & The Megan Fox: Ravens v. Texans

The Ravens entered yesterday’s game against the Texans well rested. Many believed that besides rest the down time might be spent on self-scouting and refining some of the areas where the team needed some polish, such as in red zone efficiency and in chemistry building along the offensive front. If they did invest some sweat equity in those areas, yesterday produced no dividends.

The game was a rather strange one since it isn’t often that you see a team win by 15 points while losing the turnover battle by -2 and the other team converts 5 of their first 6 third down attempts from more than 8 yards out. But like a pitcher who wins without his good stuff, the Ravens found a way to improve their record to 4-1. If this team can correct their red zone woes (more on that later), develop some consistency in pass protection and get some key contributors like Ben Grubbs, Lee Evans, Jimmy Smith and Chris Carr healthy, then a solid argument can be made that the Ravens are the AFC’s best.

THE GOOD: Arian Foster is a very good back. That said he had a very bad game and if not for 3 dropped passes and several slips on cutback attempts during stretch runs, we might be talking about a different outcome or at the very least a closer game. But give the Ravens front seven along with help from safeties Ed Reed and Bernard Pollard their due for taking Foster out of the game, winning first down and forcing Matt Schaub into 16 third down conversion attempts that on average were just shy of 7yards…Jarret Johnson was an anchor on the edge and also menacing when rushing Schaub. He had a momentum sustaining sack of Schaub in the third quarter…Lardarius Webb has been very steady at corner and pound for pound is one of the team’s best tacklers. He was beaten a couple of times in man coverage on slants but if not for razor sharp precision from Schaub each of those passes could have been knocked down. Webb minimized the damage each time with an immediate take down.

Ray Rice needs to touch the football no less than 20 times per contest because eventually he’ll break off a play of 20 or more yards…Joe Flacco continues to struggle in the red zone but give him his due for delivering in the face of extreme pressure between the 20’s. His fourth quarter toss to Anquan Boldin from his own 25 yard line which was caught at the Texans’ 20 traveled no less than 60 yards (thrown from outside the right hash to the far side of the left hash). What made the throw a thing of beauty was its accuracy given the fact that Flacco was sent tumbling immediately after completing the throw…Speaking of Boldin, his strong hands alone should invite attempts by Flacco because he consistently comes up with catches even in tight coverage. He just needs a chance to make a play on the ball. He had 8 snags for 132 yards.

Torrey Smith had a productive day and like his sidekick Boldin he would have eclipsed the 100 yard mark had Flacco thrown to him a little sooner in the second quarter when running a 9 route from the Texans 24… Brendan Ayanbadejo made a great tackle after a Schaub to Owen Daniel pitch and catch. If Ayanbadejo misses that take down, it could have gone for six…Danny Gorrer gave defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano some quality snaps yesterday in nickel packages…

THE BAD: The Ravens red zone offense is among the league’s worst (ranked 27th entering the game). The stats will show that they were 2 of 4 in the red zone yesterday but 1 score was aided by an outstanding run by Rice to the Texans’ 4 and if not for two personal fouls by Antonio Smith giving the Ravens a fresh set of downs twice while inside the 2, they could have easily been forced to settle for 3 on their opening drive…Joe Flacco badly overthrew a wide open Ed Dickson during the waning moments of the first half. That connection would have at the very least provided an opportunity for 3. Instead, it was intercepted by Johnathan Joseph…

Dickson should be on the field for every offensive snap. He’s just a matchup nightmare. But yesterday, he was on the sidelines quite a bit. After a closer look, his suspect blocking more than likely cost the young tight end snaps in the first half. One missed pass pro assignment nearly sent Flacco head over heels into Ostend Street…Fellow tight end Dennis Pitta looked a bit out of sorts and obviously on a different page than Flacco. With more time to prepare for this game coming off the bye, one would think this potentially productive combination would be more finely tuned. Pitta added a false start to boot deep in Ravens territory…Two players usually as dependable as death and taxes were off their games – Terrell Suggs and Marshal YandaJohn Harbaugh mismanaged the clock at the end of the first half. When you are at home and you genuinely believe that you are fielding a high level quarterback, you don’t allow the opponent to burn off the play clock when they are facing a third and 12 from their own 18 with 1:15 left in the half and 2 timeouts.

THE UGLY: Flacco continues to show inconsistent pocket awareness and if his fumbling continues it could prove costly on the road…The Ravens better get it together in the red zone or it will cost them in the future particularly when playing tough opponents outside the comfy confines of M&T…The secondary had a costly breakdown in the third quarter when Pollard committed his coverage to Owen Daniel running a crossing route, vacating his area on the field despite Daniel already attracting three defenders. Ed Reed couldn’t close in time and it ended with a 32 yard scoring strike to Jacoby Jones.

THE MEGAN FOX: Billy Cundiff set a club mark with seven touchbacks, one of which sailed into the third row of the end zone seats in the east end of the stadium. He also was flawless in five field goal attempts despite some tricky crosswinds. A few seasons ago when Matt Stover retired, we all expected to miss his consistency. Outside of the Hauschka hiccup season, Cundiff has made the transition from the Ravens ROH member seamless.

And that’s saying a lot!