Sunday, November 27, 2011

THE GOOD, BAD, UGLY & THE MEGAN FOX: Ravens v. 49ers

Thanksgiving is my favorite of holidays. Just the thought of this day of thanks stirs up warm tinglies as families gather to spend time together and to focus at least for a day upon all that they have instead of regretting what they don’t have or fretting over what they aspire to have.

There’s a calm about Thanksgiving. It’s like calling a timeout in the game of life. Thanksgiving allows you to exhale; to look around you and at your loved ones; consider who you are and what you are because of them.

It’s serene and pure in its beautiful simplicity.

And this Thanksgiving was the most beautiful of all. And the game time pleasantry of 53 degrees for a November 24, 2011 8:29PM kickoff certainly added to it.

Before moving on to the game I have a confession…I am a 49ers fan. No they aren’t my number 1 and anyone within earshot of me on Thursday Night knows for certain who is. But when the Colts left Baltimore, I became a 49ers fan. The 80’s and 90’s 49ers were easy to root for and I couldn’t help but gravitate to a quarterback with a smallish frame and somewhat limited physical skills who was a winner. Joe Montana reminded me of Johnny U in many ways.

So I quietly pull for the Niners except when their success negatively impacts the Ravens.

You see unlike too many Baltimore citizens who adopted different teams when the Colts left town, I immediately dropped the Niners to No. 2 in the pecking order – and it’s not even a close second. Civic pride means a little more to me than those sellouts who remain Colts or Steelers fans.

Just sayin’…

Now, let’s get it on!

THE GOOD: Joe Flacco threaded a few important passes into some tight windows. His two tosses to Dennis Pitta, one to Ed Dickson and a slant to Torrey Smith immediately come to mind. Flacco managed the game well and did not predetermine his throws and force passes into places he should not. His deep post to Torrey Smith was spot on and hit the arm-barred rookie in stride resulting in a 50 yard penalty…The offensive line was outstanding in pass protection and they kept their signal caller clean all night. It is no small coincidence that this unit has been markedly improved since the return of Ben Grubbs…Vonta Leach on separate occasions annihilated the 49ers highly touted inside linebacker duo of Patrick Willis and NaVorro Bowman…

Lardarius Webb is becoming a playmaker and he’s steadily improved his technique throughout the season. That improvement was on full display as he blanketed the much bigger Braylon Edwards to intercept an Alex Smith toss near the end of the first half…Bernard Pollard was a great pickup by Ozzie Newsome and what he lacks in pass coverage is more than made up for by the impact plays he does make and his menacing enforcer-like presence between the hash marks. He led the team with 8 tackles…Lee Evans made only 1 grab for 8 yards yet its importance cannot be understated. Evans caught a third and 7 pass a few yards short of the sticks yet he did his best LaGarrette Blount impersonation and drove defender Carlos Rogers forward and beyond the first down marker. The effort kept what would eventually be the game’s only touchdown drive alive…Defensive Coordinator Chuck Pagano was masterful with his personnel groupings and protecting a thin group of inside linebackers.

THE BAD: It seems almost a weekly occurrence that something or someone that special teams coordinator Jerry Rosburg touches ends up here. The kick return teams and kick coverage teams continue to struggle and in a game where field position was critical, Rosburg’s units did little to tilt the field in the Ravens’ favor. Ted Ginn, Jr. averaged 31 yards on 3 returns and by now Rosburg must be holding his breath each time Billy Cundiff fails to nail a touchback…David Reed dressed on Thursday night and again he showed up on film for all of the wrong reasons. This time he was deeked by punt returner Ginn and consequently failed to find a perfectly placed punt by Sam Koch and pin the Niners inside their own 5…The Niners conversion of a third and 17 from their own 26. OUCH!

THE UGLY: Cam Cameron’s short yardage and red zone offense continue to be putrid. Over the course of the last two games the Ravens are 2 of 9 attempts when facing a third and 2 or less. And in the red zone against the 49ers Cameron’s crew ran 12 plays in total for a net of just 17 yards. The quarterback draw call was a joke and detected before the snap by Patrick Willis. Flacco running the ball is akin to Robert Plant playing lead guitar for Led Zeppelin. And while the Ravens pattern of following up a successful second down pass play with a quick QB sneak to convert a third and 1 or less is usually a plus tactical move, not having a plan B when the defense has that scouted out is rather embarrassing. When it was obvious that the Niners had the play snuffed, Flacco stood behind center looking like a child in a shopping mall who couldn’t find his mother…The 12 men on the field penalty against the Ravens defense AFTER a timeout on fourth and 3 at the Ravens 40 with 0:23 on the clock is inexcusable.

THE MEGAN FOX: The defensive front four was outstanding. They held Frank Gore who had been averaging close to 100 yards per game to 39 yards on 14 attempts. And they were absolutely menacing to Alex Smith who was sacked 9 times and hurried 12 other times. That accounts for nearly two-thirds of Smith’s 33 drop backs. Haloti Ngata had 2 sacks and 2 hurries and the underrated Cory Redding had 2 ½ sacks to go with 4 QB hurries. But the game’s MF Award Winner has to be Terrell Suggs not only for his production (3 sacks, 3 hurries, 1 forced fumble) but also for his on the field leadership given the absence of Ray Lewis. It was a T-Sizzling Thanksgiving.

In closing and getting back to what an absolutely memorable day this was, I’ve always believed that Thanksgiving is the true starting point of the Holiday Season eventually culminating for me with the spirit of Christmas. That spirit, regardless of your religious convictions is captured in the closing scene from the movie Scrooged starring Bill Murray. It absolutely represents the core of any faith.

This year, given how so many families have struggled, so many have lost loved ones to tragedies, even casualties of war, Murray’s message resonates perhaps even more today than when the show hit the big screen in 1988.

Watch the clip below.

Feel it.

May it put a little love in your heart, capture it, nurture it and replenish it and your spirit today, during The Season and every day of your life.

Happy Thanksgiving everyone!


Jerry B said...

Welcome back, TL! This was the best blog ever, not just for Ravens content, but for sentiment as well. You obviously have a big heart! Hard to add anything to your assessment, but your criticism of Cameron's short yardage offense is certainly warranted. I continue to believe that the Ravens are talented enough that they compensate for the OC's failures and win games in spite of, not because of, his coaching! Harbaugh commented after the game that he thought Cameron called a great game. Say what?! Further adds to the belief that any coaching changes post season will come from Bisciotti. As an aside, when the Colts snuck out of town in 1983, one of my sons "adopted" the Dolphins and the other, the Cowboys! Since the Ravens arrival, however, both have become ardent Ravens fans, but no doubt, like you, have their #2 teams as well. Best wishes to you and yours this holiday season........

Ben said...

Hey Tony,

One person I think you left out of the bad category might have been Ray Rice. Seriously.

Why is it that Ray is never accountable for the runninng game struggles? I know we were facing the #1 rush D but if I have to watch Ray Rice run up Marshal Yanda's back one more time I'll scream!

That game (and subsequent SFX) helped show that he isn't on the same page with Vonte, and it's not Vonte's fault!

So with that being said I know he's our best offensive weapon, a matchup nightmare, and an all around great guy, but lets try and look at the run game objectively and the fact is he needs improvement in following his blocks.

Tony Lombardi said...


I have been saying that Ray is impatient in the running game and he doesn't allow the zone blocking to develop. What we saw on Sound FX (great show by the way) confirms that because he's not even allowing Leach to do what he does best.

I debated whether or not to list him among the bad but for the reasons you stated and those two beastly inside backers that the Niners have, I let it go.

I'll be watching this more closely in Cleveland.

Jerry B said...

Interesting observation, Ben. Hadn't given it much thought, but it seems a valid criticism. Of course, I'm just as critical of Cam Cam-MORON's "vanilla" schemes as pass routes that make our offense fairly easy to defend, particularly in the "red zone" and short yardage situations, so it may not be all Rice's fault.......