Ravens Recap: Week Fifteen

Ravens Recap: Week Fifteen

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Baltimore Ravens wide receiver Kamar Aiken (11) pulls in a touchdown pass as Philadelphia Eagles strong safety Malcolm Jenkins (27) looks on during the first half of an NFL football game in Baltimore, Sunday, Dec. 18, 2016. (AP Photo/Nick Wass)

Following a heartbreaking loss to the out-of-division rival New England Patriots, the Baltimore Ravens got back on track to defeat the Philadelphia Eagles 27-26 in the final home game of the regular season.  Baltimore almost suffered a crushing defeat, narrowly escaping a nearly 10-point comeback by the Eagles, led by their rookie QB Carson Wentz.

The Ravens ended their day with a win, and would be wise to look immediately ahead to Christmas.

Baltimore looked like the better team for much of the day before collapsing in the final minutes.  The defense held on to a one-point lead by stopping Wentz’s offense on a two-point-conversion.

The Ravens finish the year with a 6-2 record at home, although many feel that the squad’s home-field advantage was not present for much of the year.  Here are my thoughts of yesterday’s final home victory.

What I Liked

  1. Running Game.  Baltimore’s running game has shown flashes of potential throughout the year.  First, after Justin Forsett’s departure, as Terrance West was given the reigns as the team’s feature back.  West proved he could carry the load by himself if need be.  The running game improved yet again with the emergence of Kenneth Dixon.  The two running backs now share Baltimore’s backfield with a 50/50 workload.  Both backs are young, powerful, and can catch passes out of the backfield.  The running game gained 151 yards on the ground yesterday while adding 45 yards through the air.  West and Dixon deserve to be the RBs of the future.  Once Baltimore hires an Offensive Coordinator who can commit to the run game, these two will become household names in the NFL.
  1. “The Decision”.  Or otherwise known as the play that brought Philadelphia back into the game.  Joe Flacco threw an interception in the redzone with 6:21 to play and a 10-point lead.  This play sparked an Eagles comeback and drew heat from fans and media.  Critics are knocking this play for being too aggressive, instead of running out the clock on a day when the running game was flourishing.  I can see why the play drew criticism, but I overall agreed with the call.  The offense was running the ball well, but Flacco was having an efficient game too.  Had he thrown a touchdown, it would’ve put the game away, and the call would’ve drawn praise.  I agreed with the call, just not Flacco’s awful decision on where he threw the ball.  Flacco is a seasoned veteran and a Super Bowl MVP, there is nothing wrong with trusting him to throw the ball in that situation.
  1. Defensive Win.  The defense held on and won the game while facing adversity without their top cornerback in Jimmy Smith.  Zachary Orr made a great play on an interception of Wentz, and C.J. Mosley made the game-sealing deflection.  The secondary held up in the absence of their top cover man, albeit the Philadelphia receiving corps is nothing to brag about.  Don’t expect repeat performances against Pittsburgh and Cincinnati without Jimmy Smith.

What I Didn’t Like

  1. Run Defense.  The run defense unexpectedly faltered on a day where all starters in the front seven were healthy and playing.  The Eagles gained 169 yards on the ground, and were more efficient than Wentz’s passing game by the end of the day.  Philadelphia averaged 4.4 yards per carry, yet only 4 yards per passing attempt.  That’s a telling story when the opposing running game can out-gain their QB.  The run defense has been the backbone of Baltimore’s unit the entire season.  It is unlikely that the team could still be successful barring a collapse of the league’s No. 2 ranked run defense.
  1. Weekly Penalties.  It’s tiring as a viewer to see the Ravens shoot themselves in the foot week after week with penalties.  Early in the game, Eric Weddle baited Wentz into throwing it deep and picked off what would have been his 5th interception of the season.  The play was called back because of a holding penalty by Zachary Orr.  If there is one thing the 2016 Baltimore Ravens do consistently, it is getting penalties.  This is a problem the Ravens won’t be able to change, so winning games will come down to overcoming self-inflicted wounds.
  1. Flacco’s Interception.  What a terrible decision by a veteran quarterback.  This was simply a bad throw, at the worst possible time.  With the game on the line, the coaches trusted Flacco to put the game away, and he made a mistake.  The Eagles were instantly back in a game that at that point they had no business being in.  That won’t fly from here on out, especially without Jimmy Smith.  The team escaped without a total collapse, and they must quickly forget about it.  Flacco made a mistake, it happens, but it cannot happen again.

Overall Opinion

  • When it’s all said and done, a win is a win.  Baltimore needed this win or its playoff chances were finished, and they delivered.  The run game was on point, Flacco played a mostly efficient game, aside from one play, and the defense didn’t allow a rookie QB to steal a win.  I deem that a successful game battling in the face of adversity.  The team, which has been conservative in the past with a lead, played aggressively.  That is a good mentality going forward, but Baltimore’s Super Bowl MVP quarterback needs to make better decisions.

Week Sixteen Preview

  • Baltimore quickly turned its attention to Pittsburgh following their thrilling win over Philadelphia.  This game likely decides the AFC North standings in 2016.  If the Ravens cannot win in Pittsburgh, they cannot win the division, regardless of the Week Seventeen outcome.  This game will be much different than the first matchup back in Week Nine.  Back then both Ben Roethlisberger and Terrell Suggs were coming off major injury.  Since, neither has missed a game, and both are playing great football in their mid-thirties.  If Baltimore is without Jimmy Smith, the defense will need to have an aggressive and creative game plan to get to Roethlisberger before Antonio Brown tears into the secondary.  Smith has historically done a great job covering the wide receiver.  Baltimore’s run defense must tighten up against Pittsburgh’s dual threat RB, as well.  Look for this game to come down to the wire, a common theme in Baltimore vs. Pittsburgh.