The Baltimore Ravens faced their toughest opponent of the season and came out looking like a team with major work to do. The New England Patriots won their 11th game of the season by the score 30-23 over Baltimore. One week after Joe Flacco’s offense exploded against Miami, the Ravens took a few steps back.
The defense did their job early, forcing punts on Tom Brady’s first three drives (two of which were 3-and-outs). The offense did not get going despite the defense’s early dominance, causing the defense to wear out quickly and allowing Brady to pick them apart. The special teams made mistakes early, but were also the reason Baltimore could force its way back into the game after halftime.
It was a disappointing loss for a team with its eye on the post season, but overall, the AFC North division is in their hands. Even after the defeat, Baltimore will win the division if they win the final three games of the season. No relying on other teams to lose, just relying on themselves to handle their business.
If they can’t win the last three games (vs. Philadelphia, @ Pittsburgh, @ Cincinnati), then they do not belong in the playoffs. Here are my thoughts on last night’s Prime Time defeat.
What I Liked
- Eric Weddle. Yes, he took the blame for the 79-yard touchdown midway through the 4th quarter. Maybe it was his fault, maybe it wasn’t (Matt Elam fell on the play). Besides that play, Weddle balled out against the Patriots, especially when Jimmy Smith went down with injury. Weddle recorded his 4th pick of the year, stalling Brady’s offense in the redzone with a chance to go up 23-0. On the next drive, he sacked Brady on 3rd down, ending the drive. Justin Tucker then kicked a field goal, making it 16-3 just before half. That’s a 10-point-swing that kept the game within reach just before half. All thanks to Weddle.
- Turnovers In Foxborough. Against Brady and Bill Belichick, turnovers are often hard to come by for opposing defenses, especially on the road. Weddle picked off Brady’s 2nd pass of the season, while the special teams forced two fumbles in 14 seconds. Those fumbles accounted for 14 points for Baltimore, and they found themselves back in a game they once were losing by 20. Without these plays, it would’ve been a blowout by the time the 4th quarter started.
- Rattling Brady Early. The defense brought their A-game to Foxborough, especially early. Only when the offense let them down did they look tired and vulnerable to a Brady shredding. Early in the game though, the front seven was in Brady’s face consistently. He was seen throwing his helmet on the ground and screaming at teammates in the first quarter. Baltimore’s defense knows how to get under Brady’s skin, but they can’t win games by themselves.
- Sure Tackling. In recent seasons, tackling has been a major problem for the defense, especially in the passing game. Tavon Young and Zachary Orr have changed that. Rarely do you see miscues by either first-year starter in the open field. The defense has limited big plays for the most part this season, and it’s due to better fundamentals in the tackling department.
What I Didn’t Like
- Zero Urgency When Game Within Reach. After the Ravens clawed back into the game and were within 3 points, they gave up a 79-yard touchdown. Down 10 points, (minimum two possessions), and with 6:18 left on the clock, Baltimore had time to come back. On the ensuing drive the offense seemed to forget they were down by 10 points. Players were slow to the line of scrimmage, and unnecessary seconds were wasted after every play. Flacco’s biggest flaw is his lack of urgency when the game is on the line. He doesn’t speed things up and he takes time before each snap. There’s no pressure to score quick. Baltimore kicked a field goal with 2:03 left, and never got the ball again.
- Slow Start On Offense. As I have stated before in past recaps, starting slow and eventually still winning a game won’t fly against the Patriots. The defense did everything the offense could’ve asked on the first three drives, yet the offense couldn’t score. In the first half alone they could only score 3 points. Teams don’t beat Tom Brady with no offense, no matter how great their defense is. Baltimore came out passing often, just as it did against Miami, but proved not nearly as successful against Belichick’s defense. Flacco’s offense buried them in a hole that 3 gift-wrapped turnovers couldn’t dig them out of.
- Penalties. Penalties have been a problem all year, and for much of John Harbaugh’s tenure with Baltimore. The Ravens finished with 8 penalties for 47 yards. The yards were mild compared to other games, but simple mistakes led to penalties often when the game was on the line. Baltimore continues to shoot itself in its own foot. Consistently committing holding calls and false starts on 3rd-and-shorts and 4th downs are unacceptable in January.
- Relying On Dump-Offs. Flacco threw the ball at will against Miami, but not the same could be said in New England. Early in the game, Flacco missed open receivers often. Late in the game, as Flacco heated up, receivers were allowing interceptions (Mike Wallace) or not looking for the ball (Breshad Perriman). With no running game in sight, and the middle of the field consistently covered by linebackers and safeties, Flacco looked for check-downs often. Kenneth Dixon ended the game with 11 catches, Terrance West with 4, and Kyle Juszczyk with 3. The offensive game plan must find more creative ways to get the balls in the hands of Steve Smith Sr., Mike Wallace, Breshad Perriman, and Dennis Pitta. Flacco thrives when his offense is creative.
- Injuries. Time, and time again, Jimmy Smith proves he is essential to defensive success in Baltimore. Without him, quarterbacks like Eli Manning, Dak Prescott, and Tom Brady have shredded the previously ranked No. 1 defense. Smith is as essential to the secondary as he is injury prone. The Ravens need him on the field, but he can’t seem to stay healthy when they need him most.
- As much as Baltimore and their fans wanted this, a win was not necessary to reach the post season this year. The road to the playoffs are still in the Ravens’ hands, as winning out will crown the squad AFC North Champions. A week after their best performance of the season, the offense reverted to their mistake-prone, streaky ways. Flacco knows how to play consistent, dominant football in the post season. Whether he can do that for 16 games straight in the regular season has yet to be seen. If Jimmy Smith’s injury is season-ending, the road to the play offs got that much harder. This was a good first test for a tough 4th quarter of the season, and Baltimore still has plenty of work to do.
Week Fifteen Preview
- Baltimore’s final home game will come against the Philadelphia Eagles, a game that has potential to be tougher than it looks. The Eagles and their rookie QB Carson Wentz started the season on fire, playing great defense and efficient offense. Their team has sizzled to the tune of a 5-8 record, with focus moving on to the 2017 season. Teams this late in the year live for the chance to ruin another team’s playoff chances. Flacco and his offense must get back on track and take care of business. The post season chances without a win against Philly are slim to none.