AFC Championship: Gone in 15 Yards

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AFC Championship: Gone in 15 Yards

Let’s start the way we have to...What a season. What a freaking season. We might not be happy to say it today, but Ravens fans cannot walk away from the run these Ravens made with any regrets.

But that is plenty of sappiness. Real football talk to follow.

The Ravens were simply one-upped tonight. They were in this game until the bitter end—six minutes to play, even—and it is hard to complain about a game that stayed so close for so long. A game that was winnable in so many ways until that six minute mark.

 

The Blame Game

Darren Stone: 40 Percent. Steep, I know, but deserving. Stone cost the Ravens upwards of 30 yards of field position on the most crucial drive of the game. Instead of starting near their own 45 yard line, the Ravens started all the way at their own 14. And instead of needing to game between 20 and 30 yards to get into field goal range, they suddenly needed more than 50 yards.

It changed everything. All because Stone wanted to get a lick in that didn’t faze his man anyway. When the Ravens hit the field, Flacco and the entire unit were pressured to pass and get big yardage. And that pressure is a big part of why Troy Polamalu wound up in the end zone just minutes later.

 

Wide Receiving Corps: 25 Percent. The blame here is for a few reasons. First and foremost, for their inability to get open. Flacco was rushed often, sure. But just as often Joe Cool had mountains of time in the pocket and no one to throw to. Good teams, good receivers, can use time to get open.

The Ravens were not able to do that. Part of it should be a credit to the Steelers pass defense. Part of it falls on the Ravens receivers.

But in addition to their inability to get open, the receivers deserve some blame for just being lazy. There were multiple times—multiple—where Ravens runners were taken down by defenders that should have been blocked.

Hines Ward may be hated, but he does his job as a blocker. To Mark Clayton and Derrick Mason: You need to run, and hit your defender. Don’t just assume he is going to let you block him.

 

Cam Cameron: 25 Percent. Cam has done wonderful things for the Ravens this season. His development of Joe Flacco is just the tip of the iceberg. His play calling in recent games has slipped, however. The Ravens were running plays that took far too long to develop—the kind of plays that never stood a chance against a solid Pittsburgh defense.

Additionally, the run game was effective but too often abandoned. Le’Ron McClain was not busting out as he has in the past, but both Willis McGahee (hoping he is okay) and Ray Rice were having success getting around the corner on the Steelers.

The Ravens needed to use that more. What was most disappointing about Cameron’s play-calling, though, was the timing. The Ravens wasted too many time outs and too much of their game clock waiting for Cam to find his perfect play.

How are Flacco or the offensive line supposed to make adjustments  to the defensive scheme with just moments to snap the ball? They simply cannot.

 

Joe Flacco: 10 Percent. Joe Cool was still Joe Cool. But the game finally caught up to him. His passes actually had more zip than normal, especially downfield, but his accuracy was off. The Steelers were able to confuse Flacco and force misreads and mistakes. Ultimately, Joe made several mistakes that seriously cost the Ravens.

Next up...Mythbusting...

Mythbusting

Myth: Willie Parker would change the game.

Actuality: The Ravens' defense handled Fast Willie and he was never a factor in the game. In fact, as predicted earlier, the Steelers’ desire to put the ball in Parker’s hands may have actually cost them some points.

Sure, they needed to at least pretend like a running team, but using Parker on swings and play-fakes would have been far more dangerous to a battered Ravens defense.

 

Myth: Flacco’s inexperience would be trounced by Roethlisberger’s veteran guile.

Actuality: I would not say it was Flacco’s inexperience that cost him the game or many plays. The Ravens offense had plenty of issues as a unit and Flacco hardly deserves the blame. Flacco had this team in a position to win with just minutes left.

Roethlisberger, for all his veteran guile, took some costly sacks. Just like Flacco. Neither quarterback won or lost the game for their team.

 

Myth: You can beat the Ravens deep.

Actuality: Ok, so the Steelers almost got the Ravens here thanks to that guy with the weird name (I know, I know...it’s Lemony Snicket or something). But much like in previous games, the Ravens were hurt most by mid-range passes and missed tackles.

Santonio Holmes and Nate Washington were both benefactors of poor corner coverage on broken plays. But throwing deep was rarely an option for the Steelers and that is a huge part of what kept the Ravens in the game.

nderneath, an offense actually has to execute to score. Over the top, anything can happen - mostly for the Ravens good.

Next up...Gameballs...

Gameballs

Offense: Willis McGahee, RB. Willis had a nice comeback day. While his running was fine (nothing special, but fine) and his scores kept things close, it was his blocking that had me on my feet. I have been on McGahee’s back all season for lack of effort, but today it was all on the field.

Defense: Terrell Suggs, LB. As previously mentioned, Suggs had a great day. A pair of sacks and a ton of effort.

Special Teams: Jim Leonhard. Leonhard’s big punt return set-up the Ravens first scoring drive and changed the game. He dropped an earlier punt but recovered nicely on the play and through the rest of the game.

 

Other Thoughts

  • The Ravens' defense was hardly on its best game, but who can blame them. By the middle of the second quarter, the Ravens' defensive secondary was ready to start Mark Clayton and Derrick Mason as necessary.
  • In the trenches, the Ravens defensive line had their typical success in pressuring Big Ben and flushing him from the pocket. At the same time, they had their typical issue wrapping the massive quarterback up. A number of Ravens missed big tackles. As the Rex Ryan era ends in Baltimore (the move to New York seems imminent now), we might just see a defense more focused on making the play, not creating a highlight.
  • Want to talk about heart? Let’s talk Terrell Suggs. Two sacks, both meaningful, while playing with a harnessed right arm. Wrapping up instead of going for the big hit paid off. It took Suggs a quarter to figure out how to move and play with the harness, but he did it.
  • And the Emmy goes to… Mitch Berger. He was on the ground before Tori Smith even hit him. He also deserves kudos for his monster tackle on Jim Leonhard (cut back, Jimmy!). But it was his massive flop that cost the Ravens three points. Walt Anderson and crew did a great job all game, until that moment. At the worst, I expected a five-yard running into the kicker. I was wrong.
  • Speaking of officials: Thank you for staying out of the way. With the exception of the above roughing call above, they did a fine job. The only other call that almost bothered me was the holding call on Jared Gaither, negating a nice gain. Was it holding? Sure. Had they been calling holding all game? No. Meanwhile, the Santonio Holmes touchdown review was technically correct—but might not have been in the spirit of the rule. That’s a replay world, though.
  • Sam Koch had a bit of an off day. It took Koch about a half to figure out what he was doing. In the second half, the Ravens were winning the field position battle in part thanks to a rejuvenated offense, but also thanks to Koch’s kicks.

 

Back later in the week with grades, end of season awards, flash-forward, and overall reviews. Stay tuned.

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