Coming into Sunday’s game against the New York Giants, it seemed as if the Baltimore Ravens were on life support. After three straight losses, the Ravens needed a win badly to regain momentum with the playoffs just a couple weeks down the road.
Following a dominating 33-14 win which clinched the AFC North, new life was breathed into the Ravens. On Sunday, Baltimore excelled in all three facets of the game: offense, defense and special teams.
Here are five observations from Sunday's win.
There is no question that Flacco is one of the more inconsistent quarterbacks in the league. One quarter he looks to be elite, and then a quarter later, he looks utterly confused.
Regardless of your opinion on him, Flacco is by far the best option to lead Baltimore. To be honest, there is no way Baltimore doesn't re-sign Flacco this offseason. The biggest question is whether he is signed to a long-term deal or franchised. More than likely he will get a long-term deal.
On Sunday, Flacco looked elite. He passed for 309 yards and two touchdowns while rushing for another score. This season the Ravens quarterback has thrown for 3,783 yards and 22 touchdowns against only 10 interceptions. On Sunday, Flacco set a new career-best in passing yards.
Flacco is by his best when he has time to throw. Unlike quarterbacks such as Ben Roethlisberger and Aaron Rodgers, he is unable to improvise and most likely never will. If the Ravens want to help Flacco, they should improve their offensive line this offseason.
In addition, Flacco has shown he is at his best when Baltimore runs the no-huddle. An up-tempo offense best suits Flacco because it limits what a defense can do.
If Flacco can play consistently next week and in the playoffs, it will go a long way in shutting up his doubters; then he will get the contract he wants.
Going up against a Giants front seven featuring pass-rushing specialists Jason Pierre-Paul and Osi Umenyiora, Baltimore dominated at the line of scrimmage.
New York’s pass-rushers were stonewalled Sunday as they didn’t register a single sack and only hit Flacco twice. Tackles Michael Oher and Kelechi Osememle put together their best games, giving Flacco plenty of time to find his receivers.
Getting a big boost from Marshal Yanda, who missed last week’s week game with a sprained ankle, the lineman paved the way for the rushing attack as well. Ray Rice and Bernard Pierce both rushed for over 100 yards, and as a team, Baltimore ran for 224 yards.
While we are on the topic of Yanda, I have to say, the Baltimore All-Pro guard is one of the toughest players in the league. After suffering a sprained ankle two weeks ago, Yanda returned to the field, playing with the toughness and tenacity that has made him one of the league’s best.
As mentioned, the key to this team's success on offense stems from this unit. Come playoff time, Baltimore success will have a direct correlation with how the linemen perform.
With two of its starters out (safety Bernard Pollard and cornerback Lardarius Webb) and facing a Giants receiving corps made up of Hakeem Nicks and Victor Cruz, Baltimore’s secondary rose to the occasion. Eli Manning passed for only 150 yards. He did throw one touchdown, but that was after the game was long out of reach.
Cornerbacks Cary Williams, Corey Graham and Chykie Brown shut down Cruz and Nicks. Nicks didn’t even record a catch, while Cruz had only three catches for 21 yards. Brown, in his second year out of Texas, played extremely will covering the deep ball and displaying toughness as a tackler.
Safety James Ihedigbo made his second consecutive start in place of Pollard and was active all game, lining up near the line of scrimmage helping in run support and playing back covering against the pass. Undrafted rookie safety Omar Brown even got into the action chipping in with his first career sack.
The Ravens will have a tough decision this offseason deciding whether to re-sign Williams. With the emergence of Brown and Graham, plus former first-round pick Jimmy Smith on the roster, Williams most likely is gone following this season.
In his first season as a starter, Paul Kruger has put together a very solid season for the Ravens defense. The linebacker leads Baltimore with eight sacks and is consistently putting pressure on the quarterback.
While he didn’t record a sack Sunday, Kruger was constantly getting after Manning. The fourth-year man out of Utah plays with a high motor and has become more physical up front.
He also has improved drastically from the beginning of the season at playing the run. Early on, Kruger struggled to hold the edge against outside runs, but as the season has progressed, he has become a rather good run defender.
You won’t hear much about Kruger, but he is one of the most consistent defenders Baltimore has and will only continue to get better.
I said the same thing last week, but I wholeheartedly believe Bernard Pierce will be a starting running back in the very near future.
The rookie posted his first career 100-yard game of his career Sunday, running for 123 yards. His 78-yard run in the fourth quarter displayed the immense talent Pierce has. Taking the handoff, Pierce made one cut and accelerated into the hole and made the safety miss. From there Pierce displayed his top end speed and nearly found the end zone, falling just a yard short.
Drafted out of Temple in the third round, Pierce ran for 1,481 yards and 27 touchdowns in his final season as an Owl. The back always seems to get positive yardage and has great vision.
He won’t be replacing Rice, but Pierce will be a starter in the NFL. He is too good not to get an opportunity later on his career. But for now, Pierce is a great complement to Rice.