5 Observations from the Ravens' Playoff Win over the Colts

Kyle OlandCorrespondent IIJanuary 6, 2013

5 Observations from the Ravens' Playoff Win over the Colts

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    For the fifth straight year, the Baltimore Ravens won their first game of the playoffs, defeating the Indianapolis Colts 24-9 Sunday in front of a loud and boisterous crowd in Baltimore.

    In the final home game of the storied career of Ray Lewis, the Baltimore defense forced two turnovers and Joe Flacco threw for 282 yards and two touchdowns.

    Utilizing a strong running game that featured Ray Rice and Bernard Pierce, the Ravens wore down the Indianapolis defense en route to scoring two second-half touchdowns.

    Next week, the Ravens travel to Denver where they will face off against Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos for a spot in the AFC Championship Game.  

    Here are five observations from Sunday’s win over the Colts.

1. Ray Lewis May Be the Greatest Athlete to Ever Don a Baltimore Sports Jersey

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    In his final game at M&T Bank Stadium, Ray Lewis, playing with a brace on his ailing triceps, performed better than anyone could have expected. He finished with 13 tackles and one pass defended (a dropped interception).

    Lewis, the general of Baltimore’s defense for the past 17 seasons, returned to the field for the first time since Week 6 when he tore his triceps. Somehow, Lewis returned from an injury that would have ended a normal player’s season.

    All game Lewis ran around the field with reckless abandon as if he were playing like a man 10 years younger. With “We want Ray” chants filling M&T in the closing minutes of Sunday’s victory, Lewis came onto the field for the final play of the game in the victory formation.

    After the clock ticked to zero, Lewis made his trademark dance one last time on the field in Baltimore, cementing his status as one the greatest middle linebackers to play the game and the face of the city of Baltimore. 

2. Great Adjustments by Coaching Staff to Get Anquan Boldin Involved

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    In the first half of Sunday’s game, Anquan Boldin was not targeted a single time in the passing game. At halftime, the Baltimore coaching staff did a phenomenal job of adjusting and finding ways to get Boldin the ball. He finished with five receptions for 145 yards and a touchdown.

    Using a variety of double moves, Joe Flacco was able to find Boldin for big gains in the second half. In the third quarter alone, the veteran receiver had three catches for 106 yards. Boldin made two catches in particular deep down the right sideline that required an immense amount of concentration. Both changed the field position for the Ravens.  

    In the fourth quarter, with the Ravens clinging to an eight-point lead, Flacco found Boldin on a beautifully run post-corner rout for an 18-yard touchdown.

    As Baltimore continues its playoff run, it will need Boldin to keep producing at a high level. One of the strongest and most physical receivers in the league, Boldin just needs the ball to be in his vicinity for the big-bodied receiver to have a chance at coming down with the football. 

3. Ravens Made the Right Decision Inserting Bryant McKinnie at Left Tackle

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    With Jah Reid, the starter at left guard for much of the season, deactivated Sunday because of a toe injury, Bryant McKinnie took his place on the offensive line.

    Since McKinnie was inserted at left tackle, Michael Oher moved to right tackle and rookie Kelechi Osemele moved to left guard. This marked the first time all year that Baltimore went with the offensive line group it had Sunday.

    The Ravens could have played veteran Bobbie Williams at left guard and kept Oher and Osemele at the positions they played the entire season. However, head coach John Harbaugh and his coaching staff made the right decision going with McKinnie.

    After starting every game a year ago at left tackle, McKinnie did not start a single game this season. A better run-blocker than pass-blocker at this point in his career, the veteran tackle helped pave the way for Baltimore’s rushing attack that gained 172 yards.

    In addition, he held his own against the Colts’ pass-rushing specialists Robert Mathis and Dwight Freeney.

    It will be interesting to see what the Ravens' coaching staff does with McKinnie next week if Reid is able to play. My bet is McKinnie will remain at tackle for the rest of the playoffs. 

4. Penalties Must Be Cut Down If Ravens Want to Make a Run at the Lombardi

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    Even though Baltimore came out with a win Sunday, the Ravens were penalized nine times for 70 yards. In the regular season, Baltimore was the second-most penalized team in the NFL, drawing 7.6 flags a game.

    In the fourth quarter, safety Bernard Pollard was flagged for a personal foul for hitting a defenseless receiver. Just a few plays later, Pollard was flagged once more for a taunting penalty.

    In just a matter of seconds, Baltimore gave the Colts 30 free yards. While the game was already out of reach, the penalties didn’t matter in the grand scheme of things. But the taunting play in particular was a selfish and stupid play. Selfish plays like that do not win championships.   

    With an impending matchup against the top-seeded Denver Broncos, any little penalty such as those that occurred Sunday will drastically hurt Baltimore’s chances of upsetting the Broncos.

    If the Ravens are to have a legitimate shot at making a run at the Super Bowl, the penalties must be eliminated. 

5. Dannell Ellerbe Must Be Re-Signed This Offseason

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    Set to become a free agent in March, Dannell Ellerbe was all over the field Sunday, recording nine tackles. With Ray Lewis set to retire at the end of the playoffs, the Ravens have the heir apparent to Lewis in Ellerbe.

    In the regular season, Ellerbe totaled 92 tackles and 4.5 sacks. Talented when on the field, Ellerbe has had a number of injuries over the past couple seasons. He played with a broken thumb for much of the season and had hamstring issues a season ago. Ellerbe even left in the fourth quarter with an ankle injury.

    Regardless of his injury history, the Ravens must make a move to re-sign him this offseason.

    With Lewis retiring, Baltimore is expected to save $4.35 million in cap space next season, which will free up money that should go to retaining Ellerbe.