Ravens vs. Broncos: Final Grades, Player Analysis for Baltimore
Ravens - 38
Broncos - 35
Baltimore played their hearts out today in a shootout between Peyton Manning and Joe Flacco. Both quarterbacks were very efficient today, but it was the balanced offensive attack of Baltimore that put them over the top.
Ray Lewis, who is retiring after this season, will have at least one more game to play before he hangs up his cleats for good. This Baltimore team continues to play inspiring, never-say-die football and look to follow Lewis' leadership all the way to the Super Bowl.
This was certainly one of the most exhilarating playoff games of this season, thus far. The Ravens will take on the winner of the Houston Texans and New England Patriots in the AFC Championship game next week.
Grades for players and positional units are based upon the criteria listed below:
An "A" grade is granted to a player who far surpasses the expectations set out for him during the game. This player will absolutely be a key factor to the success of his team.
A "B" grade will be given to a player who plays at an above-average level and contributes throughout the game with very few mistakes.
A "C" grade is handed to a player who has an average game. He may not put up gaudy numbers or be a major contributor, but he will not be the main cause for certain team failures.
A "D" grade will be granted to a player who plays below his ability level. This player would have seen better days on the field and would most likely want a do-over for his performance.
An "F" grade will stick to a player who fails at all levels during a game. He may even be one key factor to a team's struggles, or even its loss.
Overall Game Grade - B-
Joe Flacco certainly had a game full of ups and downs against Denver on Saturday. Flacco started out slightly inconsistent as he struggled to throw accurately to receivers.
However, Flacco was able to mask that with some nice deep touchdown passes early on to Torrey Smith. Even though Flacco's throws did not have pin-point accuracy throughout the game, his receivers were able to adjust and make some great plays on the ball.
Late in the game, Flacco caught fire at the right time as he hit Jacoby Jones for a game-tying touchdown with only 31 seconds left which forced overtime.
In overtime, Flacco was able to dig his team out of a deep hole in their own territory and was able to change field position in great fashion. This put Denver's offense back on their heels and forced a errant throw by Manning which led to an interception and a game-winning field goal by Justin Tucker.
Flacco finished 18 of 34 (52.9 percent) passing for 331 yards and three touchdowns.
Ray Rice - Overall Game Grade - A
Ray Rice may not have had any huge flashy runs today against a very good Denver rush defense, but he did not have to. Rice was used as a workhorse for the Ravens as he carried 30 times for 131 yards and a touchdown.
Rice was a great asset to the Ravens passing game and allowed Flacco to utilize the play-action pass which resulted in some nice deep passes to receivers downfield.
The Ravens know what they have in Rice and continue to utilize him throughout the playoffs to open up what can be a very dangerous offense.
Torrey Smith - Overall Game Grade - A
Flacco connected with Smith early in the game for two deep touchdown strikes and almost had a third when Smith beat Bailey deep, but the ball was overthrown.
Smith has proven to be a game-changer and showed it to the world on Saturday. His final stats are three receptions for 98 yards and two touchdowns.
Anquan Boldin - Overall Game Grade - B-
Anquan Boldin was utilized in a very effective manner as well. Boldin is not a burner like Smith, but he is a big body and has great hands. He was used as a possession receiver and came up with some clutch catches at crucial points in the game.
Boldin was targeted often, especially on third downs, and came out the victor in most circumstances. He was a favorite target of Flacco's against Denver and finished the game with six receptions for 71 yards.
Dennis Pitta - Overall Game Grade - B-
Dennis Pitta found himself in an all-around tight end role against the Broncos. He not only was utilized as a pass catcher, but he was also helping the offensive line contain the great pass rush of the Broncos.
Pitta was great while blocking as he successfully blocked down on his man and was not called for any penalties in the meantime.
As a receiver, Pitta was mostly solid. He did have some hiccups when he was covered, but he made the most of his receptions. Pitta only caught three passes but they accumulated a total of 55 yards against a very solid defense.
Ed Dickson - Overall Game Grade - C+
Ed Dickson found himself targeted early on in the game when he caught his three receptions for 29 yards. Later in the game, he was utilized in dual-tight end sets and was set up mainly as a blocker.
Dickson did have a hand in Baltimore's early success with the passing game, however, as his receptions came on drives in which the Ravens needed to establish their offense.
Offensive Line - Overall Game Grade - A
The offensive line really had a stellar game against a very good Denver defensive front. Denver is known for having one of the best pass rushes in the league and this line held them to only one sack for a loss of 7 yards. That sack was only due to a mishandled ball between Flacco and center Matt Birk.
Not only was this line great in pass protection, but they were very solid in the trenches in the running game. They allowed Rice to average 4.4 yards-per-carry over 30 carries.
To be able to maintain such great protection in both phases of offense for a long, grueling game deserves one of the highest grades of the game.
There can be a strong argument made for this offensive line to be one of the driving forces of Baltimore's success against the Broncos.
Defensive Line - Overall Game Grade - B-
Baltimore's defensive line, led by Pro Bowler Haloti Ngata was very stout against Denver's rushing attack on Saturday.
Denver tried constantly to establish a running game in order for Manning to utilize play-action passing and keep pressure off of him in the pocket. The defensive line of the Ravens was very much up to the challenge.
Of the three running backs that Denver utilized on Saturday, the longest rush was for only 11 yards. This is the type of production that a defensive line should give for a playoff team making a deep run to the AFC Championship game.
If the line can keep up this type of play next week, it will be even more possible for the Ravens to potentially clinch a Super Bowl berth.
Ray Lewis - Overall Game Grade - A
What more can really be said about Ray Lewis? He led the Ravens in tackles for the second straight week after coming back from injury and is the motivator and leader of this entire football team.
Lewis has had such an astonishing career and continues to add to his portfolio with amazing playoff games like this one against Denver.
There is no doubt that Lewis will be in top-form once again next week for the AFC Championship.
Terrell Suggs - Overall Game Grade - B+
Terrell Suggs was once again a dominant force behind the line of scrimmage. Aside from having 10 tackles on the day, he was also credited with two sacks of Manning and a forced fumble.
Even though Suggs is still not 100 percent healthy to this point, he is certainly proving what a valuable player he is to this defense.
Dannell Ellerbe - Overall Game Grade - B
Dannell Ellerbe has really exploded over the second half of the season and his stellar play has continued in the playoffs. Ellerbe finished third on the team with nine tackles and constantly found himself being very disruptive in the backfield and in the running game.
Ellerbe is yet another great linebacker that the Ravens can certainly count on for years to come.
Corey Graham - Overall Game Grade - A
Corey Graham may just have been the hero of this football game for Baltimore.
Graham started the game strong with an interception of Manning which he returned for a Ravens touchdown.
Graham was great in coverage for the duration of the game although he was beaten once for a touchdown by Brandon Stokley on a perfect throw from Manning.
However, late in the game, Graham got one back on Manning. He intercepted the Denver quarterback in the second overtime to give Baltimore the ball in Denver territory. That interception led to a game-winning field goal.
Rest of secondary - Overall Game Grade - C-
Aside from Graham, the rest of the secondary seemed lost at times and allowed Manning to throw all over them from the beginning.
Not even Ed Reed could find himself in a great position to make a play as he was virtually ineffective for the duration of the game.
It is a tough task to ask a secondary to contain Peyton Manning, but the rest of this group will have to tighten things up with another difficult game looming next week.
Special Teams Coverage Units - Overall Game Grade - F
The special teams coverage units on kickoffs and punts almost lost this game for the Ravens. Early on in the game they allowed Trindon Holliday to take a punt back 90 yards for a touchdown.
On the ensuing play, returner Jacoby Jones fumbled the kickoff and was lucky to recover. Unfortunately, it set the Ravens offense up at their own six yard line.
To make matters worse, on the opening kickoff of the second half, the coverage team allowed Holliday to take a kickoff back 104 yards for a touchdown.
Two special teams touchdowns in one game is not something a playoff caliber team should allow. These units need to work on their discipline and their ability to stay in their lanes.
Justin Tucker - Overall Game Grade - A
This kick in such frigid weather was so very clutch and it is one that a good portion of kickers in the league would not have a high percentage of making.
Aside from the field goal, Tucker was five for five on extra points to give him a perfect day as the team's kicker.
Coaching Staff - Overall Game Grade - B+
The bulk of a high grade goes to head coach John Harbaugh. It is certainly not easy to travel to Denver in the playoffs on a short week to take on a team led by Peyton Manning.
Harbaugh was up to the challenge and came out victorious.
The Ravens came in to the game with a plan and stuck to it for the duration of the game. They utilized the running game to open up some deep passes and also remained stout against the run on defense while pressuring Manning enough to throw some errant passes.
This is exactly the type of game-plan that will win football games in the playoffs.
Kudos should go out to coach Harbaugh and his staff for getting the team ready for this big game and never allowing them to fold under heavy pressure by the Broncos.
Harbaugh was one step ahead of Broncos coach John Fox for the duration of the game and will need the same type of success next week when he faces either Gary Kubiak or Bill Belichick.