Ravens vs. Bears: Takeaways from Baltimore's 23-20 Loss to Chicago
The Baltimore Ravens couldn't make plays when it mattered most against the Chicago Bears. As a result, they find themselves almost certainly out of the division race and competing for a wild-card spot.
There were, however, some positives from the game.
For example, Ray Rice was actually the Ray Rice we know and love. In addition, the secondary once again played a very good game (although the wheels came off a little toward the end of the game). Furthermore, the offensive line also played well (except for Eugene Monroe), an unusual sight this season.
Here are the biggest takeaways from Week 11's game against the Chicago Bears.
Introducing Mr. Ray Rice
Ray Rice entered this Week 11 game with 289 rushing yards on the season. He left with 131 yards on the game.
He set the tone early with a 47-yard carry on Baltimore's first play of the game and capped off that drive with a touchdown.
To keep some perspective, the Bears have one of the worst run defenses in the league (27th), so Rice's performance might not mean anything for the rest of the season. But there were a number of great signs.
For starters, Rice had the right blend of patience and explosiveness. He made the right decisions when it came to making cuts and waiting for his line to land its blocks.
In addition, he also showed some good burst to explode through running lanes and gain yards after contact.
Whether he can keep it up is another question. Next week he faces the league's best rushing defense: the New York Jets.
Rice won't put up gaudy numbers against the Jets, but if he can have some success—especially in short-yardage situations—it would give the offense balance and a much better chance of beating New York.
Better Offensive Line Play
A big part of Rice's success on the ground was the play of the offensive line. There were some issues in pass protection—especially from Eugene Monroe—but the line was excellent in the running game.
Gino Gradkowski and A.Q. Shipley in particular were phenomenal. They brought their best run-blocking to the table in Week 11, and Gradkowski played a big part in a number of big runs.
The Chicago defensive line is beaten up and missing its two starting defensive tackles, so the performance needs to be taken with a grain of salt, but it was a promising sign for the offense moving forward.
If the rushing attack continues to perform like this, the Ravens will be dangerous on offense.
Joe Flacco's Turnovers Have to Stop
Joe Flacco has never put up insane numbers, but he could always be counted on make more good plays than mistakes.
Through 10 games, he's already thrown more interceptions than he has in any other season (helped largely by a five-pick outing in Week 4), and those turnovers are costing Baltimore games.
In this contest, the defense played phenomenally well, but two turnovers resulted in points for the Bears offense.
His pick-six was crippling considering that it came right after a goal-line stand from the defense to keep Chicago out of the end zone despite having a 1st-and-goal from the 2-yard line.
To his credit, Flacco never lets the turnovers shake his confidence, and he led the Ravens to a touchdown on the next drive without missing a pass.
Regardless, Flacco can't make so many mistakes moving forward for the Ravens to have a shot at making the playoffs.
Eugene Monroe Had a Bad Game
The good news is that Eugene Monroe has been the best offensive lineman on the team since he took over as the starting left tackle. The bad news is that he had a terrible day against Julius Peppers this week.
He gave up two sacks to Peppers and was beaten a number of other times, which rushed Joe Flacco or made him have to escape from the pocket.
In a game where the offensive line played well, Monroe was the exception. Everybody has a rough day, so hopefully Monroe picks up his game next week against a dominant Jets defensive line.
Penalties Were Under Control
In a rare turn of events, the Ravens were actually on the right side of most of the penalty flags in this game.
They committed only five penalties for 46 yards, while Chicago gave up 111 yards on 13 penalties. Despite the huge disparity, Baltimore couldn't take advantage and win the game.
It was a good sign that the Ravens didn't shoot themselves in the foot, but it is a little disheartening that they couldn't capitalize on the number of calls that went their way.
Nevertheless, head coach John Harbaugh will gladly accept the improved discipline and hope it continues for the rest of the season.
Jimmy Smith Has Arrived
Jimmy Smith had been underwhelming in the first two seasons of his NFL career, but he's been playing tremendous football recently.
Against the Bears, he drew the assignment of covering Brandon Marshall and held him to four receptions for 42 yards and a number of pass breakups in the red zone.
Smith is using his size and strength to his advantage by playing physical press coverage. Furthermore, he's taken great strides in his ability to locate the football and keep his eyes on the quarterback.
The Colorado product is finally delivering on the potential that made Baltimore spend a first-round draft pick on him, and his future looks bright with the Ravens.
Secondary Coming Together
This makes two consecutive games where the secondary has been great. Against the Bears, there were a few breakdowns in communication—especially when Chicago used a bunch formation—but the coverage was very good for the most part.
Lardarius Webb has played as a slot cornerback in the last two games, and he's been excellent in that role.
Jimmy Smith has already been discussed, but it's not just the cornerbacks that are playing well.
Both James Ihedigbo and Matt Elam are faring well in coverage, and the defense hasn't given up many long passing plays (except the Hail Mary last week and the game-clinching catch by Martellus Bennett).
If the secondary can keep up this level of performance, the Ravens defense is going to be a formidable matchup for any opponent.
Weather Played a Huge Role for Both Sides
The biggest story of the game was the two-hour delay that was the result of a tornado in Chicago. Once the game resumed, the conditions had a noticeable impact on the matchup.
The grass surface at Soldier Field was water-logged and was problematic for players trying to make sharp cuts or gain leverage.
Wind had an ever bigger influence on the game. Baltimore chose not to kick a 49-yard field goal solely due to the gusting winds inside the stadium that were swirling in all directions.
Furthermore, the delay had a similar effect on the Ravens as it did in the Super Bowl. After the break, they were outscored 23-10.
The crazy weather conditions affected both teams and made this a game that the players will remember for the rest of their lives.