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Ravens vs. Lions: Takeaways from Baltimore's 18-16 Win over Detroit

Shehan PeirisCorrespondent IIIDecember 17, 2013

Ravens vs. Lions: Takeaways from Baltimore's 18-16 Win over Detroit

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    Andrew Weber-USA TODAY Sports

    There are many things that we learned from the Baltimore Ravens' critical Week 15 win over the Detroit Lions, but none of them were more important than the excellence of Justin Tucker.

    Tucker scored all 18 points for Baltimore, including a 61-yard field goal to win the game. He set franchise records for the most field goals made in a game and the longest kick in Ravens history, but the kicker's spectacular play covered up some of Baltimore's deficiencies.

    For example, Tucker had to kick six field goals because the Ravens couldn't move the ball easily and were unable to convert in the red zone.

    Furthermore, Tucker's insane kick covered up the fact that the defense couldn't get off the field late in the game—something that has occurred with alarming frequency in 2013.

    On the positive side, it was Baltimore's second road win of the season, and it came with impressive performances by the offensive line and the secondary.

    Here are all the biggest takeaways from another thrilling victory, including how the playoff picture was affected by Week 15's action.

Meet Baltimore's Most Dangerous Weapon: Justin Tucker

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    Andrew Weber-USA TODAY Sports

    Justin Tucker is in just his second season, but he’s quickly become one of the best kickers in the league.

    The second-year place-kicker has made 33 straight field goals and booted in a 61-yard game-winner to give the Ravens a critical win with gigantic playoff implications for both conferences.

    He is tremendously accurate and has a huge legboth of which he demonstrated on Monday Night Football by connecting on six field goals which were Baltimore’s only points of the game.

    The former Texas kicker is tied for second in the NFL in points scored, and he’s been keeping the Ravens in games over his spectacular streak.

    Baltimore won’t make a playoff run if the offense doesn’t get its act together, but there are plenty of reasons to have faith in Tucker with the game on the line.

What Is Joe Flacco's Status?

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    Andrew Weber-USA TODAY Sports

    Baltimore fans were forced to face something they haven't encountered in a long time: the prospect of an injured quarterback.

    Joe Flacco has never missed a start in his NFL career, but he took a helmet to his knee which left him limping off the field.

    It's a true testament to his strength and determination that he didn't miss a play, but all Ravens fans will be holding their breath until he practices this week.

    The knee injury didn't look too serious as he looked mobile enough after coming into the game, but the collision looked painful.

    Hopefully it's nothing major, and he won't have to miss any time. The Ravens' playoff hopes take a huge hit if he misses even one game.

Red-Zone Woes Continue

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    Andrew Weber-USA TODAY Sports

    The offense has been inconsistent all year, but the Ravens have struggled to punch it into the end zone when they do manage to move the ball into the red zone.

    Entering Week 15, the Ravens ranked 22nd in red-zone touchdown percentage with a conversion rate of 52 percent, according to TeamRankings.com.

    Dennis Pitta’s return should improve Baltimore’s red-zone offense, but the struggles continued against the Lions.

    The Ravens were stymied on all three of their red-zone trips and didn’t score a touchdown all game. Luckily, they have Justin Tucker to bail them out.

    Nevertheless, offensive coordinator Jim Caldwell needs to find a way to increase efficiency near the goal line if the Ravens are going to make a playoff push.

Is the Road Monkey Finally off the Ravens' Back?

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    Tim Fuller-USA TODAY Sports

    It wasn't very pretty, but it was incredibly exciting and—more importantly—it was a win away from M&T Bank Stadium.

    The Ravens had only won one road game all year entering Week 15. Now it's two, and that's a big deal.

    It's a big deal because Baltimore has the chance to win the AFC North, but that would require a road win over the Cincinnati Bengals.

    It's a big deal because if the Ravens are actually going to flip the switch and make a playoff run, they'll need to win on the road.

    It's a big deal because this team is starting to get that "team of destiny" vibe that carried them all the way to the Super Bowl last year, and this was a huge confidence builder for head coach John Harbaugh's team.

Defense Still Not Closing Games

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    Leon Halip/Getty Images

    Understandably, this game will be remembered for Justin Tucker's ridiculously long game-winner, and the Ravens defense should be incredibly happy about that. With all the hoopla about Baltimore's star kicker, the fact that the defense wilted late in the game will go largely unnoticed.

    Not here.

    It's a disturbing trend that has plagued Baltimore all year. The defense plays an excellent game but can't get off the field late in the game.

    It cost the Ravens wins against the Green Bay Packers, Pittsburgh Steelers and Cleveland Browns. An inability to make crucial stops has been a problem in wins, too.

    There was A.J. Green's Hail Mary touchdown reception. There was Ben Roethlisberger's almost-game-winning drive that was a two-point conversion away from sending the game into overtime. There were the two touchdowns against the Minnesota Vikings that almost lost the game twice.

    And in Week 15, the Lions marched down the field on an 11-play, 80-yard drive that took close to six minutes off the clock and capped it off with a touchdown to take the lead.

    Baltimore is living very dangerously right now, needing miraculous endings to come away with wins. If the defense could get off the field and make big stops late in the game, the Ravens would be in much better shape.

     

     

Daryl Smith Is a Worthy Successor to Ray Lewis

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    Evan Habeeb-USA TODAY Sports

    To be clear, nobody can replace Ray Lewis. But Daryl Smith is filling in admirably for "The General." Smith leads the team in tackles and has been on top of the defensive calls from Week 1.

    His command of the defense was on display repeatedly against Detroit. On a number of occasions, he checked to a blitz (especially when the Lions lined up in an empty formation), and it often resulted in a hurried throw by Matthew Stafford.

    Smith has been excellent as the quarterback of the defense, and his name can be added to the list of savvy offseason decisions made by general manager Ozzie Newsome.

The Offensive Line Protected Joe Flacco

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    Tim Fuller-USA TODAY Sports

    Pass protection has been a concern for most of the season. Flacco has already been sacked more than any other season of his career, and the Ravens' offensive line is giving up 3.2 sacks per game—fourth-worst in the league.

    That didn’t bode well against a Lions defensive front that features exceptional athletes and talented pass-rushers like Ndamukong Suh, Nick Fairley and Ezekiel Ansah.

    But give the O-line credit. It was a very good performance against a very challenging opponent.

    Were there a few breakdowns? Sure, but overall it was a very solid performance.

    The Lions threw out a ton of different stunts and blitzes, but they couldn’t consistently generate pressure on Joe Flacco.

    If Flacco can frequently get that much time to throw, the offense will be in great shape.

The Pass Rush Is There, Even If the Sacks Aren't

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    Andrew Weber-USA TODAY Sports

    The Ravens defense has only registered one sack in its last three games. While that is a concern, it isn't a particularly pressing one.

    Baltimore's pass rush needs to be better, but the defense is still getting pressure on the opposing quarterback.

    Stafford was hurried repeatedly which forced incompletions, errant throws and interceptions.

    Defensive coordinator Dean Pees would love to actually bring down Tom Brady next week, and sacks would be a huge boost for the defense moving forward, but don't overreact to the low sack numbers.

The Secondary Has Fared Well Against Elite Wide Receivers

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    Leon Halip/Getty Images

    Every Ravens fan was a little worried about the comments that Matt Elam made regarding Calvin Johnson earlier in the week. It's never wise to poke a sleeping giant.

    Naturally, it was expected that "Megatron" would come out guns blazing and try to make the rookie pay for his insolence. That wasn't the case.

    Johnson looked sluggish, dropped a couple of passes and was mostly held in check for the course of the game.

    To be clear, he still recorded six catches for 98 yards, but that's a pretty good outing for the Ravens secondary.

    In addition, it's not the first time they've played well against an elite receiver.

    Andre Johnson: five receptions for 36 yards

    Antonio Brown: six receptions for 50 yards

    Josh Gordon: three receptions for 44 yards

    Brandon Marshall: four receptions for 42 yards

    Antonio Brown: five receptions for 59 yards

     

    The secondary was helped out by some Calvin Johnson drops, but the ability to contain superstar receivers will be crucial for Baltimore's playoff chances.

Playoff Implications

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    Evan Habeeb-USA TODAY Sports

    Somehow, the Baltimore Ravens control their own playoff destiny and can even win the AFC North and get a home playoff game if they win their last two games.

    That's easier said than done considering the opponents: New England Patriots in Week 16 and Cincinnati Bengals in Week 17.

    The Week 15 win was crucial since the Miami Dolphins and the San Diego Chargers both won also. The Ravens held on to to their second wild-card spot by way of the tiebreaker they hold over the Miami Dolphins.

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