5 Keys To Baltimore Ravens' Win Over New Orleans Saints

Alan Zlotorzynski@@zlotsportsCorrespondent IIIDecember 21, 2010

5 Keys To Baltimore Ravens' Win Over New Orleans Saints

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    Ray Rice's return to offense keys Ravens win
    Ray Rice's return to offense keys Ravens win

    The Ravens' victory over the defending champion New Orleans Saints on Sunday was an old style Ravens win. A win that was reminiscent of Ravens teams from the early to mid part of the outgoing decade.

    The Ravens proved many things in their win, a win that all but assures them of a third straight trip to the playoffs. A feat not done in Baltimore since the Baltimore Colts did it in 1974, 75 and 76.

    The Ravens played a complete game in defeating the New Orleans Saints 30-24 yesterday. The Ravens controlled the line of scrimmage on both sides of the football and played a smarter game in terms of controlling their emotions.

    The Saints came into M & T Bank Stadium with a swagger, having won six in a row. The Saints seemed to be looking past the Ravens to their match-up with the NFC leading and divisional rival Atlanta Falcons next Monday night.

    New Orleans tried to be the bully on Sunday, they talked after every play and were constantly face mask to face mask pointing and gesturing towards any Raven that would engage. It did not work, the Ravens were not going to be bullied and were not even in a mood to talk, which for this Ravens team is unusual.

    In fact New Orleans took several costly personal foul penalties allowing drives to continue or advancing big gains by the Ravens even further.

    The Ravens were 1-3 under John Harbaugh following Monday night games and after getting back to Baltimore at 5:00 a.m. on Tuesday morning from Houston, were a day and a half behind in preparation for one of the best offenses in the NFL. Things did not look good heading into Sunday.

    Even though the Ravens won their road game in Houston last Monday, it still felt like a loss as fans and media crucified the Ravens for blowing their eighth four quarter lead of the season. The Ravens even blew their ninth fourth quarter lead Sunday after Lance Moore made one of the best catches you will ever see in the corner of the end zone, tying the game at 24. The Ravens did not panic and stuck with what was working.

    The Ray Rice 50-yard run was the first play following the kickoff after Moore’s acrobatic touchdown catch. The Ravens from last week would have went three and out.

    The football gods rewarded them for their efforts as Pittsburgh would lose to the Jets later on Sunday. The Ravens are now tied with the Steelers at 10-4. Pittsburgh still holds the tie breaker with a better divisional record but at least the Ravens have a shot to still win the division.

    Each team will play the Browns in the last two weeks, the Ravens this week and Pittsburgh next week to close out the season. The Ravens will play Cincinnati at home in the final regular season game. The Ravens were swept by Cincinnati last season and beaten earlier this season by the Bengals. Joe Flacco had his worst game of the season, throwing four interceptions back in September. Pittsburgh travels to play the 2-12 Carolina Panthers on Thursday night.

    The Ravens were the more physical team yesterday, controlling the game whenever they needed. Had Lance Moore not made that touchdown catch, the Ravens would have probably won this game 30-20.

    The Ravens needed to prove a lot, not to the fans, who were calling for the coaching staff to be fired after last Monday night, but to themselves. They needed to prove that they were a team that can overcome adversity in late December and get a big win against a quality team. The opponent doesn't get any more quality than the defending Super Bowl champions, which until yesterday looked poised to repeat.

    It's amazing how much swagger a team develops after winning a Super Bowl. The Ravens would have none of it. The talking that is. The Ravens just shut-up and played smash mouth football. They lined up and punched Drew Brees and the New Orleans Saints right in their Cajun mouths.

    Here are five things the Ravens proved in Sunday's game.

The Ravens Proved They Can Play Smart Physical Football

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    Players had to be seperated a few times during yesterday game
    Players had to be seperated a few times during yesterday game

    This was a game that looked more like a divisional rivalry game than a game from an NFC team that visits once every four years.

    The New Orleans Saints' fifth ranked secondary is a physical group led by perennial pro-bowler Darren Sharper. Sharper and the Saints secondary would hold Ravens receivers Anquan Boldin, Derrick Mason and TJ Houshmandzadeh to just 59 receiving yards. That does not mean the trio weren’t effective and physical with New Orleans.

    The trio could be seen jawing with Sharper and company on many occasions as they were pushing the Saints secondary around down the field, blocking for Ray Rice. They freed up space, allowing Rice to pick up more yardage on big runs in the open field.

    The Ravens physical play and Rice’s hard running would frustrate the Saints defense into three costly personal foul penalties. These penalties would occur during very critical moments of drives.

    Darren Sharper would begin the late hitting early. Sharper came in and hit Rice as he was on the ground, causing a penalty that moved Baltimore into Saints territory. The Ravens would score a touchdown on the drive. Roman Harper committed the costliest personal foul penalty when he hit Rice late out of bounds following Rice’s 50-yard run.

    The penalty came on the first play following the kick-off after the Saints had tied the game at 24.

    The run would have put the Ravens at the Saints 30 but the penalty pushed the ball to the 15. The Ravens would gain just one more yard in the next three plays and instead of a 47-yard field goal attempt in cold windy conditions, Ravens kicker Billy Cundiff drilled the 32-yard field goal giving the Ravens a 27-24 lead. A lead they would not relinquish.

    Saints DE Will Smith would finish off the cheap shots by hitting Rice on the ground late in the fourth quarter. The penalty would allow the Ravens to keep the ball for an additional 1:38. After gaining valuable field position with the extra 15 yards, a punt would force the Saints to start at their own four with just under three minutes remaining. A tall order even for Drew Brees.

    The Ravens would score 10 points on drives in which the Saints committed personal foul penalties.

    The Ravens were able to push the Saints front seven around like rag dolls. The Ravens racked up 208 rushing yards on 38 attempts, Defensively the Saints gave up running the football very early and Reggie Bush ran scared, so scared he ran backwards. Bush had four attempts for -4 yards. He reminded me of Cory Dillon when Dillon used to come and try to run against the Ravens. The Saints would manage just 27 yards rushing all day.

    The physicality of the Ravens play and the composure they displayed to match is the style of football that will be necessary to win on the road in January. They proved they can still play mean smash mouth football when it matters and play it without getting flagged in the process.

Joe Flacco Proved He Can Play Whatever Game They Need Him To Play

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    Flacco did more than manage the game yesterday
    Flacco did more than manage the game yesterdayLarry French/Getty Images

    I'm a Ravens fan through and through. I'm not a purple kool-aid drinking fan, but listening to and reading people write that Joe Flacco was just average yesterday tells me they don't really know football.

    Whether it's a national analyst stating that Flacco benefited from a great running game or a local columnist from Baltimore grading Flacco to a C+, it does not matter, they are all idiots and obviously not watching Joe Flacco play the position.

    It's not that Flacco didn't benefit from what the Ravens did on the ground Sunday but unlike Ravens QB's from the past, Flacco made some great third down conversions keeping drives alive, that eventually led to points.

    Flacco has developed into a quarterback that is beginning to play whatever style necessary to win.

    The Ravens did what they had to do yesterday by re-establishing Ray Rice and the running game. The game plan implemented by John Harbaugh and Cam Cameron in beating the Saints will be needed for a successful January play-off run.

    If I told you the QB with the best passer rating and the better touchdown to interception ratio was the winning QB Sunday would you be shocked? You shouldn't be.

    Flacco has some issues still. He must stop turning completely around in the pocket. That little 360 degree turn he does when panicking is a concussion or separated shoulder waiting to happen. He must get better in blitz recognition and learn to audible a little more.

    He is the seventh ranked QB in the NFL with a passer rating of 94.8. He is ahead of some guys you may have heard of, Payton Manning, Drew Brees and Ben Roethlisberger. All Super Bowl winning quarterbacks.

    Flacco has yet to throw an interception in December and in fact has only thrown three in his last 12 games. The fact that he only threw for a 172 yards in the win over the Saints doesn't mean the Ravens are going away from Flacco. Harbaugh just had to know if they could be that power team in January.

    They also had to find out if Ray Rice could still have games like he did on Sunday.

    Flacco is a clutch QB and because of his low key personality you may not know just how clutch he can be.

    Flacco converted six passing third downs and two of them were third and long conversion passes for touchdowns. The TD pass to Ray Rice was as perfectly a thrown football as you will see in the NFL. Granted the TD pass to Ravens TE Ed Dickson was a ten yard dump pass and 24 yard run but Flacco was under pressure and had to be patient in waiting for Dickson to get off of his block.

    This was the third time in two weeks Flacco converted a third and long into a touchdown. The back shoulder fade to Derrick Mason that resulted in a touchdown pass last Monday night was a 3rd-and-16.

    The Saints came after Flacco all day, he was sacked three times but it could have been worse. He was able to avoid some pressure and scoot right at times making some good decisions in throwing the ball away.  

    It was good to see Joe Flacco get mad on Sunday. He looked as though he wanted to fight the officials and the Saints after a late hit on him wasn't flagged. Flacco improves each week. He seemed to pick up the safety blitzes that have been causing him so much trouble in the last two weeks a little better.

    The Ravens get quality starts from Flacco and aside from his hiccup against Pittsburgh is beginning to come up big in big games. After all, Flacco did beat the defending Super Bowl MVP wining QB Drew Brees.

    The Ravens should feel good about Joe Flacco headed into the playoffs. He is capable of leading the Ravens to the Super Bowl. He has shown he can make a play when needed and can make any throw on the field.

    I wasn't sure about Flacco a few weeks ago but a few mistake free wins when it counts in December can change some minds.

    Flacco is ready for a big time performance in a big time playoff game and after yesterday the Ravens may be too.

Ray Rice Proved He Could Be Fresh for a Long Playoff Run

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    Ray Rice
    Ray RiceGeoff Burke/Getty Images

    I wrote on Saturday that if nobody else was going to say it, I would, Ravens running back Ray Rice is not the same back as he was last year, until Sunday afternoon.

    I had been critical of Rice saying that he was not running with the same speed or cut back ability as he did a year ago. The Ravens were running the ball just as many times per game as they did last season (29) but Rice did not seem to be the same type of runner.

    Rice has looked slow this season. He seemed to be running into piles instead of cutting back against them. He has not been able to find or get to the edge as often as he did in rushing for 1339 yards last season.

    Rice may not have been fresh this season, he did touch the ball over 300 times last year and taking a beating like that can take a toll on a body, especially if your only 5'8" and 212lbs. That also changed in the win on Sunday.

    Rice looked fresh in the win over New Orleans, he ran like it was week one. With 233 all purpose yards Rice had bursts of speed well into the fourth quarter and if he has finally gotten his legs under him the Ravens could be big trouble for a lot of the top contenders in the AFC.

    Rice was second in the NFL last season with 2041 yards from scrimmage. He was again that duel threat yesterday, rushing for one touchdown and catching another one. He ran for 153 yards and picked up 80 more through the air.

    If Rice is indeed fresh, then the Ravens are legitimate Super Bowl contenders. The receiving core of Boldin,  Mason, Houshmandzadeh, Heap and maybe Donte Stallworth are as good as any in the league. With Rice once again picking up big yards, Flacco and the passing game should flourish into the top 10 offense everyone projected.

If Rested the Ravens Defense Will Be Ready

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    Terrell Suggs and the Ravens D will be ready
    Terrell Suggs and the Ravens D will be readyStreeter Lecka/Getty Images

    What Ray Rice and the Ravens running attack did Sunday in re-establishing the running game was prove that if rested, in the second half, the Ravens defense can make big plays and stop good quarterbacks.

    Yes the Ravens blew their ninth four quarter lead this season on Sunday, but only a highlight reel catch on third and goal caused that to happen. The Ravens came up big against Drew Brees when they had to and kept applying pressure all afternoon.

    The Houston Texans ran 55 plays in the second half last Monday night as the Ravens could not establish a drive offensively that lasted longer than 8 plays and ran just 19 plays total not including punts. The defense never got a legitimate chance to rest and simply ran out of gas. The Texans scored on drives of 99 and 95 yards.

    In contrast the Saints ran just 35 plays and the Ravens were able to convert points off of drives. The Ravens still have not scored a second half touchdown in December but two field goals were enough on Sunday.

    Defensive coordinator Greg Mattison seemed to learn from his mistake of not going after Matt Schaub last Monday night late in the game. Last Monday night Mattison went to a three man rush for much of the fourth quarter as Schaub was able to stand in the pocket and pick apart the secondary.

    Mattison dialed up the blitzes early and often causing Drew Brees to struggle. Brees even admitted that he didn't expect the Ravens to come as often as they did and he was unprepared for them. Although Brees threw three touchdowns he was sacked three times, had one intentional grounding penalty and threw an interception that essentially ended the game for the Saints.

    According to ESPN.com’s Pat Yasinskas, the Ravens sent five or more rushers on 25 of Brees 49 drop backs, blitzing 51 percent of the time. The Ravens have not blitzed that much since week four against the New England Patriots when they went after Tom Brady 57 percent of the time.

    Most of those blitzes against the Patriots came in the first three quarters. Many believe the failure to continue pressuring Tom Brady led to New England’s fourth quarter comeback and eventual overtime win.

    The Saints were kept one dimensional as they could muster just 27 yards on the ground Sunday. New Orleans would abandon the running game very early in the afternoon.

    If the offense can establish second half drives allowing the defense time to catch their breath, a rested Ravens defense may be as equally daunting as the Ravens offense, if the running attack can stick around.

The Ravens Coaching Staff Can Make the Right Calls and Won't Be Outcoached

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    The Ravens coaching staff was prepared and called a good game
    The Ravens coaching staff was prepared and called a good gameLarry French/Getty Images

    With limited time to prepare for the Super Bowl champions and coming off of arguably their two worst coached games of the year, the Ravens coaching staff deserves a game ball themselves.

    The media and fans were all over John Harbaugh, Cam Cameron and Greg Mattison for what many believed to be poor game planning and poor situational play calling in the Steelers and Texans games.

    In consecutive weeks the Ravens chose to throw the ball with the lead when the situation clearly called for a play that would kill the clock and force the other team to use their time outs. Against Pittsburgh on second and five a strip sack fumble by Troy Polamalu gave the Steelers the ball back and the eventual game winning touchdown.

    In Houston a third and two incomplete pass to Anquan Boldin stopped the clock with just 2:58 remaining. The clock stoppage allowed Houston the right amount of time to drive 95 yards and with a two point conversion tie the game.

    Harbaugh and Cameron had the right mix going Sunday. Even after the Saints tied the game in the fourth quarter, they did not panic and stuck with the running game. The decision paid off and the Ravens would kill clock and score points.

    As noted in the previous slide Greg Mattison called a great game for the defense never backing off of the pressure that caused Brees problems.

    The Ravens played a game they needed to play Sunday and it didn't just happen to turn out that way. The staff was prepared and called an excellent game on offense and defense. They were even in time of possession and had 28 first downs compared to New Orleans 19.

    The Ravens were four for four on fourth down and had 236 more net yards than did New Orleans. This was a solid win and a statement victory.

    For years in the NFL the run has always set up the pass. Some teams in the NFL and to a lesser extent the Ravens have been trying to prove this season that the pass sets up the run. With a top ten rested defense, a potent running attack that can set up a good young QB for success and two guys that can kick the ball very well, the Ravens have a good playoff formula.

    A formula that if this coaching staff sticks with, could have them playing in Dallas the first Sunday of February.

    John Harbaugh, Cam Cameron and Greg Mattison must know that Sunday's game is the blue print in which they can answer all critics with the age old saying of "if it's not broke, then don't fix it". Nothing was broken about the Ravens Sunday. Nothing.