Let’s dig right in…
- First, no need to talk around it: Ed Reed deserves serious consideration for NFL player of the year. We’ve heard the talk about Albert Haynesworth since Week One, and more recently we have heard about James Harrison and Joey Porter. But with two interceptions tonight, a forced and recovered fumble, and another touchdown, Reed has planted himself firmly in the hunt for the award. His five interceptions put him in second in the league; his three defensive touchdowns tie him for first. He single-handedly changes games and makes offenses rethink everything they are doing.
- Reed is the single-most feared defensive player in the league. Hands down. No questions asked. In Baltimore, even, he is feared for the erratic way he handles the ball when he gets it. It is the fear he puts into opposing quarterbacks and coaches, though, that makes him so much fun to watch. His performance tonight won the Ravens this game.
- Yes, Ed Reed deserved two bullets (now three) all to himself.
- As for the rest of the defense? The line got plenty of rush and the blitzing packages worked wonders. Terrell Suggs had one of the best games of his season—he too deserves some player of the year consideration. The entire unit clicked.
- In other news...the Ravens book-ended this game, playing well at the start and at the finish, but the middle has to raise some concerns. Between the weather and a tough opposing defense, maybe the offense is just fine. But for the majority of three quarters, the Ravens offense looked defunct—not quite as sharp as we would all like with the Steelers coming to town.
- Dear Willis McGahee, I am sure there will be plenty of excuses for your play in the week to come—by fans and coaches alike—but it must be said: what a sad performance. For starters, when you start dropping pitches and passes, maybe it is time to remove the dark visor...it’s not like you are playing at night time in December. But additionally, your vision and ability were both lacking tonight. This is not what was expected after that extra rest you were given last week that caused so much controversy.
- Take a note from Le’Ron McClain when you get a chance (or was the blocked by the visor, too?). McClain again put this offense on his back when it mattered most. On the Ravens final scoring drive, McClain carried the ball eight times and helped to eat up more than seven minutes of game time. In fact, mid-drive, multiple Steelers fans in the area were unhappily noting how much the drive reminded them of Jerome Bettis when he played. Seeing that from an opponent has to be frightening.
- Also regarding the running game, the Ravens introduced and frequently used the super unbalanced line. They took unbalanced to a whole new level. The Ravens not only shifted RT Willie Anderson to the left side, but they would bring in third tackle Adam Terry, and send him to the left as well. The result? A line that looked like this: T-T-T-G-C-G-TE. It had to be intimidating for the Redskins and it was entertaining to watch, but the results were not exactly stellar. The most fun thing about the formation was watching the Ravens call plays to the weak side after spending so much time inflating the strong side… but hey, that’s misdirection, I suppose.
- Otherwise, the Ravens offensive effort was mostly lame. Literally, lame. As in “pulling up lame.” The Ravens receivers were again the biggest disappointment, unable to find any open space in the Redskins zone secondary. John Madden continually noted that the Ravens had to have some plays to cut the zone and they were just not being called. I always though, however, that any play could work against a zone if you have a receiver or two that knows how to find the gap. Apparently, the Ravens do not have any of those receivers. Perhaps it was a mix of confusion and unfamiliarity from Joe Flacco, but I think it was a problem of the entire unit. As for Flacco? He was fine, but did little worth mentioning.
- Now would be a good time to get in a solid word for Lorenzo Neal. The Ravens were beyond wise in grabbing Neal when they had the chance and it has paid off as well as any investment in recent franchise history. John Madden and Al Michaels were not shy about sharing Neal’s impact on this offense. On the obvious side, adding a fullback has allowed the Ravens to move McClain to tailback when necessary. And that has become necessary more than ever anticipated. But additionally, Neal’s ability, experience and knowledge are all unmatched when it comes to fullbacks. He has transformed this offense, in both its play and its mentality, as much as anyone else. He is certainly an unsung hero that deserves a few more nods from fans and analysts alike.
- Overall: The Ravens effort was commendable and it is hard to complain about the result. Discussions about being unable to beat good teams should be fading by now. Next week, expect much more of the same against the Steelers. Offensive mistakes against the Steelers, however, are far more costly. At least the offense had its down day now. The Ravens are ready for Pittsburgh to come to town next weekend and really pound away in the stretch run.
- Gameballs: Ed Reed, Ed Reed, Ed Reed, and Le’Ron McClain.
Bonus Note! Kudos to the fans at the stadium today. While the Washington presence was notable, the Ravens fans sounded on top of their game. I was disappointed in the lack of mention by Madden and Michaels.
By my count, the crowd was responsible for numerous penalties and timeouts. M&T Bank is underrated as far as stadiums in this league go. It is top notch both as a facility and in atmosphere. Not many places get as loud when it is 20 degrees outside...the studios will pick up on it one of these days.