Monday, December 06, 2010

Looking Back at a Tough Loss

For those who couldn't hear me screaming expletives around midnight last night (and odds are most of the greater Baltimore area had at least their dog's ears perking up at the sound of pain and frustration), the Ravens lost to the Steelers 13-10. Once again the Ravens had a 4th quarter lead and let the other team come back. 6 times this year they have given up a 4th quarter lead. It is unacceptable, and it is not indicative of a team with legitimate Super Bowl aspirations. Facts are facts, and this is what I saw...

  • The offense took it's foot off of the gas and off of the opponent's throats.
The team got very conservative with a one score lead. That was a huge mistake, and it put way too much pressure on the defense. I have never understood a team going away from what got it the lead in the first place. If it is a blowout, stop taking shots downfield and run the ball and then punt it away. That's good sportsmanship. But to have a one score lead and suddenly think you can take the air out of the ball with a full 15 minutes left? It's like the prevent defense, when it is successful it is successful in spite of itself.
  • It is time for Dawan Landry to ride the pine.
Landry can hit you. But he doesn't know how to tackle. The game winning touchdown was on a 3rd and goal from the 9. It was a dump off pass to Isaac Redman. Landry had him dead to rights by the 5 yard line. But Landry is 6'0" and 210 lbs (officially. I would put him at closer to 200). Redman is 6'0" and 230 lbs. Redman had a head of steam built up. And Landry tried to knock him down instead of tackling him, and when he finally did go to wrap up he went around Redman's shoulders. A guy that big and powerful, you need to tackle around the waist. Now I do not know where the Ravens' "swarm to the ballcarrier" was on that play, but it shouldn't have come to that. Technique would have brought the guy down and made it 4th and goal from the 5. Inexcusable.

  • Play calling has never been more suspect than in the last 40 seconds of the game.
All the talk of going conservative aside, the Ravens had the ball on the Steelers 31 with 37 seconds left in the game. It was 4th and 2. Many people (including me) were calling for Billy Cundiff to come out and kick a field goal. 49 yards (you have to add 18 yards to a field goal to account for the length of the end zone and where the ball is placed behind the line of scrimmage on the snap) into a decent wind is not an easy task. There is no question that Cundiff has the leg for it as he has been kicking the ball through the end zone and over half his kickoffs have been touchbacks. He is on pace to destroy the record of 40 set by Mitch Berger in 1998, and to obliterate the K Ball record (30, IIRC). K balls are footballs kept aside from the regular game supply and used only for kicking. Until the implementation of the K ball, kickers could pretty much doctor up the ball however they wanted. They would put them in a dryer with a bag of rocks to soften them up, soak them in hot and / or cold water, whatever they thought would give them an edge. Cundiff has not had that luxury, and still he is knocking the cover off of the ball.

The wind would make directing the ball a good deal more difficult, and Cundiff did an assessment of the conditions coming out of halftime and told John Harbaugh that his edge for feeling comfortable for kicking was about 45 years. I understand Cundiff backing Harbaugh's choice, and I understand why Harbaugh made the call. What I don't understand was the play call.

Harbaugh has said that he felt they needed to get to the 27 to feel like a field goal was realistic, so we are looking at 4 yards. The call was a pass to rookie TE Ed Dickson, who was filling in for an injured Todd Heap.

Here is my take. If you really think the kick is not going to work and you need to go for the 1st down, you have to know that the defense is going to be bogging down in that 5 yard block from the line of scrimmage on. The Ravens came out with an empty backfield and 4 receivers. Here is what I would have done.

  1. Draw play. Rotate Ray Rice back into the backfield and let him take the handoff, or even a direct snap with Flacco faking a bad snap. Have him come off the edge for an end around. With the receivers 4 wide the Steelers can't crash the box to take away the run. 37 seconds is more than enough time to get to the line, spike the ball, and take one more shot at either the end zone or a deeper side route to stop the clock and get Cundiff on the field for a much more manageable field goal try. You CAN run the ball from the spread offense. In fact, if used judiciously it is highly effective. And if the Steelers show blitz or somehow leave a receiver open / uncovered / soft covered (DB at least 6-8 yards off of the line of scrimmage)...
  2. Hot read. Slant. Quick hit in space and see what they can get after the catch. They only need 2 yards, so it should be a lot of gravy on the run. And if that doesn't happen...
  3. Go route. Donte Stallworth is one of the fastest players in the game. Anquan Boldin and Derrick Mason had been absuing Bryant McFadden pretty much all game. Have at least one of them run a straight 9 route, or even a hitch and go. Since the defenders are expecting it to be a short distance play this could catch them flat footed. And if you have another receiver (or two, if you are feeling bold) flood the area recently emptied by the 9 route runner there should be ample space to complete a 2 or more yard pass. But go deep. Go bold. You need points, and this keeps the game from going into OT when your defense has been getting gassed for the last 2 quarters.
Cam Cameron wanted weapons. He wanted receivers. Now he has them and he isn't using them. He has a young quarterback that is getting better every week and he won't let him run free. He has one of the most dynamic running backs in the league and he is maddeningly inconsistent in using him. Come on, Cameron. Show us something. Unless a miracle happens we are going to have to play 3 playoff games, and all of them on the road. We need to see something that lets the fans think that the team has a chance of overcoming that.

Or we're going to be a disappointed fan base come the end of January. And this team is better than that.

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