Everyone from the announcers to the media to the fans were ragging on our Ravens about the boring, unoriginal and "flat" play last night in their 16-0 shutout victory over the woeful Cleveland Browns. The offense could only muster a little under 300 yards of total offense that was giving up an average of over 400 yards per game. They joined the Browns in combining to have the only non-scoring first half in the 2009 NFL season thus far. The Ravens could only muster 9 points of scoring offense all game, and scored 13 of their 16 points in a 17 second span of the third quarter.
But as the title suggests, perhaps the Ravens played "flat" on purpose for a reason that borders on strategy with a side helping of over confidence?
Everyone knew the Ravens were clearly the better team going into the game and it wouldn't be surprising to know that the team was likely already looking ahead to their next two opponents, much less the remainder of the season. While the team knew it desperately needed a win to remain in the hunt for a post season berth, they probably figured that just short of showing up was going to be good enough to pull out a win, as ugly as it may look to the rest of the football world watching last night.
I'm sure the team knew what it had to do to win the game, and only opened the playbook far enough to get the job done. Without revealing anything in that binder of formations that the Indianapolis Colts and the Pittsburgh Steelers could practice to prevent, the Ravens just concentrated in bullying the Browns enough to score more points while playing solid defense. Hence the game totals in plays ran from scrimmage, 36 rushing versus only 19 passes. The 19 passing attempts include an ill-timed 3rd down trick play with Ray Rice trying to get the ball downfield to a wide open Todd Heap, underthrowing him for an incompletion. Why they even brought out that play, much less on a third and two where they could have probably just ran the ball for the first down with the game in hand at that point confounded me as well as the announcers.
So before you decide to go off on the team for its bland game plan, try to see that the coaching staff couldn't care less what everyone thinks about their strategy as long as it ends with a victory, which it did. They may be a lot smarter than they are given credit for, as they got the win without revealing anything unusual about the game plan that the Colts and Steelers can take away from the game. However, the defense did shut out an NFL team, which has only happened a handful of times this season and is still a sense of pride regardless of the team they beat. This defense needed this shutout and can use the solid play from many of the guys who have not gotten a lot of reps this year, such as Dwan Edwards, Lardarius Webb, Jameel McClain and even Paul Kruger. Both corners played well, especially Fabian Washington against the run. Terrell Suggs has every reason to be angry at Brady Quinn, who had no reason whatsoever to be blocking Suggs after throwing an interception, much less below the knees and his post game excuse was obviously lame. Losing Suggs for the next stretch of games will hurt this team, as well as the loss of safety Haruki Nakamura, who broke his right ankle on the opening kickoff and should miss the rest of the season. Get well props to both of them, along with Tavares Gooden who suffered another concussion and Todd Heap, who bruised his chest late in the game.
On the Browns side, here's hoping return man Josh Cribbs is okay after taking a hard shot on the game's final play, although Dwan Edwards hit was legal and besides, the play was a stupid one for a team trailing by 16 points.
Finally, we can't end this post without mentioning the pathetic job our placekicker has done all season. Sorry to call you out Steven Hauschka, but when you put on the team's colors, you are in the spotlight and are only as good as your kicks, which have been hooking left since the first game of the season. Missing those easy ones will keep the talk about letting Matt Stover go fresh on the tongues on your detractors. While I was in favor of replacing Stover, he was money inside the 40 but was shaky beyond that. You are missing wide left regardless of the distance and have pretty much proven that the pressure of kicking in the NFL is well beyond your capabilities. Now the team should be signing someone else as they have tried out other kickers but for some reason decideed to give you another chance, which you blew big time last night. While the readers of The Beatdown know whom I'd like to see here, at this point I'm sure everyone agrees that anyone other than you will be an upgrade, as there can't be a single person over at One Winning Drive that secretly or openly has any confidence when you trot onto the field.
Other than that, I'm not discouraged, I'm satisfied that we are where we needed to be before last night to set us up for the next two games which will absolutely define our season and with that, our post season.