There is something about playing your former team. From Pop Warner on up to the NFL there is nothing sweeter than sticking it to the guys that thought they could go on with out you. Bernard Pollard and Vonta Leach did just that on Sunday at M&T Bank Stadium. Although Pollard whiffed badly on a tackle of Arian Foster, both players played extremely well facing their former team.
In the days leading up to the Ravens, Texans match up I read and heard from Texan fans that Pollard was the "chink" in the armor of the Ravens defense. As if every time he was on the field Matt Schaub was going to target whatever player he was matching up against and drive the Texans to the end zone time after time. Pollard may have his issues in pass coverage but he has done a very nice job here in Baltimore thus far. The better teams in the NFL have coaches that know how to use their players and the Ravens know how to use Bernard Pollard. It's pretty simple, he's in the game to lay the wood and he does it well. There are many excellent players in the NFL that are not every down players and if you leave them in all game they will be exposed. Bernard Pollard is one of them. However, if you use him for what he is he can help your team tremendously. He is just another guy on the Ravens defense that loves to light people up!
When asked why the Texans decided not to retain the services of Vonta Leach the scripted response from the PR department was that the fullback position was not an area they felt they needed a premier player. In other words, in this unheralded position the drop off to the next guy was worth the cap space and they could pretty much use anyone to run forward and block. I admit that fullback is not the most glorious of positions but after a full game of being hit by Leach I can see the other teams linebackers flinch before contact. In the Pittsburgh game one of their defensive backs crumbled to the ground rather than be pummeled by an oncoming Leach. That is something that changes games and Vonta is worth the every penny. Leach is quickly becoming one of the Ravens most consistent players. After five games his devastating blows have made him a fan favorite and he is getting a chance to carry the rock and even catching some balls in the passing game. Things that would never have been done in Houston. Again, It all goes back to coaching.
The thing I like most about this 2011 Ravens team is that is full of tuff guys. Guys that other tough guys look out for. Jarret Johnson, Michael Oher, Vonta Leach, Bernard Pollard, Tom Zbikowski, Haloti Ngata and many others are all the toughest of the tough. This is why the signings of Pollard and Leach made so much sense for this team. They were Ravens before they got here and will only get better as Defensive Coordinator Chuck Pagano finds new ways to use their talents.
Derrick Mason is a tough guy too but he is a tough guy that thinks he is tougher than he really is. Maybe that is why he annoys so many people. Maybe we were blind to it when he played for us because we were all feeling what he did at the time. Seeing him now playing for other teams he reminds me of Hines Ward or T.J. Houshmandzadeh when he played for the Bengals. A guy you like to have on your team but hate if he's on the other. I can not dislike Mason though. He played hard for the purple and black and he was a warrior at times. For a while he was all we had on offense and he still managed to make plays. 85.../82 will always be a Raven in my book though even if he is converting third downs for the Jaguars next week!
A few guys that did not look so tough were playing the offensive line for the Ravens on Sunday. It pains me to think that an injury to Ben Grubbs toe can throw our whole line out of whack but that is precisely what seems to be happening. Grubbs was replaced by a Pro-Bowler and still the line is a revolving door for pass rushers. Bryant McKinnie has played well for the Ravens so far but he looked pretty lost at times this week. McKinnie failed to even attempt to block free rushers on the outside edge multiple times and almost got Joe Flacco killed. The Ravens like to run a zone blocking scheme and apparently McKinnie did not know his zone was the left end of the line as he chose to double the inside lineman with Andre Gurode. I can't blame him for wanting to help Gurode though as he was being pushed around quite a bit.
The Ravens must find a new blocking scheme up front on offense or the signing of Leach and the 'All-World' running back Ray Rice will not be able to take them where they need to go. Or at least run some different blocking schemes so they will be less predictable. I don't want to take anything away from the Texans defense however. They played fantastic, the Ravens will not face players like that every week. I'd hate to imagine that line with Mario Williams on it as well. Luckily the Ravens Line is better and the O-line has that to practice against every day.
It was a very good day for the former Texans , as it was for Ravens fans as well. This team looks to be special. I am excited to see where we go this season!