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The Ravens have an uncanny knack for playing up to and down to, their competition. Too be fair, the Ravens were coming off a very emotional win only about 90 hours prior. Add to that the rain and a divisional opponent and you have the makings of a potential Perfect Storm of Ugliness.
But Cleveland was also operating on a short week and on the road. The Ravens were noticeably sloppy -looking more like a second week preseason game than week 4 in the regular season- false starts, ticky-tacky holding, brain-farqs in the secondary, even a stare down into double coverage pick in the red zone... Full disclosure: I was at the game, so my perspective might be slightly askew.
Boldin. Only took four weeks, but starting to heat up. When Boldin decides to take over game, he is nearly unstoppable and arguably one of the best receivers in the league.
Torrey. He is the Ravens #1 receiver. There is no disputing this. He just seems to get better and better with each game.
Pierce. Can see why the Ravens moved up to get him. He just needs to be a little more decisive in picking his hole; sometimes a little crack in the interior is are you are going to get at the NFL level. Take your one yard plunge and a cloud of (synthetic) dust and move on.
Flacco. 300+ yards again. Two touchdowns. He only made one really bad decision -more on that later. From my perspective without benefit of watching on TV, Flacco seemed more in command and control this game than earlier games this season. Even when things were not exactly going smoothly, he seemed more calm and in control. He showed good patience not just from play to play, but also I thought from series to series. Some series are just doomed from the get-go. But Flacco stayed with it and delivered when he had to. I think Flacco tries to make something out of nothing and that is why he holds onto the ball so long. It is a fine line between extending the play and throwing it away. Flacco has some pocket presence and some mobility, he just needs to have that internal alarm clock go off a little quicker and louder to either get rid of it or start moving. Other than that, I thought he had a great game. And he is like the #1 or #2 passer currently in the league. Incredible!
Leech. How can you not love this guy? He is Chuck Norris tough and Terminator mean. Between him, Pollard and even Jacoby- Houston, have any more cast-offs you don't want?
Ellerbe. Took a few years but he is really turning it on. Defense, Special Teams you name it -making a name for himself and earning the title "Ellerbeast" back.
The run defense. Trent Richardsons is a monster. Very similar to Jamal Lewis, but not quite as choppy steps. After his initial seven yard run, we pretty much shut him down.
Ngata. He just consumes babies. Nothing more, nothing less. Even from three miles away through the rain he looks like a big, mean, ugly man. He is the only one that consistently penetrates on running plays and gets pressure on passing plays.
Cary Williams. He has a had rough start to the season, but not necessarily a really bad start. Jimmy Smith has the potential to be all-world; Lardarius is all world, so QB's, even rookie ones, are going to pick on Cary as he is the perceived weakest link. Yes, he did give up a big pass in Cleveland's touchdown drive. But then he jumped the out perfectly, basically stole the ball from the receiver and took it to the house -a great play! Cary has been excoriated in the press and blogosphere, but he stuck with it, fought through and made a game saving play.
Punt coverage. You cannot give up a big return late in the game. Not that in the beginning is much better, but when you need to shut the door on your inferior opponent, the last thing you want to do is give them hope.
Run blocking. A few holes, but not nearly enough for our running backs. Although Flacco's rushing touchdown was thing of beauty.
Pitta. It pains me to say this, but two false starts -that's ugly. Many tight-ends go *years* before they have two false starts.
Oher. Let in too much pressure, was penalized way too much and was lucky he didn't get a personal foul late in the game. And the O-Line in general. They all were solidly putrid.
The interception in the end zone. Even though I was at the opposite end of the stadium, as soon as Flacco dropped back, I knew what was going to happen. When he released it, I am thinking there is no way that does not get picked off. It was Ugly because he stared down Anquan and there was perfect double coverage. The only way that pass was going to work was if Flacco had thrown a rainbow Clarence Moore jump-ball way back to the corner of the end zone. Not even Favre could have thread that needle.
From my perspective, I was ready to give Kruger a Good, but that totally unnecessary PF at the end to give Cleveland one more relatively short shot is inexcusable. I was remarking to the folks around me during the game that initially I was not sold on Kruger, but this game I was coming around, seeing some of the special talent he has. Also, another spectator remarked that as long as Kruger keeps the play in front of him or stays even with it, he is awesome. The minute Kruger has to back-pedal or turn his hips, it kind of all falls apart. And then he lays an egg. A big one. A stinky, rotten, sulfur-laden doozy. What is worse, it was an easily preventable mental mistake. With Suggs out, as we have seen this season the Ravens have absolutely zero margin for error on defense. The game was over- a fourth down incompletion. And Joe Thomas was a hack for flopping. That is bush-league and with the real refs back, I expect better from professional NFL players. If anything, Thomas should have been flagged, rather than Kruger, for unsportsmanlike conduct or at least off-setting personal fouls. The one thing American football can ill-afford to do is turn into European football with a cavalcade of B-list and C-list actors... I have the USANetwork for that...
But hey, we are 3 - 1 at the quarter turn, 3 - 0 in the conference and perfect in the division. A win is a win. And Young Tuck got the miss out of his system when it really didn't matter. You could tell the Ravens were a little ragged out from playing four games in 17 days. They have earned a well-deserved rest. In a few days they will start to prepare for the Chiefs and the second part of the season. At KC, home for Dallas, then to Houston. That is a tough three game stretch before the bye and the rematch with Cleveland. If things go our way we could be at least 5 - 2 going into the bye; 6 - 1 would be Metallica awesome!