Let me just start off by saying this: What a hell of a game and statement made by the Ravens. This was the first win for the Ravens over a legitimate playoff contender since beating the Ben Rothelisberger-less Pittsburgh Steelers all the way back in week 4.
On this edition of “Monday Evening Quarterback”, I will be addressing what the Ravens did differently to beat the defending champs, aspects to their game that have been missing for much of the season.
The first thing I would like to address is the outstanding play-calling of both Offensive Coordinator Cam Cameron and Defensive Coordinator Greg Mattison, and yes, I said the outstanding play-calling of both coordinators, that’s no typo folks.
Third year Offensive Coordinator, Cam Cameron, finally went back to the drawing board and back to the bread and butter of the Ravens offense, 3rd year running back Ray Rice. Finally, Cameron let Rice do his thing and as the game moved along Rice got stronger, carry the ball a season high 31 times for 153 yards, while catching 5 balls out of the backfield for 80 yards and scoring both on the rushing and receiving end of a Joe Flacco pass. The Ravens looked like the Ravens of the 2008 and 2009 seasons on the offense side of the ball, carrying the ball 39 times as a team for 208 yards, a 5.3 yards per carry clip. As for the passing game, much wasn’t required of Joe Flacco as he passed just 20 times, completing 10 passes (50%), for 172 yards and 2 td’s but posted a sparkling 112.9 passer rating. What I liked from Cameron’s pass play-calling was it was nothing great but nothing terrible, Flacco took his shots down the field completing a bomb to Derrick Mason, but as always Flacco took what the defense gave him checking down to Ray Rice and hitting a sneaky Ed Dickson out of the backfield for a 30 yard touchdown pass.
If the Ravens can continue to pound the rock the way they did against the Saints in their final two games of the season against the second tier teams of the AFC North (Cleveland and Cincinnati), the Ravens have a strong chance in both games and could still very well still wind up the AFC North Champions with a Steelers hiccup along the way. Not only that, but if the Ravens can keep up this smash-mouth style of play on the offensive side of the ball, they will be a tough out for any team they see in the playoffs. If the Ravens do in fact end up with one of the wildcard spots in the postseason it will be essential that the running game continues to improve especially if the Ravens get matched up against the vaunting Colts and enemy number 1 of Baltimore: Peyton Manning.
I can’t recall a season in Ravens history where I have been more frustrated with the defensive play-calling and schemes than in the 2010 season. Greg Mattison’s 3 man pass rushes and soft cover 2 and prevent defenses against elite quarterbacks such as Tom Brady, Ben Roethlisberger, and Matty “Ice” Ryan, have left me scratching my head time and time again. Did I mention the Ravens held lead in the 4th quarter of all three of these games and lost each game?
For the first time in over a year, Greg Mattison brought the heat, and turned that heat into fire, as he blitzed quarterback Drew Brees 25 times on 49 dropbacks, a clip at 51 percent, the most the highest percentage the Ravens have blitzed since Week 4 of the 2009 season in New England. The Ravens were constantly in the backfield causing nothing but havoc for Brees and the Saints, although the Ravens only took down Brees twice the pressure the Ravens brought up the middle and off the edges caused Brees to alter his mechanics causing miss timing between him and his receivers.
When the Saints got the ball back with a little over 2 minutes, I won’t lie to you I cringed. I said to myself oh S***, here we go again. However, rather than playing a soft zone, a weak cover 2, or prevent Mattison stayed with what had been successful 4 and 5 man rushes. Just like in Monday nights heart thrilling victory in Houston, the unsung hero, Haloti Ngata did it again, this time tipping a Drew Brees pass that fell into the arms of Defensive End Corey Redding.
Like I’ve said all year when you have a defensive secondary like the Ravens, not necessarily the strongest in the league, but by no means the weakest to compensate for the question marks on the back end it is essential to bring pressure and create havoc. If your going to get beat, why not do it going down trying, rather than sitting back and letting a quarterback pick you apart and do whatever they want.
So what does this all mean? In essence, if the Ravens have any chance at making a deep postseason run the blueprint for that will be yesterday’s tough physical battle they endured against the defending world champion New Orleans Saints.