My family and I went to the game Thursday night and had a blast. Maybe you saw us; we were the ones wearing Ravens jerseys… Anyway, I thumped a few notes into my Windows Phone as my wife graciously offered to drive home. I haven’t yet seen the game on film, so these are my initial thoughts and impressions.
1) Justin Tucker just earned himself a job. I think his 53-yard field goal towards the end of the half sealed the deal. As the ball almost effortlessly sailed through the uprights I could almost hear the printer at Ravens headquarters rattling off Billy Cundiff’s pink slip. It’s sad for Billy in a way. But, regardless of Ray Lewis’ comments after the game, it’s hard to use the game pressure poise argument to justify keeping a kicker who did well until he was needed in the AFC-Championship.
2) Vonta Leach is an absolute beast! As soon as he caught Flacco’s third-quarter pass and turned toward the end zone you could hear every fan in the stadium take a deep breath in anticipation. Vonta did not let the crowd down. He built up a head of steam (a lot faster than one would expect from a gentleman his size) and, to a huge exhale of cheers, literally ran over an unfortunate Jaguar DB. For the rest of the game, every time a picture of Vonta went up on the jumbotron, all you could hear were people saying “BOOM!”
3) Bernard Pierce is a phenomenal athlete and deserves to make the team. But, he’ll need some time to mature as a RB. He made some great catches and a few nice runs, but most of the time the announcements sounded like this, “Bernard Pierce on the carry… No Gain.” He will eventually be an excellent NFL RB (hopefully with the Ravens), but I think it will take some time to develop his vision.
4) Jacoby Jones is the real deal. I don’t know what we paid for him, but whatever it was it was a steal! Everything he did, from receiving to returning, he did extremely well and in an exciting fashion. I pity opposing defensive backfields when they have to defend against Torrey Smith on one side, Jacoby Jones on the other, and somehow figure out how to cover Anquan Boldin in the middle. Oh by the way, they’ll have to worry about the Pitta/Dickson/Bajema TE combo, as well as Ray Rice (and now Vonta) coming out of the backfield… It’s going to be an exciting year.
5) The Flacco-Smith connection will draw a lot of attention this year. Torrey’s 100+ yards were impressive, but more impressive was the synchronization between him and Joe Flacco. To be sure, Joe was on his timing game (most notably on the short routes with Tandon Doss), but you could almost smell the chemistry between Flacco and Smith. I wasn’t keeping a spreadsheet of statistics during the game, but it almost seemed like every time Joe threw the ball in Torrey’s direction he found some way to come down with it. While the deep ball never happened on Thursday, I am encouraged that opposing defenses absolutely must try to prevent it. Even if it’s a weapon that never gets used, defenders must respect the threat which opens up all of the Ravens’ other weapons mentioned above. Did I mention that it’s going to be an exciting year?
6) The secondary played well (Bernard Pollard and Lardarius Webb in particular), but the run defense was lackluster (come on Upshaw! Roll Tide!) This might not concern theorists who claim that the NFL is a passing league, but I am well aware that the only reason defensive coordinators retain linebackers (instead of replacing them with additional defensive backs) is because of the run threat. Therefore, I submit that this aspect of the Ravens defense must improve. Otherwise, even the best defensive backfield-pass rush combination will not succeed.
My hastily scribbled smart phone notes are now exhausted, so I guess I’m finished. An exciting year awaits us. I hope to see you at the stadium. The Ravens will be successful and should still take the division. That said, I’m sticking with my original 11-5 prediction.