“Whew…” That was the collective sigh of relief heard around Baltimore’s Inner Harbor yesterday as the Ravens survived a scrappy contest against the AFC North division rival Cleveland Browns. After a drubbing in Denver, the reigning Super Bowl champions were looking forward to correcting deficiencies exposed at altitude and demonstrating a positive learning curve for a rabid fan base during their home opener. Alas, the Browns were determined to spoil the unveiling of the Super Bowl XLVII banner at M&T Bank Stadium and shed their traditional role as the AFC North door mat. They were almost successful.
On the positive side of the ledger for the Ravens, the front seven of their defense continued to look strong. The Ravens held Trent Richardson and the Browns’ running game to a mere 65 yards while Suggs, Dumervil and company combined to sack Weeden five times. When Weeden was able to stay upright, however, he was reasonably effective against the Ravens’ secondary completing 21 of 33 passes for 227 yards. Thankfully for the Ravens, most of these completions were between the twenties and the Browns were only able to put a total of 6 points on the board.
And that was a good thing for the Ravens.
This takes us to the negative side of the Ravens’ grade book. For the most part, the Ravens’ offensive line was able to keep Kruger and his ilk out of Flacco’s grill, but they were unable to open holes for the purple running game – especially in the first half. The group improved somewhat in the second half, but the Ravens were held to 99 yards of rushing, the majority of which, 57 yards, came from Bernard Pierce. The Browns limited Ray Rice to 36 yards in his three quarters of play (more on that below).
The Ravens’ passing game was best described as inconsistent – moments of brilliance, marred by periodic acts of buffoonery. Flacco finished the game 22 for 33 with 211 yards against a talented Cleveland secondary, but there were several opportunities to increase this stat line. With 7 receptions for 85 yards, Torrey Smith had a decent outing. Marlon Brown continued to impress with 45 receiving yards, two key first down receptions, and the game’s only passing touchdown. And while the mojo between Flacco and Stokley is improving, it is definitely not Flacco-Boldin level yet. Finally, the Ravens tight ends combined for a grand total of 2 receptions (and a major drop by Dickson). It is clear the Ravens are counting the days until Dennis Pitta can return to the gridiron.
To make matters worse, the normally perfect Justin Tucker missed two field goals (of 50 and 44 yards) on the same day he was immortalized at M&T Bank Stadium with his own bobble head.
Most concerning to Ravens fans, however, was the injury Ray Rice suffered early in the 4th quarter. On a stretch run to the right side of the field, just as Rice was beginning a cut to move up field he appeared to trip, fell straight to the ground, and started grabbing his upper left leg. He departed the field under his own power with a minor limp. The only details released by the team indicate that Rice suffered a hip flexor strain and that they are hopeful for a quick return. Let’s hope this is the case.
At the end of the day, the Ravens walked away with an important division win against a steadily improving Browns squad. The two teams will meet again on Nov 3. Without significant improvement – mostly on the offensive line, in the secondary, and with the tight end corps – the Ravens may not be able to say they “survived” afterwards. In the meantime, the Ravens have a few days to make the appropriate corrections before they welcome back Ed Reed and the Houston Texans to Baltimore. Let’s hope the improvements happen.
Tags: AFC North Baltimore Ravens Bernard Pierce Brandon Stokley Cleveland Browns Dennis Pitta Ed Dickson Houston Texans Joe Flacco Paul Kruger Ravens Ray Rice Terrell Suggs Torrey Smith Trent Richardson