Monday, September 21, 2009

Taking Charge

The Ravens overcame the Chargers and their 474 total yards to win 31-26 in San Diego yesterday to improve to 2-0.

It was a win that had me sitting on the edge of my seat for most of the second half, and one that despite the win, has me worried going forward.

Let's start with the 474 yards allowed, 421 of which came on the arm of Chargers QB Philip Rivers. If the Ravens defense did one good thing yesterday (besides the final play of the game), they limited the Chargers to just 53 yards rushing, which is why the Chargers had to rely on Rivers to win the game. And he almost did. Rivers routinely exposed the Ravens' secondary and their lack of effective pass rush gave Rivers enough time to pick the Ravens secondary apart.

Don't get me wrong. The Ravens defense stepped up when it mattered most, especially on the final play of the game. The Chargers had the ball on the Ravens 15 yard line and needed a touchdown to win the game. It was 4th and 2. Rivers handed off to Sproles and Ray Lewis came through the line untouched to demolish Sproles for a 5 yard loss. (Yahoo! Sports is saying it could be Lewis' best play of his career. I disagree.) The secondary also came up with some great defensive plays to bat away balls that would have put the Chargers in a better position to win the game, avoiding pass interference calls in the process.

But going forward, the Ravens are going to have to address their weaknesses on defense. Despite allowing only 188 yards to the Chiefs last weekend, they did allow them to drive 80 yards for a touchdown at one point in the game. And yesterday, their lack of pressure (2 sacks) on Rivers almost cost them the game.

Thankfully, the offense stepped up to the plate for the second week in a row. Whereas the Chargers relied on explosive big plays to stay in the game, the Ravens stayed with what works best for them -- ball control -- and used it effectively.

For most of the game, the Chargers' depleted defensive line were unable to stop the Ravens running game, which resulted in 130 yards rushing offense. Willis McGahee is starting to take over as the go-to guy for the Ravens, and his 73 yards on 15 rushes and 2 touchdowns is proof of that. Ray Rice also ran effectively, 36 yards on 8 rushes, and helped on screens, catching 5 balls for 46 yards.

Joe Flacco had a workmanlike afternoon, and ended up with 190 yards passing, 2 touchdowns and an interception. He spread the ball around well, and Kelley Washington lead the Ravens in receiving yards, with 58 yards and a touchdown that came on a blown assignment. Derrick Mason caught 3 passes for 31 yards, and came up big on a drive before halftime. And Todd Heap caught his second TD in as many weeks, becoming a bigger part of the Ravens offense than he was a year ago.

True, the Ravens offense did enough to win the game, but they came up short with 25 minutes left to play in the game. After a Rivers INT lead to the Washington TD with 10 minutes left in the 3rd quarter, the Ravens' next 3 drives only resulted in a Steve Hauschka field goal.

Thankfully it was enough.

All things considered, this was a huge win for the Ravens and one that can set the tone for this season. But the Ravens will have to study the game film and try to fix what went wrong. Yes, they won, but they allowed 474 total yards of offense, which cannot be ignored. And with good offensive teams like the Patriots, Vikings, Colts, Packers awaiting the Ravens this year, they might find themselves in trouble during those games.

But don't let me spoil this victory. In the end the Ravens came up big and won. And that's all that matters.

The Ravens host the Cleveland Browns next week at 1 p.m. in the first AFC North divisional game of the season.

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