Sunday, October 18, 2009

Third time's a harm

Ugh, it's been hard writing this blog the last 2 weeks, and as I write now, it's been about an hour since the Ravens lost to the Vikings, 33-31. I figured I might as well get it all out of my system now and move on rather than wait until tomorrow morning and pick at the wound after it's had a chance to scab over.

First, let me say that we should consider ourselves lucky for even being able to watch that game on pins and needles. When the Ravens were down 17-3 and 27-10, I thought the game was over and didn't want to watch any more. But, the Ravens staged an amazing comeback, scoring 21 points in the 4th quarter, and took the lead, 31-30 with 3:37 left on the clock.

But, as the Ravens defense had done all day, they allowed too many big plays, and a Brett Favre to Sidney Rice 58-yard pass put the Vikings in field goal range, where they kicked the go ahead FG to take the lead, 33-31.

Joe Flacco and the Ravens offense got the ball back with 1:49 left. Flacco has not yet completed a game-winning drive, and it looked like today would be his first when he drove the offense down to the Vikings' 27-yard line, where Steve Hauschka attempted his first game-winning FG.

It was just slightly wide-left.

The Vikings win, remain unbeaten at 6-0 and the Ravens drop to 3-3.

It was hard to take at the time, but some minor reflection does put the game in a more positive light. Especially when you consider the offense.

Flacco absolutely exploded today, for 385 passing yards and 2 touchdown passes. Ray Rice had 194 all-purpose yards and 2 touchdowns. And Derrick Mason returned in a big way after being held without a catch last week, with 97 receiving yards and a touchdown. Even Mark Clayton got in on the action, with 57 receiving yards and a TD catch. Clayton had been the unfortunate whipping boy during the Ravens previous 2 losses.

But, as good a day as the offense had today, the defense was just as disappointing. For one, they gave up another huge day to the opponent, this time it was 426 yards to the Vikings. Favre tossed for 278 yards and the Ravens allowed their second consecutive 100+ yard rusher as Adrian Peterson rumbled for 142 yards.

The secondary is becoming, in a word, shitty. They routinely left Viking receivers wide open all over the field and exemplified poor tackling all day. The only positive that can be taken from the defense today was their ability to hold the Vikings to field goals late in the game, when touchdowns would have ended the game a lot earlier. But those "holds" only came after allowing huge plays to the Vikings offense, so even that positive is outlined in negativity.

Greg Mattison is not having a good showing as Ravens Defensive Coordinator through his first 6 games as he's allowed opponents to rack up yardsand points week after week. His failure to design effective blitz packages have allowed opposing QB's to have success picking the Ravens secondary apart. So while the secondary is extremely weak, it's not all their fault. The Ravens simply have to get after the QB more often.

Then there is Hauschka.

There was some talk by fans during the preseason that letting Matt Stover go was a mistake. Hauschka was untested, and Stover had been money when making crucial kicks late in games. And while Hauschka unfortunately missed the potential 44-yard game winner today, there is no guarantee that Stover would have made the kick either.

The Ravens were right to go in a different direction. Stover's leg was getting weaker with each kick and his failure to handle kick-offs forced the Ravens to waste a roster spot on a kickoff specialist (Hauschka, last year).

If there was any mistake made by the Ravens relating to the kicker position, it was going with an untested kicker in Hauschka. Maybe they could have gone after a different kicker, who was younger than Stover, and had been tested in crucial late situations.

But all that is just second guessing in my opinion. Pinning losses on a kicker has always been something I've hated, because there are usually a ton of other things that could have prevented putting the game into the kicker's hands. And today the Ravens could have stopped the Vikings offense on any number of occasions. So today's loss is squarely on Mattison and the Ravens defense.

Hopefully Steve Hauschka will get another chance to knock a game winner through the uprights and settle his nerves.

As for the Ravens, who are 3-3 as they head into the bye week, it doesn't look good. The way I see it, the Ravens are going to need a 11-5 record to have a chance to either win the division or make the playoffs as a Wild Card team, and that means going 8-2 down the stretch against tough teams in Denver, Cincinnati, Indianapolis, Pittsburgh x2, and then Chicago and Green Bay.

The Ravens can still make the playoffs, but they are going to have to make drastic changes to the defense to do it.

Until then, it's probably a good time to enjoy the bye week. The same should go for the team too.

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