Friday, January 8, 2010
2009 Ravens Playoff Preview
I wrote in my last entry that the Ravens were playing with house money. I still believe they are. Lose on Sunday to the Patriots and no one is going to throw a beer bottle or cuss at their television for much longer that a couple minutes after the game ends. At 9-7, the Ravens were lucky to make the playoffs since it came down to who had the better conference record between the Ravens, Steelers and Texans.
However, in at least 5 of the Ravens 7 losses, there was usually a penalty, a dropped pass or a missed field goal that could be blamed for the loss. And if the Ravens are able to reel in their self-destructive mistakes, they can go as far as any team in the playoffs can.
Aside from the Jets, the Ravens played every AFC team in the playoffs. They beat the Chargers (thanks to Ray Lewis sniffing out a Darren Sproles run on 4th and 1 on the Ravens 5 yard-line), lost two close games to the Bengals twice (thanks to an defensive implosion at home in the 4th quarter), lost to the Patriots (thanks to penalties and a Mark Clayton dropped pass) and lost to the Colts (thanks to a 4th quarter Joe Flacco interception).
No loss was by more than 7 points.
But the Ravens play the Patriots this Sunday and all focus should be on them. And without Wes Welker, the Patriots will be less dynamic on offense, and with Tom Brady apparently nursing some broken ribs and a broken finger, the Ravens should be able to contain the 3rd ranked New England offense. That isn't to say they won't have their hands full all afternoon, but these aren't the 2007 Patriots by any stretch of the imagination. If anything, the Patriots are a step down from the 2008 Patriots, you know, the team that lost Brady in week 1, played Matt Cassell at QB and missed the playoffs despite going 11-5.
But the Ravens are a step down from their 11-5 2008 selves as well. Their 9-7 record proves it. Hopefully, the Ravens will get back to what worked for them in 2008 and that is running the ball. Willis McGahee proved that he is ready to handle more carries last week, and Ray Rice is headed toward the Pro Bowl. That doesn't even factor Le'Ron McCain into the mix, who was the Ravens closer last year, routinely wearing down opposing defenses in the 4th quarter.
Thankfully, Cam Cameron thinks the same, saying that the Ravens "will be conservative on offense in the playoffs". Translation: We are running!
And here is the reason: Joe Flacco is apparently banged up, and it's not the Bill Belichick kind of "banged up". Apparently, Flacco is really hurting. He's still nursing a sore ankle, suffered back in week 6 against the Vikings, and he was seen limping on the practice field this week while holding his hip.
On defense, the Ravens got things in order after the bye in week 7, and finished the regular season 3rd overall in defense, but that doesn't mean they suddenly figured out how to get after the QB. They still lack a definitive pass rush and their secondary, while much improved as of late, still has weak spots in Chris Carr and Frank Walker. And if there is a team that can hone in on a team's weakness, it's the Patriots.
And that will make for a close game. I see it looking a lot like the week 4 game against the Patriots, except colder, and the Ravens learning their lesson from that game, and laying off the penalties. I wish.
Here is how the two teams stack up...
Points - 9th
Yards - 13th
Pass - 18th
Rush - 5th
Points - 6th
Yards - 3rd
Pass - 3rd
Rush - 12th
Points - 3rd
Yards - 3rd
Pass - 8th
Rush - 5th
Points - 5th
Yards - 11th
Pass - 12th
Rush - 13th
I'll see you next week either way.