In a game where momentum clearly favored the Ravens side in the 1st and 2nd quarters, the team looked to build upon that, driving for a touchdown just before the end of the 1st half when Dallas Clark dropped a potential touchdown that Joe Flacco threw right to the numbers.
Instead of seven points, Justin Tucker’s 25-yard field goal gave the Ravens a 17-14 lead heading into the lockeroom.
After that, it all went down hill from there.
Joe Flacco threw a career high 62 pass attempts in this game. That usually spells doom when he is attempting that many passes. His previous high was 52 in a loss to the Seattle Seahawks in 2011. Flacco finished with 362 yards passing – the fourth most in his career – but for most of the night, looked off with his new crop of receivers.
In the first half, offensive coordinator Jim Caldwell, used a good amount of slants and crossing routes that were effective with burners, Torrey Smith and Jacoby Jones. Then, while attempting to return a punt in the 2nd quarter, Jacoby Jones was taken out accidentally by unsuspecting rookie safety Brynden Trawick who found himself looking at the defender gaining on Jones, instead running directly into Jones in a move that would make the New York Jets chuckle.
What wasn’t funny was Jones left the game with a knee injury, and with his exit, Flacco relied on tight ends, Dallas Clark and Ed Dickson, both of whom had drops throughout the night. Clark still looks slower than what the game is dictating at this point and Dickson, who missed a lot of time during camp and preseason, isn’t on the same page with Flacco. Without Pitta for the conceivable future, they need production from these guys and they need it soon.
Marlon Brown filling in for Jones, showed nice ability in his first regular season game (four catches, 65 yards and a TD) but the lack of an opposite side downfield threat took Torrey Smith completely out of the game in the second half.
All Denver had to do was roll their safeties over the top to blanket Smith and he was a non-factor in quarters three and four.
Running the football a collective 21 times for 58 yards will not cut it, especially as the offense continued to go three and out, giving Peyton Manning all sorts of time to carve up a secondary that was porous all night. The Ravens tried to get the running game going, but abandoned it a short time later, even while continuing to lead as the 2nd half began.
At times it looked like the reincarnation of Cam Cameron’s offense had reared its head. This team gets away from the run too often, too quick when getting behind. The shocking part is the game wasn’t fully out of reach until midway through the 3rd quarter. The Ravens ran the football a total of four times in the 3rd quarter.
Another injury that affected the quality of play, was the injury to Michael Oher. Oher was victim of another “friendly fire” incident, getting his knee and ankle rolled under when Marshal Yanda fell into him on Ray Rice’s TD run towards the end of the 1st quarter. Ricky Wagner, who played guard/tackle in college, came off the bench and handled his own for most of the game.
Haloti Ngata looked very strong against the run last night for the first time in a couple of seasons. Twice by my accounts he leveled Broncos running back Knowshon Moreno with crushing tackles. The play from Chris Canty will help free up Ngata in run situations instead of lineman doubling down on him. Canty was solid last night recording a sack on Manning.
Another turning point that shifted momentum in Denver’s favor was the non-challenge call by head coach John Harbaugh and his coaching staff upstairs in the booth. With Denver facing a third-and-nine, Wes Welker dropped a potential first down that, on replay, clearly showed the football hitting the ground. Inexplicably, Harbaugh never challenged and the Broncos quickly snapped the next play and promptly drove right down the field for the score three plays later.
It was inexcusable not challenging the play as corner back Corey Graham begged and pleaded with Harbaugh to throw the red hanky. Whether the booth didn’t see enough, or didn’t have enough time to make a definitive decision, it cost the Ravens a chance to get the football back.
Make no mistake, all the above reasons are not the reasons Baltimore lost this game. One only needs to look at the absolutely atrocious outing collectively from the secondary by everyone not named Lardarius Webb. Webb knocked away a couple Manning passes early in this game and looked solid in coverage. Without Lardarius, the Broncos may have scored 60 points last night. Manning threw for an NFL-tying record seven touchdowns against the Ravens defense. It was just too easy for Manning to get revenge from last season’s playoff loss.
Jimmy Smith played very physical with big receiver Demaryius Thomas early on in the game and broke up a few passes, but that goodwill quickly eroded as he found himself struggling to find the football. He then committed a dumb personal foul penalty in the 2nd half which likely drew the ire of John Harbaugh.
Corey Graham was disappointing in coverage and Peyton wasted no time finding the weakness as he continued to attack Graham with Wes Welker who caught 11 passes last night. No one could stop him. I think Graham will be fine, but last night was not a good show for someone who fared well in starting relief last season.
One question I kept asking myself throughout this game was: Have these safeties ever played football before? It sure didn’t look that way last night as we continued to see whiffs on tackles. Michael Huff missed at least three tackles and look slow chasing after Julius Thomas who beat him on an inside route for a touchdown. Huff who was expected to be a better tackler and less of a gambler than Ed Reed did the opposite of each. Same went with James Ihedigbo who played for the big hit instead of making the plays.
If Jacoby Jones is out for an extended period of time, who becomes the man in the return game? There’s really no reason for Lardarius Webb to be back there fielding punts and/or kicks given his injury history, but the Ravens may not have any other option. Cutting Bobby Rainey hurts the Ravens special teams unit big time.
If there’s a silver lining or two from this thrashing last night, it’s the fact this is still early September and there’s plenty of time for this team to turn things around. Games against the Bills and Dolphins are on the horizon for this team. The second lining, they now have ten days to rest and prepare for the Cleveland Browns in the home opener. Give them time to sort and iron out issues in the secondary and how to effectively get the most from Elvis Dumervil and Chris Canty.
Maybe its just the remedy this team needs.
Matt Lund is a contributor for BaltimoreSportsReport.com and co-host of the BSR Podcast. You can follow him on Twitter @MattCLund.