The Baltimore Ravens have had their share of head-scratching defeats on the road this season, but leading up to the match-up in Cleveland, all week the theme was not letting those prior losses creep into the collective psyche of the team. The thought of another trap game weighed heavily on the minds of fans as well, but the Ravens were determined to distance themselves from those ugly losses and prove their worth as one of the top teams in the AFC.
On a rainy and cold afternoon in Cleveland, the Ravens needed to take care of business against a team they had defeated six straight times, including three straight on the road. They did exactly that with a tough, ground and pound style that Cleveland had absolutely no answer for. The 24-10 victory for Baltimore is their third straight victory and also their third road victory of the season, critical wins to have at this point of the season.
Grading the Ravens 24-10 victory over Cleveland
This performance can be viewed many different ways; I view it as an incomplete performance by Joe Flacco. Despite the weather, he showed a strong arm at times, but could have had a much better game had his receivers done a better job of holding onto the football. Call it bad weather, lack of focus, not enough stick-em on the gloves, but I counted at least five drops (two by Lee Evans) on balls that needed to be caught, bad weather or not. Joe only had to throw the football 23 times, but that’s fine because Cleveland couldn’t stop anything in the running game.
Flacco’s lack of awareness reared its ugly head on the lost fumble in the 3rd quarter. Luckily, the Ravens were playing a team that has a hard time capitalizing on turnovers, as it only led to a Browns field goal. On the bright side, Flacco didn’t throw an interception, the 2nd straight game that has happened. Flacco managed the game well, throwing for 158 yards, and was only sacked once but overall, a pedestrian day for #5.
Running backs: A–
Going into this game, the Cleveland Browns gave up a whopping 139 rushing yards per game, so from the get-go, the Ravens put it to them with a solid running attack. Ray Rice had a career day, rushing for 204 yards. He ran extremely hard, and showed some great acceleration, while making some really nifty cuts when the Browns were close to tackling him.
FB Vonta Leach played well, getting his helmet into defenders, clearing the way for Rice to scamper all over the field. RB Ricky Williams did a nice job running inside and finished with 76 yards on 16 carries.
Wide receivers/Tight ends: C-
Just a flat day from this group. They didn’t need to do much in this game, but when chances presented themselves, they didn’t make the most of it. There was some confusion in the red zone, as there was never enough space for the receivers to get open. Timing between the receivers and Flacco was off most of the day and both Evans and WR Anquan Boldin dropped multiple passes.
TE Ed Dickson led the team with three catches for 47 yards. WR Torrey Smith made one of the few catches over the middle of the field, his only catch of the day for 32 yards. This group’s help in run blocking was stellar though, about the only thing they did right in the game.
Offensive line: A
The Ravens offensive line imposed their will against a sorry Browns run defense. At times, the line opened holes big enough for tanker trucks to drive through. Where were the Browns linebackers in this game? They were busy being blocked up or laying flat on their backs, a tremendous effort upfront by the line, dominating the line of scrimmage. Pass blocking was very good as well, the only mistake coming via a sack, the blame placed squarely on Joe Flacco for that.
Defensive line: A
The Browns had nothing for this group all day. DE Pernell McPhee continued his outstanding play, sacking Browns QB Colt McCoy twice. DT Haloti Ngata was involved all game, deflecting two passes and bottling up the middle when Cleveland tried to run the football. Browns RB Peyton Hillis had himself a quiet day, rushing for only 45 yards on 12 carries. They were continuously near the football and hit McCoy pretty hard a few times during the game, something I’m sure was in the back of his mind every snap.
Both Dannell Ellerbe and Jameel McClain had solid afternoons, each recording seven tackles. Ellerby, who again filled in for the injured Ray Lewis, had a better day playing in pass situations as well. He’s been a great asset for the Ravens while Lewis continues to rehab his turf toe injury. LB Terrell Suggs had a sack and was close to a few more on the day. He created problems and had McCoy getting out of the pocket on numerous occasions. LB Jarrett Johnson also had three tackles.
Collectively as a unit, the secondary played well. They missed a couple of passes thrown that on a nicer day would probably have been intercepted. The key was knowing McCoy likes throwing short to intermediate passes, and I noticed the Ravens were jumping routes most of the day. CB Jimmy Smith had an interception just before halftime that led to a Ravens field goal. Backup CB Danny Gorrer nearly had a pick-six late in the game. CB Cary Williams chipped in with four tackles and CB Lardarius Webb had himself two tackles.
Special Teams: C-
K Billy Cundiff missed two field goals, and nearly missed an extra point as well. Bad weather or not, those points cannot be left to waste, especially against better teams the Ravens will play. Otherwise, this unit did fairly well. Lardarius Webb ran a punt back 68 yards for a touchdown that put the game out of reach in the 4th quarter. The Ravens managed to keep Browns specialist Joshua Cribbs quiet, though he did manage almost 24 yards on four kickoffs in this game.
When you face a team that gives up the 4th-most rushing yards this season, you better damn sure stay with the game plan. Run the football. The Ravens rushed for 290 net yards and dominated the time of possession by nearly 16 minutes. The defense has always played with the motto, ‘Next Man Up’ and they believe it when they go on the field. Players have filled in and gotten the job done without their leader, Ray Lewis on the field. Defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano and head coach John Harbaugh deserve credit for that. And hey, the Ravens beat a team on the road, a team that had no reason to be in this game whatsoever. Best of all, they find themselves again sitting atop the standings in the AFC North.
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