The Baltimore Ravens packed up their playoff hopes and dreams and headed west to a not-so-warm San Diego to face the Chargers on Sunday night. Before the start of the game, because of losses by the Tennessee Titans and Oakland Raiders, the Ravens locked in their 4th-straight appearance in the NFL playoffs; a franchise record. But after that news, little went right for a team with so much on the line and destiny laying in the palm of their collective hands.
A win over San Diego would have kept the Ravens one step ahead of divisional rival, the Pittsburgh Steelers for the AFC North division as well as the potential of having the top seed in the AFC Playoffs with home field advantage. But those dreams, at least after Week 15, came crashing down in the Ravens 34-14 loss to the Chargers at Snapdragon Stadium.
The Ravens were thoroughly out-worked by the Chargers in all facets of this game: Offensively, defensively and coaching. San Diego didn’t roll over and play dead just because their opponent had stamped a ticket to the playoffs before this game even started. In fact, that may have given the Chargers some extra pep in their step because they themselves were not out of the AFC Playoff picture with a 6-7 record.
Road games in December are extremely important to a team aspiring to be champions and now may be the only way this team gets to the Super Bowl. There’s enough talent on both sides of the ball to still get there, but simply put, the Ravens must take care of business the rest of the way and hope for a slip-up by the Steelers on Monday night against the San Francisco 49ers.
Grading the Ravens 34-14 loss to San Diego
You knew that this might not be the Ravens night when you look back to the opening drive of the game. Joe Flacco twice missed WR Lee Evans on pass plays including what would have been a sure TD to Evans after he had beaten his man. Flacco threw two really bad interceptions to defenders standing right in his line of vision, including one to a defensive lineman.
He struggled on short passing in this game, the one that sticks out being the throw to RB Ray Rice on a nice designed play that was a little too high for him. These types of things need to get better. He sailed a few passes over the middle of the field as well.
Flacco’s accuracy wasn’t so accurate and after the Ravens were down the Chargers simply dropped their coverage back, and waited on Joe’s throws to defend. The one thing that continues to drive me crazy is his pocket awareness, or lack thereof. NBC commentator Chris Collinsworth had the line of the night, saying of Joe, “Flacco is as mobile as any QB playing the game right now in the NFL.” Uh, Chris. What game are you watching?
Running Backs: C-
The running game became non-existent after the Chargers got up by double-digit points. Ray Rice started strong, rushing for 20 yards on the opening drive, but finished with just 57 yards on 10 carries. Rice stayed active in the passing game, catching dump-off pass after dump-off pass and that was a majority of the Ravens offense on the night.
Wide Receivers/Tight Ends: C
This group could have started out strong, but missed some opportunities because of Joe’s poor throwing. Lee Evans nearly caught a TD on the first drive of the game, but it was under-thrown. It took until garbage time for WR Torrey Smith to make some plays, catching his 7th touchdown of the season, breaking the rooking single-season record for the Ravens. Outside of TE Ed Dickson’s touchdown in the 2nd quarter, both he and Dennis Pitta were fairly quiet. The Chargers had excellent coverage all over the field, but where were the opportunities down field? Seemed like the Ravens forgot about that.
Offensive Line: D-
The line had trouble all night pass blocking, giving up seven sacks in the game. The left side of the line had problems containing DE’s Vaughn Martin and Tommie Harris and out of nowhere, OLB and former Raven Antwan Barnes collected four sacks coming from that left side. He was a nightmare for tackle Bryant McKinnie and guard Ben Grubbs, who’s heads must have been spinning trying to locate this guy. Flacco had nowhere to run and nowhere to hide with this front seven.
Defensive Line: D-
This group absolutely has to get more consistent pressure for this team to be successful. I’ve said it and I’ll stick by it. They gave Chargers QB Philip Rivers all the time in the world to pick apart the Ravens secondary. No pressure meant no getting to the quarterback, as the Ravens were held to zero sacks on the night. Running up the middle still doesn’t work against the Ravens, but the Chargers starting running outside and that proved to be effective for them. DT Haloti Ngata played well, recording five tackles.
As I mentioned earlier, the Chargers did an outstanding job on neutralizing OLB Terrell Suggs. The one time the Ravens did get to Rivers, it was negated by a stupid personal foul penalty on Suggs, who at that point was getting extremely frustrated at what was going on.
This group missed a bunch of tackles, which up to this point had not been an issue. Middle linebacker Ray Lewis returned from his injury but looked slow to the ball. OLB Jarrett Johnson played well in the 1st half, but like the rest of the group disappeared in the 2nd half. The Chargers did a good job of spreading the field, moving the Ravens inside linebackers outside, leaving the middle wide open which they connected with ease a handful of times. Coverage here needs to get better.
The Ravens need someone other than Terrell Suggs to create havok and get to the QB, once the Chargers shut it down, the Ravens had nothing coming off the edge or inside.
This group was exposed big time by the San Diego Chargers coaching staff. The Chargers wide receivers dominated the Ravens corner play with size, strength and speed. With CB Lardarius Webb not 100%, they went right at fellow CB Jimmy Smith early and often. He was beat on a double move by WR Vincent Jackson late in the 2nd quarter for a huge gain, as well as on a fade route to WR Malcolm Floyd for a TD on the opening drive of the 3rd quarter. CB Cary Williams was so ineffective that he was benched for Webb, even with the toe injury.
Special Teams: D-
This group was quiet, mainly because the Chargers didn’t punt one time in the game and on kickoffs, the Ravens didn’t do much either. Kicker Billy Cundiff converted two extra points, but again missed an easy field goal in the 1st quarter. It’s time to look at bringing in another kicker because Cundiff clearly is not healthy.
Where to begin with this bunch? The Chargers specifically attacked key Ravens players, but there was little to no adjustments made at half-time or within the game to put the Ravens in a position to succeed. The Ravens stuck with the game plan they had coming in and that’s it. For a team with so much riding on this game, they came out flat and uninspired and the mystery surrounding this team and their road woes continue.
Defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano tried to dial up pressure, but the Chargers had answers for it. Offensively, trailing by double-digits took Ray Rice out of the game the same way it did in the loss to Seattle earlier this season. Nothing worked offensively, not even the no-huddle, the Chargers just had too much up front for the line.
The San Diego Chargers put the beat down on the Ravens, and it wasn’t pretty. They out-muscled, out-hustled and flat out wanted it more than the Baltimore Ravens did. The Ravens weren’t just beat in one area, they got it from all over. They forced zero turnovers and had zero sacks. They gave up 145 rushing yards to the Chargers and allowed them to convert six of 10 on 3rd-downs.
It again reduces fans to more head-scratching because of their inability to win road games. The Ravens are now 3-4 on the road this season, all four losses coming against teams that had losing records coming into that respective game. Not exactly what you want to see from a team that expects to be in the Super Bowl.
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