Inside the Ravens with Aaron Wilson

Monday, December 28, 2009


Quarterback: B-minus

Joe Flacco played a solid game overall despite being under heavy duress as he was sacked four times. He completed 13 of 25 passes for 166 yards, two touchdowns to tight end Todd Heap and one interception for an 83.1 passer rating. He should have had a third touchdown pass that could have potentially won the game if not for Derrick Mason's extremely costly and uncharacteristic dropped pass in the end zone all by himself.

Running back: A

Against the top-ranked rushing defense in the NFL, Ray Rice rushed for 141 yards on 30 carries. He grinded out a lot of tough yards against a bunch of tough linebackers. He's the first back to gain 100 yards against the Steelers since Fred Taylor rushed for 147 yards against them on Dec. 16, 2007, breaking an NFL-high 33-game streak of not allowing an opposing rusher to hit the century mark. Rice lost one fumble. Willis McGahee's touchdown run was nullified due to a holding penalty.

Receiver: C

Derrick Mason caught a team-high seven passes for 77 yards. He also had an inexplicable drop in the fourth quarter that cost the Ravens a touchdown they needed in the fourth quarter with the game locked. Tight end Todd Heap caught two touchdown passes on nice fade patterns.

Offensive line: C

Although they did a good job of run blocking, Joe Flacco was hit far too often and too many penalties were committed. Oniel Cousins' personal foul pushed the Ravens out of field goal range in the fourth quarter. Overall, rookie Michael Oher didn’t embarrass himself against James Harrison as last year's NFL Defensive Player of the Year was held to no sacks with one forced fumble. It wasn’t his best performance, though. However, Cousins was simply overmatched against Woodley's array of pass-rushing moves. Especially his inside spin move. Woodley led the Steelers with 10 tackles, two sacks and one forced fumble with his pass deflection intercepted by James Farrior.

Defensive line: B-minus

Rashard Mendenhall rushed for just 36 yards on 17 carries, and Ben Roethlisberger was sacked four times. To win this game, though, the Ravens probably needed to sack him at least a few more times. They were close so many times, but couldn't get him down. Haloti Ngata had a very active game with one sack and two tackles for losses. Kelly Gregg had a sack and two tackles for losses. Trevor Pryce was held constantly, but didn't draw the flags.

Linebacker: C-plus

Middle linebacker Ray Lewis recovered a fumble. Antwan Barnes had a sack. Dannell Ellerbe struggled in space and got picked on downfield. Terrell Suggs had five tackles, but dropped a potential interception for a touchdown. And Suggs' block-in-the-back infraction negated cornerback Domonique Foxworth's interception return for a touchdown.

Secondary: B

Playing without injured safety Ed Reed and down to cornerback Chris Carr as a starter with Lardarius Webb out for the season with a torn anterior cruciate ligament, the Ravens' secondary held up well for the most part against Ben Roethlisberger. One week removed from a 503-yard, three-touchdown game against the Green Bay Packers, Roethlisberger was held to 259 yards, one touchdown and was intercepted once for a 75.2 passer rating. Plus, there should have been at least two more interceptions if not for Terrell Suggs' penalty and an illegal contact flag on Frank Walker that took away Tom Zbikowski's pick in the fourth quarter. Overall, it was a solid outing.

Special teams: D

Punter Sam Koch's 21-yard shank led to Rashard Mendenhall's touchdown run. The Ravens struggled in kick coverage against Stefan Logan, who averaged 32.3 yards per kickoff return with one 49-yard return. He also had a 17-yard punt return. The bright spot was the Ravens' return game with Jalen Parmele making a strong debut on kickoff returns with a 48-yard return as he averaged 29 yards on five returns with Chris Carr averaging 12 yards per punt return.

Aaron Wilson covers the Baltimore Ravens for the Carroll County Times and the Annapolis Capital.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Baltimore Ravens Report Card

Quarterback: F

Joe Flacco was intercepted a season-high three times, coming up short in virtually every critical situation. He wound up completing just 15 of 36 passes for 137 yards and one touchdown for a putrid 27.2 quarterback rating. His decision-making was horrendous at times.

Running back: D

Ray Rice got stuffed all game long, and he lost a fumble. He wound up rushing for just 54 yards on 14 carries. Teams have figured out that Rice is Joe Flacco’s safety valve, and the Packers had him scouted properly. Willis McGahee has to break that Charles Woodson tackle and get into the end zone. He lost four yards on four carries, scoring once.

Receiver: D

Too many dropped passes. Too many penalties, especially by Derrick Mason who should know better and not compound the issue by arguing with the officials. Tight end Todd Heap caught five passes for 52 yards. Kelley Washington contributed four catches for 39 yards and a score.

Offensive line: C

They didn’t provide adequate protection on a consistent basis, and they weren’t physical enough. In particular, offensive guard Ben Grubbs got manhandled by B.J. Raji and Ryan Pickett. Jared Gaither and Michael Oher had trouble protecting Joe Flacco. Clay Matthews consistently beat Gaither around the edge for two sacks, three tackles for losses and three quarterback hits.

Defensive line: C

They didn’t harass Aaron Rodgers often enough, allowing him enough time to find his targets. They stuffed the run behind Haloti Ngata and Kelly Gregg’s efforts. Trevor Pryce had a solid game, recording his sixth sack of the season.

Linebacker: C

The Packers’ running game didn’t do much damage, but there wasn’t enough of a pass rush or tight pass coverage. Ray Lewis was fairly active. Jarret Johnson had a strong game, intercepting one pass. Rookie linebacker Dannell Ellerbe is a thumper.

Secondary: D

They got picked apart by Aaron Rodgers and Co. They still haven’t caught up with tight end Jermichael Finley, who caught seven catches, 79 yards and two touchdowns. They missed Ed Reed big-time. The communication, coverage and tackling are substandard.

Special teams: C

Lardarius Webb’s big kickoff return of 68 yards set the table for what should have been a scoring drive. Sam Koch had a decent game overall, and the kick coverage was fine.

Aaron Wilson covers the Baltimore Ravens for the Carroll County Times and the Annapolis Capital.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Ravens, Harbaugh play, battle in the snow

OWINGS MILLS -- The Baltimore Ravens got a sneak preview of the Green Bay Packers' infamous frozen tundra on Saturday as a snowfall blanketed their practice field and needed to be cleared off with a plow.

Temperatures weren't nearly as frigid as what the Ravens will experience Monday night at Lambeau Field with various weather forecasts predicting it will get down into the teens with a wind-chill factor in single-digits.

Nonetheless, the Ravens seemed to enjoy the snow with several offensive linemen taking pride in wearing short sleeves, including Matt Birk, Marshal Yanda and David Hale.

And the entire team jovially peppered coach John Harbaugh with snowballs at the end of practice.

"I had a good snowball fight," Harbaugh said. "I got nailed at the end of practice. I was a little disappointed. It was like a barrage just came raining down.

"They were excited. They were like little kids. They were having a good time out there. It was very spirited."

The Ravens are hoping that their exposure to the cold will help prepare them for the icy conditions that await them in Wisconsin.

"You learn how to deal with the footing, you learn how to deal with the elements," Harbaugh said. "I think that's part of it. We had decided we were going to go out no matter what. We just wanted to be out in the elements a little bit, throw and catch it."

Of course, the effects of Old Man Winter does make it hard to communicate.

"It's hard to speak," Harbaugh said. "Your lips freeze."

Not everyone enjoyed the weather, especially players from South Florida like linebacker Tavares Gooden or Louisiana native safety Ed Reed.

Reed seemed particularly averse to the snow.

"Nah, I didn't like it," Gooden said. "I'm from Florida, man. I can deal with it, but it's not what I like. I like to play in regular weather.

“Last year, I didn't know what to expect driving in the snow. Now, I got something that can ride in the snow. I got me a car from here, for here."

Lambeau Field has an underground heating system with heated coils to prevent players from having to run around on a frozen field.

Birk related that the coils work well enough that you can warm up your hands in the grass.

There will also be numerous heaters on the sidelines as well as a heated bench.

The Ravens are expecting a soggy field.

"It will be soggy from what I've been told," Harbaugh said.

The Ravens aren't concerned about quarterback Joe Flacco's footwork despite a sprained ankle.

"He looked good with the footing," Harbaugh said. "He threw well. One thing about Joe, he's got that kind of an arm. He's got big hands, so he can handle the conditions pretty well."

Kicker Billy Cundiff has kicked in bad weather conditions before, including Green Bay.

"He handled it well," Harbaugh said. "He's been there before. You've got to take your time, but the rush is a little bit slower. So, you get your footing, you plant and you kick it straight.

"You don't want to be going in there too fast and sliding, so you get your plant foot down and you swing through it. You take your time a little bit more: snap, catch, hold, kick."

Although the Packers are obviously much more accustomed to the cold than the Ravens, Harbaugh is confident that his football team is prepared for the elements.

"It makes the game different, but both teams are in the conditions," Harbaugh said." Everybody manages to stay pretty warm. You go out there and you play and guys are next to the heaters.

"I think we are going to have a rule, though. The heaters are for the players on the sideline during the game. There are usually doctors and PR guys who tend to get around those heaters pretty consistently."

A native of Ann Arbor, Mich., Harbaugh said it's safe to say that he won't be wearing a ski mask on the sidelines.

"I've never had to do that before," he said. "I've had a stocking cap before, so that might be there. Beyond that, there will be no facial attire, ski mask.

"I would be shamed, I would be shamed, there's no doubt. So, there will be none of that."

One myth was debunked Saturday.

According to team spokesman Kevin Byrne, it wasn't former Packers coach Vince Lombardi who first popularized the phrase, frozen tundra.

It was ESPN broadcaster Chris Berman.

NFL Films president Steve Sabol told Byrne last year that Lombardi instructed him and his father to not refer to Lambeau Field as having a frozen or icy field because he didn't want the Packers’ board of directors mad at him for griping about a heated field system that didn't work.

"Frozen tundra was never said by Vince Lombardi," Byrne said. "It was a legend created by Chris Berman."

Aaron Wilson covers the Baltimore Ravens for the Carroll County Times and the Annapolis Capital.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Barnes in Ravens' doghouse?

Ravens defensive coordinator Greg Mattison emphasized that outside linebacker Antwan Barnes hasn’t been relegated to the bench because of his missed arm tackle on Cincinnati Bengals running back Cedric Benson.

The mistake in technique triggered a 28-yard touchdown run.

“No, that had nothing to do with it,” Mattison said. “If we didn’t play guys because they miss tackles, we’d be down to a 15-man roster.”

Barnes has been deactivated for five of the past six games.

Barnes has said previously that he thought he wasn’t playing because of the missed tackle on Benson.

Following a strong preseason, he’s now outranked on the depth chart by rookie Paul Kruger.

“Yeah, it’s frustrating to be watching other guys play,” Barnes said. “All I can do right now is be ready and prepare like I’m going to play. Whatever they need me to do, I’m ready. I ain’t complaining. I know they expect a lot out of me.

“I have a positive attitude about it. I ain’t no T.O. I’m not going to go to the media and complain. I’m going to keep working hard in practice and stay ready for whenever they need me.”

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Legends of Lambeau won't spook Ravens

OWINGS MILLS -- The Baltimore Ravens say they won't be intimidated by the ghosts of storied Lambeau Field, home of the Green Bay Packers and once inhabited by gridiron luminaries Vince Lombardi, Bart Starr and Jim Taylor.

Lambeau is arguably the site of the most tradition-rich flame still burning in the NFL with games held there dating back to 1957.

Mystique and history such as the Ice Bowl only goes so far, though, in the Ravens' opinion.

"After you've been through it the first time and you walk into the stadium, the frozen tundra and all the history that's behind it, once you get out there and you're kind of amazed by the field and the crowd, after that it's football," veteran wide receiver Derrick Mason said. "We're not playing the stadium, so that's a good thing. You go in there and you relish what's going on, but then you have to play against Charles Woodson.

"He's way more of a threat than Lambeau Field. If he could leave and I could play against Lambeau Field, that would be great. He's playing tremendous right now. You can't say anything but good things about him."

Mason is right about Woodson, who has intercepted seven passes and forced four fumbles during a stellar season that has notched him NFC Player of the Month distinction.

The Ravens haven't succeeded in the past in Green Bay, having lost 31-23 to Brett Favre in 2001 and 28-10 against him back in 1998.

The Packers lead the series 2-1 with the Ravens taking a 48-3 blowout win back in 2005 when Kyle Boller strangely outdueled Favre.

Middle linebacker Ray Lewis is the only current player on the roster to play against the Packers at Lambeau for the Ravens.

"It's going to be pretty cool," defensive tackle Haloti Ngata said. "Everybody hears about Lambeau Field and what a great atmosphere it is."

Added wide receiver Mark Clayton: "It's exciting to me. It's Lambeau. There's a lot of history there. To be in that atmosphere is going to be a lot of fun. I never thought I would play there as a kid."

The cold weather is arguably much more of issue than the history.

According to weather forecasts, it may be well below freezing Monday night when icy temperatures are expected to drop into the teens.

"As long as it's not minus-40, it doesn't matter," Mason said. "Once you start playing, you start to heat up. The worst part is when you stop and go to the sideline, and then you start freezing again. I don't think weather can be an excuse unless it's pouring down rain.

"They have to play in the same weather. You go out there and you hope this time of year that it's snowing. That means it's typically a little bit warmer."

Aaron Wilson covers the Baltimore Ravens for the Carroll County Times and the Annapolis Capital.