Five thoughts on the Ravens' 27-26 win over the Philadelphia Eagles Sunday at M&T Bank Stadium:
Ravens Narrowly Escape A Truly Catastrophic Collapse
The Ravens have played so many close games that even the players expect them, regardless of the circumstances that arise during a game. "Even if we're up 10 points, or 21 points, I'm thinking, 'It's going to come down to the nitty and gritty," cornerback Jerraud Powers said Sunday. That's what happened in this game, but the stakes – the difference between winning and losing – were much more extreme than usual. By winning, the Ravens kept alive their playoff hopes heading into a showdown with the Pittsburgh Steelers next Sunday. But one nice defensive stop with four seconds to play is all that kept them from dealing with a truly catastrophic collapse. They had the win wrapped up with six minutes to play, but a brutal offensive play call, immediately acknowledged by Ravens Head Coach John Harbaugh as "the all-time worst call," gave the Eagles life and turned the game into a down-to-the-wire affair. It never should have come down to that, and if the Eagles had converted a two-point try at the end, well, let's just say things would have gotten ugly around Ravenstown. But the defense made that key stop, so it goes down as a win that the Ravens deserved until they started faltering down the stretch. Bottom line, they needed to "hold serve" at home and did. But the margin was so slim you can't help feeling uneasy.
Getting Away From Rushing Attack (Again) Almost Ended Ravens Season
So what was the "all-time worst call?" The Ravens had a 10-point lead and a first down at the Philadelphia 11 with 6:21 to play. Their running game was enjoying its most productive day of 2016. The situation screamed for a run, actually probably three runs, which would eat up at least two minutes of clock while producing at least three points. But Offensive Coordinator Marty Mornhinweg sent in a passing play, and quarterback Joe Flacco tossed an interception, beginning a nightmarish late-game stretch. The Eagles drove to a field goal, got the ball back and drove to a touchdown; only a failed two-point conversion kept them from celebrating an improbable comeback win that almost surely never would have unfolded if the Ravens had just run the ball in the red zone with a 10-point lead. Flacco said he didn't blink when the call came in, but Harbaugh knew it was a no-no. "I'll take responsibility for it. I should have vetoed it right away," Harbaugh said. The Ravens have gotten away from their running game far too often this year, as evidenced by the fact that Flacco leads the NFL in pass attempts. This was another example and it almost ended their season
Ravens Must Unequivocally Get Rush Defense Back On Track Before Steelers Game
Early on, it became clear that Carson Wentz, the Eagles' rookie quarterback, wasn't capable of beating the Ravens with his arm. It meant the Eagles would have to go run heavy against the Ravens' top-ranked run defense, a tough situation. But a strange thing happened. The Eagles ran through and over that hallowed run defense, generating 169 yards on the ground. Because of that success, the Eagles controlled the game in some respects, piling up 27 first downs (to Baltimore's 18) and building a 13-minute time-of-possession advantage, which kept Flacco off the field on a day he and the offense were producing. What happened to the Ravens' run defense? Well, the Eagles ran a zone-stretch scheme, their linemen won the battles up front and their backs made nice reads and ran hard. Give them credit. But whatever went wrong on the other side, it absolutely, unequivocally has to be a temporary problem for the Ravens rather than an issue that surfaces late in the season and becomes a bona fide problem. The Steelers' Le'Veon Bell is next up. Need I say more?
Could Argue This Was Ravens' Best Offensive Day Of Season
Other than the one play call they regretted, the Ravens experienced a nice day offensively. In fact, I could make the case that this was the offense's most encouraging performance of 2016. Yes, the 38-point explosion against Miami was impressive, but the Ravens didn't have to run the ball that day because the middle of Miami's pass defense was so ripe for the taking. The Eagles weren't giving things away so easily, and the Ravens responded with the kind of balanced attack you need to win in December and January. Flacco threw for 206 yards and two touchdowns, which aren't crazy numbers, but they didn't need to be crazy because the running game was good for 151 yards. Terrance West's 77 yards on the ground gave him 729 for the season, and Kenneth Dixon chipped in with nine carries for 36 yards. Both ran hard. Most importantly, the Ravens did NOT settle for too many field goals, an issue that has troubled them all season. They reached the end zone three times and Justin Tucker kicked two field goals. The Eagles were the ones settling for field goals (four) instead of touchdowns (two) on this day, and in the end, that cost them the game.
I applaud the 5-9 Eagles for going for two to win the game in regulation, rather than kicking an extra point to force overtime. It was gutsy, but why not in a season going nowhere? I did NOT, however, like the play call, a quick slant over the middle with Wentz releasing the ball almost immediately. With the game on the line, I like giving a quarterback a couple of options to make a play… Ravens Defensive Coordinator Dean Pees was just as aggressive on the play, bringing an all-out blitz, and Ravens linebacker C.J. Mosley tipped the pass … The win gave the Ravens a 6-2 home record in 2016. Now 8-6 overall, they are assured of a non-losing season.