Five thoughts on the Ravens' 25-15 victory at Cleveland Browns Stadium:
No Easy Answer To Offensive Inconsistency
There's always something with the Ravens offense, isn't there? The answer to the much-debated question about whether Offensive Coordinator Cam Cameron would re-emphasize Ray Rice and the running game came early, as Rice led two picture-perfect touchdown drives in the first quarter. But that was followed by an offensive snooze that lasted over 30 minutes, with Rice running for negative yardage. What went wrong? Rice said the Browns adjusted, adding a player in "the box" to make things harder for him. Meanwhile, Cameron stuck with the run, as everyone wanted, but the Ravens kept stopping themselves with penalties, dropped passes and the inability of their receivers to get open. "We were in a funk," Boldin said. They came out of it just in time, driving for the decisive touchdown. What went right? Sorry, trying to explain the unit's hot-and-cold nature is like trying to explain the gray clouds that eternally hover over Cleveland whenever the Ravens are in town. There's no easy answer. It just is.
Not Your Father's Defense, But Merits Kudos
It's going to be easy to criticize the Ravens defense after it let an offense with a 2-6 record and a rookie quarterback basically move the ball all day. But I think the unit deserves major kudos. Yes, it bent and bent and bent; at this point, there's no doubt this isn't your father's Baltimore defense and isn't going to be. But there's such a thing as doggedness. The Ravens offense was completely asleep for 30 minutes after a fast start, leaving the defense out there alone to fend for itself with Haloti Ngata playing hurt, Terrell Suggs neutralized and Pernell McPhee sidelined with an injury, leaving the game in the hands of guys like Dannell Ellerbe, Art Jones and seventh-round rookie DeAngelo Tyson – no-name grinders rather than superstars. They possessed just enough resistance to keep the Browns out of the end zone, which ended up making all the difference. Give the defense props for hanging in there long enough to let the offense finally wake up and win it.
Shrumur Made Bad Call, Harbaugh Made Right one
Browns Head Head Coach Pat Shurmur is going to take a lot of heat for going for it on a fourth-and-2 from his 28 with just under four minutes to play and his team only down seven. That heat is warranted. It was a stunning decision – stunningly bad. The Browns still had two timeouts left, so if they punted and held, they could get the ball back with plenty of time to score. And their defense had just held Baltimore without a first down for 30 minutes, so the odds of that happening were pretty decent. But Shurmur overwrote all that logic with an all-or-nothing gamble that failed when quarterback Brandon Weeden threw an incompletion, giving the Ravens the ball at the Cleveland 28. A still-close game suddenly was over because of that one play. Shurmur violated a basic coaching tenet, failing to extend the game. On the other hand, Ravens Head Coach John Harbaugh made the right decision when he went for a two-point conversion after the decisive late touchdown. Even if it had failed, it was right call. And the Ravens converted with a play newly installed this week, according to Anquan Boldin, who was wide open in the back of the end zone.
Special Teams All Over Cribbs
Josh Cribbs ran a kick back for a touchdown against the Ravens in 2011 and always seems to give them headaches, and the Browns' Pro Bowl return specialist had plenty of chances to add another chapter to that saga Sunday as he continually returned kickoffs and punts, especially as the Ravens offense sputtered. But in what is becoming a common theme of 2012, the Ravens' coverage units kept him from doing much. Gunners Chykie Brown and Corey Graham were all over him. "Our special teams were tremendous," Harbaugh said.
Take A Chill Pill
I'm sure there will be more hand-wringing around town this week after another ugly win. "We have lots to work on," Harbaugh said. But I would suggest not wringing those hands so hard that you sprain them. Take a chill pill. Step back and look at things. The Ravens are 6-2 and in first place. They're three games up on the Bengals, who were expected to challenge them for the division title. They're ahead of the Steelers. Yes, they have issues … but who doesn't? Meanwhile, Sunday's win was a milestone of sorts, No. 50 for the team under Harbaugh. They're 50-22 in regular season games since he became their coach. The reality is they're pretty expert at knowing how to win, no matter how it looks. "We've been in this situation a lot," quarterback Joe Flacco said Sunday, meaning a game that seemed up for grabs. They win a lot more of them than they lose, and it sure beats the alternative, as Cleveland and numerous other teams can attest.