Found December 05, 2011 on B-More Birds Nest:
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Rice ran through a crapstorm in Cleveland

Finally – for the first time since way back in Week 3 – the Ravens were able to dominate an inferior opponent on the road, running roughshod over the Cleveland Browns for a 24-10 victory that wasn’t as close as the two touchdown final spread might indicate.

Ray Rice had a career day sloshing through the muddy much at Cleveland Stadium, piling up 204 yards on 29 carries, including a 67-yard scamper that set up a 1-yard Ricky Williams touchdown near the end of the third quarter after the Browns had closed to within 10-3. Williams added 76 yards on 16 carries as the Ravens stuck with the run to pound Cleveland into submission. The 55 rushing attempts set a franchise record, while the 290 total ground yards were good for third in team history. The Ravens’ offensive line simply manhandled the Browns all day, giving Rice and Williams the kinds of holes to run through they likely haven’t seen since high school, much less since coming into the NFL.

Joe Flacco had a very “game manager” type day, going 10/23 for 158 yards. His numbers could have been better had his receivers not continually betrayed him, from Lee Evans and Torrey Smith both dropping potential touchdown passes to Anquan Boldin having several throws clang off his hands. The inclement weather in Cleveland certainly could have played a role (Browns receivers were dropping passes left and right as well), but it was unsettling to watch the Ravens’ veteran wideouts be so inconsistent. We’ve heard about how fresh Lee Evans’ legs are going into the stretch run, but it doesn’t matter how good his legs feel if his hands can’t do what they’re supposed to.

The Ravens’ defensive effort, while not as dominant as 10 days prior against San Francisco, was still quite impressive. After a few strong early runs, Browns’ running back Peyton Hillis was shut down and finished his day with just 45 yards on 12 carries. Rookie Pernell McPhee added two more sacks to his impressive rookie resume, and Terrell Suggs picked up his 10th quarterback drop of the season. Haloti Ngata batted down two Colt McCoy passes, and rookie Jimmy Smith picked up his second career interception (and first that he didn’t subsequently fumble).

While McCoy ended the day with just the single interception, that number could have easily been three or four, as it seemed like Ravens’ defenders were getting their hands on just about every pass he threw.

Lardarius Webb was one of the defenders who nearly had a pick. Though he was unable to pick up an interception, Webb made his mark on the game, finally breaking a punt return for a touchdown. It was Webb’s first trip to the end zone on special teams since having a touchdown called back in the divisional playoff game in Pittsburgh. The 68-yard return gave the Ravens a 24-3 lead with seven minutes to play, and undoubtedly elicited the familiar “the hay’s in the barn” call from Ravens’ radio man Gerry (with a G!) Sandusky.

There were two big hiccups by the defense, though, that led to all 10 of the Browns’ points. In the third quarter, Hillis was left completely uncovered on a 52-yard reception that set up a 21-yard Phil Dawson field goal. Still, after holding in the red zone, the defense had a chance to hold their opponent without a touchdown for the second consecutive game. Instead, another blown coverage resulted in a 22-yard touchdown by tight end Evan Moore on a 4th-and-10 play that ended up being the Browns’ final offensive snap of the evening.

Those mistakes are correctable, and Chuck Pagano will have to look at the tape and figure out why his secondary is still having what they like to call “communication issues.” That kind of thing is understandable at the start of the season, but going into the final quarter – and then the playoffs – everyone needs to be on the same page on the back end.

Other gripes for the day include:

  • Red zone woes. The Ravens scored just two touchdowns on four trips (not including the final drive, which ended on kneel-downs), and failed to get into the end zone after being awarded a 1st-and-goal from the 3 following a pass interference penalty.
  • Billy Cundiff’s struggles. The Ravens’ kicker continues to be wildly inconsistent away from M&T Bank Stadium. His first extra point try clanged off the right upright before going through, and then he missed on 34 and 41-yard tries on consecutive drives in the second quarter. He finally hit from 21, but it wasn’t a day Cundiff will look back upon fondly. He is now 26/34 on the season after going 26/29 in 2010. All eight of his misses, though, have come on the road (2 @ St. Louis, 1 @ Jax, 2 @ Sea, 1 @ Pit, 2 @ Cle). He is now 10/18 (55%) everywhere but M&T, where he is a perfect 16/16. Just one more reason that securing a top seed for the postseason is tantamount for this team.

It was a strong, businesslike performance, the kind this team needed to show they can put together down the stretch. With Cincinnati giving the Ravens absolutely no help in getting stomped by Pittsburgh, the Ravens’ two head-to-head victories over the Steelers remain the only thing standing between a potential home playoff game or two and another wild card berth. With the hapless 0-11 Indianapolis Colts coming to town next week, the Ravens should have no problem continuing to hold Pittsburgh at bay.

THE BACKYARD
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