Mike Blake, Reuters
December 19, 2011
I've been saying for several months that, for me, the biggest surprise this season has been the stellar play of the Ravens corners. People assumed that position was going to be the weak link in the Ravens defense this year, but for the most part, Cary Williams and Lardarius Webb have played great. Even Jimmy Smith showed a ton of potential after he returned from rehabbing a high ankle sprain, picking off a pair of passes.
But seeing what Williams and Smith look like when they're facing a big-time quarterback who has time to throw wasn't pretty Sunday night. Each got picked on plenty. Williams bit on a double move near the end of the first half and basically got hung out to dry by Ed Reed, who made a bad read trying to jump the underneath route. Vincent Jackson ran right by them both for a 58-yard catch and run. And Smith -- starting in place of Webb who was limited in how many snaps he could play because of his toe injury -- got torched by Malcolm Floyd all night.
The corners certainly deserve some of the blame for Rivers big night. It was unclear why they let San Diego's receivers get a clean release off the line pretty much all game. Big corners like Williams and Smith ought be able to jam people at the line of scrimmage without worrying they're going to beat deep. But the more glaring problem was just how infrequently Baltimore got within four feet of Rivers. It's one thing to have zero sacks, which is what the Ravens finished with. It's another to get just one quarterback hurry for the entire game. That's a little embarrassing.
If you want to boil the game down to one sentence, here is how you can do it: San Diego was able to repeatedly put pressure on Flacco by rushing four guys, and the Ravens couldn't get pressure on Rivers even when they brought six defenders.
If you had told me Ball So Hard University would register zero sacks going up against Jared Gaither, but Antwan Barnes would have four, I'd have asked you to take a drug test. But that's exactly what happened. I'll give Suggs credit for his candor. He was one of the few Ravens who didn't bother with cliches after the game.
"I'm just really disappointed because our coaches prepared us," Suggs said. "We knew they was going to go downtown. We knew they was going to spread us out and try to light up the scoreboard. I feel disappointed. I feel we let our fans down. We still can get a first round bye and a playoff game at home, but we need some help now. It's a reality check. We got our a---- kicked. It's back to the drawing board. We in hell now, but we got a vacation home in hell. This is normal for us."
When the Ravens defensive tackles collapse the pocket, this team is extremely dangerous, mainly because it's really hard to get outside of Terrell Suggs and Cory Redding. Any time a quarterback is flushed to one side, he's running for his life. But lately, it doesn't feel like Haloti Ngata is beating double teams the way he did early in the year. He's recorded only eight hits on the quarterback this season, which isn't bad, but it ranks him 14th among defensive tackles. Clearly his quad injury has been bothering him a bit.