It was a familiar story for the Cleveland Browns as I once again came away from watching them thinking they have the building blocks in place, but their lack of a top quarterback and receiver kept them from completing what would have been an impressive comeback.
For the Baltimore Ravens it was again the type of performance that makes you wonder if they can make any noise when January rolls around. Once again the passing game was lacking and they go into Cincinnati next week knowing that they need to shake their road woes or face a tricky trip to Denver or Oakland in the Wild Card round of the playoffs as opposed to a bye week to rest up.
Despite the Browns falling just short and the Ravens failing to inspire expectations of a run to the Super Bowl in Indianapolis, this game featured some key performances, both good and bad, from both sides. So with that in mind, let’s take a look at the performances of note from this Week 16 matchup.
Baltimore Ravens – Three Performances of Note
A Perfect Compliment
When your passing attack is struggling like Baltimore’s currently is, it helps to have a backup running back you can rely on to compliment someone like Ray Rice. Ricky Williams (+2.7) had his best game in that role for the Ravens on Sunday, adding 66 yards on 12 touches and forcing two missed tackles on his 16 snaps on the field. Both his receptions went for first downs including a toe-tapping grab on the left sideline on 3rd-and-2 with 1:49 left in the third quarter. They may not be blowing opponents away through the air, but the Ravens will be happy if they can continue to get this level of production from their running backs.
A Case of the Dropsies
In the absence of Anquan Boldin, I expected tight ends Ed Dickson (-2.0) and Dennis Pitta (+0.1) to step up. Disappointingly, Pitta didn’t have a single ball thrown his way, Dickson on the other hand was targeted four times, resulting in two catches for 14 yards and a touchdown. Those numbers would have looked far better were it not for two costly drops however. On 2nd-and-7 with 13:07 left in the third quarter, Joe Flacco (+0.7) rolled out and found Dickson open inside the Cleveland 36-yard line, however the ball hit him right in the hands and he dropped the pass and the Ravens were forced to punt two plays later. More frustrating for Flacco and Baltimore, Pitta was open underneath and would have at least had a shot at the first down. On their very next drive on 3rd-and-8 from the Ravens 28-yard line Flacco went back to Dickson but after the ball hit him in the hands again, he couldn’t hold on and again the Ravens were forced to punt. If he holds onto those passes not only would his stat line look a lot better, but we’d instead be talking about a fantastic game with two key catches. Flacco, rightfully, takes his fair share of criticism, but when he puts the ball where it needs to be, players like Dickson need to step up.
Secondary to None
After a rough outing last week, Jimmy Smith (+3.9) showed the type of coverage skills that made the Ravens draft him in the first round back in April. Targeted eight times in coverage, giving up four catches for just 32 yards, more importantly he didn’t allow a reception longer than 12 yards and didn’t give up a touchdown. Opposite Smith, Lardarius Webb (+3.4) decided to show all of us at PFF how upset he was at being left off our Pro Bowl Team with another outstanding performance. Once again he didn’t give up a touchdown, allowing just two catches for 15 yards while picking off one pass and breaking up another on the five passes thrown into his coverage. The interception, his fifth of the season, a team high, was similar to the one he returned for a touchdown against the New York Jets earlier in the year. On 3rd-and-1 with 10:21 left in the first quarter he jumped in front of a poorly thrown pass to Mohamed Massaquoi (-0.7), had he got there a fraction of a second earlier then he very easily could have ran this one back for a score too.
Cleveland Browns – Three Performances of Note
D’Qwell’s Up and Down Day
Though it’s not something he’s known for, or something he’s asked to do very often, D’Qwell Jackson (+1.6) stepped up as a pass rusher on Sunday. In as a pass rusher on just seven plays, he generated a hit and four pressures. That doesn’t tell the whole story of his day however, he struggled in pass coverage with both passes thrown at him being caught for touchdowns. That included Ray Rice’s (+0.8) 42 yard reception down the sideline on 3rd-and-5 with 9:05 left in the second quarter.
Shut Down Corners, at Least for the Day
Earlier this season I heard a commentator say that Joe Haden (+3.0) wasn’t a shut down corner yet. That’s maybe so, but on Sunday against the Ravens it would be hard to expect any more from both Haden and Sheldon Brown (+2.5). Combined, Flacco went after both just seven times – and that was seven times too many with no receptions, three passes defensed and an interception to show for it. The interception was a touchdown saving pick in the end zone, on a pass from Flacco to Lee Evans (-0.9) on 3rd-and-7 with 14:14 left in the game. That touchdown would have put the game out of reach and while they couldn’t complete the comeback, Brown and Haden can hold their heads high after a fine performance.
Not Enough to Win
I’ve said it before this season and I’ll say it again: It doesn’t matter how hard the Browns play, without better quarterback play they won’t be able to compete in the AFC North. It’s not that Seneca Wallace (-1.3) played terribly, he only turned the ball over once, and were he playing for the Ravens that may have been enough to get the win. It’s just that the Browns need more than that. They need more throws like his touchdown pass to Evan Moore (-0.3) on 3rd-and-Goal with 8:30 left in the fourth quarter. He sprinted out of the pocket to avoid Terrell Suggs (+0.6) before firing the ball to Moore with Ray Lewis (-0.4) heading straight towards him. If the Browns are to end the season on a high by beating Pittsburgh in Week 17, that’s what Wallace will have to show more of.
– Josh Cribbs’ 84 yard punt return was the only punt returned for any gain all game.
– Baltimore missed twice as many tackles, six, as Cleveland, three.
– Flacco didn’t complete a single pass beyond 20 yards and just two beyond 10.
PFF Game Ball
His interception early in the first quarter set the Ravens on their way to victory, Lardarius Webb added a pass breakup as he once again didn’t allow a receiving touchdown leaving him just one game from a perfect season in that regard.