ReFo: Ravens @ Lions, Week 15
A weekend of games that started with the Chargers throwing a spanner wrench in the hyper-drive of the AFC playoff hunt culminated last night with the Ravens taking care of business, just, in a game that was pivotal for the aspirations of both host and visitor. Courtesy of their last gasp, touchdown-less victory the Ravens are still very much alive in the defense of their Super Bowl not only as a Wildcard but thanks to the Steelers’ victory with the chance to defend their AFC North crown in their own hands heading into the final two weeks of the season.
On the opposite sideline the Lions are now completely out of the running for a Wildcard spot and having had the chance to reclaim the division lead last night are now staring up at the Bears and Packers from third place. They are reduced to knowing that wins for Green Bay and Chicago on Sunday will end their chances of taking the NFC North crown. All the optimism born out of their comprehensive, must win victory over the Packers less than a fortnight ago has been lost on the back of consecutive defeats. The Lions’ playoff fate is now out of their hands while trying to take care of business at home to the Giants on Sunday they will also be rooting for opposite sides of Pennsylvania to do them a favor and keep them alive heading into Week 17.
Baltimore – Three Performances of Note
Ngata Hits a New Height
Haloti Ngata has been consistently solid at the heart of the Baltimore defense this season and capped a strong run of form in run defense (positive grade in six straight games leading into this game) with his highest single game grade of the season. His +3.9 overall grade (his best since Week 12 in 2011) offered a balance between run defense where he notched five stops (best among defensive tackles this week) and as a pass rusher which included a lightning fast hit to the outside of impressive rookie guard Larry Warford early in the fourth quarter. Two penalties where he jumped offsides stopped his grade being even higher but this was an extremely strong and productive performance from Ngata whose Run Stop Percentage (29.4%; 5 stops on 17 run defense snaps) also led all defensive tackles this week. It’s customary to see Ngata holding up blockers and disrupting runs but last night he paired that with shedding the blocks to finish the play.
Offensive Line Holds Its Own
The grades may not be spectacular up front but for what could have been a thoroughly destructive mismatch the Ravens’ offensive line held its own against the Detroit Lions’ defensive front, particularly inside where Ndamukong Suh (+1.4) and Nick Fairley (+0.5) were held to only solid performances. There were no sacks on the defensive line and the Lions’ interior duo combined to net only four pressures (2 Ht, 2 Hu), aside from last week’s snow game in Philadelphia their lowest combined total since Week 5. Whether one-on-one or in combination with Gino Gradkowski, Marshal Yanda (+0.1) held his own against Suh limiting his impact on the game, preventing the kind of big play that Suh is very much capable of and could easily have turned such a close game.
Smith and Webb Keep Things In Check
Much like the match up with the Detroit defensive line you wouldn’t call the job done on the Detroit passing game and Calvin Johnson a convincing victory or a “shutdown” performance. Yet, the Ravens did enough to ensure that this matchup didn’t cost them the game. Calvin Johnson is capable of that but in combination with solid coverage from Jimmy Smith and his own cases of the dropsies his 98 yards weren’t a game defining or game turning contribution. Of Johnson’s 13 targets in the game seven came into Smith’s coverage yielding only three catches for 29 yards with one miss on a double move the closest the Lions got to breaking a big play there, though even then the Ravens had James Ihedigbo working across to Johnson before he could break into the open field. On the opposite side Lardarius Webb had a big day closing on receivers and runners to make quick sharp tackles setting a season high with five defensive stops, tying Ngata for the team lead.
Detroit – Three Performances of Note
A Night Blighted By Turnovers
In such a close game as the Lions’ defeat last night the thing you can’t afford are mistakes in bad areas of the field. Those mistakes are made to look even worse when you lose by two points and your opponent fails to cross the goal-line. Matthew Stafford was the victim of drops last night and made some excellent throws as well (hence why his grade balances out to a +1.0) but it will be the turnovers on which his performance will be judged. His first two interceptions had an air of misfortune around them, though his first (which not only led to three points for Baltimore but robbed Detroit the chance of their own field goal, a six point swing) was an in accurate throw to Reggie Bush, behind him on a slant tipped and caught by DeAngelo Tyson. His second again there was misfortune with Kris Durham caught in traffic against his own team-mate as Joique Bell broke out of the backfield leaving Stafford just throwing the ball directly into Daryl Smith’s gut leading to Justin Tucker’s fifth field goal. Stafford’s final interception was wild and unlike the air of misfortune that surrounded his first two interceptions instead had an air of desperation. A big play to start such a crucial drive is always a boost for the offense and the crowd but with 38 seconds and three timeouts to play with Stafford might be ruing his decision not to slide away from Elvis Dumervil’s pressure and just look for a completion elsewhere to get the Lions’ underway.
Solid Night In the Secondary
There may only have been two pass defenses for the Lions’ secondary last night but from Rashean Mathis to Don Carey and Glover Quin, the Lions’ make shift cornerback depth chart held its own and wasn’t the weakness that some feared or suggested it might be. Jonte Green had the most in and out performance of the corners notching both of the Lions’ pass defenses against Torrey Smith while also missing a pair of tackles and surrendering a team high 74 yards on four catches. On the other side Rashean Mathis rolled back the years again with his third straight strong game in coverage earning a +1.3 grade surrendering only three catches for 14 yards on six targets, taking his coverage grade in the last three weeks to +6.5. Working out of the slot Don Carey was solid in coverage, surrendering only one catch to Marlon Brown and taking him down for a loss while also making the Lions’ only splash play of the game beating Ray Rice and forcing a fumble from Joe Flacco in his throwing motion. The bounce went against the Lions though as Gino Gradkowski fell gladly on the ball just in front of him to ensure the Ravens wouldn’t surrender a turnover on the night.
Limited Impact for Ansah Again
There have been glimpses of promise from Ezekiel Ansah this season but last night was another reminder that he has not delivered the sort of impact that divided opinion in the draft process earlier in the season. Notching only two hurries, one working on a stunt with Nick Fairley where the Lions’ tackle held Ravens’ guard A.Q. Shipley to open a clear path for Ansah to Joe Flacco. Aside from his back to back two sack performances against the Bucs and Packers, Ansah has no hits or sacks since Week 5 and this was only the second time since then that he has recorded more than a single hurry in a game. By all accounts Ansah was an athletic specimen worth taking the risk on but the Lions have lacked the help on the edge to take the pressure off of him and develop away from the field if that is what he needed. His growing pains are being borne out on the field and the Lions are going through them with him.
– The Ravens only got pressure to Stafford on 12 of 38 drop-backs but they made it count when it got there. On those dozen plays Stafford was forced to scramble once, was sacked once and earned a 6.7 NFL passer rating completing 3/10 for 46 yards with two interceptions.
– The Ravens’ success with pressure was mirrored by the Lions’ success with the blitz. Joe Flacco faced up to the blitz on 14 of 41 drop-backs, sacked once and completing 4 of 13 passes for 45 yards (42.1 NFL passer rating).
– Vonta Leach notched only a trio of snaps last night, his second lowest total of the season (two in Cleveland, Week 9) and the third time he has fallen short of double figures. He hasn’t played 20 snaps in a single game since Week 5.
PFF Game Ball
Who else but Justin Tucker? Five for five before that stunning game winning strike Tucker simultaneously dealt a hammer blow to the Lions’ playoff hopes and brought the race for the AFC North back to life.
Follow Ben on Twitter @PFF_Ben