By Samuel Njoku
Is there any bigger moment than hoisting the Lombardi trophy? No, but if there is a close second, it should be what occurred at M&T Bank Stadium in front of over 71,000 fans on Sunday. The Ravens battled the Indianapolis Colts in the Wild Card round of the postseason, but it will be most remembered as the day Baltimore sent Ray Lewis out in style. It was done at the heels of a 24-9 win that sent the Ravens to the divisional round of the postseason for the 5th straight year.
Offensive coordinator Jim Caldwell and defensive coordinator Dean Pees both did a great job game-planning for this game. Caldwell’s plan was obvious from the start: Run the football early and often. The difference between Caldwell and Cameron was the patience in the run game. It appeared as though the Colts found a way to limit the success of Baltimore’s running attack, but rather than forgo that part of their offense and put the ball in Flacco’s hands, Caldwell kept the team honest with running plays. Eventually, the Ravens were able to break free for some big-time runs.
Pees did a great job dialing up blitzes to keep Andrew Luck uncomfortable in the pocket. The Colts were a week removed from handling the AFC South champions in Houston; the Texans’ offense can get it going in a hurry. But against Baltimore, the Colts couldn’t get into any rhythm, nd when the offense did get it going, the drives stalled with either a big 3rd down stop or a costly turnover. Grade: A
Joe Flacco seems to step his game up in the postseason. This Sunday was no different as he connected for 2 touchdowns and no interceptions in this game. The wide receivers made plays when they had to. Anquan Boldin is slow but his ability to catch in traffic is very impressive. Torrey Smith was more of a decoy in this game. He was asked to lead the safety away on a good amount of plays called. His block up-field helped Dennis Pitta score when other receivers would take the play off. He gets a ton of credit that.
Ray Rice had a bad game. He fumbled twice that could have cost the team momentum. Bernard Pierce however continues to impress. His running style is the perfect compliment to Ray Rice. The change of pace in the backfield will cause problems for teams moving forward. Baltimore has a good problem with 2 exceptional backs to work with.
Is there anything scarier than seeing a large man with a bionic arm and a face mask shaped in the form of Bane? (The Dark Knight Rises for all the uncool people) Ray Lewis emotional lift was evident from the moment he walked out of the tunnel. His ability to make players around him better is unmatched. He led the team with 13 tackles in the game. He wasn’t shedding tackles like he did in his prime. But his ridiculous play recognition savvy kept him involved in almost every defensive play. The defense as a whole dropped a lot of interceptions in this game. Against a guy like Peyton Manning, that can’t happen. But at this point, you’ll be grasping at straws if you held that against this defense.
They dominated. If they play like this against Denver, they’ll be headed to the AFC Championship.
Special Teams: A
It was business as usual for this unit. The kickers were great as usual. Even a shank by Koch was placed inside the 25 yard line. Jacoby Jones helped set up scores with great returns on kickoffs.
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Samuel Njoku was born and raised in Baltimore, MD and is a graduate of the University of Maryland Eastern Shore. Samuel has covered the Ravens for Examiner.com since 2010. Prior to 2010, Samuel was an avid blogger and radio personality in Salisbury, MD. He can be reached for comments at SamuelN870@gmail.com. His work can be found on Examiner.com. You can also follow him on Twitter @Ravens_Examiner.