Ravens dominate fourth quarter in 44-20 win over Lions

BALTIMORE — It was pointed out earlier this week that teams become cursed after facing the Houston Texans. Teams are just 1-9 this season after facing Houston for some odd reason but the Ravens were able to buck that trend with a 44-20 victory over the visiting Detroit Lions on Sunday.

Since the Lions have been known to struggle in the first quarter all season, the Ravens needed to jump out to a good start. Despite a couple of missed opportunities, they were able to do just that. After taking a 3-0 lead in the first quarter the Ravens offense was able to “let it loose” as Joe Flacco would like to describe it.

Following a missed field goal by Matt Prater, Flacco connected with Mike Wallace for a 66-yard bomb. Wallace came up just shy of the end zone but the play was still the longest of the year for the Baltimore offense. Flacco didn’t waste any time finishing off the drive as he connected with a wide open Ben Watson on the next play for a one-yard score.

The defense picked up on this unexpected burst of offense and came up with a turnover on the ensuing Lions possession. It hasn’t happened often this season but Eric Weddle was given the chance to blitz the quarterback and he didn’t miss his opportunity for a big play. The veteran safety went untouched off the blind side, catching Matt Stafford off guard and forcing a fumble. Willie Henry scooped up the loose ball for an extra 16 yards.

Flacco and the offense quickly turned this takeaway into another touchdown, jumping out to a 17-0 lead. By halftime, Flacco had racked up 192 yards to accompany his two touchdowns. It’s safe to say that this was a breakout performance as Flacco has only thrown for 200 yards in four games this season.

The only blemish for the Ravens in the first half was the loss of Jimmy Smith. The Ravens #1 corner has been having trouble with his achilles all year and it finally gave on him in the second quarter. Smith dropped back to cover his receiver but collapsed without making any contact. As soon as it happened, a hush came over the crowd at M&T Bank Stadium because everyone immediately knew what had happened.

Despite playing poorly in the first half, Detroit was prepared to make this a close game. The Lions have had a lot of experience playing from behind this season and they started the second half with a quality touchdown drive. A 42-yard pass from Stafford to Marvin Jones jump-started their offense similar to Flacco’s deep pass earlier in the game. The momentum continued to swing in Detroit’s favor as they forced the Ravens to punt on their next drive.

The Lions added another touchdown before the end of the third quarter but Prater missed the extra point. After dominating the first half, the Ravens quickly found themselves under pressure with just a one possession lead. Perhaps this is just what they needed though because nobody could have predicted what happened int he fourth quarter.

With the Lions knocking at the door, Flacco lead his offense down the field for a nine play, 74-yard touchdown drive. This score put Baltimore up by 14 but it still wasn’t enough to put the game away. However, the Ravens offense did not look complacent at any point down the stretch. With under eight minutes to play, Justin Tucker added a field goal and the defense picked up another turnover to officially put the game on ice.

The Ravens finished with 24 points in the fourth quarter thanks to another Alex Collins touchdown run and a pick six by Weddle. Flacco finished with 269 passing yards, Wallace racked up 116 receiving yards, and the team put up an impressive total of 44 points. All three of these are season highs.

This win is very big for a Baltimore team with its eyes on the postseason. For the first time all year they have a three-game win streak and the road ahead looks very nice. The Steelers are up next on the schedule but they are the only challenging opponent remaining.

For once, a late season meeting between these rivals will not mean much in terms of playoff implications. However, this rivalry is always going to be exciting and a win for either team would be a big confidence boost as the postseason approaches.

Image Credit: Daniel Mears, Detroit News

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Preview: Ravens set to battle Stafford and visiting Lions

BALTIMORE, MD – After yet another inept game offensively against the Houston Texans, albeit a win, the Baltimore Ravens turn their sights toward the second most dangerous team they have to play in this rear end of the 2017 season, the Detroit Lions.

The Ravens have seemed to regain their early season dominance defensively with Brandon Williams back at the helm. The safety duo of Eric Weddle and Tony Jefferson has finally gotten comfortable working with each other and have tightened up the back end.

The timing couldn’t be more perfect for the unit, considering they are going up against an inconsistent, although immensely talented, quarterback in Matthew Stafford who can’t seem to orchestrate scoring drives when in the redzone. The Ravens have excelled at redzone defense this year. The division rival Pittsburgh Steelers managed to keep the Lions out of the end zone after consistent long marches down the field.

Things to Look For:

  1. Ravens Defensive Backs – This will be one of the toughest, if not the toughest test the Ravens back end will have this season. Teams like the Steelers like to have some sort of pass/run balance, but the Lions and Stafford just sling it. The safeties and corners will have to run harder virtually all game.
  2. Lions Wide Receivers – On the flip side, the receivers Marvin Jones and Golden Tate have been one of the more dynamic receiving duos this season, combining for 164 catches and 1,429 yards. Both men have played extremely well against tough competition, making acrobatic plays to keep the Lions in games.
  3. Alex Collins – After being on the injury report this week, Collins looks to continue his strong production this week against a porous Lions run defense that has been gashed by many backs this season. Collins could top 100 yards against this drab unit, especially if Joe Flacco has less pass attempts.
  4. Ravens Offensive Line – It’s bad that I’m putting this here, REALLY BAD. The line will be going up against speed rusher Ezekiel “Ziggy” Ansah and veteran Dwight Freeney, who still has one of the nastiest spin moves I’ve ever seen. Ronnie Stanley needs to handle both of these guys better than he handled Jadeveon Clowney last week.

Details:

Where: M&T Bank Stadium – Baltimore, Maryland

When: 1:00 pm EST

Radio: WBAL-1090, 98 Rock, Ravens’ website

Commentators: Gerry Sandusky, Stan White, Justin Forsett

TV: Fox

Commentators: Thom Brennaman, Chris Spielman

Image Credit: Baltimore Ravens 

Ravens lose Wagner and Juszczyk on first day of free agency

The first day of free agency has brought its fair share of surprises around the league and the Ravens have been a big part of the mix.  While the additions of Tony Jefferson and Danny Woodhead will be celebrated, there are some important players leaving the Ravens as well.

Offensive tackle, Rick Wagner and fullback, Kyle Juszczyk were the first two Raven free agents to sign elsewhere. Wagner landed a deal with the Detroit Lions while Juszczyk will head to the west coast with a new contract from the San Francisco 49ers.

The loss of Wagner will hurt a Ravens offensive line that is trying to find stability in 2017.  Wagner’s presence would have been great alongside an improving Ronnie Stanley and a veteran like Marshal Yanda. Juszczyk’s departure is less of a problem but still has its downsides. The fifth year fullback has become a big factor in the Ravens run game and was also a popular check down target for Joe Flacco.

Both players earned their payday by being some of the top players at their position but it would have been impossible for the Ravens to keep them.  The asking prices were too high for a Baltimore franchise that still has salary cap issues.

NFL Wild Card Weekend Breakdown

Editor’s Note: This article was also written by Nolan McGraw and Tyler Feeser.

The NFL playoffs begin this weekend, as the Wild Card round takes place. There are four games total, with two taking place on Saturday and two on Sunday.

To break down the weekend, all of our experts here at Charm City Bird Watch will provide an analysis of each game, followed by a prediction. Let’s see how much we agree, or disagree.

Saturday, Jan. 7

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Texans Quarterback Brock Osweiler has not lived up to his big contract. Credit: NFL Spin Zone.

AFC: #5 Oakland Raiders (12-4) @ #4 Houston Texans (9-7) – 4:35 pm – ESPN / ABC

Jake: I feel so bad for the Oakland Raiders. They finally made the playoffs after a 14-year drought and would have probably gotten the #2 seed if Derek Carr had not gotten hurt. Carr is a lead candidate for the NFL MVP this season and his loss is going to doom the Raiders.

Out of all the games this weekend, this one will definitely be the “who cares” bowl. Why? Because the Raiders are starting a third string quarterback in Connor Cook. How could this game get any worse? Well, that is because Brock Osweiler is the Texans’ starting quarterback. Osweiler was benched in week 16 and is only starting this game because Tom Savage suffered a concussion during Houston’s week 17 game against Tennessee.

This game is going to come down to which quarterback plays worse, and I think that will be Connor Cook. Osweiler sucks, but I think he will do enough against Oakland’s 24th ranked passing defense to lead the Texans to a victory. Houston: Have fun getting destroyed by New England next week.

Prediction: Texans 19, Raiders 10

Nolan: This has to be nerve-racking for Raiders fans. After having an amazing season they find themselves on the road in the wildcard round without their starting QB. The Texans are no strangers to quarterback problems either. The decision to bench Osweiler has not proven to be a success considering Tom Savage’s injury. Neither team is in great shape but I think the Texans will escape this one with a victory. Starting running back Lamar Miller will be returning at the perfect time for Houston’s unstable offense and their 7-1 home record should not be ignored either.

Prediction: Texans 17, Raiders 14

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Tyler: Oakland will travel to Houston to face the AFC South champs without their most valuable player, quarterback Derek Carr. Some believe Carr to be the league’s most valuable player. Instead they will start third string rookie Connor Cook at quarterback who will be making his first NFL start. Cook was thrown into the fire last week when Matt McGloin got hurt. Houston’s offense comes into the game having one of the league’s worst offenses even after giving quarterback Brock Osweiler a four year, $72 million contract this past offseason. However, Oakland has struggled on the defensive side of the ball almost as much as Houston has on offense, giving up 117 yards-per-game on the ground and 257 YPG through the air. Houston boasts one of the league’s best defenses (1st overall, 2nd against the pass, and 12th against the run) and will playing with the home crowd. I think Houston can take advantage of Oakland’s poor defense and possibly score on defense to pull out a win.

Note: These two teams met back in week 11 with the Raiders pulling out a 27-20 victory.

Prediction: Houston 24 Oakland 13

NFC: #6 Detroit Lions (9-7) @ #3 Seattle Seahawks (10-5-1) – 8:15 pm – NBC

Jake: Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford was playing at an MVP-caliber level for the entire season, but an injury suffered to the middle finger on his throwing hand derailed his effort. He simply has not been the same since sustaining that injury, and that has to be a concern for the Lions as they face a Seahawks defense that can get after the quarterback.

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Lions receiver Golden Tate leads the team with 91 receptions for 1,077 yards. Credit: US Buzz Blog 7.

The Lions defense has been average at best, but the Seattle offensive line has simply been horrible for the past few seasons now. Russell Wilson has suffered several minor injuries to his legs this season, a result of poor protection in the pocket. Seattle is also missing some weapons at receiver, and is limited at running back.

Both teams have their issues, but I have to give the edge to the Seahawks, especially with “The 12th Man” rocking all night long. I think this will be a relatively low-scoring game with Seattle advancing to the divisional round.

Prediction: Seahawks 20, Lions 14

Nolan: The Lions backed their way into the playoffs after losing their final three games. Despite having a 9-7 record Detroit has not proven that they can beat legitimate opponents. The Lions are 0-5 against playoff teams this season and only one of their nine wins was against a team above .500 (Washington). Matt Stafford and the Detroit offense can put up points but overall their path to the playoffs was a cakewalk. Seattle is a more competitive team that has excelled in the playoffs in recent history.

Prediction: Seahawks 28, Lions 17

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Seahawks defensive lineman Michael Bennett and Seahawks safety Kam Chancellor bump chests before the game against the Bears at CenturyLink Field Sunday, Sept. 27, 2015. Credit: The Seattle Times. 

Tyler: Detroit will be making their third appearance in the postseason since 2011 when they travel to Seattle this weekend. The Lions come in losing their final three games all against playoff teams (Giants, Cowboys, Packers). The Lions have not played very well on the road this season either (3-5) including 0-3 in road games played outside. Seattle will come in with a few starters on injured reserve, including star safety Earl Thomas and electric return man / wide receiver Tyler Lockett. The Seahawks will be making their fifth playoff appearance in as many years and are always dangerous when it gets to January and February. Going just 2-2 in their last four games, some may consider the Seahawks a struggling team. However, they are extremely tough to beat in Seattle every year (7-1 this season). Detroit’s defense is nothing to write home about which will result in Russell Wilson and the Seattle offense being able to move the ball effectively. Ultimately I think that the Lions’ inability and reluctance to run the ball will play right into Seattle’s hand and will put Stafford in a very uncomfortable spot all evening.

Prediction: Seattle 31, Detroit 20

Sunday, January 8

AFC: #6 Miami Dolphins (10-6) @ #3 Pittsburgh Steelers (11-5) – 1:05 pm – CBS

Jake: It has been nice to see Adam Gase take over this Dolphins team, and the dividends seemed to pay off with Miami making it to the playoffs. The Dolphins will be without Ryan Tannehill, but luckily they have Matt Moore, one of the better backup quarterbacks in the NFL.

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Jay Ajayi ran for 204 against the Steelers in week 6. Credit: Sun Sentinel

The Dolphins beat the Steelers 30-15 in week 6, and running back Jay Ajayi ran for 204 yards against the Steelers defense. If Miami has any chance in this game, they will have to rely heavily on Ajayi to put over 100 yards of rushing to wear out a Steelers defense that played better as the season went on.

The Steelers have won seven straight games, and I think they will win their eighth straight on Sunday. I think Le’Veon Bell will have a solid day on the ground, and Big Ben will find a way to distribute the football evenly through the air, most notably to Antonio Brown.

Prediction: Steelers 27, Dolphins 20

Nolan: With all of the QB injuries in the AFC, the Pittsburgh Steelers have the best chance to compete with the Patriots for the AFC title. When these teams met in week six Miami was the winner. However, Ben Roethlisberger was injured during that game. The Dolphins could hang in there if they are able to start a healthy Tannehill but as of today he remains questionable. In the end, the Steelers are the more cohesive team, riding the wave of a seven game winning streak.

Prediction: Steelers 24, Dolphins 13

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The Antonio Brown “stretch catch” that won the AFC North for the Steelers. Credit: MMQB.  

Tyler: The Miami Dolphins will be making their first playoff appearance since 2008 and will most likely be playing without their starting quarterback, Ryan Tannehill, when they travel to Pittsburgh this weekend. The Dolphins have been playing relatively well lately, going 3-1 in their last four games with their only loss coming in week 17 to the AFC favorite Patriots. On the other hand, Pittsburgh has been scorching hot, winning their last seven games of the regular season after losing four straight in the weeks prior. These two teams met earlier this season in Miami where the Dolphins pulled out an upset win 30-15. However, Ben Roethisberger left that game early with a knee injury and it was simply too much to overcome. Pittsburgh’s strong home field advantage coupled with Miami’s postseason inexperience is a combination Dolphins fans should be concerned about. I think the key for both teams is establishing the run, controlling the clock, and keeping the opposing offense off the field. Neither defense is top notch and both are vulnerable on the ground. I am trusting that Roethlisberger, Brown, and especially Bell can be effective, keeping Jay Ajayi and the Dolphins offense off the field. T to a victory for Pittsburgh.

Prediction: Pittsburgh 34, Miami 24

NFC: #5 New York Giants (11-5) @ #4 Green Bay Packers (10-6) – 4:40 pm – FOX

Jake: Every time the Giants make the playoffs, they go through Green Bay. In the Giants’ last two playoff pushes that both ended in Super Bowl victories, they defeated the Packers along the way. Now, they enter the postseason for the first time in five years, and will have to do that again if they want to go to Houston in February. You could not write a better script.

At one point, the Packers were 4-6 this season and people were calling for Mike McCarthy’s head. Since then, they have won six straight games to win the NFC North. Their offense is on fire, and Aaron Rodgers is playing out of his mind. A lot of people are leaning towards Green Bay this week, but I am going the opposite direction.

I am really looking forward to the battle between Rodgers and New York’s top-10 defense. I think the Packers will put up points, but I have learned not to pick against Eli Manning in the playoffs. Yes, he is Eli Manning and he is a very pedestrian quarterback in the regular season that makes dumb mistakes, but he turns it on in the playoffs. I do not see a reason of why he won’t do it again this season.

Prediction: Giants 34, Packers 31

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Will playoff Eli Manning show up Sunday? Credit: Bleacher Report

Nolan: This might be the most exciting match-up of the Wild Card round with both teams showing that they can get hot and go on some win streaks. The Packers are coming into the Wild Card round with a six-game win streak and a division title. The Giants had a six game win streak of their own in the middle of the season and finished with some nice wins over Dallas, Detroit and Washington. It should be noted that the Giants handed the Cowboys two of their three losses. Everyone is talking about the QB match-up of Rodgers vs. Manning, but I’m focused on the defensive play of these two teams. New York has the best defense in the NFC in points allowed while the Green Bay defense has been unreliable and has forced Rodgers into some unnecessary shootouts. The Giants will move on to the divisional round but this should be a great game.

Prediction: Giants 27, Packers 20

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Ty Montgomery has played both running back and wide receiver for Green Bay this season. Credit: Rotoprofessor. 

Tyler: The New York Giants will travel to Green Bay to face the Packers in the most anticipated match-up of Wild Card weekend. This will be the Giants’ first playoff appearance since 2011 when they won Super Bowl 46. New York has been surprisingly carried by their defense this season. The Giants used three of their first four draft picks on defensive players each of the last two seasons and spent over $200 million in free agency last offseason. The New York offense has been no slouch and they have proven that they can put up points in a hurry. The Packers come in winning six games in a row to end the season and will be making their eighth straight playoff appearance. Green Bay’s defense has been vulnerable through the air which bodes well for the Giants who have been much more successful this season passing the ball than running. The Packers offense has resurrected after some called it predictable and boring half way through the season. This can all be attributed to Aaron Rodgers being himself and the Packers finding a potential diamond in the rough by moving Ty Montgomery from receiver to running back. I’m giving the nod to Eli and the Giants because I think Eli can do enough in the passing game and the Giants defense will be able to keep the Packers offense in check.

Prediction: New York 31, Green Bay 27