Three things to watch for as the Ravens head to the Queen City to take on the Panthers

The Baltimore Ravens will head to Charlotte, North Carolina this weekend looking to bounce back from a disappointing 24-23 home loss to the New Orleans Saints.

The Ravens fell to 4-3 on the season when an all-too-familiar script played out in Baltimore. The Ravens entered the fourth quarter with a 17-7 lead off the strength of a Lamar Jackson touchdown run, a Joe Flacco touchdown pass to Mark Andrews, and a Justin Tucker field goal. However, the defense which had been spectacular leading up to the fourth quarter, allowed 17 unanswered points while the offense couldn’t get out of neutral as the Saints took a 24-17 lead with 2:07 to go in the game.

Flacco went to work on the next drive, marching the Ravens 81 yards in six plays and completing the drive with a 14-yard touchdown pass to John Brown to cut the lead to 24-23 with 24 seconds remaining. Brown had a massive day receiving hauling in seven passes for 134 yards and that touchdown. Someone predicted that.

Everyone inside and outside M&T Bank Stadium knew what would happen next. Tucker, the most accurate kicker in NFL history, would boot through his 223’rd consecutive extra point and the Ravens would hope for overtime with :24 seconds remaining. And then this happened:

The reactions say it all.

So the Ravens are on to Carolina looking to upend a 4-2 Panthers team that had a fourth quarter rally of their own, scoring 21 points against the defending champion Philadelphia Eagles to win 21-17 in Philly.

Here’s what to watch for ahead of Sunday’s contest in Charlotte.

john-harbaugh-010917-usnews-getty-ftr_1pvr43dp5bzkg1txiy9mxhjw0u

Coach Harbaugh and his Ravens need a big performance this Sunday in Carolina with a tough schedule looming. Image Credit: Getty Images

1) Is it a must win game?

When Tucker’s extra point failed and the Ravens fell to 4-3, this upcoming game against the Panthers may have become a must-win.

Here’s why. In the NFL, losing more than six games all but seals your playoff fate. Since 2012, there have been eight teams to earn playoff berths with seven or more losses. That breaks down to five division champions and three Wild Card berths, two of which were earned last season by the Bills and the Dolphins and the other being earned in 2013 by the Chargers. Just two of the last six seasons have produced a seven or more loss Wild Card team.

Since the AFC North was formed in 2002, there has never been a division champion with fewer than 10 wins. It has taken 11+ victories to win the division in 11 of the 16 years that the division has been in existence. In other words, nine wins isn’t going to be enough for the Ravens to win the AFC North. This becomes further the case when you consider Pittsburgh’s tie is likely to benefit them. A nine win Steelers team gets in over a 9-7 Ravens or Bengals team.

Year AFC North Winner Record
2002 Pittsburgh Steelers 10–5–1
2003 Baltimore Ravens 10–6–0
2004 Pittsburgh Steelers 15–1–0
2005 Cincinnati Bengals 11–5–0
2006 Baltimore Ravens 13–3–0
2007 Pittsburgh Steelers 10–6–0
2008 Pittsburgh Steelers 12–4–0
2009 Cincinnati Bengals 10–6–0
2010 Pittsburgh Steelers 12–4–0
2011 Baltimore Ravens 12–4–0
2012 Baltimore Ravens 10–6–0
2013 Cincinnati Bengals 11–5–0
2014 Pittsburgh Steelers 11–5–0
2015 Cincinnati Bengals 12–4–0
2016 Pittsburgh Steelers 11–5–0
2017 Pittsburgh Steelers 13–3–0

Is it possible with a loss on Sunday, that the Ravens could go 6-2 in the back half of the season to get to the magic number of 10 wins? Of course it is. But road contests are looming with the Atlanta Falcons, Kansas City Chiefs, and Los Angeles Chargers. The Ravens would need to win one of those games and be perfect at home. The home slate includes division match ups with the Pittsburgh Steelers next week, Cincinnati Bengals (Week 11), and Cleveland Browns (Week 17). The other home contests are the Oakland Raiders (Week 12), and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (Week 15).

A loss Sunday all but ends the Ravens division hopes if history is any indication. A Wild Card berth could remain in the cards, but the Chiefs and Chargers are both likely making the playoffs leaving just one Wild Card berth available. Can a seven loss team sneak in there? Certainly possible. I wouldn’t bet on it.

The Ravens very well could be in a must-win game this Sunday.

ravens_titans_football_79749_c0-0-3466-2020_s885x516

The Ravens defense will be looking to start another sack party this Sunday after a rocky performance against the Saints. Image Credit: AP

2) Can the Ravens contain Cam Newton and the Panthers offense?

For the second week in a row the Ravens will face one of the NFL’S top quarterbacks when they take on Cam Newton this Sunday. Newton has the Panthers at 4-2 this season and he is once again putting together another Pro-Bowl caliber season.

He is completing 65% of his passes which would set his career high. He has 14 total touchdowns in six games and has thrown just four interceptions. He is the best dual threat quarterback in the game and he will present a huge challenge for a Ravens defense coming off their biggest challenge of the season.

The 2015 NFL MVP is 37-20 lifetime at home in the regular season and the Panthers have won eight straight games at Bank of America Stadium.

A big thing to watch for this week is how Ravens number one cornerback Jimmy Smith responds after the worst performance of his career. Michael Thomas’ numbers may not have been flashy (seven receptions, 69 yards and a touchdown) but Smith also committed two pass interference penalties and whiffed on a sack attempt that allowed Drew Brees to pick up a key conversion. Smith was accountable after the game:

There was plenty of blame to go around after Sunday’s game. The Ravens mustered just one sack after their franchise record-breaking 11 against the Titans. They gave up 17 points in fourth quarter which is nearly double what they had given up in the fourth quarter/overtime in the first six games combined.

The defense is in a good spot to get back to the domination we have been accustomed to against a Carolina offense that ranks 18th in total offense, 22nd in passing offense, and 18th in points-per-game. Their biggest threats on offense are running back Christian McCaffrey and tight end Greg Olsen. If the Ravens can do a good job on those two players, they should be able to come out on top.

NFL: Preseason-New Orleans Saints at Baltimore Ravens

More consistency is needed from the Ravens offense if they want to make it back to the playoffs. Image Credit: USA Today

3) Can the offense pick up the pace?

As those of you who read these articles weekly and listen to the Charm City Bird Watch podcast should already know (thanks for doing both), I am a major supporter of Flacco. If you’re new here (thanks for popping in keep doing it), now you know as well. That doesn’t mean that he is not subject to criticism.

When the Saints cut the lead to 17-14 in the fourth quarter, the Ravens offense responded with a three-and-out on a drive that ended with Flacco taking a sack on his own 15-yard line. The Saints would score on their next possession to take a 21-17 lead thanks to a short field and the offense again failed to get points, going nine plays this time but ultimately turning it over on downs. Flacco was 2-for-9 on those two drives and took a sack inside of his own 20-yard line.

usa-today-8746368.0

Joe Flacco led a big time drive to presumably tie the game against the Saints. But he and the offense could’ve helped the Ravens avoid the need for it. Image Credit: USA Today

Flacco played a great game on Sunday, one of his best of the year. His poise to lead the team down the field for the game-tying (we thought) touchdown after his offense and the Ravens defense faltered, should be applauded. Flacco is in the midst of having his best season yet but simply put the Ravens will need more consistency from Flacco and the offense this week if they want to emerge victorious in Carolina.

They will meet a Carolina defense that ranks 13th in total defense, 17th in passing yards allowed, and tenth in points-per-game allowed. Luke Kuechly and company are stout against the run, ranking ninth in the league. Flacco will need to throw early and often for the Ravens to come out on top.

Predictions:

Jay Stavros– Ravens 28 Panthers 17

Nolan McGraw– Panthers 19 Ravens 16

Jake McDonnell– Ravens 20 Panthers 19

Ian Schultz– Ravens 24 Panthers 20

I know I picked the Panthers on the podcast but this is a massive game for the Ravens. A win in this game keeps them on track for ten wins which should be enough to help the Ravens get back to the playoffs. Flacco and the offense are able to put just enough points on the board in Carolina this Sunday and the Ravens get to 5-3 ahead of their week nine showdown with the Steelers.

The Details:

Image Credit: Baltimore Sports and Life

 

 

 

Advertisements

Podcast Episode 22: Justin Tucker’s missed PAT stuns Baltimore and Orioles let international talent slip away

Image Credit: The Forward 

Welcome to Episode 22 of the Charm City Bird Watch Podcast with site owner Jake McDonnell, editor Nolan McGraw, and author Ian Schultz.

For the second time in four episodes, our guest this week is an employee from our sponsor, Seven Sports Bar & Grille in New Freedom, PA. This time, we welcome in Camden Williams, who works in the back of the house (3:37). Cam happens to be named after Camden Yards and he’s obsessed with football. We recorded our segment with Cam hours after the Ravens’ soul-crushing 24-23 defeat to the Saints, so you’ll hear plenty of raw emotion and reaction to Baltimore’s second defeat in three weeks. We’ll also go around the NFL to recap the top takeaways from week 7’s action.

Up next, McGraw and Schultz hop on the show to continue our assessment of the Ravens’ latest loss (33:14). Who was to blame – Justin Tucker, the offense, or the defense? Are the Ravens still a legit contender, or are we seeing more of the same from the previous three seasons? How will the Ravens’ defensive line make up for the loss of Willie Henry (45:55)? The Ravens are 4-3, and face a tough schedule ahead. The clock is ticking, and if the Ravens go 1-1 or 0-2 before their week 10 bye, the pressure will keep mounting.

As always, we’ll tell you Who’s Trending (48:32) after the Ravens’ most recent performance, and we’ll go over some things to watch for on Sunday (1:07:32) as the Ravens hit the road for the fourth time in five weeks for a 1:00 pm tilt with the 4-2 Carolina Panthers.

The World Series is underway, and there’s plenty of baseball talk on-tap for episode 22. We begin with the Orioles, who despite leading MLB in international slot money this offseason ($6.5 million), did not land three of the biggest international names in baseball – Victor Victor Mesa, Victor Mesa Jr, and Sandy Gastón. How in the world did the Orioles let this happen (1:15:20)? We then dive into the 2018 World Series, contested between the Los Angeles Dodgers and the Boston Red Sox (1:19:46). Will Manny Machado spark any drama against his old east coast rival, and who do we think will walk away as champions? All of this and more on this week’s podcast.

To wrap up the show, we dive into our weekly numbers segment, taking a look at the best Baltimore sports athletes to wear the number 22 (1:25:07).

You can find the Charm City Bird Watch Podcast on SoundCloudiTunes, and Google Play. Please leave us a review on iTunes, we love to hear your feedback and may read it on a future episode. Thank you for listening!

IMG_1365.JPG

The Charm City Bird Watch Podcast is brought to you by Seven Sports Bar & Grille. For a limited time only on behalf on Charm City Bird Watch, you can receive a 10% discount off any entree dish when you tell your server or bartender the promo code ‘Charm City.’ One possible entree combination, pictured above: Filet Mignon, Mac & Cheese, sautéed mushrooms, and a dinner roll!

 

Five things we learned from Ravens 24-23 loss to Saints

BALTIMORE — The Baltimore Ravens lost for the second time in three weeks when the New Orleans Saints marched out of M&T Bank Stadium with a 24-23 win on Sunday evening.

The Saints are winners of five straight since the Buccaneers upset them in week 1, and carry a 5-1 record into week 8 where they’ll try to avenge last year’s divisional playoff loss to the Vikings in Minnesota for Sunday Night Football. The Ravens, now 4-3, will travel to Charlotte, North Carolina for their fourth road contest in five weeks against the now 4-2 Carolina Panthers.

Now that Ravens fans have had a day to digest arguably the team’s toughest loss of the season, here are five things we learned from the game.


1. Justin Tucker is human 

Leading up to Justin Tucker‘s attempt to tie the game at 24 with 24 seconds left in the fourth quarter, he had made 222 straight extra point attempts which dates back to the beginning of his career in 2012. In fact, Tucker’s stretch of perfect PAT’s dates back to his time in College at Texas. In total, he had made 316 straight extra points.

But at the worst time possible, Tucker missed his first extra point after Joe Flacco‘s 14-yard touchdown pass to John Brown. That score capped off a six-play, 81-yard drive that everyone thought would send the Ravens into overtime against Drew Brees and the Saints. Instead, the Ravens watched Tucker’s kick start off on-target before slowly hooking right and missing the post by a few feet.

“I feel like I cost us the game,” Tucker said in the locker-room. “Every single one of my teammates thus far has told me the opposite, and not one play wins or loses a game. But that’s a tough thing to grapple with when you’re the guy in that situation at the end of the game.”

Winds were sailing up to 40 miles-per-hour in Baltimore on Sunday, but Tucker had been the only kicker in the NFL to not miss a PAT since the extra point marker was moved back in 2015, going 112-for-112 over that span.

Tucker had field goals blocked against Cleveland and Denver this season, but made his other 13 attempts without any issues. Who knows that would have happened if the game had gone into overtime, but this miss completely crushed the momentum the Ravens had built on their touchdown drive.

It will be interesting to see how Tucker responds to the adversity. He’s one of the most accurate kickers in NFL history, but in recent memory a number of NFL kickers have dealt with the mental yips. ‘The Wolfpack’ consisting of Tucker, Sam Koch and Morgan Cox is one of the most consistent units in the NFL. They will have no problem getting back to work and will be prepared for next week’s game. But Tucker has never dealt with a blunder as big as this, and there will be added pressure on him next week, especially if the Panthers duke it out with the Ravens until the final seconds and the Ravens need Tucker to win the game.

It could script an amazing comeback story, or send Tucker into a mental slump that Ravens fans had not foreseen being a problem this season.


2. Jimmy Smith was a liability in pass coverage 

Up until Sunday, the two prior performances of Jimmy Smith had been shadowed by a low snap count in week 5 against the Browns and the Titans lacking an explosive receiver in week 6. But when it was announced pregame that Marlon Humphrey would miss the game with a thigh injury, Smith got the start and lined up against #1 receiver Michael Thomas for much of the game.

Simply put, Smith got outplayed by Thomas. Smith allowed Thomas to rack up seven catches for 69 yards, including and a five-yard touchdown in the fourth quarter. Smith also had three penalties called against him, including two pass interference fouls. One of the penalties was a bad call, but Smith allowed too many big plays on Sunday. 69 yards is pedestrian for Thomas, but he made several catches in big spots and got the best of Smith on a consistent basis.

After the game, Smith faced reporters in the locker-room, saying that he “just didn’t play [his] game today,” and that he “felt frustrated because I feel like I’m the one that lost that game at the end.” Credit to Smith for being available to answer questions after a hard loss. He did not use his Achilles as an excuse, and he said that he’s going to do everything he can to be 100% ready next week against Carolina.

If Humphrey’s thigh injury lingers, Smith could receive a start against Antonio Brown in two weeks against the Steelers. Before returning from suspension against Cleveland, Smith had missed eight straight games, and he’s still getting back into football shape. Smith should be close to full speed in two weeks versus Pittsburgh, but the pressure is on him to rebound next week against Carolina.

The good news is that the Panthers don’t have a true #1 receiver for Smith to match up against.


3. The Ravens defense is still the best in the NFL, but will share blame with offense and Tucker for loss
IMG_1365

Another new week means another reminder to stop by Seven Sports Bar & Grille and mention the promo code ‘Charm City’ to your server to receive a 10% discount on all entrees! One possible combination above – Filet Mignon, Mac & cheese, sautéed mushrooms, and a dinner roll. 

In their two previous road tests, the Saints scored at least 33 points each time. The Saints had also scored at least 33 points in four of five games, with the exception being their 21-point total in their win over the Browns in week 2. Up until the fourth quarter, the Ravens limited the Saints to seven points. The Ravens held Brees to 212 passing yards, his lowest total of the season. The Ravens defense finally allowed a second-half touchdown when Alvin Kamara scored from two yards out with 12:32 left in the fourth quarter, but the offense went three-and-out after that drive and then Brees orchestrated the Saints’ second-straight 12-play drive that ended with the Thomas touchdown.

 

After Brees’ touchdown to Thomas, Flacco and the Ravens offense went 50 yards on nine plays, having to face two fourth down plays. The first one, a fourth-and-seven, would have failed on a Flacco incompletion intended for Willie Snead, but P.J. Williams was flagged for pass interference. After the Ravens were awarded a first down, Alex Collins ran for four yards. Then Flacco threw three straight incompletions and the Saints took over at their own 36-yard line. They got down to the Baltimore 21-yard line and Will Lutz kicked a 39-yard field goal with 2:07 left to put the Saints up 24-17.

The Ravens defense did allow the Saints to come back in the fourth quarter, but they still lead the NFL in multiple defensive categories.

The blame will be shared for this loss, but the Ravens offense couldn’t get out of their own way in the fourth quarter. The stalled drive in particular sticks out. Eight of Flacco’s 10 attempted passes fell incomplete on that drive, with some drops included by receivers. Had the Ravens scored touchdowns on that drive or the prior three-and-out, then perhaps they wouldn’t have needed a late comeback with Tucker’s botched extra point attempt. Scoring 24 points at home might be enough against the Bills or the Broncos, but not against the #1-ranked New Orleans offense.


4. Ravens beginning to rely on Lamar Jackson just a little bit more 

Lamar Jackson only played five snaps on Sunday, but he was put into some bigger spots than in previous weeks. There was a third-and-eight play in the second quarter in which Jackson threw a pass over the middle to Brown that only went five yards, and the Ravens settled for a 31-yard Tucker field goal. Jackson scored his first career touchdown on a one-yard run with four seconds left in the first half. Jackson converted a third-and-two into a four-yard run for a first down in the third quarter. He had another four-yard run on a second-down play and his last snap of the game went to Collins on a first-down run.

Jackson’s five snaps saw more good than bad, and the Ravens relied on him a bit more on third down and with the football on pass to Brown. The Saints had more success with their second-string quarterback Taysom Hill, who’s also being used as a decoy like Jackson. Hill played 26 snaps and finished the game with 35 rushing yards on six carries. The Saints are having more success with Hill than the Ravens are with Jackson, but they’re putting him in the game much more. That might not be the best for Hill’s longevity long-term, and the Ravens seem to have just the opposite approach with Jackson.


5. With Alex Lewis and James Hurst sidelined, Bradley Bozeman and Orlando Brown Jr. showed their dependability 

Alex Lewis (pinched nerve in neck) and James Hurst (back) were both questionable heading into Sunday and were listed as OUT when the inactives list became official before gametime. Rookies Bradley Bozeman and Orlando Brown Jr. filled in at left guard and right tackle, respectively. When the offense warmed up and took the field for the first time, the starting five were, left to right, Ronnie Stanley, Bozeman, Matt Skura, Marshal Yanda, and Brown Jr.

Both Bozeman and Brown Jr. played admiringly in their first NFL starts. Bozeman left the game twice with a lower body injury, but returned both times and finished the game. Both the Ravens and the Saints finished the game with one sack on defense, so both offensive lines were effective in protecting Brees and Flacco. Flacco did ensure some pressure throughout the game like usual, but Saints defenders only hit him two times.

It’s a small sample size, but Bozeman and Brown Jr. showed that they are capable starting if needed. The Saints’ pass rush isn’t very formidable and the Ravens only ran for 77 yards on the day, but the line did not appear to take a step down compared to what they were showing with Lewis and Hurst in games.

Going off Zrebiec’s tweet, it’s possible that Hurst could miss some more time. Lewis did not practice all week and it’s no guarantee that he will be able to play on Sunday after being stretchered off the field in Tennessee just eight days ago. If Bozeman and Brown Jr. start next week, their true test will come on the road with the crowd being a factor.


Quick hits:

Image Credit: The Comeback