How does a team exorcise its road demons?
They can either run away from them or run right at them.
On Sunday, the Ravens pretty much ran any way they pleased.
Behind a monster day on the ground, including a career high 204 yards for Ray Rice, the Ravens picked up a key divisional road win, steamrolling Cleveland, 24-10. The win keeps the Ravens tied atop the AFC North at 9-3, and simmers doubts about whether this team can win the games it’s supposed to.
Facing one of the league’s worst run defenses, it was assumed the Ravens would come out with a heavy emphasis of Rice and Co. and that’s exactly what they did. Baltimore ran the ball 28 times in the first half, 17 on the first two drives alone, immediately establishing its dominance in the trenches. At one point, the Ravens ran 13 consecutive running plays, part of a day which saw 52 rushes and an average of nearly six yards per carry.
The commitment and success of the run, while encouraging, has to put questions retroactive to Baltimore’s last defeat in Seattle. In that game, the Ravens abandoned the run, relying solely on Joe Flacco’s arm, rather than Rice’s two feet, to move the football. Granted, the Browns are 29th against the run, but it’s quite clear that when Rice is involved in the bulk of the plays, good things happen.
Rice, of course, was the main story. His day on the ground kept the momentum with the Ravens for the entire 60 minutes and also allowed the defense to remain fresh on the sidelines. Every drive in the first half finished in Cleveland territory, while the combination of Rice and Ricky Williams helped open up the play action for Flacco when he needed it. Fortunately for Flacco, even the gift of having the Browns defense commit to the run didn’t force him to resort to the pass. In fact, on the day, Flacco had just 10 completions for 158 yards, but was required to do nothing more than give his backs a chance to catch their breath.
Defensively, the Ravens continue to look sharp. With Ray Lewis still sidelined with a toe injury, Dannell Ellerbe filled the void and filled it well. Ellerbe was tied for the team high in tackles with seven and was part of a unit that allowed 59 rushing yards and one touchdown, which came late in the fourth quarter.
Browns quarterback Colt McCoy passed for 192 yards and a touchdown, but took a beating in the process. There was constant pressure from the Ravens’ front seven, as McCoy was sacked three times, twice by Pernell McPhee.
If there’s anything negative to take away from Sunday, it’s the foot of kicker Billy Cundiff. Cundiff missed two field goals for the first time since 2003 and even had to rely on good fortune as an extra point attempt took a positive bounce off the upright. The rainy weather could’ve played a factor on his less than stellar day, but it’s an issue that can’t happen in the playoffs.
With the win, the Ravens now return home to face the winless Colts. Indianapolis fought hard once again in its loss to the Patriots, and the Ravens know all too well not to judge a team by its record. But with the Colts at 0-12, next week should see the Ravens eclipse the double-digit mark.