Road to the Super Bowl: The Ravens' road to the Super Bowl has likewise been one that was both conventional and a little unexpected. They started out going 5-2 heading into the bye and going to 9-2 before dropping two straight to the Steelers and Redskins, the latter in overtime. The day after the loss to the Redskins, the Ravens chose to fire Cam Cameron. Certainly a move unexpected of a 9-4 team, but prior to the firing, the Ravens had five games of less than 300 total yards including two of 200 or less. Or it could have been the five games where the Ravens scored 20 points or less. Or, most likely, it was the lack of usage of Ray Rice, who only had three 100-yard games prior to Cameron's departure.
Either way, Jim Caldwell took the reins and things didn't exactly jump to massive improvement - the Ravens scored 33 against the Giants and put up 533 total yards, but sandwiched that in between two 17-point, 278 yard and 352 yard performances. At least Rice got the ball again, as the Ravens ran for 224 yards and 206 yards in the final two games of the year. They finished out the regular season at 10-6, picking up a wild card berth.
The Caldwell move looks like it's taken hold, as the Ravens' offense has been more consistent since the move. The Ravens took down the Colts in the Wild Card round, then outlasted the Broncos in the rare double overtime before turning away the Patriots in a rematch of last year's AFC Championship Game.
- John Harbaugh is coaching against his brother. In case you hadn't heard.
- Ray Lewis is retiring after this season. In case you hadn't heard.
- Joe Flacco keeps trying into the overrated "elite quarterback" discussion. Can he lead the Ravens to their second Super Bowl title?
- Can Jim Caldwell keep the offense moving and strike his own blow for "midseason moves gone right"?
Total Points: 10th
Total Yardage: 16th
Passing Yardage: 15th
Rushing Yardage: 11th
The three names most will pick up on the Baltimore offense are Ray Rice, Joe Flacco and Anquan Boldin, and overall, those aren't bad names to have on your offense. Flacco's season wasn't a spectacular one, but to be fair, he outperformed Baltimore's most recent Super Bowl quarterback, which isn't saying much. Joking aside, Flacco's a solid pocket passer with the occasional ability to sneak out for a short touchdown, and he's got a pretty good if underused running back in Ray Rice. The Ravens fell in love with the idea of a true dual-back system, and Bernard Pierce didn't perform too badly in that second-back role, with a 4.9 yards-per-average on his seven carries per game (108 on the year). But he's no Rice in receiving out of the backfield, where Rice picked up 61 catches for 478 yards to go with his 1143 rushing yards and nine touchdowns.
Consider this - the Ravens had three players with at least sixty receptions and another with 49. Those three were Rice, Boldin, and tight end Dennis Pitta, 2010's already-27-years-old fourth-round draft pick from the Brandon Weeden Club. Pitta's seven touchdowns were second on the team. First of course is Torrey Smith with his eight, as well as being a decent big-play threat to counter Pitta's red-zone looks. It should be noted no receiver broke the 1000-yard barrier.
Total Points: 12th
Total Yardage: 17th
Passing Yardage: 17th
Rushing Yardage: 20th
The Baltimore defense is largely a shell of its former dominating self at this stage of the game, but still not a horrible unit. Ray Lewis missed most of the season with his triceps injury (and I believe Lewis when he says he didn't take deer antler; I think we'd notice a deer antler sticking out of his stomach). Terrell Suggs also missed significant time with his Achilles injury, but returned from that more quickly than anyone thought he could. Between Ed Reed and Haloti Ngata returning to the Pro Bowl however, they aren't exactly missing their star power. Former Bear Corey Graham's asserted himself well this postseason, with two picks and a touchdown off of Peyton Manning.
Then you have defensive end Paul Kruger, picking up nine sacks in his second full season as a starter, and Dannell Ellerbe, picking up four-and-a-half sacks of his own as a blitzer. Defensive back Cary Williams tied Reed with four interceptions including one for a touchdown, and the pair combined to deflect 32 passes.
What do you think the Ravens have to do to beat the Niners in tomorrow's Super Bowl? We'll have our full preview tomorrow...