"If I had my way, I would like to get something done beforehand," said Torrey Smith when asked about testing the free-agent market. "But I understand it's a business, and nothing is guaranteed." (Kevin Richardson/BSMG)
Welcome to the Ravens 10-Pack, where reporter Jon Meoli hits on 10 stats, notes, and thoughts after the New England Patriots ended the Ravens' season with a 35-31 win Saturday. Read ahead for notes on a positive season finale for the offense, and a secondary that will be the team's primary concern going forward.
1. With an extra day of hindsight, it seems pretty clear that the AFC's two best teams played on Saturday. Neither the Ravens nor Patriots looked the part for stretches of the season, but with no truly great teams in the conference, these two are more than worthy of that honor. Around midseason, it seemed to me the Ravens were a very talented team with a major issue in the secondary. In the end, that was the worst possibly weakness to have against a Patriots team more than willing to move the ball through the air five yards at a time.
2. Not necessarily game related, but relevant: it's clear that Gary Kubiak remaining as offensive coordinator is one of the biggest moves that will happen here all offseason. To borrow a phrase from the team in Washington, the Ravens got a big victory off the field. Kubiak opened up the offense significantly in the last few weeks, and seemed to find an aggressive note that the players could get behind. There are plenty of personnel questions left to be answered, especially when considering how some of the Ravens' key free agents fit into his system, but Kubiak's presence will be a boon for Joe Flacco and the offensive line.
3. Early in the game, the Ravens got some big gains with Torrey Smith and Steve Smith against the Patriots' top cornerbacks. After that, everyone else got into the mix. It's not coincidence that all six wide receivers on the roster, including rookie Michael Campanaro, were active. Those targets, highlighted by Camparnaro, receiver Marlon Brown, and tight ends Crockett Gillmore and Owen Daniels, combined for 20 catches and over 200 yards. After that cast, plus receiver Kamar Aiken, rotated contributing roles for the entire season, it was nice to see everyone in that room go into the offseason with a good performance, especially with uncertainty at the top of the depth chart.
4. The Ravens winning a playoff game earlier this month in Pittsburgh with 49 total rushing yards was among the lowest in NFL history. The Patriots' 13 rushing yards Saturday actually was the lowest ever, and both a testament to the Ravens' defensive front that it wasn't even worth it to them to do so and to quarterback Tom Brady's accuracy and belief that the passing game was the way to attack the Ravens.
5. The raw numbers say it all. According to Pro Football Focus, Patriots quarterback Tom Brady targeted Rashaan Melvin 19 times for 15 catches, 224 yards and two touchdowns. If you don't trust those numbers, Brady was 17 for 21 for 153 yards and two touchdowns to the left side of the offense, where Melvin lined up, and the Julian Edelman trick play also targeted the left side. It was a callback to when quarterbacks would immediately look right to avoid Jimmy Smith's side. Overall, Melvin can still be a useful piece, but the first few days of his offseason can't have been pleasant ones.
6. Running back Justin Forsett's 24 carries for 129 yards represented an impressive performance to close out his storybook campaign, but it's much more interesting what happened behind him on the depth chart, as has typically been the case this year. Running back Bernard Pierce played just four snaps and carried the ball once, with Fitzgerald Toussaint getting a pair of carries and playing seven snaps. The Ravens had no issues moving the ball on the ground, at least in the first half, but the loss of rookie Lorenzo Taliaferro to a foot injury after the Miami Dolphins game might prove to be one of the year's biggest losses for what it meant in short-yardage situations. Taliaferro was around a 50 percent success rate in such situations before he was hurt, but it was Toussaint who got a goal-to-go carry Sunday on the team's final red-zone possession.
7. The Ravens prepared all week for Brady's quick release, and said pressure had to get to him quickly, but save for a stretch in the second quarter when it seemed like Brady was being hit by an interior rusher on every play, that just didn't happen. Brady got the ball out in an average of 2.36 seconds, second fastest release time of the weekend, according to PFF. That meant a lot of hurries for Elvis Dumervil and Terrell Suggs, but just two sacks of Brady and nine quarterback hits. It seemed it would impact the Patriots at one point, but Brady settled down well.
8. On the flip side, Flacco had plenty of time to throw Saturday. Yet again, the Ravens' offensive line deserves plenty of credit for the performance they put in against the Patriots. Outside linebacker Chandler Jones had plenty of pressure against left tackle James Hurst, but never got to Flacco for a sack. Guard John Urschel handled defensive tackle Vince Wilfork. Center Jeremy Zuttah improved from a tough day against Pittsburgh, and guard Kelechi Osemele was his typical bad self (meant in a good way). And as expected, Marshal Yanda's performance while deputizing at right tackle has been stellar. A year ago at this time, the Ravens would have been fortunate to say they had three offensive linemen to build on for the future. Now, that number is probably seven.
9. A lot will be made of rebuilding the secondary in the coming months, but the safety play probably shouldn't be included in that. The Ravens found something they like with Will Hill and Darian Stewart, and while neither is Ed Reed, that wasn't really the problem this year. I'm also a bigger believer in rookie Terrence Brooks than might be reasonable, so combined with the useable depth at that spot, more resources might be spent on cornerbacks than safeties this year.
10. After a couple big weeks, the season ends on an appropriate note in the "Three-star Accountability Corner," where I take responsibility for my irresponsible pre-game picks for the game's three best players. Even with his two interceptions, Joe Flacco deserves to be among the top three. Ditto for Rob Gronkowski, who caught seven passes for 108 yards and a touchdown. The third star would probably be taken away from Suggs and go to Brady, whose 367 yards and three touchdowns represented his best playoff game in years.