Raise your hand if going into Sunday nights game in Pittsburgh, you thought the guys that would steal the show would be Corey Graham, James Ihedigbo, and Chris Johnson. No, not that Chris Johnson. Cornerback Chris Johnson. If you’re raising your hand I’m going to call you a liar.
The Ravens played well while epitomizing the phrase, “next man up” in their 13-10 win in Pittsburgh. Chris Johnson was sitting right were we all were two weeks ago. On his couch. He was a seventh round pick in 2003 by the Green Bay Packers, and spent most of career in Oakland. The Raiders cut him following a rough 2011 season. He was sidelined with injuries to start, then missed a lot of the final portion of the season after his mother and sister had been shot in Texas. His sister died, and his mother eventually pulled through and survived. Poor guy, to get cut on top of all that. In his first NFL action since those terrible events which shook his life, he registered a tackle and forced fumble of receiver Mike Wallace. A fumble picked up by Ed Reed that put the Ravens in easy scoring range. Thank you Chris Johnson.
How about James Ihedigbo? He came up with a bone crushing, blind side sack of Byron Leftwich at a crucial time in the game. Late in the fourth quarter, 3rd and 11 from the Baltimore 43. Even if the Steelers gained just a few yards, it still put them in long field goal range. A long field goal that would have tied the game. Ihedigbo would have none of that, sacking Leftwich back at the 50, bring on the punt team. I’m not going to lie. For a second when it happened, I literally said, “who the hell is number 32?” He’s the next man up. That’s who.
With Lardarius Webb and Jimmy Smith out with injuries, it opens up more playing time for Corey Graham, who was the defensive star of the game. The six-year veteran out of the college football powerhouse, University of New Hampshire (pause for laughter) has pretty much been better known as a special teamer. He made the most of his time little time on defense in Chicago last year notching three picks. Nothing more was expected out of him this year when he broke camp as the number four CB. Time for him to step up in Webb and Smith’s absence, and he has. In Pittsburgh he posted eight tackles, deflected three passes, and intercepted Leftwich in the 3rd quarter. A pick that ended another potential Steelers scoring drive on the Ravens 38. His most crucial play was batting a ball down in the endzone in the fourth quarter that was targeted right for the hands of Emanuel Sanders.
The special teams scored all of the points. But the defense, specifically the the secondary, won this game for Baltimore. It was against Byron Leftwich, but he’s also an NFL quarterback. The Pittsburgh receivers are no slouches. Leftwich made some good throws in this game that the Ravens defenders made better plays on. Bernard Pollard’s big hit on Cotchery on the last drive shouldn’t go unnoticed either. That was a big chunk of yards nullified by a big, legal, hit by the Ravens strong safety to jar the ball loose.
We’ll be relying on these guys again this Sunday when the Ravens take their talents to San Diego. These defensive backs should be foaming at the mouth at the chance to face Phillip Rivers and his 14 INTs on the year. Just one shy of Tony Romo’s league leading 15. The front seven should be excited as well to see that Rivers has been sacked 26 times, good enough for most in the AFC. If the defense is turning the corner and can play like they did in Pittsburgh, this game should end well for Baltimore.
Hopefully the Ravens play like sharks that smell blood in the water against a Chargers team that has lost five of it’s last six, couldn’t sell out this game, and maybe looking for a new head coach at seasons end. Not that scared, deer in the headlights team that shows up on the road more often than not. In his career, Phillip Rivers is 23-4, with 48 TDs vs. 16 INTs, a 99.9 QB rating, and 234 passing yards per game in December. Good thing we get him a week early. Advantage Ravens.
The 4-6 chargers haven’t beat a good team all season. Their wins have come against Oakland, Tennessee, and Kansas City twice.The entire team hasn’t played well, and the coaching staff is on the hot seat. You could group this team together with the Eagles and Jets for most under performing teams. Then again the Ravens did lose to the Eagles.
Either way, I like a win for Baltimore. I won’t give them blowout status, or look for a huge game out of the offense since it is a road game, but I’ll give them ten. Call it Ravens 24 – Chargers 14. Player of the game…Chykie Brown.
I hope everyone had their self a happy Thanksgiving.
P.S. One of my favorite trivia questions: Phillip Rivers was one of the most prolific quarterbacks in NCAA history. Who is the only ACC team that Rivers never beat in four tries while at NC State?
Answer: The Maryland Terrapins.