Monday, September 8, 2008

Bengal Beatdown

After Joe Flacco's impressive 38-yard scamper for a touchdown, which put the Ravens up over the Bengals 17-3, I turned to Ben, my fellow 540 inmate, and said "Troy Smith got tonsillitis at the wrong time."

His response was classic. "He got it at the right time!"

The Ravens' dominating 17-10 win over the Cincinnati Bengals yesterday was all about timing too. The Ravens entered the season with more question marks than answers and they benefited from opening up the season at home against a Bengals team that is in some serious trouble.

And in a schedule that looks to be pretty brutal, the Ravens will benefit from the weak part of the schedule coming in the first two weeks, as they travel to Houston to take on a Texans team that was blown out by the Steelers. If the Ravens play Houston like they played Cincy, they could very well start the season with a surprising 2-0 record as they come back home against Cleveland.

As for those question marks, many of them got a little less bothersome yesterday.

Let's start with rookie QB Joe Flacco.

Flacco was the Ravens' default starter since Troy Smith was down with a severe case of tonsillitis and Kyle Boller's torn labrum likely puts him out for the season. The Ravens signed veteran back-up Todd Bouman a week before the Ravens opening game, which meant Flacco was the QB with the most reps and knowledge of the playbook, even though he is a rookie.

Flacco responded well. While his numbers (15-29, 129 YDS, 0 TD, 0 INT) aren't likely to have you racing to pick him up in your fantasy league, Flacco demonstrated patience and polish well beyond anything that Kyle Boller displayed during his five years as a QB. Flacco stood tall in the pocket, side-stepped pressure, moved from the pocket well, and knew when to get rid of the ball. We was not sacked at all.

Known to be a pocket passer, Flacco ran well, especially on his 38-yard TD run, turning in toward the middle of the field when he could have easily stepped out of bounds after getting a first down. He showed determination and heart. And this was just his first NFL game.

His passes were usually very catchable, even though the WR's had the dropsies today, dropping at least 4 passes that could have easily been caught.

However, the running game was probably the most pleasant surprise of the day. With Willis McGahee still hampered by a knee injury and not playing, the Ravens used a 2-fullback set to wear down the Bengals defense. La'Ron McClain punished the Bengals defense, gaining 86 yards on 19 carries. Ray Rice added 64 yards on 22 carries, and looked very good, despite a fumble that the Bengals returned for their only touchdown. In total the Ravens rushed for 229 yards, which allowed them to control the clock (36:15) and keep the Bengals supposed strong offense off the field.

That leads me to the defense, which brought their A-game today. I, as well as others, were very worried about this defense, with early season injuries mounting up as well as the age of some key veterans. But the defense looked very much like the defense from 2006, shutting down the Bengals offense and allowing only 154 yards total.

Chad Ocho Cinco was "Ocho Stinko", getting only 22 yards on 1 catch. The defense sacked Carson Palmer twice, but had him under constant pressure which kept him off balance all day. His final numbers were awful 10-25, 99 YDS, 0 TD, 1 INT.

If there was one negative with today's game, it was the WR corps, which dropped several passes and failed to get decent separation yet again. Derrick Mason lead the WR corps with 44 yards on 4 catches.

Todd Heap, the great white hype, had 1 catch for 5 yards, on the Ravens' first drive, and that resulted in a fumble. Sadly, Heap is pretty much a non-factor in this offense and seems to have become a soft player, night-and-day different from his days as a hard-nosed tight end who would play hurt and take shots to make the catch. Where has that Todd Heap gone?

The Ogden-less offensive line was very impressive today, giving Flacco time to check down and pump fake. They didn't give up any sacks, which should be a testament to their success, as well as the intelligence of Flacco, who knew when to get rid of the ball. The OL also opened several holes for the Ravens running backs as well. I think it's safe to say the expectations for the future of this OL unit are high for a reason. And that doesn't even factor into the recently siging of Willie Anderson, who didn't play yesterday.

All in all, it was a wonderful day for the Ravens, as rookie head coach John Harbaugh recorded his first win. While the offense was not much different than the Brian Billick offenses of 2000-2006, it was assuring to see the Ravens pound the ball in the red zone instead of predictably switching it up with passes that were bound to fail. Also, the Ravens first touchdown came on a double reverse, something that Ravens' fans always thought was in Billick's playbook, but was never used.

Offensive Coordinator Cam Cameron's offense wasn't flashy but it got the job done and played to the strength of the Ravens and to the weakness of the Bengals. It's nice to feel confident in the offense again, even if it is for just one weak.

The same can be said of the Ravens. They are 1-0.

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