Monday, October 20, 2008

Fish in a Barrel

The Ravens broke out of their three game losing streak yesterday, in a game that purged most of the negatives from the Ravens massive 31-3 loss to the Colts a week ago, beating the Miami Dolphins 27-13 to improve to 3-3.

Rookie QB Joe Flacco played his best game as a pro yesterday, going 17-23 for 232 yards and a touchdown. He didn’t turn the ball over, stood tall and confident in the pocket and didn’t force passes into coverage like he had done in Indianapolis and two weeks ago in the loss to the Tennessee Titans.

If I was doubting head coach John Harbaugh’s decision to name Flacco the starter for the season, I was proven wrong by Flacco’s performance yesterday. For the first time this season, Flacco used several targets. Derrick Mason (6 rec, 87 yds, 1 TD) was again Flacco’s #1 target, but Flacco spread the ball around nicely, finding Todd Heap 3 times for 29 yards and even the ghost of Mark Clayton once for 13 yards. The screen pass also returned in a big way yesterday, and it helped the offense maintain drives and control the time of possession (31:43 to 28:17). Willis McGahee had 47 yards receiving and Ray Rice 46.

Another pleasant surprise was McGahee’s running game. McGahee had been chided for coming into the season out of shape, and it showed during the first few weeks of the season as McGahee appeared out of breath and nicked-up on several plays. However, against the Dolphins defense, McGahee hit holes hard and showed determination, breaking tackles and fighting for the extra yard instead of going down after the first hit. He finished the day with 105 rush yards and a TD. The only blemish on McGahee, and the Ravens day, was McGahee’s fumble deep in Miami territory. The fumbled was rendered moot, and McGahee’s improved play meant less time for Le’Ron McClain, who just rushed 6 times for 17 yards.

The defense was ready to get the sour taste out of their mouths from a week ago, and they did just that. They declawed Miami’s wildcat offense, stuffing the Dolphins run game (71 total rush yards) and keeping QB Chad Pennington off balance all day. Despite his 295 passing yards, the normally accurate Pennington had to hurry several passes, which meant a lot of them were way off target. It would have been nice to see the Ravens get after Pennington a little more, and the Ravens’ pass rush is something that needs to be improved going forward. In the last 3 games, the Ravens have recorded only 3 sacks.

The Ravens host the Oakland Raiders next week, and this game represents a great opportunity for the Ravens to get above .500 as they then hit the road for three consecutive weeks. Oakland is coming off a big team win against Brett Favre and the Jets, but have played poorly on the road, especially when coming to the East Coast, where they are 0-3 lifetime against the Ravens in Baltimore.

In today’s NFL, fans are usually of the mentality that a team is as good as their latest game. If that has any truth to it, the Ravens have proven that they are better than the team that was dominated a week ago. The Dolphins may not be a powerhouse in the AFC, but they are a team on the rise, but the Ravens bumped them back down, at least for one week.

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