Monday, October 27, 2008

Purple and Black Hole

The Ravens turned in another dominating performance yesterday, beating the Oakland Raiders 29-10 to improve to 4-3, only 1 game back of the Pittsburgh Steelers, who lost at home to the Giants last night.

For the Ravens, it was all about keeping the momentum they established last week in the win at Miami, and boy did they ever.

Terrell Suggs has to be pleased now that Head Coach John Harbaugh listened to Suggs’ remarks about Troy Smith getting playing time, working Smith into the offense with much success. Smith lined up at QB with Flacco lined up as wide-receiver several times yesterday, and Smith did it all. He ran, he optioned and he completed a 43-yard pass to Joe Flacco, who would have had a touchdown if not for stumbling after the catch.

After the game, Harbaugh playfully dubbed it the “Suggs Package”. I find that funny and a relief, since Suggs was about to derail the season with his controversial remarks, compounded with the on-going McAllister-Harbaugh feud. But Harbaugh kept it light in the post-game interview and Suggs can’t do anything but smile after seeing his boy Troy worked into the offense.

In the standard offense, Joe Flacco turned in another solid game, and has put together two great weeks of QB play after turning in the dud at Indianapolis. Despite his slow start, he went 12-24 for 140 yards and a TD. The TD pass accounted for half of his yards when Flacco found Demetrius Williams wide open for 70 yards and the score. It was the first time I’ve seen a Ravens WR that open since Shannon Sharpe was waving his hand above his head downfield in Tennessee in 2000. More importantly, however, Flacco didn’t turn the ball over all day.

The running attack was on point as well, and everyone got involved. Rookie Ray Rice was the most impressive, gaining 64 yards on 8 carries while McGahee had trouble finding holes. He gathered just 58 yards on 23 carries, but found the endzone once. McClain got the ball 7 times and rushed for 32 while Flacco pounded out 23 yards, including a TD to close out the game late. Rounding out the rushing attack was Troy Smith in the “Suggs Package” with 3 rushes for 13 yards.

The defense came to play, and put a lot of pressure on JaMarcus Russell, sacking him 4 times, including once for a safety. Russell was very erratic, completing only 45% of his passes, but did complete a 60-yard bomb, and racked up a somewhat impressive 228 yards against the stout Ravens D. The defense bottled up the running game, holding the Ravens to just 47 yards.

Special Teams also contributed nicely, with Ray Rice gaining 54 yards on 2 kick returns and Jim Leonard getting 1 return for 16 yards. The Special Teams also pinned Oakland deep in their own territory on several occasions, but it didn’t help that an Oakland KR ran a kickoff out of bounds at the 4-yard line, a reminder that the Oakland Raiders are a team mired in turmoil.

The bottom line yesterday was that the Ravens dominated a team they should have dominated, and made the day very enjoyable for the fans in the stands. But the next few weeks shouldn’t be as easy. They start a 3-game road trip next week in Cleveland, who after a bad 0-3 start have gone 3-1. The Browns offense has woken up, but Derek Anderson and Braylon Edwards have yet to re-establish their rapport from a year ago when Anderson passed for 29 TD’s, 16 of which went to Edwards. The Ravens have also lost 3 of their last 4 games in Cleveland.

For the Ravens to win, they need to establish the run early and wear down the defense like they did in Baltimore in week 3. I would also like to see the Ravens continue to work the “Suggs Package” into the mix a little more, keeping the Cleveland defense guessing. It would also help if the defense pressured Derek Anderson early and often, forcing him to throw some of his patented interceptions. The Cleveland running game looks to be a non-factor with the way the Ravens shut down the run, but never overlook a passionate Jamal Lewis when he plays his former team.

It’s going to be a hard-fought game, much like the game in Pittsburgh earlier this season, against a division rival on the road. But I do expect the Ravens to come out a winner. And it would be nice to steal this game before traveling on to Houston and then New York (Giants) in the following weeks.

But for now, the Ravens sit at 4-3, a game back of the Steelers, confident in knowing that they could easily be 6-1, but smart enough to know they can’t overlook anyone.

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