Now that we’ve all sobered up after the “surprising” win over the Bengals, let’s take a moment to put things into perspective. The Ravens offense definitely had a new look – the overall pace was much improved and it was great to see rookie quarterback Joe Flacco directing the no-huddle offense.
But at the end of the day, the results of those new offensive schemes were not much of a departure from the past. Consider…
- The Ravens turned the ball over (a fumble by Todd Heap) on their second play from scrimmage, and punted on four of their first seven possessions.
- They committed two false start penalties in the first half of the game.
- They failed to score a touchdown in their only trip inside the “red zone,” settling for a Matt Stover field goal after a first down on the Bengals 10-yard-line.
- They took possession of the ball with 2:37 left in the first half and only ran 54 seconds off the clock before Stover’s field goal. This allowed the Bengals to get the ball back with 1:43 left and get a field goal before halftime. I seem to remember the subject of clock management coming up around here a lot in the past.
- On their first possession in the third quarter, the Ravens faced third-and-3 and fourth-and-3 on the Bengals 34-yard-line. Even though they were seemingly running at will, they attempted passes on both downs, turning the ball back over to the Bengals on downs.
- In the fourth quarter, LeRon McLain rushed for a total of 20 yards on three consecutive plays, with all three runs going through the left side of the Ravens offensive line. On the next play, the Ravens tried a misdirection pitch-out to Ray Rice, who fumbled the ball and allowed Cincinnati to pull within one score of tying the game with 10 minutes left.
- Though Flacco managed the game well, at the end of the day, he had just 129 yards passing and completed 51% of his passes. His average completion went for 8.6 yards. Is it me, or do those numbers look awfully familiar?
I’m not trying to be a killjoy. I was right there with everyone else chanting “Let’s-go, Flac-co” and will always remember his 50-yard scamper (I realize it’s only 38 yards officially) for his first NFL TD. I am also happy that Cam Cameron is here because the Ravens offense definitely needed an infusion of new concepts. Plus, I think John Harbaugh’s demeanor is the perfect contrast to that of his predecessor, and he has obviously refreshed an organizational atmosphere that had grown stale.
But I can’t help think that we were all a little blinded by a seven-point win over what could be one of the worst teams in the NFL this year. (And if they’re not one of the worst, they certainly played like it on Sunday.) Sure, there were subtle differences with some of the offensive formations – and seeing those gives us optimism for the future – but the results (with the exception of the nice clock-killing drive at the end of the game) were virtually the same. No yards after the catch; no touchdowns in the red zone; no deep completions (Flacco’s longest successful pass netted 15 yards); no blow-out win over a team that looked like they would rather be somewhere else. And, as funny as it sounds, the Ravens have won a lot of games over the years in much the same fashion.
I’d call the euphoria surrounding Sunday’s win simply a matter of low expectations. We had all given the Ravens a pass this year, allowing the franchise to rebuild after the off-season regime change. But should our expectations really be so low? After all, this is basically the same nicked-up team that came as close as anyone to knocking off the undefeated Patriots during the ’07 regular season — and that was with Kyle Boller at quarterback! Maybe team owner Steve Bisciotti is right; maybe there is the nucleus of a Super Bowl team here. Throw in a guy like Flacco with a young and hungry offensive line, and who knows?
If you ask me, what we saw on Sunday – just like we saw in 2006 – is a guy behind center who can lead an NFL offense. Despite the aforementioned shortcomings, the Ravens offense possessed the ball for over 36 minutes and had 21 first downs to Cincy’s eight. Flacco also threw 29 passes without an interception, and even some of his incompletions were great throws. It was very much the modus operandi that the Ravens have tried to employ for over a decade now: take care of the ball and play good defense.
So if you’re looking to draw significant conclusions from Sunday’s game, forget about the play-calling and new offensive schemes. The story in Baltimore is the Joe Flacco story, and Chapter 1 perhaps doesn’t have to be about growing pains after all.