How many of you predicted the outcome of yesterday’s game? My prediction of 27-17 looked far-fetched after the performance the Baltimore Ravens delivered last night at home against the Cincinnati Bengals. Here’s my take position by position as to how each group played.
Joe Flacco hands down was the player of the game yesterday. The influence of quarterbacks coach Jim Caldwell is apparent as Flacco looked a little like a certain number 18 that used to play in Indianapolis that took his talents to Denver. Flacco was running the no huddle like Peyton Manning. He appeared to have command of the offense and exploited match-ups when he had the chance. The first play of the game, the 52-yard strike to Torrey Smith, was not only a testament of Flacco’s arm strength, but the poise and confidence he has in this new offensive tempo that keeps the defense guessing. He hit the short throws, the mid-range throws, made a few careless throws that hit the hands of defenders, but it’s their job to catch it. The passes beyond 20 yards were the most notable for me. Every ball seemed to fall into the hands of his intended receiver in stride. Flacco showed why he is the self-proclaimed “Best quarterback in the NFL.” While I’m not going to put him up there as an elite quarterback because of a brilliant first game, he has shown for two straight years on opening day the ability to light it up through the air.
Running Backs: A-
Yes, Ray Rice only had 68 yards rushing and 25 yards receiving. However, he only touched the ball 13 times. 93 yards total on 13 touches( 7.2 ypt) and the Ravens still won in blow out fashion. Rice showed his nose for the end-zone with two short scores running the ball and also the ability to create opportunities out of nothing with a long run of 16 yards and a long reception of 18. His most telling play of the evening was the 4-and-1 catch that kept the drive alive where he spun and landed just past the first down marker. While the yards weren’t his typical high output, if he would have garnered more carries, his stat-line would’ve looked much better.
Wide Receivers/Tight Ends: B+/B
For the most part, the unit played well making most of the catches they had to make as Flacco was putting the ball where it had to be most of the time. Anquan Boldin had a nice touchdown catch, that appeared to have been incomplete but we’ll give him an A for effort. Torrey Smith started the game strong, but disappeared after the first play of the game. I was hoping to see more short to intermediate routes out of Smith to see how much he has improved as a receiver, but it obviously wasn’t necessary. Ed Dickson seemed to struggle coming back from his shoulder injury and remained a non-factor for the most part. The highlight of the group was Dennis Pitta, snagging in five balls for 73 yards and a leaping touchdown that had me dismissing any doubts about his athletic ability and lingering effects from the broken hand he suffered during training camp. The run blocking for this group, when the Ravens decided to keep it on the ground, was stout as they found a way to keep the Bengals’ corners at bay.
Offensive Line: B
The starting lineup was enough of a surprise for this particular group.
Ramon Harewood had seen flashes at guard in the final preseason game, but his height at 6’6″ is somewhat larger than a conventional guard. I thought if he was going to ever come into the game it would be at right tackle and rookie tackle Kelechi Osemele would start at left guard. Harewood was what my high school football coach, Marc Mesaros, would always say to me, “It’s not bad, it’s just not that good.” Harewood was serviceable as a left guard and is still raw in terms of his pass blocking ability. He missed a few slides in protection early on that led to sacks, but that was expected for a guy that barely made the roster and has been on the injured reserve his first two years in the league. I was impressed with the way the offensive line held up conditioning wise with the more up-tempo pace of the offense and Michael Oher and Kelechi Osemele didn’t show signs of being out of position. Matt Birk and Marshal Yanda didn’t miss a beat and it will be interesting to see how Harewood will gel with them in the interior of the offensive line.