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Six-pack for Ravens – Steelers

Posted on 29 September 2008 by caseywillett

Here is my six pack for tonight’s Ravens – Steelers game:
  1. Big night for secondary:The Ravens secondary will have a tall task in front of them tonight. With no Dawan Landry and Samari Rolle, Jim Leonhard, Corey Ivy, and Frank Walker will have to be in sync with Chris McAlister and Ed Reed. The secondary have to make sure they are all on the same page and that their might be zero room for freelancing tonight. In the past it has not been so much Hines Ward that has hurt the Ravens, but the second and third receivers on the team. Another big key for the secondary tonight will be to cover their man the entire play. Ben Roethlisberger is known for scrambling out of the pocket to make almost playground type plays with his receivers. The secondary can not afford to get drawn in to Ben scrambling and let their guy run wide open. Heath Miller is also a guy to keep an eye on tonight.
  1. Be aggressive: With a rookie running back and a hurt quarterback, the Ravens defense has to send a message and set a tone early on. I am not saying do anything outside of the rule book, but take your shots when you can.
  1. Contain Ben: I mentioned it earlier, but it is huge to keep Roethlisberger from scrambling out of the pocket and making throws down the field. Ben is not getting out of the pocket most of the time looking to tuck the ball and run, he is looking to make a pass. The Steelers have made big plays when Ben rolls out and his receivers improvise their routes to convert on big plays. The Ravens have to put pressure on him and when he does roll out of the pocket, stay with him and not give him much time to improvise.
  1. Attack the middle: With Casey Hampton out, the Ravens should continue what they have done so far this season and run the ball up the middle. Cam Cameron has said before that this is not an east and west offense, it is a north and south offense. The Ravens offense should try to do to the Steelers what the Steelers have done to teams for years, just pound the ball down your throat with a running game. This sets a tempo and frustrates a defense quick.
  1. Stay Joe Cool: All of the talk has been about Joe Flacco starting his first road game and it being on Monday Night Football. I do not think Flacco will get caught up in that at all. Flacco has not been rattled, bothered, or over whelmed by anything since he was drafted by the Ravens, granted this is one of the first big challenges of his NFL career, but he and the Ravens have done everything that they can to prepare him for this.
  1. Win the early rounds: A couple of Ravens players said playing the Steelers is like being in a heavyweight boxing match. There is to going to be a lot of flashy punches, or dancing around the ring, it is going to be a straight forward brawl. Both of these teams know what they are about and what the other one brings to the table. One of the keys tonight for the Ravens is to go out and win the early rounds, maintaining nice drives, setting a tempo on offense, and not being overwhelmed, sort of like throwing some jabs and body shots early on. If the Ravens are able to do that, then the Steelers defense will start to get tired, and that is when in the fourth quarter you can go for the knock out punch. Whether that be a touchdown to go ahead, put the game a way, or taking time off of the clock.
Ravens 20 –Steelers 17

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O-Line Biggest Surprise of 2008

Posted on 28 September 2008 by Vince Fiduccia

The biggest surprise for the Ravens in this young season is the play of its equally young offensive line. Remember during preseason when injuries had wrecked the unit and undaunted defenders came along the perimeter against a guy who was pouring concrete for a living?   We were all wondering if any of our quarterbacks could make it more than two or three games. Thanks to the return of Jared Gaither and Adam Terry, the line has come together much quicker and effectively than any of us thought.   After two games the Ravens lead the NFL in time of possession and rank second in the league in rushing with an average of 190 yards per game.
More importantly, they are completely dominating the line of scrimmage. Witness the performance in the fourth quarter in each of the first two games. Everyone in the stadium knew what they wanted to do–kill the clock and pound the ball.  How did the o-line respond?  With punishing grinding drives that left the other teams’ offenses on the bench for long stretches of time. They have allowed just two sacks, have given rookie quarterback Joe Flacco plenty of pass protection, and have owned short yardage situations.
Who gets the credit? Offensive line coach John Matsko probably deserves most of the credit along with assistant offensive line coach Andy Moeller. They have done a great job of teaching technique and working with the each player.   Offensive coordinator Cam Cameron has made great calls and put the line in great situations. Plus the addition of fullback Lorenzo Neal, the best lead blocker of his generation, has made this unit elite.
Whoever, decided to move Marshal Yanda to guard and Adam Terry to right tackle (a move I thought was doomed) deserves kudos–especially the decision to make Terry a right tackle.  Last year he looked like he was on roller skates at that position. Someone is coaching this group up or scheming right to protect him.
Give the players credit as well.  They have observed and learned the lessons taught. They worked hard during the off-season both in the weight room and on the field.   The one thing we know about this group is they are talented and young, and their future is limitless. If this level of play continues, general manager Ozzie Newsome is going to have to think of ways to keep this group together under the salary cap.

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UPDATE: Injury report and news and notes

Posted on 26 September 2008 by caseywillett

Here is the Ravens injury report for Friday:
Dawan Landry (neck)
Kelly Gregg (knee)
Samari Rolle(shoulder / neck)
Troy Smith (illness)
Yamon Figurs (hamstring)
Nick Greisen (thigh)
Adam Terry (ankle)
Tavares Gooden (hip)
Ray Lewis (foot)
Le’Ron McClain (migraine)
Willis McGahee(eye)
Fabian Washington (neck)
Daniel Wilcox (shoulder)

Here are some notes from the morning media session:

Cam Cameron sounded optimistic that Willis McGahee will be ready to go on Monday night, “he’s doing fine from what I can tell. His eye doesn’t look great, but I think he’s doing ok. He was ok in the meeting today.” McGahee sounded optimistic that he will play on Monday night, but he did say right now though he is taking it day by day.
Rex Ryan said they will wait and see about the availability of Samari Rolle for Monday night. Ryan said they are confident in what Frank Walker and Corey Ivy can provide if Rolle is not ready to play.
Jarrett Johnson had a visitor in the locker room today as his friend and Baltimore Orioles Lance Cormier was visiting Johnson today. Johnson and Cormier have homes near one another in Alabama.
Cam Cameron spoke very highly of the job that Rex Ryan and his coaching staff have done this week with the scout team defense. Cameron said that the defense has given them the best look that they could want from the defense.
Chris Chester was at practice this afternoon wearing a #48 jersey. Chester was a former tight end at the University of Oklahoma.
Here is what Cam Cameron had to say about the availability of Le’Ron McClain for Monday night: “He’s full go. He was great in meetings this morning and he will be ready to play.”

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Let The Fun Begin! Who wants to go to Pittsburgh?

Posted on 22 September 2008 by Nestor Aparicio

For those of you wondering, these are the good days. The ones where you wake up and all of the years of your sports fandom are rewarded with a magical start to a Ravens season where hopelessness was the offseason prediction.

Three weeks ago, Las Vegas had the over/under on wins at six. And business wasn’t booming on betting the over, not even here at WNST where we all live to see the purple team win.

We love ‘em, but who knew that they’d actually be any good, right? This is when the real fun happens when we get a real season when we never expected it.

Look, they’re not the gonna win the Super Bowl every year and with the decade-plus-and-ongoing annual vomit the baseball team has served up for this community, we have to pick our spots.

THIS, most certainly, is one of those spots.

Get excited, yell loud, throw a WACKO 4 FLACCO sign in your car window or cubicle! Talk football at the watercooler and here at WNST.

(If not now, then when? They could still finish 2-14. Who knows how this is gonna turn out? But I’m having fun!)

The mere notion that this team could have us wake up on the first day of fall undefeated (albeit 2-0) and in sole possession of first place in the AFC North with a pending extra 24 hours of preparation before playing second-place Pittsburgh on Monday Night Football seemed almost unthinkable 15 days ago.

(Apparently, many of the fellas in purple were lobbying HARD post-victory yesterday for a few days off but Coach HardBall had them back at the Bellagio for coffee and breakfast this morning. Another departure from Coach Billick, who most certainly would’ve told the team: “See you Thursday morning!”)

But here we are at 2-0 and in sole possession of first place and headed into the den of the lion in Steel City for a national TV game and if you’re not having fun yet, you should be.

Anyone smell a “coming out” party in Pittsburgh?

And with Ben Roethlisberger apparently on the shelf for next Monday, why not get a tad-bit optimistic, even if not fully delusional?

Think about it: a win on Monday Night and even Tony Kornheiser will have to do the Jim Mora talk on ESPN by the fourth quarter, right?

All the Ravens have done is take the field twice at home – playing each game literally “moment-to-moment” with significant injuries to Chris McAlister, Ed Reed, Willis McGahee, Kelly Gregg and with a rookie head coach and a rookie starting quarterback and a rookie left tackle (we almost FORGET about Jon Ogden, which is ridiculous) — and dominate division opponents.

Not just overwhelm them, but make them freaking quit in a sea of purple!

The Cleveland Browns and the Cinncinati Bengals are both winless and tied for last place, a full 2 ½ games behind the Ravens in the division. They were both manhandled and suffered the indignity of having Coach HardBall go easy on them by taking a knee. Hell, we did it TWICE yesterday!

Who is writing this fantasy script, anyway?

The final score yesterday easily could’ve been 42-10.

(I told you Harbaugh was a nice guy!)

We can X and O regarding the games and the differences we’ve seen in Cam Cameron’s offense – and we will at WNST all week right along with you — but it’s pretty apparent that Joe Flacco is a difference maker.

No matter how he plays or what situation he’s been dealt, the young Jersey lad is showing the poise of a signal caller much more mature than his years or 1-AA experience in Newark.

Just watching him handle the media in the postgame and the answers he’s now giving amidst success are telling.

He said that the reason he isn’t demonstrative on the field is because his siblings would ride him and make fun of him after games when he was a kid. He didn’t want to look like a fool and get laughed at.

“I learned pretty early on to cut that out,” Flacco said. “Being calm is what you’re supposed to be when you’re the quarterback.”

So, after the first interception, Harbaugh said Flacco was over consoling him instead of vice versa.

Joe Cool, indeed.

But it’s not just the WACKO 4 FLACCO show.

There are heros – unsung and otherwise – all over the field.

Let’s start at the top:

Ray Lewis has been sensational, playing like the best 33-year-old future Hall of Famer in the game. It’s not like 1997 when he was flying all over the field and you notice him on every play, but boy is he showing up in the “walk” year of his career and playing like he’s supposed to play. He looks hungry!

Ed Reed, who looks like he’d rather do anything than tackle someone at this point, still not only gets on the field but is a game changer by his mere presence. He can’t tackle and is clearly a different guy on his approach, but you better not throw the ball in his vicinity. He will make you pay! (That said, he still takes more chances and freelances as much as anyone in the game and it almost cost them yesterday!)

Justin Bannan is playing his ass off. With Gregg out, many of the defensive “other guys” have stepped up. Jarret Johnson has made big plays. Jim Leonhard was one of the stars of the game yesterday and no one knew who he was at breakfast. And McAlister, for all of his indiscretions and crankiness, is a machine. He plays with such pride and skill it looks almost effortless. It almost makes you sad when you consider how good he is and how underappreciated he is and how he should’ve been a Hall of Famer. But he should’ve been a better teammate and worker as well over the years. Maybe he sees this a last chance for greatness in his prime?

McAlister is playing through some discomfort for sure and if he leaves the lineup the whole ship starts to sink pretty quickly.

The Dawan Landry situation yesterday was one of those eerie moments that we never forget. We go from having fun at a football game to pondering life’s deeper meaning in an instant. The good-news prognosis is heartening but you realize what a serious game this is between the lines. And Landry is one of the real good guys on the team, soft-spoken, smiling and modest.

Offensively, Todd Heap clearly wanted to redeem himself from the Cincinnati disaster. Le’Ron McClain looks like the second-coming of Christian Okoye. And when Willis McGahee wasn’t getting poked in the eyes and bleeding all over the place, it’s clear this multi-dimensional backfield is going to pay dividends. I’ll also mention Ray Rice, because he’ll be a major factor before this is over in this offense.

In the receiving corps, Derrick Mason has been solid, Mark Clayton has reemerged as a potential threat and everyone in the organization will tell you that Demetrious Williams has the most upside of the whole bunch if he can stay on the field. (And if nothing else, Williams’ new Kid N’Play haircut will get him some positive attention if even when he doesn’t catch a few passes!)

Six weeks ago we didn’t have a quarterback.

Four weeks ago, Joe Flacco was buried in a deep No. 3 seat on the QB depth chart.

Three weeks ago, it was Troy Smith’s team. The name Kyle Boller has now become a distant memory.

This crazy season has gotten off to the kind of start that you can only appreciate after a few 5-11’s and 6-10’s on the backside of playoff appearances. I always called those years the “character building” seasons back in 1996 and 1997 through Teddyball.

I’m actually thinking about running a bus up to Pittsburgh next Monday night.

Anyone interesting in joining me…Drop me a note to nasty@wnst.net

I’m gonna work on some tickets and a bus today.

The price range would be in the mid $200s…at least that’s the early line.

Hopefully we can fill at least one bus!

Laissez Les Bon Temps Roulez!

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Ravens – Browns notes and my six pack for the game

Posted on 21 September 2008 by caseywillett

Here are some notes from the history between the two teams:
The Ravens look to snap a 2-game losing streak to the Browns. Last season, Cleveland swept Baltimore for the first time since 2001.
The Ravens are 11-7 all time vs Cleveland, including 6-3 at home. Baltimore has won 4 of the last 5 games played against the Browns at M&T Bank Stadium.
The Ravens are 19-6 in their last 25 home games. Dating back to 2000, Baltimore is 47-18 at M&T Bank Stadium, tied(Ind. And Den.) for the 2nd-best home record in the NFL.
The Ravens look to start 2-0 for just the 3rd time in franchise history (2000 and 2006).
The Ravens have won 5 of their last 6 coming off the bye. Baltimore snapped a 5-game bye winning streak in 2007 when it dropped a 38-7 game at Pittsburgh (11/5) after the bye.
Ed Reed has 263 INT return yards and 2 INT-TDs are also his most against any NFL team.
The Ravens have recorded at least 1 INT in 7 consecutive games against the Browns. Baltimore has posted 11 picks in those contests, producing 256 return yards and 2 TDs. Here are the individual game-by-thefts for Baltimore over that time
Here is my six pack for the Ravens – Browns game:
  1. Contain Braylon Edwards: So far this year Edwards has had a disappointing season. The Ravens can not afford to let him get going against them today. Cover Edwards from the time he gets off the team bus till the time he gets back on it. I would not be surprised to see a Terrell Suggs or Bart Scott go out on Edwards just to give him a nice solid hit and try and rattle him early. Edwards maybe a game time decision as to whether he will play or not due to a shoulder injury he suffered last week against Pittsburgh. If he does try and play with a hurt shoulder, the Ravens will be very physical with him.
  1. Make Derek Anderson uncomfortable: Anderson has proven that maybe he is not this legendary quarterback that everyone thought he was last year. Last year all of his offense was healthy. This year he is missing two of his receivers, Braylon Edwards is a little banged up, and Jamal Lewis has struggled. The offensive line for the Browns will be with out Eric Steinbach today who has been a huge help to the development of Joe Thomas. Maybe the Ravens defense can throw some exotic blitzes at Thomas and try to confuse him.
  1. Limit Josh Cribbs: Cribbs has become one of the most dangerous return guys in the NFL. The Ravens will have to have a plan today to limit his chances for big returns. Cribbs can help a struggling offense out a lot by giving them a short field to work on. One big advantage that the Ravens might have is that Jerry Rosburg the Ravens special teams coach was the special teams coach for the Browns the first couple of years Cribbs was in the league.
  1. Attack with offense: The Browns defense comes into the game missing a couple of big pieces. With DE Robaire Smith now out with a season ending achillies injury, and the secondary missing Sean Jones, what was already a suspect defense has some big holes in it. The Ravens offense has to be physical and attacking much like they were against the Bengals. The big matchup to watch and the key to the Ravens running attack having success is Jason Brown versus Shaun Rogers. If the interior offensive line can contain Rogers that could really open up some big running lanes for the running backs.
  1. Find Heap: After most fans were ready to run Heap out of town after his week one performance, I look for him to have a big game this week. Heap will want to go have a solid performance to make up for last week, but also he creates match up problems for the Browns defender trying to stay with him. There is really no one on that defense who can stay with Heap, and they may have to send extra guys to put pressure on Flacco which could open up the field for Heap.
  1. Let Joe go: Look for Cam Cameron to open up the playbook a little bit in the passing game for Flacco this week. This will be a key to keeping the Browns honest in respecting the passing game. Now, I do not think that you will see Flacco throwing the ball 20 times down the field for long gains, but I think he will take some deep shots to test this suspect secondary. Ideally the Ravens do not want Flacco to throw the ball 20-30 times, because that might be an indication that the running attack is not working. Flacco will probably end up with the same type of stats as in week 1, but with more throws down the field.
My prediction : Ravens 23 – Browns 13

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Thursday Ravens Notes

Posted on 18 September 2008 by caseywillett

Here is the Ravens injury report for Thursday:
Troy Smith
Did Not Participate:
Brendon Ayanbadejo (leg)
Kelly Gregg (knee)
Corey Ivy (ankle)
Limited Participation:
Yamon Figurs (hamstring)
Nick Greisen (thigh)
Derrick Martin (shoulder)
Fabian Washington (neck)
Full Participation:
Todd Heap (wrist)
Marshal Yanda (knee)
Demetrius Williams (hamstring)

Here are some notes from the media session with Special Teams Coach Jerry Rosburg, Defensive Coordinator Rex Ryan, and Offensive Coordinator Cam Cameron:

The Ravens special teams unit will have their hands full with Josh Cribbs as he is one of the most dangerous return guys in the NFL. Interestingly enough, Coach Jerry Rosburg was the person who turned Cribbs into a return guy. Cribbs was a quarterback out of Kent State when he was signed as a free agent by the Browns in ’05.
The Ravens offensive line will have their hands full with big defensive tackle Shaun Rogers. He is a guy that demands a double team from the offensive line and will be a big challenge for Jason Brown.
Willis McGahee will see some playing this Sunday, but I do not look for him to start and to only play a limited amount of time on Sunday.
According to Rex Ryan, this will be the best defense that the Browns will have faced so far this year. So far they have faced the Cowboys who only allowed 10 points, and the Steelers who only allowed 6 points.
Rex Ryan pointed out that part of the struggles of the Browns so far has been that they are missing Joe Jurevicius and Donte Stallworth on offense, but are still a very dangerous team offensively.
Look for Justin Bannan to get another start on the defensive line as Kelly Gregg still appears to be unlikely to play on Sunday
Willie Anderson will fit into the mix at the tackle position this Sunday. Willie will now rotate with Adam Terry and Jared Gaither, and Terry could move over to left tackle at times during the game
Here are notes from the media portion of practice:
-Missing: Troy Smith, Brendon Ayanbadejo, Kelly Gregg, Corey Ivy
-Back at work: Yamon Figurs, Ed Reed, Demetrius Williams, Derrick Martin
-Lorenzo Neal was wearing #43 which is the number that belongs to Haruki Nakamura. Haruki was also wearing #43. Lorenzo is listed on the roster as still wearing #42.

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A Different Perspective on Sunday’s Win

Posted on 10 September 2008 by marcbouchard

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.

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Ravens Q & A Time

Posted on 09 September 2008 by caseywillett

Tuesday’s are off days for the Ravens, so this is the best time for a Ravens questions and answers blog. So, send me your Ravens questions and I will give you the best answer that I can.

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Highlights of Coach Harbaugh’s press conference

Posted on 08 September 2008 by caseywillett

Coach Harbaugh wrapped up his first Monday regular season press conference. Here are some news and notes from today:
All though Coach Harbaugh hinted yesterday that he was non committal to who his starting quarterback will be on Sunday, today he said it is Joe Flacco. He said yesterday that he meant for the entire season.
No new news on the injury front. Coach Harbaugh said that he will know more as the week goes on. Cory Ivy was in the locker room and said he fully expects to play on Sunday.
Willie Anderson will play on Sunday, but Coach Harbaugh was not willing to say in what role or how much.
Coach Harbaugh gave a lot of praise to the job that Coach Rex Ryan, Coach Cameron, and Coach Rosburg, did in game planning.
Coach Harbaugh also spoke highly of Todd Heap and the job that he did blocking yesterday.
Coach Harbaugh said the fans were unbelievable yesterday and that it was very hard to hear down on the field, for the coaches, players, and everyone, but it was a good thing.
The players dumped two Gatorade jugs on Coach Harbaugh at the end of the game. He said to him, that was the team accepting him as a member of the Ravens.
Coach Harbaugh said that the two early sacks on Carson Palmer were huge, but the hits he took later in the game were also a big part of that. He also talked about the job that the back end of the defense did in covering and not allowing anything to come open.

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Ravens Dominate Bengals

Posted on 08 September 2008 by Ed Frankovic

Ravens Pound Bengals

The Ravens whipped the Bengals today using a great running game, a physical and intimidating defense, and a high energy effort – something that surprised many fans and media in this town, including myself. However, watching the way the Ravens players went at it today I don’t think they were surprised with their performance and that bodes well for this team going forward, if they can stay healthy. Confidence is a huge thing in sports and this football team has to have that after dominating Cincy today with a young offensive line, a rookie QB, and a rookie RB. The Bengals were a team that had given the Ravens fits the last several years but today the Baltimore Birds put a beat down on Marvin Lewis’ gang.

Here are some of my thoughts on the game today:

–    So just how hurt are Ed Reed, Chris McAlister, and Samari Rolle because they looked pretty healthy today? The Ravens are clearly a different football team when those 3 guys are on the field. Is it possible the Ravens were just being overly cautious with each of them this pre-season or are they really on the verge of being knocked out for several weeks this season or their careers (as we’ve heard about Reed)? I hope our man Casey Willett can get the scoop on this because a healthy secondary is definitely the difference between this team contending for a playoff spot versus the team likely playing for a high draft spot. Reed’s coverage on T.J. Houshmandzadeh early in the game that led to C-Mac’s interception is the type of play that turns a game around.

–    It was great to see the Ravens power running game back. Baltimore got most of their yards behind the strength of their offensive line in center Jason Brown and guards Marshal Yanda and Ben Grubbs. Ray Rice had a very good game except for his costly fumble, but he is a rookie and we’ll let him slide on that one. Le’Ron McClain was outstanding dragging tacklers all day for significant yardage. Bottom line: the Ravens offensive line teed off on the Bengals defensive line all day something we hadn’t really seen around here since 2003 when Jamal Lewis almost broke the NFL single season rushing record.

–    The play of Joe Flacco in total was very good. His TD run was just incredible but we can’t expect him to do that very often (btw, what a great block by Jason Brown on that run!). As for his pocket presence, it was superb! Fellow blogger Chris Pika pointed out that Joe only got hit 1 time in 75 plays meaning the o-line did a good job of blocking and Flacco did a very good job of feeling pressure when it came and moving away from it. As for his throws, I can only think of a couple that were off. #5 under threw Mark Clayton in the first half on a deep pass that if made properly would have been a TD and another time while scrambling out of the pocket he badly overthrew an open Clayton in the flat. Overall I have to give Flacco an A for his performance today.

–    The receivers stepped up today! It was great to see Mark Clayton back and playing at a high level. He can be a dangerous player and he was very good today. Derrick Mason was his usual solid self and he is a great leader for the younger guys. I’ve never met Mason but he seems like a real class act. Another thing the receivers did well was with their run blocking. You can’t run the ball that well without help from the WR’s.

–    I still think that the block in the back call on Yamon Figurs punt return was a very borderline to bad call. It appeared that the Ravens player (I think it was Frank Walker) hit the Bengals punter in the shoulder although from the referees angle he probably saw one of Walker’s hands on the punters back so he threw the flag.

–    Bart Scott and the rest of the Ravens linebackers were phenomenal today. I singled out Scott because he had a tough season last year and he looked more like his 2006 form today. Terrell Suggs, Jason Johnson, and Ray Lewis were all over the field all day and Rex Ryan has to be very proud of that crew.

–    Biggest disappointment of the day: TE Todd Heap. He dropped an easy TD in the second quarter that would have put the Ravens up 14-0 and his fumble in the opening minutes was reminiscent of some of his past ones. That fumble reminded me of the one he had in the Indy playoff game in January 2007 and someone has got to get Heap to stop leaving his feet with the ball under him because it is getting knocked out too much by the opposing team. Luckily for Heap the defense rose to the occasion and shut the Bengals offense down without any points after that turnover (I also think they ended up breaking Carson Palmer’s nose).

–    Coaching: WOW! Clearly the players were energized and how cool was it to see the offense run a “no huddle” sequence? That clearly confused the heck out of Cincinnati. The double reverse was a major risk/reward play so with Clayton going to the house Cam Cameron looks like a genius on that call.

Overall, it was a great day for the purple and black and the doubters have to be re-thinking their pre-season prognostications after this performance (myself included). As I said in the opening, if the Ravens stay healthy this team can contend for a playoff spot based on what I saw today. But this is only week one and right now this team needs to focus on just getting better each week. Next week will be a tough game going to Houston to face a Texans team that had their jocks handed to them by the Pittsburgh Steelers today. As our old coach told us time and time again: “Winning on the road in the NFL is one of the toughest thing to do in sports.”

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