Sunday, September 7, 2008

Postgame Report Card: Ravens 17, Bengals 10

The word of the game is... surprising. Pleasantly, that is. The headline from this game certainly has to be the impressive performance of Joe Flacco in his Ravens debut, but his performance is only one of several impressive performances which can give the Ravens fans hope for both current and future success. The coaching was superb as this team came out of the gates fully ready to play. Cameron did an excellent job managing Flacco, by putting him in good situations while still showing confidence in not ‘coddling’ him. The defense? Outstanding, unbelievable. To hold the Bengals to three offensive points, and Carson Palmer under 100 yards is a mightily impressive task, especially considering the health issues with his top two cornerbacks. If McAlister and Rolle were still feeling the effects of injury, it certainly didn’t show.

Offense - Overall Grade: B
Quarterbacks: B
As a straight grade the performance was not spectacular, but pretty good. For a rookie quarterback starting his first NFL regular season game, it’d be hard to deny the boy an A. However, to judge objectively Flacco did miss several open throws particularly when rolling out of the pocket. He’ll have to be able to command the intermediate to long routes if this offense is going to win games in which the defense isn’t so dominant. The most important thing that Joe Flacco did today was take care of the football; his decision making was by and large flawless through the game. He looked calm and comfortable in the pocket, and did not appear phased by any of Cincinnati’s blitzes. Tangible improvement game-to-game has been Flacco’s biggest strength since he made his preseason debut. And by the way, the boy can move.
Running Backs: B+
Were it not for Ray Rice’s fumble that led to Cincinnati’s lone touchdown I’d be very well tempted to give this group an A+. Rice was otherwise consistent and showed good vision and toughness. La’Ron McClain dominated the Bengals down the stretch. Lorenzo Neal punished defenders and opened holes, not to mention a nifty screen catch and run in the third quarter. Each one of these backs caught the ball out of the backfield fairly well.
Wide Receivers: B
This unit was by and large consistent in catching the football and made the plays that they needed to make. There were some timing issues that must be worked out between them and Flacco, and Demetrius Williams’ lack of playing time in the preseason showed as he was a non-factor in the game. Oh, and there was a perfectly executed double reverse that ended up being a 42-yard touchdown run for Mark Clayton.
Tight Ends: C-
A major disappointment in this game was Todd Heap, who played one of the worse games in his career. He had an early fumble and let a touchdown pass through his hands, which is not what you expect from one of the finest tight ends in the league.
Offensive Line: B+
This unit was far more cohesive than I think any of us could have expected. They wore down Cincinnati’s line from start to finish and gave excellent protection for Joe Flacco. They certainly weren’t perfect and, yes, they were playing against a Bengals defense that only had 22 sacks all of last season, but I can only judge on what I saw. And I saw some very good things.

Defense - Overall Grade: A
Defensive Line: A
Haloti Ngata was an absolute beast, and the rotation of Bannan/Douglas at the other DT spot was able to make up for the void left by the absence of Kelly Gregg. While the defense certainly is better with Gregg, they proved that they’re still formidable without him. They controlled the line of scrimmage, putting pressure on Carson Palmer and stifling Chris Perry.
Linebackers: A+
This unit was in total command from start to finish. Bart Scott was particularly impressive, coming out of the gate strong to prove that last season was a fluke. More than anything else this unit was fully aware and was almost never caught out of position. The accounts of the Ravens Defense’s death have been highly exaggerated.
Defensive Backs: A
There were a couple of mistakes, but those mistakes (that can at least be seen by the common viewer) can be counted on one hand. The McAlister pass interference calls were not egregious (at least the first was not) and the secondary played clean otherwise. When you hold Carson Palmer under 100 yards and make Houshmanzadeh and Ocho Cinco (that is his name…) to relative nonfactors, you’re doing something right. And Ed Reed didn’t hurt his shoulder, so we can all take a big sigh of relief.

Special Teams - Overall Grade: B
Kicker: B-
Stover was 1 of 2 on field goals and 2-2 on extra points. His made field goal was 21 yards but missed badly on his 47-yard try. Perhaps on this grade, he’s a victim of his own success. He has set the bar very high for himself.
Punter: A
Koch was outstanding all day, averaging 48.2 yards on five punts; you can’t ask for much more from your punter.
Returners: A-
The numbers on Yamon Figurs (14 yd average on 4 punt returns) don’t tell the full story. Figurs made excellent decisions in when and when not to field the punts and had a 71-yard return negated by a questionable block-in-the-back penalty.
Coverage: B
The coverage team was decent but gave Holt far too much room on kick returns, allowing him a 44-yard return and an average of about 30 yards per kick return. The blocking for Figurs was average and they did an exceptional job covering punts.

Coaching - Overall Grade: A+
Offensive: A+

Cam Cameron was able to successfully perform one of the most difficult acts in all of football; manage a rookie quarterback in his first professional game. He didn’t put him in tough spots. He allowed his quarterback to make adjustments at the line. He employed the no-huddle when Flacco started to hit a rhythm. Mastko also did a masterful job with the offensive line as they were almost always on the same page despite only being together as a full unit for a few weeks.
Defensive: A+
Rex Ryan was on his game this week. Carson Palmer was consistently harassed, his players were consistently in the right position to make plays, and if the defense ran the same play twice I sure as heck didn’t notice. His best work in a long time – and that’s saying a lot.

And for my MVP/LVP...
MVP (Most Valuable Player) – Joe Flacco – I’m fairly certain/hopeful that this will be the first of many times that Mr. Flacco will be the MVP. He was in command, made good decisions, and surpassed any reasonable expectations for a rookie quarterback in his first start. As Expatriate has accused me, I must admit, I’m ‘Wacco for Flacco’.
LVP (Least Valuable Player) – Todd Heap – I’m fairly certain/hopeful that this will be both the first and last time Todd will receive this dubious honor. He dropped an easy touchdown pass, and fumbled the ball on the second play from scrimmage. Certainly not up to Todd’s standards in any way and I don’t think that we’ll be seeing a similar performance again this season.

One final note regarding John Harbaugh, head football coach of the Baltimore Ravens:
There has been some talk about how this football team would react to Harbaugh’s different style and tougher attitude, and it looks like the critics are being proved wrong. The image of the supposed ‘prima donnas’ on the defense (Ray Lewis, Bart Scott, Ed Reed among others) giving Harbaugh a water jug shower and universally embracing him is the image of the week. John, I hope this is the beginning of a beautiful marriage between yourself and the city of Baltimore.

(Photo Credit: Baltimore Sun (Gene Sweeney Jr.))

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