Tuesday, September 9, 2008

A Win is Great, but Ravens Biggest Weaknesses Yet to be Tested

Well, at least one Maryland team is looking good so far, but how much can we take out of the 17-10 win over the Bengals? This early in the season we need to ask whether the Ravens that good or the Bengals are that bad. No matter what, this game featured two teams in the bottom half of the league, with a combined record of 12-20 last season. Additionally, the Ravens offense was facing a defense that could not get to the quarterback to save their lives. In retrospect, this may have been the best possible team to open the season. This is a far cry from my preview, but I don’t think anyone expected that rookie quarterback to be replaced with whoever that guy was. But let’s temper our expectations a bit before we anoint him as the savior at the quarterback position just yet.

Joe Flacco looked poised in the pocket and wasn’t afraid to roll out and try to make plays with this feet- the offensive line (and Bengals defensive line) gave Flacco all the time in the world and dared him to slice them up in the passing game. He didn’t, throwing for only 129 yards. However, he didn’t turn the ball over either. That is the most important statistic for me; that he didn’t fumble and never threw the ball to the opposing team. Unfortunately this will not be the case for most of the season, should he remain the starting quarterback. Before anyone cheers that we have the next Randall Cunningham, take another look at the film on that 38 yard touchdown run. The Bengals were falling all over one another, and too slow to react to give an effective pursuit. Joe Flacco is not that fleet-of-foot, and the play was more a result of poor defense than excellent running.

One of the Ravens’ major weaknesses, the patchwork offensive line, was not at all tested this week. Not every team the Ravens face will be last in the league in sacks, and the offensive line could struggle as early as this week against the likes of Mario Williams and DeMeco Ryans. It will be interesting to see how Flacco reacts when under pressure or actually is forced to make a play at the end of a game. He will not always be able to sit back, order delivery, and read a magazine before he has to throw the ball.

He didn’t have to be a hero with a defense that stifled the Bengals, holding them to only 3 offensive points. The offense never had to get that one first down, was never really under any stress to score points. That can make life pretty easy for the quarterback and the offense in genera. But let’s not be so quick to say that the defense is 100% back to form either. The issue has never been whether this defense was incredible when everyone is healthy. That assumption would be ridiculous- the issue has always been whether the defense could stay healthy for an entire season. In that sense the Ravens should be most grateful that they didn’t incur any serious injuries, but beyond that it should be considered slightly better than we could expect, but by no means beyond what this team is capable of.

Ravens fans are eager this year for good news, and this game was perfect for that. However, it is one game of 16, and the other 15 will be a lot tougher than this one. The Ravens boast one of the most difficult schedules in the NFL, but this was nevertheless a good start. In any sport, as long as you win the games you are supposed to win and split the others you will have a good season. The Ravens are on their way to the former, we will find out in a few weeks whether they can do the latter.

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