Sunday, November 30, 2008

Postgame Report Card: Ravens 34, Bengals 3

The word of the game is... savage. The Ravens were absolutely relentless in dismantling the Bengals, and didn’t take their foot off of the gas pedal until they had obtained a 31 point advantage over their division rival. Up 13-3 at half, the Ravens could have been content to play it close to the vest and let their defense win the game. Instead Cam Cameron decided to go for the jugular, opening up the aerial attack and knocking out the Bengals while they were staggering. On both sides of the ball the Ravens smelled blood and swarmed the wounded Bengals.

This game was one that the Ravens were heavily favored to win, and by extension it was a game that they could not afford to lose. It’s always dangerous in the NFL when you’re facing an opponent with nothing to lose while you have everything to lose. The Ravens needed this game to stay on track for a possible playoff berth. Now they can exhale and start looking to the final quarter of this surprising season, standing at 8-4 and in the driver seat for the last AFC playoff spot.

Offense - Overall Grade: A-
Quarterbacks: A-

Joe Flacco finished this game with tremendous numbers – 19 of 29 for 280 yards, two touchdowns and zero interceptions. However, Flacco did start off the game very slowly, seemed to have difficulty moving through his progression, and occasionally got antsy in the pocket. He delivered some excellent deep passes, and hopefully this game represents a breakthrough in his chemistry with Mark Clayton. If Joe Flacco can feel as confident with Clayton as he does Mason, this can become a legitimate passing attack come late December when teams start bearing down on Mason.
Running Backs: C+
Willis McGahee did not play today; one has to assume it was a combination of 1) injury, 2) the success of La’Ron McClain and Ray Rice, and 3) the fact that the Ravens were playing the Bengals. Unfortunately it looked as if the Ravens could have used Willis, as La’Ron McClain and Ray Rice were both ineffective until the game was well out of hand. In the first half this group did just about nothing, and put all of the offensive weight on Joe Flacco. This was certainly by design on the part of the Bengals, but more is expected of these young running backs.
Wide Receivers: A
Who needs a third wide receiver? Clayton and Mason were dominant today, as Mark Clayton exploded for 164 yards and a touchdown receiving, and a 32-yard touchdown pass. Derrick Mason was his usual reliable self, and hauled in Clayton’s 32-yard touchdown pass. These two took full advantage of every opportunity thrown (no pun... okay yes, pun intended) their way.
Tight Ends: B
Todd Heap had a good day, and seems to be slowly returning to form. Make no mistake, until the Ravens have more depth at tight end Todd Heap will not have the opportunity to be the All-Pro he can be. Still, it’s good to see Todd producing again.
Offensive Line: B-
Flacco was given decent time, however the run blocking was insufficient. Against a defense such as that of the Bengals, it’s expected that the offensive line should generate at least some steady running lanes but that was not the case today. That being said, the offensive line is severely hampered by injuries and Jared Gaither was clearly playing in pain.

Defense - Overall Grade: A+
Defensive Line: A+

I can’t think of any way to grade down this group. They dominated the line of scrimmage for all 60 minutes, and there is no other way to put it.
Linebackers: A+
Cedric Benson and Chris Perry were hounded by this group, and Ryan Fitzpatrick was absolutely shell shocked by the end. No group epitomizes the aggressiveness of the Baltimore Ravens than this linebacking corps. Merciless.
Defensive Backs: A+
Yes, Chad Johnson and TJ Houshmandzadeh got their catches, but let me put it this way: Ravens Secondary 7, Cincinatti Bengals 3. Ravens Secondary wins.

Special Teams - Overall Grade: B+
Kicker: A
Stover did his job, converting on each of his opportunities and both of his extra points.
Punter: A
Sam Koch had an excellent game, averaging 47.3 yards on 7 punts, with four going inside the 20. It’s hard to ask for much more from your punter.
Returners: B
Although he didn’t generate very much in terms of positive field position, Figurs played with intelligence and confidence. This should generate into better returns down the stretch.
Coverage: C-
This is starting to become awfully disconcerting. The coverage unit, particularly on kickoffs, was a sieve. For a team supposedly littered with special teams ‘aces’, the certainly give the opponents great field position. This is going to come back to bite the Ravens if they don’t get things straightened out.

Coaching - Overall Grade: A
Offensive: A

Great job of game planning by Cam Cameron—the offensive coaching staff clearly isolated Leon Hall as the weak link in the Bengals’ secondary and exploited that weakness. Attempts were made to run the ball early, but Cameron made the adjustments to burn the Bengals for jamming the box to stuff the run. Just once, though, I would love to go through a full game without a timeout being called the first time Troy Smith tries to enter the game.
Defensive: A+
Make it a clean sweep of A-plus’s for the defense (I must be losing my edge). But I’ll put it this way; it’s really tough to get a group to focus for all 60 minutes against a team like the Bengals. It would have been really easy for this group to let up for just one drive on this game and let in a touchdown, but they didn’t.

And for my MVP/LVP...
MVP (Most Valuable Player) –Mark Clayton–
Boy howdy, I’m incredibly happy that Mark Clayton finally had the opportunity to make plays like this. If you take a close look at the plays that Clayton made, it’s in all of the little things he did where he found his success. How Clayton shielded the defender on that fade in the third quarter was a thing of absolute beauty. He can run, he can throw, he can catch; here’s to hoping that this isn’t the last time that the former Sooner finds himself here.

LVP (Least Valuable Player) –La’Ron McClain– Statistically he had a decent game, however the mass majority of that success was found when the game was well out of hand. The Ravens need more production out of their starting running back. McClain was handed the starting job for this game, but with that job comes the responsibility to produce.

(Photo Credit: Brendan Ayanbandejo (Lloyd Fox/Baltimore Sun), Mark Clayton(center) (Lloyd Fox/Baltimore Sun), Mark Clayton(right) (Christopher Assaf/Baltimore Sun), Jim Leonhard (Lloyd Fox/Baltimore Sun))

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