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After all of the offseason conditioning, the organized team activities, training camp and the preseason games designed to ready a team for opening day, the Ravens a team that offered up so much promise after a sharp preseason opener against the Eagles, suddenly look more like a team in chaos than one ready to defend its AFC North Championship.
To make matters worse, the team left Cincinnati with a lengthy and significant list of battered bodies that will force the team to turn to their bench as they prepare for the home opener against the N.Y. Jets.
Much of the pre-game drama centered upon Jonathan Ogden and his famous big left toe. After practicing most of the week leading into the game, Ogden declared himself ready and decided to give it a go. It didnâ€™t last long as Ogden hobbled to the sidelines early in the second quarter.
During the first quarter in the contest Ray Lewis injured his right triceps after he and Chris McAlister converged to stop Bengals receiver T.J. Houshmandzadeh. Lewis fought through the injury and finished the game despite playing in severe pain. Lewis later said that the triceps was torn while team officials have described it as a strain.
The key injuries didnâ€™t stop there.
Steve McNair injured his groin after being tackled following an incomplete pass downfield. The injury prevented McNair from stepping into his throws, one of which sailed over a wide open Derrick Mason on third and one resulting in a game changing interception.
B.J. Sams went down with what has been described as a serious knee injury. Early indications are that Sams has torn an ACL. Paul Brown Stadium has certainly not been kind to the Ravens return specialist.
Daniel Wilcoxâ€™ ankle injury flared up again as he was taken off the field and seen using crutches following the physical contest.
Any loss is tough but this one may linger for quite some time.
Now for the good, the bad and the uglyâ€¦
Game Weather: Mostly Cloudy Temp: 82Â° F (27.8Â° C), Humidity: 57%, Wind: NNE 5 mph
Steve McNair was hardly a field general last night against the Bengals. The offense looked confused at times and that falls at least in part upon McNair. The Ravens have had their sights set on this game for months and they should have been much more prepared and efficient against this opponent. After their very first two first downs, instead of developing a rhythm, the team wasted two timeouts â€“ one at the 13:55 mark of the first quarter and the second at the 7:05 mark of the first quarter. Then later in the half with a timeout to burn and 55 seconds on the clock, McNair was only able to get off four plays, one of which was a spike to kill the clock. When they could have used a timeout, McNair and the Ravens decided to head into the locker room with one still in their pocket albeit with an expiration date on it.
The Ravens were horrible in converting third downs (2 of 14), one of which was a Matt Stover field goal. The Ravens threw the ball 12 times on third down despite having third and 3 or less eight times and third and 2 or less five times. The Ravens dependency on the pass did not escape the Bengalsâ€™ notice as Cincinnati was obviously determined not to give McNair time. In his defense McNair was under constant pressure but that doesnâ€™t excuse some poorly thrown passes in key situations, the most crucial of which was that overthrown pass to Derrick Mason who was wide open on a third and one at 9:43 of the fourth with the Ravens clinging to a 20-19 lead. The pass was ultimately intercepted by Robert Geathers setting up the Bengals deciding touchdown.
Kyle Boller offered little in relief of the injured McNair. He was nearly picked off in the end zone by Dexter Jackson on an ill advised pass to Devard Darling of all people. Later he overshot Leâ€™Ron McClain in the right flat and then rifled a shot to Todd Heap who was less than 10 yards from him. The ball caromed off Heapâ€™s shoulder and into the waiting arms of Michael Myers. The combined quarterback rating of the pair was 50.2. This coupled with the inability to convert some third downs leads to this embarrassing grade against a suspect defense.
RUNNING BACK: B
We waited for Willis McGahee to turn it on and eventually he did against the Bengals. He got off to a sloppy start during an aborted exchange between him and Steve McNair that led to the gameâ€™s first turnover. That aside McGahee ran hard and elusively, getting small at times and driving defenders for additional yardage when he had to. He looked smooth catching the ball out of the backfield. One of the gameâ€™s biggest mysteries is why McGahee didnâ€™t get more touches in crucial situations. Musa Smith ran well in relief of McGahee and has rediscovered the burst that characterized his â€™06 preseason. The Ravens averaged 5.5 yards per carry in the first half on 13 rushes. They only ran the ball 12 more times after the break to finish with 107 yards rushing on 25 carries. Leâ€™Ron McClainâ€™s effort was there but the rookie needs to protect the football. Ditto that for Musa Smith. McClain provides a nice dump off outlet for McNair and is a natural pass catcher.
Derrick Mason was solid and reliable while finding space in the Bengals porous secondary. He showed solid hands throughout the contest. Demetrius Williams has the look of a real playmaker while making nice catches in traffic, leaping high to snare McNairâ€™s first completion of the game for a 21 yard gain. Mark Clayton was hardly a factor. The guess here is that he was hampered by that high ankle sprain. He was unable to hang on to a third and one pass from McNair late in the first quarter. Todd Heap was marked by Bengals safety Madieu Williams most of the night. Williams had a very solid outing limiting Heap to just 4 catches for 29 yards. Heap showed good hands coming up with the negated touchdownlate in the fourth. He arguably could have done a better job of catching the rocket from Boller in the end zone a few plays later.
OFFENSIVE LINE: C+
McNair was sacked twice by the Bengals but was under duress often. The Bengals registered 10 QB hurries, three by blitzing linebacker Lemar Marshall. This unitâ€™s performance was severely impacted by poor play calling on the part of Brian Billick. The Ravens did little in the way of draws, screens or delays to thwart the pressure from the Bengals front seven. They did a nice job of run blocking, particularly Jason Brown who was very effective pulling from his left guard spot. Yanda help up decently at right tackle but he hurt the team with three penalties (1 holding and 2 false starts). Itâ€™s safe to say that Jonathan Ogden will be iffy all season and the team needs to prepare as though he wonâ€™t be available much for the foreseeable future.
DEFENSIVE LINE: B+
The defensive front controlled the line of scrimmage against the Bengals, holding the tough Rudi Johnson to just 50 yards on 18 carries. Johnson was dropped for a loss four times as Haloti Ngata, Kelly Gregg and Trevor Pryce re-established the LOS to clear the way for the linebackers to finish. The front while not sacking Palmer often (1 for 13 yards) did manage to get Palmer to move off his spot and they put a few hats on him. Palmer was inaccurate on some short and intermediate passes as a result. Ngata seems to be developing as an interior pass rusher.
Ray Lewis playing with a significant triceps injury fought through the adversity to chip in with a warrior-like effort (11 tackles). His play helped set the tone for a defense that was often facing adversity in the form of poor field position against the always dangerous Carson Palmer. Terrell Suggs was solid in run support and chipped in with a couple of hurries. Bart Scott seemed a bit out of sorts at times when being asked to cover the short zones outside the hash marks in pass coverage. He did make a couple of nice tackles on Rudi Johnson early in the third quarter to help set the tone in the second half. After those back to back tackles Jarret Johnson came in untouched up the middle to sack Palmer for a 13 yard loss. Johnson was also solid on the edge holding up well at the point of attack against the run.
Ed Reed seemingly picked up where he left off last season and was menacing in the secondary. Still much the riverboat gambler, his risks appear more calculated than emotional and the results are better than they were early in â€™06. Dawan Landry was solid in run support and Chris McAlister fought off a slightly shaky early start to tighten down on the screws. Samari Rolle had a very good game and was a fierce and determined tackler. He supported the run flawlessly and even dropped Rudi Johnson for a one yard loss. The Ravens secondary did get crossed up for another big score by Palmer to Chad Johnson. Itâ€™s unlikely that Rex Ryan would have assigned Dawan Landry to Johnson. The result was a 39 yard scoring strike to put the Bengals up 6-0.
SPECIAL TEAMS: A
Sam Koch average 44.6 yards on five punts while netting 38.8 yards. He pinned the Bengals inside the 20 on two occasions, once at the 10 and the second at the 15. Kochâ€™s punts were high forcing 3 fair catches by the Bengals. His net was hurt slightly when he blew an opportunity to pin the Bengals again, lofting a 51 yard punt into the end zone for a touchback. Matt Stoverâ€™s kick offs were surprisingly strong, 3 of which reached the end zone while the fourth reached the 8. The Ravens averaged 28 yards on 5 kick returns thanks to B.J. Sams and 17.5 yards on 6 punt returns, obviously a figure aided greatly by Ed Reedâ€™s 63 yard return for a score behind a beautifully designed wedge. Sams made a nice play blowing up a Bengalsâ€™ gunner who had a chance to pin the Ravens on a punt with 7:31 left in the second quarter.
COACHING: Offense D; Defense B+
The Ravens offense had no rhythm and they appeared unorganized. When they had a chance to develop rhythm and control the game and the clock on the ground, Brian Billick opted instead to throw the football. At the end of the game he chose to put the game in the hands of a player (Boller) who responds to pressure the way a vampire responds to sunlight instead of giving the ball deep in the red zone to a player that has a knack for finding the end zone (McGahee). Billick did little during the game to slow down the Bengals jailbreak pass rush and without forcing them to stay true they wreaked havoc on the Ravens passing game despite a rather shoddy Bengals secondary. In the process it may have cost Billick his starting quarterback for a while.
While itâ€™s easy to question why Rex Ryan would assign Bart Scott to play the short zones in pass coverage instead of playing near the line of scrimmage where heâ€™s best, itâ€™s hard to find fault with a defense that limited the explosive Carson Palmer-led offense to 236 net yards and 20 points despite the favorable field position throughout the contest. Rexâ€™ group played with heart, determination and purpose while adapting to the changes presented by the Bengals. If only the offense could say the same.
OTHER THOUGHTS AND OBSERVATIONS: One had to question Ed Reedâ€™s return of a short Shayne Graham field goal attempt from 7 yards deep in the end zone, particularly when the spot of the kick was the Ravens 43. But Reed has a knack for making plays with the football, something the Ravens desperately needed more of last nightâ€¦I wonder if Troy Smith had anything to say to the Ravensâ€™ offensive coaches regarding Bengals CB Leon Hall. Smith torched Hall (Michigan grad) a few times for long touchdown passes during his Heisman season…The oversized Hall of Fame sports blazer that Chad Johnson broke out after his TD reception was pretty lameâ€¦I have to wonder if weâ€™ve seen the last of Jonathan Ogden. The same could be said for B.J. Sams who had a nice game last night. His season ended in â€™06 when he broke his leg on a kick return at Paul Brown Stadium. Indications are that his season may have come to an abrupt end again, this time due to a possible torn ACLâ€¦More important than any of this, on this date six years ago our nation was violated. Take a moment to remember the lives of our lost Americans and remember those that have fought and continue to fight to control and hopefully end such heinous terrorism.