So that’s what a real quarterback looks like.
Sixty minutes into the 2008 season and it already feels like that nagging, ten-year old question—will we ever again see an NFL-caliber quarterback in Baltimore?—has been answered.
Aside from the debut of Joe Flacco, there was a ton of uncertainty headed into this Bengals contest for skeptical Ravens fans.
Could the new-look coaching staff forge a different result on offense? How would the health of some slightly long-in-the-tooth Ravens’ players impact the outcome of the game? Could a banged-up secondary unit finally slow down a banged-up Bengals passing game? Could the Ravens defensive front seven pressure the quarterback, and return to a level of dominance they achieved just two seasons ago. Would the Ravens end their charitable ways and not contribute to the Bengals’ success in an alarming way (12 turnovers in two games in ’07)? Could they eliminate the mistakes despite having to put their faith in the hands of a rookie quarterback and running back?
And finally, that burning question on everyone’s mind, would fashion-obsessed Chad Johnson be permitted to stitch Ocho Cinco on his back while playing in Mr. Goodell’s Neighborhood?
In the end it was no to
And to the more important aforementioned questions – how about a resounding yes!
Let’s break down the grades…
Ironically, not since the last time the Ravens sported those white tops with black pants have fans in
RUNNING BACKS: B
Ray Rice and Le’Ron McLain were a nice one-two punch that made it easy to forget Willis McGahee, for at least one day. Both showed themselves to be tough runners who did enough to control the ground game. Rice fought for extra yards and showcased a nice stiff arm near the goal line. McLain was feisty and simply wore out the Bengals to cement the win in the fourth quarter–it was classic Cam Cameron. Lorenzo Neal was a dominant blocker and made the most of one bone thrown his way, a 13 yard swing pass that ended wit Neal trucking Bengals LB Corey Mays. Rice reminded everyone he is a rookie when he flubbed a pitch for the Bengals’ only touchdown. He also dropped a pass that looked like a touchdown it had TD written all over it.
WIDE RECEIVERS: C
The receivers did not create much of a threat, deep. Perhaps it was just a function of conservative play calling. Derrick Mason was uncharacteristically quiet, dropping a pass and blocking indifferently in the first half. Later he was more active. Mark Clayton showed he can be a strong possession receiver and a weapon with his feet, scoring on that dramatic double reverse. Demetrius Williams did not factor into the game when he was on the field.
TIGHT ENDS: F
Perhaps Todd Heap simply needed to get this mulligan out of the way. He fumbled to start the game. Dropped a first down catch. And then dropped a touchdown throw. He nearly avoided his failing grade with a circus catch, but didn’t haul it in and instead crashed badly to the turf. It was that kind of day for Todd. Dan Wilcox, while not a factor catching the ball, blocked decently when called upon. We’ll just have to wait until next week to see if Cam Cameron can turn Todd Heap into the second coming of Antonio Gates.
INTERIOR LINE: A-
As the game progressed, this unit took away the Bengals’ will to fight back. Marshal Yanda was particularly outstanding in all aspects of the game. The interior provided excellent protection for Flacco. The only concern was the way the Bengals’ John Thorton pushed Ben Grubbs back on numerous first-half plays. But Coach Harbaugh’s training camp conditioning program paid dividends on this warm afternoon, as the game trudged on.
OFFENSIVE TACKLES: A
Jared Gaither and Adam Terry were dominant and key to preventing their rookie quarterback from being sacked once. Gaither, as he did in his one preseason outing, was a dominant run blocker, scraping the line of scrimmage like an oversized road grader. Prior to the game, Jon Odgen was asked about Gaither, and commented that Jared has rare size and “athleticism that reminds me of myself, and that’s saying something.” Indeed.
When you limit Ravens-killers Chad Johnson to one catch and 22 yards and T.J. Houshmandzadeh to 3 receptions for 44 yards, you’ve had a good day. Samari Rolle silenced his critics today. Chris McAlister vultured an interception and a fumble recovery and was largely unheard from otherwise save for a pair of pass interference penalties on short throws during the Bengals lone scoring drive. The nicked up secondary received yet another blow when Corey Ivy left the game late clutching his ankle. He played well in the nickel spot prior to leaving the game. The early prognosis does not include a quick return to the field for Ivy. Good overall play in the secondary helped to hold the Bengals to 2 for 15 on third and fourth down attempts.
Plagued by poor communication in the past, particularly against the Bengals, this unit got it together providing excellent coverage, run support, and blitz packages throughout the day. Ed Reed deflected the pass intended for Johnson-Ocho-Cinco that McAlister picked to turn the tide early in the Ravens favor. It was vintage Ed Reed, despite his mysterious neck and shoulder limitations. Dawan Landry flew to the ball effectively. Jim Leonard and Tom Zbikowski pressured Palmer to dump passes prematurely.
INSIDE LINEBACKERS: A
Bart Scott and Ray Lewis both flowed to the ball effectively, filling and tackling flawlessly. Ray showed his veteran savvy by stripping Chris Perry for a fumble after a rare rushing gain. What the defensive line didn’t plug the linebackers did, in keeping the Bengals to just 65 yards rushing.
DEFENSIVE ENDS/OUTSIDE LINEBACKERS: A
Terrell Suggs was a beast. He was constantly in the backfield, played well in setting the edge, and showed continued improvement in pass coverage. Jarrett Johnson and Trevor Pryce were solid and pushed the pocket in on Palmer all day.
DEFENSIVE TACKLES: A
With Kelly Gregg out of the line-up, this position was a concern going into the game. But Justin Bannan and the rest of this unit simply outplayed the Bengals line, getting tremendous push and keeping Palmer off balance. They were a big part of his career-low 38 passer rating. Haloti Ngata’s run-stuffing stop of the Bengals on a fourth and one attempt put the game on ice.
SPECIAL TEAMS: C-
It was an up and down day for this crew. A false start by Figurs on one punt was followed by a nice shoestring tackle on another. The Ravens didn’t provide much blocking for Figurs on returns, aside from a would-be touchdown that was called back because of a very suspect call on Frank Walker for an illegal block. But it was a block
It was vintage Cam Cameron. He varied the attack, and the pace of the attack, and kept Flacco out of trouble. His use of an unbalanced line was effective throughout the game. Recognizing the talent of McLain as a ball carrier paid off handsomely. He got the plays in and the offense in and out of the huddle quickly. Rex Ryan kept the Bengals noticeably befuddled all day long. John Harbaugh was seen receiving the respect of his players, and a GatorAid bath in the end, his first NFL win.
The CBS broadcast team of Kevin Harlan and Rich Gannon was excellent. Harlan kept the game moving and was accurate in reporting the details before a spotter needed to bail him out. Rich Gannon was insightful and relaxed as an analyst. They are a very underrated team – something that many folks around the country may start to say about the Ravens if Flacco can continue to avoid the turnovers and the defense can play the way it did against the Bengals.