GRAPEVINE: What a difference a week makes

Lombardi's Way GRAPEVINE: What a difference a week makes

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The town is buzzing about Joe Flacco.  Many observers were a bit surprised by his play on Sunday but don’t count the Ravens coaches and front office execs among those defining the performance as an eye opening experience. 

Ravens’ offensive coordinator Cam Cameron was hardly shy about implementing plays and gadgets never before seen in this part of the country despite the rookie behind center.  What many don’t understand is that Flacco primarily operated out of a shotgun formation at

Delaware
and often called plays at the line of scrimmage after receiving sideline signals. Clearly he was in his comfort zone. 

The bigger challenge for Flacco will be to maintain his poise and keep the offense in synch in hostile conditions like Reliant Stadium, the home of the Houston Texans.  The Texans were 6-2 at home last season and they are reeling from their recent thrashing at the hands of the Steelers. That said don’t expect Joe Flacco to rest on his laurels.  Word is he was one of the first players at the complex on Monday already in prep mode for this Sunday’s game.

Todd Heap certainly didn’t help his quarterback much against the Bengals.  The usually sure-handed former Pro Bowl tight end fumbled Flacco’s very first career pass and then dropped a couple other passes, one of which would have been a touchdown. That’s what happens when you don’t practice and don’t experience the contact.

Heap wasn’t the only player to let Flacco down.  Ray Rice would still be running with the football had he not dropped a pass over the middle of the field and in stride.  Rice would later fumble the football on a quick pitch leading to a Bengals score.  Those two miscues resulted in a 14 point swing.  Word is that Cam Cameron wanted Flacco to check out of the quick pitch after recognizing that the play was doomed from the start given the Bengals’ defensive alignment.  Rice tried to make something from nothing although nothing in hindsight looks a lot better than six the other way.

Speaking of six, Mark Clayton got his but he easily could have added another.  He was behind Johnathan Joseph on a deep post that was underthrown by Flacco.  Clayton is not generally regarded as a deep threat and his size or lack thereof is to blame.  However Clayton does possess outstanding change of direction skills and he is effective gaining separation after a double move.  That combined with Flacco’s ability to look off safeties and pump fake should influence Cam Cameron as the season unfolds.

Give Cameron credit for an effective game plan that kept the Bengals off balance and allowed the offensive line to dictate the action on the field.  Also give Cameron some well deserved praise for finding a diamond in the rough in Le’Ron McClain.  McClain never carried the ball more than 17 times in a season for the Crimson Tide yet on Sunday he carried it 19 times for 86 yards.  Rex Ryan has deservedly been credited with the ability to utilize the athletic prowess of his defenders in such a way that makes them more productive on the field and bigger contributors to the team effort.  Perhaps John Harbaugh has found the same kind of coach on the offensive side as well.

Apparently neither coordinator showed very much during the preseason (which by the way is the NFL’s biggest fraud) because what the Ravens did on Sunday, granted it was against the Cincinnati Bengals, is more indicative of the things we can expect from the Ravens going forward.  Harbaugh’s coaching staff is not held back by the “protect the football-defend well-control the clock” formula that the previous administration used as a crutch.  This team looks like it will play to win as opposed to playing not to lose and they appear far more inclined to experiment – the jumbo backfield, double reverse and unbalanced offensive line recently featured are prime examples.

After a poor showing during the preseason games Ravens’ fans lowered their collective bar of expectation for the 2008 season.  The bar’s level was also influenced by a national media that holds little hope for the Ravens this year.  But as we’ve learned things change quickly in the NFL and hopes can be dashed at the same time expectations can soar particularly under the microscope of Week 1 of the NFL season.  Just ask the New England Patriots and New York Jets.

Realistic expectations for the Ravens are probably not much different today than they were back in April after the draft.  While improving and certainly building towards the future, the Ravens are somewhere between a 5 win team on the low side and a 9 win team on the top side.  However should they stay healthy, the 2008 version of the Ravens could be similar to the surprising 2003 squad.

Back then rookie Kyle Boller coupled with Anthony Wright helped direct the Ravens to a 10-6 finish and their first divisional crown.  Yet as we all know, most of the credit for that title belongs to Mike Nolan’s defense led by DPOY Ray Lewis.  If Rex Ryan’s ’08 defense can stay relatively injury free and perform like the ’03 defensive squad, the Ravens could have another rookie quarterback help guide them to a divisional title, particularly when you consider the talent around him versus the 2003 squad.  But with an aging defense that features six starters in the 30+ club (Pryce, Reed, Rolle, McAlister, Lewis & Gregg) a clean bill of health throughout the season is a long shot.

And while we are on the topic of long shots, do you think Marvin Lewis will survive this season in

Cincinnati
?  His team did not look prepared and they seem to be on the verge of an implosion.  And sorry Marv, you have to take that field goal in the fourth quarter against the Ravens.  That score makes it 17-13 and suddenly you’ve turned up the heat on a rookie quarterback who then would have had to respond.  After all isn’t that usually the game plan against green QB’s?  You had a chance to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat and you blew it!  When Bengals’ owner Mike Brown decided to bring Chris Henry back despite Lewis’ public statements to do just the opposite, it was clear then that the former Ravens’ D-Coordinator was skating on thin ice.  The thaw continues for Lewis.

The late Gene Upshaw was honored around the league for his Hall of Fame career and his contributions to the NFL Players Union.  Upshaw recently passed away after a short battle with pancreatic cancer.  NFL fields were emblazoned with GU 63 and all players wore similar patches during the season’s opening week.  The gesture was noble yet I couldn’t help to think about John Unitas.  You may recall that Paul Tagliabue wouldn’t even allow quarterbacks like Peyton Manning and Chris Redman to wear hightop cleats as a symbolic gesture of appreciation to Unitas after his sudden passing in 2002.  Yet every single jersey was decorated with the GU 63 patch this Sunday.  I suppose John just didn’t have the friends in high places that Upshaw had.

Other forms of fashion provided a topic of discussion down at M&T Bank on Sunday.  For the first time since the days of Vinny Testaverde, the Ravens dusted off the white jersey/black pants uniform ensemble although this time, the pants did not come with the piping that the 90’s version had.  The fashion police are wondering why.

The landscape of the AFC certainly has changed after just one week.  The Patriots probably lost 6 games despite winning their opener against the Chiefs.  The loss of Tom Brady is enormous and those national media folk with their lips squarely planted on the Patriots’ hind parts are in denial if they still think the Pats are playoff bound.  That offensive line has been exposed and Brady isn’t there to save them.  Word now is that Chris Simms will get a look from Bill Belichick.  Just what we all need – Chris’ dad Phil sucking up to the Patriots even more than he already does.

And finally, much has been said about the bad call against Frank Walker on Yamon Figurs’ would be punt return for a touchdown.  Granted it was a very bad call but no one is talking about the non-call on the very same return.  Tom Zbikowski (who by the way is a special team stud) hit a Bengal in the back prior to the

Walker
block to help spring Figurs around the left sideline.  Can you say “Makeup call?”
 
 
Photo by Rick Noppenberger

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Tony Lombardi

About Tony Lombardi

Tony is 24x7 Networks, LLC's founder (the parent of EutawStreetReport.com and RussellStreetReport.com) His work has been featured on various sports websites and he is a regular guest on 105.7 The Fan and he hosts "The Fanimal" also heard on 105.7 The Fan, Saturdays from 8-9AM. Among his favorite things in life are his wife, kids, family, friends, The Beatles, Breaking Bad, Gladiator, The Godfather, Guinness, orange crushes, meatballs and Key West, not necessarily in that order. Follow Tony on Twitter @RSRLombardi. More from Tony Lombardi

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