I wrote last week that the Baltimore Ravens were entering the 2008 season with more questions than answers. Well, some of them were answered yesterday – in a resoundingly positive way. I thought Carson Palmer and his receivers would have a field day. Didn’t happen. I thought Cam Cameron would dumb down the play selection to Billick levels to compensate for Joe Flacco’s inexperience. Didn’t happen. Except for some anxious moments in the 4th quarter after Ray Rice’s fumble and resulting Bengals touchdown, it was near- perfect opening day. There were many studs and not many duds. Here’s what I saw from Section 134.
The names Chris McAlister, Le’Ron McClain, the offensive and defensive lines, and Ray Rice come to mind, but after I thought about it the real studs of this game were the offensive and defensive coordinators, Cam Cameron and Rex Ryan.
I’ve never seen such a variety of offensive schemes in a Ravens game – ever. Misdirections, offsets, strange looking formations, no-huddle plays – you name it. The Bengals defense looked confused and on their heels most of the day. On one particular play after a very unbalanced formation, I turned to the person sitting next to me and said “When was the last time you saw that?” Same for the white and black uniforms. (Answers: Never and 1996 I think). McClain and Lorenzo Neal were absolute battering rams. Flacco was remarkably composed in his first real game. His passes were crisp and for the most part accurate and he knew when and how to throw the ball away. Some inexcusable drops by the receiving corps prevented Joe from having better numbers. Bottom line: All those preseason worries about a vanilla offense dissipated in the 1st quarter. The Cam Cameron era in
Rex Ryan was in Carson Palmer’s head and the defensive line was in his face all day. In spite of the absence of Kelly Gregg, the Ravens put good pressure on Palmer and he never really had time to sit back and pick the backfield apart. Chad Johnson only had one reception and T.J. Houshmandzadeh had three. The Ravens’ defense beat up the Bengals offensive line, harassing Carson Palmer almost every time he dropped to throw and held the Bengals to a paltry 154 total yards – unheard of numbers for one of the better offenses in the league. The first team defensive backfield played at full strength for the first time this season and the results were evident. No hits, no runs, no errors.
There’s only one, in my opinion. Todd Heap had his worst game ever as a Raven. A near-costly fumble and a couple of dropped passes, one of them a sure TD. It was uncharacteristic sloppy play from someone who is considered one of the most reliable receivers on the team. I’m going to chalk this one up to spending most of the preseason nursing a sore calf. I look for better – much better – from Heap next week in
It’s easy to overdose on the Purple Kool-Aid after a game when the Ravens dismantle a division opponent, especially one who has handled them easily over the past couple of years. There are some areas of concern. I wasn’t crazy about special teams play but at least they didn’t cost the Ravens any points. The Ravens need to start throwing some deep balls, if nothing more than to keep the opponent honest. The Ravens wide-outs need to get some separation downfield to allow Joe Flacco to put that rocket arm to use. They won’t be playing defenses that are this soft every week.