BALTIMORE RAVENS 38 KANSAS CITY CHIEFS 24
September 13, 2009
Cam Cameron has a message for you. He’s not kidding about throwing the ball.
When the Ravens passed 58% of their preseason plays, most observers figured they were simply working on an offensive deficiency, and the regular season would bring a return to their familiar run-first mentality. After all, in Joe Flacco’s rookie season the team threw the ball just 43% of the time, while rushing 507 times for 2,027 yards —good enough for the number four ranking in the league at 149 yards per game.
In their surprisingly close 38-24 season-opening win over the visiting Kansas City Chiefs, the Ravens stuck to their preseason routine and threw the ball 53% of the time. It’s difficult to recall the last time a Ravens quarterback dropped back more then 40 times in a winning effort. You might have to go back to the second game of the 2000 season when Tony Banks heaved 40 passes in a 39-36 comeback win against the Jaguars.
Give the Chiefs credit. They scrapped and performed better than expected to make this a close game. The two teams were deadlocked 24-24 with under five minutes remaining in the game. The Chiefs played a bit like old-school Ravens, with a blocked punt and a 70-yard interception-return to fuel two touchdowns and keep the pressure on the Ravens. That was good enough, in fact, to give them a 14-10 lead into the third quarter despite fewer than 60 yards of offense at that point.
But that’s when the new-look Ravens offense took over and cemented a comeback win.
The Ravens showed they can be explosive on both sides of the ball. They also showed they can be mistake prone. Their lapses will have to be eliminated if they expect to beat quality opponents, like the San Diego Chargers on the road next Sunday.
But a win is a win. It may not be the kind of win most fans expected in the home opener, but afterwards there were plenty of smiles in the locker room that left no doubt how difficult winning is in the NFL. The good performances are something to build upon and the mistakes something to improve upon.
Joe Flacco’s stat line speaks volumes about the confidence Cam Cameron has in his second year quarterback. Flacco was 26 out of 43 (61%) for 307 yards, with three touchdowns, one interception and a 95.8 passer rating. His most impressive throw may have been an incompletion. After consecutive 20-yard completions to Kelley Washington and Derrick Mason, Flacco uncorked a long throw to Mason running a post pattern to the back of the endzone. Mason juggled the ball as he went out of bounds, but Flacco had made the only throw he could, a low rifle shot over the head of the defender to reach Mason the instant before he ran out of real estate. On his touchdown throw to Willis McGahee, Flacco showed tremendous footwork to stay upright and buy time. The most exciting throw of the day was a on an all-out blitz by the Chiefs, against max-protection, where Flacco and Clayton recognized the one-on-one coverage and they capitalized by connecting on a deep post. Flacco did struggle some in the third quarter trying to find a rhythm, with a ball knocked out of his hand by Tamba Hali on one play and then a poor fluttering throw into the wind on the next. The most encouraging sign was his ability to find mismatches over the middle with Washington and his tight end Todd Heap. That was a point of emphasis going into 2009 and a very good sign for the Ravens.
Running Backs: A
Let’s start with Le’Ron McClain who very effective on screens passes and in short yardage situations, showing the same power and nimble feet that made him the team’s leading rusher last year. McClain was also a “plus” blocker in his role as fullback. Ray Rice was sneaky good. Aside from a 22 yard run, Rice didn’t break any long gainers but consistently churned out a 5.7 average to break the 100-yard mark on a team high 19 carries. Rice appeared to get stronger, and feistier as the game wore on. Willis McGahee showed he is light years ahead of where he was a year ago. He caught a touchdown and ran in another. Actually he ran it in twice on the same series, but was credited with just one. His best showing was in the red zone where he made a nice low block to take out the end, and then hopped up and caught a pass to scramble into the end zone on third down.
Wide Receivers: B
Mason picked up where he left off last year, finding soft spots in the Chiefs defensive, particularly in the first half. His four catches netted 47 yards, but he filled the possession-receiver role to a T, and drew attention outside the hashes as Clayton and Heap flourished inside. Mason did suffer a couple of dropped balls and a holding call. Washington went high impressively to grab a first down on one of his three catches. He was as productive as you can be on three chances. Mark Clayton starred for the unit, averaging over 15 yards a catch and had one nice end around run. His yards after catch were impressive. Troy Smith did see action as a receiver in five-receiver sets but was not thrown to.
Tight Ends: A-
Todd Heap bailed out the offense with numerous third down conversions and a strong catch and plunge into the end zone. His only weak moments were a dropped ball when he was thumped by safety Jarrad Page, and a poor job on Tamba Hali near the goal line to allow a near safety. But he made five tough catches for nearly 15 yards a reception. If he can continue to contribute at that level the Ravens will be very hard to scheme against.
Joe Flacco was sacked just once, and had one ball slapped out of his hand. For the most part Flacco had a ton of time to throw the ball thanks to good blocking on the outside. Rookie Michael Oher did not seem to be challenged much, to his credit. He made an excellent run block on McGahee’s 16-yard gainer. Gaither struggled more with Hali on the left side, and was called for one hold. It was a good start for the young tackles, with tougher competition coming.
Interior Line: B
The pass protection was even more impressive on the interior, where most of the Chiefs pressure was applied. Chris Chester started for Marshal Yanda and did a nice job most of the day. He made a very nice chip block at the line and released to get another tough block at the second level on one of Rice’s better runs. He also showed he could handle the bull rush of the huge Tank Tyler. But later he was beaten and tackled by the faster linebacker Cory Mays. Ben Grubbs struggled some early, getting badly beaten across the face by Glenn Dorsey to allow Rice to be dropped on the first running play of the game. It left the team trying a field goal instead of pushing in a touchdown. He also fell down for no particular reason pulling right. But when asked to block straight ahead, Grubbs was dominant. Matt Birk was steady, but beaten once by Ron Edwards to flush Flacco and allow his quarterback to get rapped by Mike Vrabel along the sideline.
Dominique Foxworth had an impressive start to his Ravens career. He provided tight coverage and tackled very well, closing hard on caught balls twice to make sure tackles short of the first down marker when Chiefs receivers cut the patterns off short of the sticks. Fabian Washington also made one particularly good break on the ball in single coverage. Washington however did give some ground to Mark Bradley and Dwayne Bowe who managed to break-off a couple of long receptions and one TD. While the inexperienced Croyle was not picked off by this group, they did hold Bowe to very little production.
The safeties were not challenge very often. Dawan Landry had a quiet game. Ed Reed was impressive when he was involved. He did close strong on the ball, causing one fumble at the goal line that rolled in for a Chiefs score. He also was un-blockable on a run blitz for a loss on second and short.
Chiefs opened the game in a wishbone formation, thinking they might be able to run on the Ravens linebackers. But the linebackers stepped up. Ray Lewis was quick to the ball up the middle, including a stuffed run for a four yard loss. A quiet, six-tackle effort was all that was needed against the sputtering Chiefs offense. He did look noticeably slower chasing the ball to the sideline, however. Jarret Johnson was the most impressive Raven. He was difficult to block all day, at one point pushing aside LT Branden Alberts to make an inside move, and then pushing Brodie Croyle to the ground like a small child. Terrell Suggs started strongly, including a tipped pass, but left the field looking tipsy after making a tackle on an early swing pass. It was a bit surprising Suggs was not more dominant against former Ravens reserve guard Ike Ndukwe, making his first start at right tackle. Tavares Gooden left the game with a knee injury and Brendan Ayanbadejo looked uncertain, but steady filling in. Jameel McClain also saw some action; he was strong against the run but blew coverage on tight end Sean Ryan to give up a touchdown.
Defensive Line: A-
Justin Bannan was not as disruptive as he had showed in the preseason, but played very good two-gap technique, stacking up Larry Johnson early, causing the back to fall to the ground. The interior linemen as a group played conservatively and did the job, holding Johnson to a paltry 20 yards on eleven attempts. Dwan Edwards, dropping into zone coverage, showed he could not cover Bowe to allow a twenty-yard gain. It was an unfortunate mismatch.
Special Teams: D
Foxworth started things badly for this unit, getting a holding call on their first punt return. New return man Chris Carr looked indecisive setting up blocks on his returns, and made a premature fair catch, for a 3.5-yard punt return average. Ed Reed dropping back into punt return mode excited the crowd but Washington’s block in the back pushed a 60-yard punt back another 10. There were two major mishaps, however, that kept the Chiefs in the game. The first was blown protection scheme to allow the Chiefs to block a Sam Koch punt in the end zone for a score to keep it a 10-7 contest. Rookie kicker Steven Hauschka nailed a 44 yarder from the right hash, but later pulled another field goal for a miss when the game was back and forth. It was interesting to see Ryan Succop hit a 53-yarder to tie game after Hauschka’s miss; Succop was on the Ravens’ draft radar until the Chiefs made him the last player taken in the draft. Irrelevant? I think not. Most of Hauschka’s kicks, including extra points, were hooking left, until he settled in late. By the end of the game even his kickoffs were sailing longer, including one touchback. When was the last time Ravens fans saw that? On the coverage units there were some strong tackles by Ayanbadejo, Antwan Barnes and Matt Lawrence. Lawrence’s well timed tackle forced a muff by Maurice Leggett.
It was an interesting to see the Ravens come out throwing the ball and force the Chiefs to respond. But the Ravens seemed mistake prone, and the coaches cannot let that happen in a home opener against an inferior opponent. Chiefs head coach Todd Haley may be a jerk, but he did seem to have his players more ready to play.
The call on Gooden for hands to face was terrible. Not even close, compared to the Tank Tyler obvious hands to face against Chris Chester that was called, late. The personal foul call on Jarret Johnson for a blow to the head was no more than a tackle around the back of the neck. Perhaps the worst call however was ruling Willis McGahee short of the end zone, and then not having the guts to reverse an obviously wrong call when the Ravens challenged. If that was not a TD then please let’s review that Santonio Holmes call again, shall we? Referee Gene Steratore also refused to overview the spot of a Chiefs first down that appeared on replay to be a generous mark.
The announcing team of Ian Eagle and Rich Gannon did their best to pretend the Chiefs were putting up an even showing, when the real story line was Ravens’ mistakes keeping a weaker opponent in the game. Most embarrassing was Eagle’s quick call that Croyle’s fumble would definitely not be overruled after Jarret Johnson sacked him. Eagle’s explanation was that the ground can cause a fumble in the NFL, contrary to what you may have heard. Huh? When the call was overruled with a, “down by contact” the broadcasters stuttered some inane explanation about how it appeared at first like the ball was out early. Whatever. Gannon was also confused when he called for a Ravens challenge of Sean Ryan’s fumble at the goal line. The fumble, before the goal line, clearly didn’t matter when Ryan recovered it in the end zone. Well, clear to all but Gannon.
In the end, the scoreboard showed a 14-point Ravens win. What may not be clear to those who didn’t see the game is how close the Ravens came to giving away the game to an inferior opponent. A win is a win and there are no bonus points for style.
Time to focus on a west coast trip.
We’re going to California!