CINCINNATI BENGALS 17, BALTIMORE RAVENS 14
October 11, 2009
For the second week in a row, the Baltimore Ravens were facing an opponent with just one loss to their name. This week it was the Cincinnati Bengals, with their own highly decorated quarterback in Carson Palmer. And again this Sunday the Ravens played a tight contest that was impacted by big plays and questionable officiating, ultimately decided in the final minute of the game. Once more the Ravens came out on the losing end, by a score of 17-14.
But that’s where the similarities ended. Unlike the Patriots game, where the Ravens played well enough to win and found themselves complaining about poor officiating after the game, this time they seemed resigned to the fact that they were outplayed by the Bengals and lucky to have the lead, before Andre Caldwell treated Chris Carr like a turnstile en route to a game-wining touchdown reception with just twenty-two ticks left on the clock.
In the locker room afterwards Ed Reed put it best when he admitted there are going to be games with what he called, “50/50 calls,” and the Ravens simply cannot put themselves in a position to have 50/50 calls affect the outcome of the game. So, despite yielding Palmer and the Bengals 30 yards of penalties in their final drive, the Ravens knew they had not played well enough to earn the win.
For evidence that they were outplayed look no further than Cedric Benson, who demolished the Ravens 39-game streak of holding runners under 100 yards. Look no further than Carson Palmer, who was laser-precise all day and tallied over 270 yards in passing—more than the Ravens’ 257 yards in total offense—and who ran for six yards on a fourth-and-one call to set up his winning throw. Look at the Bengals defense, perhaps inspired to play for their coordinator Mike Zimmer after he suddenly lost his wife three days prior. The only aspect where the Ravens were not outplayed was special teams, thanks to a complete meltdown by Bengals long-snapper Brad St. Louis.
Under Brian Billick the Ravens developed a reputation for undisciplined, at times out-of-control football. Under John Harbaugh the emphasis has been discipline and team responsibility. They say all the right things. Yet, the team’s play at times looks all too similar to the Billick era, with mental breakdowns and penalties of aggression. The attitude is different but the result is a Ravens team that is the most penalized in the league.
Aside from a few big plays to keep themselves in the game, the Ravens played poorly and coached poorly, and it shows in the grades.
Joe Flacco looked out of synch. After the Bengals failed to convert on their opening drive, Flacco had come out strong on the opening drive, starting with an 8-yard completion to Todd Heap in the right seam on a rare waggle call. He also showed excellent speed breaking the pocket and churning out nine yards. He was 4 for 4 on that first drive before a poor pitch to Ray Rice on an option call. He was then picked off by Jonathon Joseph as he tried to hit Todd Heap in the front corner of the end zone. After that, he seemed to lose confidence and accuracy. For the rest of the day he was 18 of 26 for 160 yards in the air. While his counterpart, Palmer, was hitting Chris Henry on a 73-yard completion despite good Ravens coverage Flacco overthrew a wide open Mark Clayton on a similar fly pattern that would have put the game away for the Ravens.
Running Backs: B
Ray Rice almost single-handedly carried the offense, averaging 4.9 yards on 14 carries and was also Flacco’s leading receiver with seven catches for 74 yards, including a spectacular catch and 48-yard touchdown run after he was able to stay on his feet after being knocked to a near horizontal position. His other big burst was a 21-yard run to the outside. He also did a nice job fighting and stretching for a first down. Willis McGahee was only in the game for a couple of snaps, surprisingly, and lost two yards on one carry. Le’Ron McClain was a non-factor and had a bit of trouble picking out defenders to block in the running game.
Wide Receivers: C
The Bengals’ cover-two scheme completely neutralized Derrick Mason who was thrown to just once all day and did not register a catch. Mark Clayton snared just three of the seven passes thrown his way. That gave the Ravens top two wide-outs just 36 yards on the day. Kelley Washington played sparingly from the slot and chipped in with a nice 21-yard catch.
Tight Ends: B
Todd Heap had seven catches on the day, taking advantage of the attention the Ravens wide-outs were receiving. He was flagged for holding once, inexplicably, after extending a palm into the chest of the defensive end. LJ Smith played sparingly and made a very nice seal block on edge to allow Rice to scamper for his longest run of the day, down to the fourteen.
On the plus side, there was Michael Oher running downfield and extending his arms with a crisp punch that knocked Dhani Jones flying to the turf like a beanbag cornerback. It was a sight to behold. He had a little more trouble maintaining the pocket while getting pushed back into Flacco’s throwing lanes by Antwan Odom. He also showed lethargic awareness pulling right as rookie linebacker Rey Maualuga beat him to the ball carrier. Marshall Yanda blocked nicely on the right side, but the Bengals offside pursuit frequently negated the openings.
Interior Line: C+
Matt Birk dominated Domata Peko for most of the game. With a bleeding cut across the bridge of his nose, he double-clutched on a shotgun snap to bring up a third and long situation just prior to the first Flacco interception. When Rice was able to pick up rushing yardage it was often because Ben Grubbs and Chris Chester were sealing the backside pursuit. But too often the Bengals were flowing down the line to stop runs. Grubbs was noticeably beaten by Pat Sims to force a second and long, followed by a punt from midfield.
After Laveranues Coles dropped Palmer’s first pass, the Ravens corners received no more gifts during this day, as Palmer picked them apart. It was clear that Domonique Foxworth was not big enough to cover Chad Ochocino even draping him with tight coverage as Palmer threaded perfect throws to his wideout. Even with safety help Fabian Washington was too quick to yield inside lanes and Carson Palmer was effective in getting the ball to the right side before help could arrive, aside from an Ed Reed interception. Washington did close impressively in run coverage when called upon. Frank Walker played aggressively, too aggressively apparently for the officials who flagged him for illegal contact to extend the final drive. Chris Carr allowed Andre Caldwell to speed past him for the game-losing score.
Ed Reed finally played like Ed Reed, picking off a Carson Palmer pass for a 50-yard touchdown return that gave the Ravens the lead as the first half ended. His other big play was knocking the ball out of Ochocinco’s arms for a turnover. He seemed to close and stop runs with more authority than in previous games. Dawan Landry struggled in coverage again this week. The second gift from the Bengals was a Daniel Coats drop over the middle after he separated from Landry. He also struggled to cover Caldwell on a third down conversion or to provide help on the final touchdown. Too often blitzing safeties, including Tom Zbikowski, were neutralized at that line of scrimmage as Palmer completed passes into vacated zones.
Ray Lewis led the team with ten solo tackles and was fast to diagnose runs and get to the ball. His personal foul call on Ochocinco, while not really a blow to the head, could have been avoided if he had not launched a shoulder so near the receiver’s head. Jarret Johnson continues to play at an All Pro level. He was excellent turning Benson back to the middle of the field, although the help was often missing. Tavares Gooden looked more instinctive this week in run support. With Brendon Ayanbadejo out for the year, Antwan Barnes played more this week, and on the plus side he blitzed up the middle and forced a near interception when the ball skipped out of Lewis’ hands. But he also tackled poorly to allow Benson’s long touchdown run.
Defensive Line: D
Historically, the Ravens front four has been very good at defending the kind of stretch-blocking, cut-back running style that the Bengals employ. Not so this week! Trevor Pryce, Kelly Gregg and Justin Bannan struggled to hold ground and Benson capitalized. The defensive line had fewer than ten tackles on the day, and did little to slow down Benson. Bannan was also flagged for jumping offsides. On passing downs the front four, including Pryce, Terrell Suggs and Dwan Edwards also struggled to gain penetration, which gave Palmer time to survey the field. It also forced the use of blitzing packages, leaving the corners isolated with taller receivers. The bright spot was Haloti Ngata, who was too fast for Evan Mathis coming from the right side to pressure Palmer. He showed an incredible burst, whether penetrating the backfield or catching Ochocinco from behind after a catch.
Special Teams: B-
It looks as though the Ravens are ready to hand the kick return duties to rookie Lardarius Webb. He looked quick and decisive on a return of 43 yards. On two punt returns the team netted just one yard. Sam Koch was inconsistent with his six punts. Some sailed fifty yards or more and others were less than thirty, including a 25 yarder from midfield. Matt Lawrence continues to provide good coverage. Long snapper Matt Katula should be better appreciated after watching St. Louis botch multiple snaps for the Bengals.
Cam Cameron never found an effective approach for moving the ball on the Bengals. On defense it was largely the same story. Greg Mattison dialed up ineffective blitzes that left his secondary vulnerable. Rarely did the defense send a different number of penetrators than what they showed at the pre-snap read. It was hard to understand how the officials incorrectly spotted the ball on the Ravens 20 after a near fumble on the 25 was reviewed; but it was harder to understand how no one on the Ravens side noticed it.
New week, same story. You can understand calling a close game, but you cannot tolerate inconsistent officiating. Or just plain confusion, such as the aforementioned mis-spotting the football after Mark Clayton’s fumble was reviewed under the hood. As Jeff Tripplet stumbled to keep his feet and announce a penalty on Ray Rice that was not really on Ray Rice, it seemed to typify the kind of day this crew had. On that play, how could Triplett flag Rice for an illegal chop block when Rice was downfield catching the pass and it was Chris Chester, twice his size, legally cutting the defender at the line of scrimmage? Why, with less than two minutes in the game, does Chris Henry stepping out of bounds as he makes the catch and not automatically trigger a review instead of allowing the catch to stand? Is the game too fast and the rules too dense for the officials to mentally follow?
If the NFL wants them to call a closer game, then why is it not a personal foul when Dhani Jones raps Joe Flacco’s helmet on a tackle? Why do close plays by Ray Lewis and Frank Walker get flagged when the game is on the line, but Ochocinco can tackle Foxworth as he tries to haul in an interception, or Chris Carr can get run into as he fields a punt, and it is not flagged? How can Todd Heap get called for holding when fellow tight end Dan Coats can put a bear hug on Ray Lewis to allow Benson to run past, or Coats can likewise stick out an arm to stop a Chris Carr blitz? How can Trevor Pryce get flagged for lining up over the head of the long snapper, when it was really over the shoulder, as it was on the very next re-play—not called—or on every kick attempted every week in the NFL? The inconsistency is ruining the game. Close calls should be non-calls and the game should be decided by the players, not the zebras. The Bengals didn’t need help to beat the Ravens, but why subject fans to calls no one can explain?
Steve Tasker was on his game and did a good job interpreting the Clayton fumble that was later called a non-fumble. His partner Gus Johnson was quick to see that the ball had been mis-spotted, or at least quick to announce it. While it may be hard to listen to him in a loss, credit Johnson for maintaining excitement surrounding the numerous big plays. Meanwhile, credit both announcers for correctly characterizing the contest as sloppy when it was indeed sloppy. Tasker made one odd comment when Coats was caught flinching for obvious offsides flag, and the former Buffalo special team ace tried to suggest it was no different that going in motion.
This game was tough for Ravens fans to watch on so many levels. Yes, the officiating stunk. But the Ravens were outplayed at home by a divisional rival, and they now they face a very tough stretch, with the likes of the Vikings, Broncos, Colts, Steelers, Packers and Bengals looming. Let’s just say they now have some work ahead of them.