They did the old man proud. On a night dedicated to the memory of former owner Art Modell, playing on Monday Night Football, the venue Modell helped pioneer over forty years ago, the Ravens dismantled the Cincinnati Bengals, 44-13.
All summer long teammates pronounced Joe Flacco a new, take-charge guy. Now a home crowd and national audience saw it with their own eyes. Flacco played brilliantly, well enough to support the growing sense that the Ravens finally have an offense that can outshine their vaunted defense.
In fact, it was their offense that rescued the Ravens defense, which appeared to tire and allow the Bengals to climb back into the game. A Cincy field goal midway through the third quarter pulled them within four points of the Ravens at 17-13.
Fifteen minutes of game time and the entire halftime period had elapsed – seemingly an eternity – since the Ravens offense had seen thefield.
In past seasons Ravens fans would have braced themselves for a close-fought battle down to the wire. But the new-look Ravens offense took charge and never looked back, outscoring the Bengals 27-0 down the stretch. The Bengals defense overplayed their hand keying on Ray Rice, which opened the field for Flacco to toy with linebackers and pick apart the secondary. The offense looked unstoppable mixing in runs and throws to keep the Bengals on their heels.
In the process the Ravens coaching staff proved themselves to be shrewd talent evaluators. All preseason long head coach John Harbaugh declared to a skeptical media he would test his offensive linemen at various positions and in the end he would start his “best five guys.”
He wasn’t lying. When starting lineups were announced just before game time left tackle Bryant McKinnie’s name was nowhere to be found. Michael Oher got the nod on the left side, with suddenly
healthy Ramon Harewood anointed the guard to his right at a spot expected to go to former Bengal Bobbie Williams. On the right side, rookie Kelechi Osemele started at tackle. The group fared extremely well against what was thought to be a potent Bengals pass rush.
It was the Ravens’ ninth consecutive win against AFC North rivals and their 13th home win in a row. It also made Harbaugh 5-0 in home openers.
So while securing this win was not a particular surprise, how the Ravens won was a bit eye opening – an intriguing start to the 2012 season.
What made this a coming out party for Flacco isn’t found in the numbers. He was 21/29 for 299 yards, 2 TDs, no picks - good
numbers for sure, and eerily close to the numbers put up Sunday by his draft-class doppelganger, Atlanta QB Matt Ryan, who went 23/31 for 299 yards and 3 TDs, no picks.
What was more impressive than the numbers was Flacco’s command. He made all the throws, stepping up into the pocket and finding his second and third options. He often reset to find tight ends in the seam behind the linebackers. He looked off safeties to turn and connect on a 32-yard post pattern to Anquan Boldin in the end zone, and lofted a touchdown throw off his back foot in the face of the blitz where only Dennis Pitta could rise above the diminutive Leon Hall for a touchdown.
He did get away with some near disastrous red zone passes that were batted into the air, and a throw in the dirt to Torrey Smith breaking open on a slant to the goal line, but otherwise played flawlessly.
After the game Harbaugh called Flacco the best QB he’s ever been around, but then joked he’s only a former special teams coach, so what does he know? Then, responding to the suggestion that Joe’s price tag may have just gone up as the team negotiates a new contract with their quarterback, Harbaugh joked, “Pay him whatever he asks for. Hear that Steve [Bisciotti]? Pay the man. Pay the man.” Indeed.
Running Backs: B
Ray Rice was used sparingly, but was an effective decoy and change of pace to Flacco’s constant pushing the ball downfield. He made an incredible one-handed catch of a ball thrown behind him to convert on fourth and two in the red zone. Rice ended up with just ten carries, but averaged a steady 6.8 yards per tote, including two TD runs. He did struggle a bit in pass protection, allowing corner Adam Jones to run over him on the way to the quarterback.
Rookie Bernard Pierce got four carries in reserve. He looked more impatient than he did in the preseason but did manage an 11-yard carry. When Pierce got nicked-up late, Anthony Allen – a surprise addition to the roster as preseason phenom Bobby Rainey was waived – checked in with four carries for 13 yards.
Vonta Leach saw the field less frequently in three-receiver sets, but he was extremely effective, on the goal line to lead Rice for a score, and taking Rey Maualuga out at the knees for an effective Rice draw up the gut. He also caught a flare pass for good yardage that was overturned on a Torrey Smith illegal block.
Wide Receivers: A-
Smith made a big impact on the first two series, beating Leon Hall with 52-yard strike down middle on the first play from scrimmage and a then an easy reverse for 13 yards. He later disappeared in the offense a bit and was flagged with penalties twice, although he remained an effective blocker throughout.
Anquan Boldin started slowly, flubbing a handoff on a double reverse, but finished strong. He came out of breaks cleanly and showed good separation after struggling last season with ankle issues. He finished with four catches for 63 yards, highlighted by a difficult sideline grab and the touchdown over the middle that he juggled but held on well enough to prevent the play from being overturned on replay.
Jacoby Jones also started slowly and finished strong. He missed an audible by Flacco for a comeback route on the first drive, forcing a field goal. Later he showed he could elevate for a catch and also executed a nice comeback grab of a back shoulder fade.
Tight Ends: A-
After the Bengals closed within four midway into the third quarter, Pitta sparked the offensive explosion that put the game away, including three catches on the Ravens’ opening possession of the second half, capped by the leaping touchdown grab. Pitta was too much for the Bengals linebackers and safeties over the middle. With Leach in and out of the lineup, the team experimented with Pitta in the backfield as an H-Back, with mixed results.
Ed Dickson dropped a throw on slant over the middle but Taylor Mays bailed him out with a textbook hit-to-head on defenseless receiver personal foul. He later came back over the middle and showcased his speed on a drag route.
Michael Oher justified the team’s decision to start him on the left side, looking solid the entire game. He was at his best at the second level, leading Rice on a screen and peeling off to find linebackers on runs to the right.
Kelechi Osemele was a beast in run blocking, bulldozing defenders down the line. The highlight of his night was on the goal line. With defensive end Robert Geathers lined up on his outside shoulder, the rookie tackle stepped out and hooked Geathers, pushing him down the line as Rice walked in behind him for the score. He also did a decent job picking up a blitz to help allow a 15-yard completion.
The two tackles simply outplayed the Bengals’ defensive ends.
Interior Line: B
If there was a weak link on the line, it was the veteran Matt Birk, who got dumped on his ass a couple times by Gino Atkins. The tall center will need to work on better leverage against the bull rush up the middle.
Ramon Harewood, who auditioned at LG in the final preseason game, got the start against the Bengals and held up well. While he didn’t do anything outstanding, he didn’t screw up any of his assignments either, a major accomplishment in his first start.
Marshall Yanda played at a Pro Bowl level, gleefully pulling and knocking the snot out of Bengals defensive lineman. He also chipped and then pancaked Maualuga at the second level on the first Rice touchdown.
Bobbie Williams checked in for Yanda in the fourth quarter and immediately gave up a sack to Gino Atkins, justifying the coaching decision to start Harewood on the left side.
Cary Williams was guilty of playing off receivers too far early in the game, but tackled well after the catch. He corrected his coverage later, playing with much more confidence in the second half, and
effectively jumped a hot route to AJ Green to cause quarterback Andy Dalton to eat the ball for a sack.
Jimmy Smith on the opposite side had a quiet night, and that was a good thing. He played much tighter bump-and-run coverage. He bumped well, but didn’t run with receivers quite as effectively and was burned for it once.
Lardarius Webb played the slot and limited Green’s effectiveness over the middle. Webb was also one of the few Ravens to get into the backfield and pressure the passer.
Bernard Pollard picked up where he left off in the preseason, where he stood out as one of the Ravens’ most effective defenders. His blitz up the A gap early was too much for the running back Benjarvus Green-Ellis to handle, leading to a tipped pass and forced punt. Pollard stood out for number of fine plays, including tight coverage to strip away a reception, rocking tight end Jermaine Gresham, and numerous back-side run blitzes.
Ed Reed had two near miss interceptions, both foiled by Ray Lewis when he tipped a pass headed Reed’s way, and when the linebacker stripped a ball out of Reeds fingertips in the end zone. Reed finally got his pick late in the game, securing his 13th career pick six, and allowing him to set the NFL record with 1,497 career return yards on that play.
Reed left the game with a sore hamstring, and was replaced by newly signed James Ihedigbo.
A much lighter Ray Lewis was all over the field, recording a team-high eleven tackles, including two very important open field take-downs to force field goals. He also stripped a fumble from Dalton to slam the door shut on the game. Lewis did bite too hard early on play action to allow a 19-yard completion to Green over the middle.
Other than Lewis, the linebacking corps was suspect. Jameel McClain was manhandled as the game wore on and was replaced by Dannell Ellerbe, who looked much more stout and quick to the ball.
On the outside, Paul Kruger struggled to make any impact, other than holding the edge against the run. He was practically non-existent in the pass rush. On the strong side Albert McClellan showed versatility, but was not outstanding in any single area.
Defensive Line: C+
Not until the game was out of hand late did the front line get any pressure on the quarterback. The Bengals tandem of Green-Ellis and former Raven draft pick Cedric Peerman teamed for 113 yards on 21 carries. Pernell McPhee struggled to hold ground and had no impact as a pass rusher.
Maake Kemoeatu and Terrance Cody both penetrated well but did not get off enough blocks to find the ball carrier.
Haloti Ngata did check in with some nice plays, including submarining into the backfield to stop a sneak on third and short. He was effective as a pass rusher as the game wore on, including jumping the center to get a sack.
Later in the game both Arthur Jones and Courtney Upshaw made positive impact getting into the backfield. Upshaw showed good speed on a looping stunt into the middle to get pressure on Dalton, forcing the Reed interception.
Special Teams: B
Justin Tucker was dead-on perfect on field goals from 39, 40 and 46 yards out. He also consistently booted kickoffs into the end zone to frustrate the Bengals return game.
Chykie Brown and Corey Graham stood out for effective downfield coverage of kicks. Anthony Allen also checked in with a nice coverage tackle. Special Teams ace Sean Considine was flagged for a hold.
Cam Cameron called a very nice game, using Rice as bait and getting the Bengals to overplay the run and the dump-off pass, opening the field up for reverses and downfield throws. Cameron had seen enough to know the Bengals can be undisciplined in their assignments, particularly Michael Johnson on the weak-side edge.
After the game Harbaugh credited both Cameron and Joe Flacco for calling a great game. It was telling that he credited Flacco with being a part of the play calling. It showed on the field, and it redeemed Cameron for giving up some of the play calling reigns, finally.
Defensively, credit Dean Pees for finding a way to get pressure with Webb and Pollard when there was no pressure to be found up front. He also schemed AJ Green well as the game wore on in known passing situations, at times having both Reed and Pollard spy Green over the top, frustrating Dalton into ineffective throws.