For you talk-show callers and bloggers who complain that Cam Cameron’s offense is too conservative, please do the Ravens a favor.
Because Cameron is obviously listening to you, and it is having dangerous consequences for the Ravens.
With the Ravens leading the Jets 27-7 in the second quarter, the Ravens, as NBC analyst Cris Collinsworth put it, could "run every play the rest of the game and walk off with a win."
This is true, because (a) the Ravens would then use up the clock, providing the Jets with less time to come back; (b) the Ravens would not give the Jets momentum to come back by doing something stupid, such as, oh I don’t know, throw an interception returned for a touchdown; and (c) because the Jets have, in many observers’ opinions (including this one), the best pass defense in the NFL.
Going into this game, the Jets had one of the worst run defenses in the NFL, allowing a huge 4.8 yards per carry. Obviously, the Ravens would exploit that, and stay away from the Jets’ pass defense, which entered the game with the lowest opposition passer rating in the game. That would be logical, correct?
Apparently not to the Ravens.
With a 20-point lead, the Ravens decided to defy nearly a century of football experience and pass, pass, pass their way to allowing the Jets back into the game.
The Ravens made token attempts at running. Usually, it was Ray Rice up the middle on an unimaginative run play that would gain two yards.
Yippee, that provided the excuse to allow Joe Flacco to use that golden arm of his again.
Now, I understand that Flacco may well be the most popular player on the team. He’s clean-cut, soft-spoken and doesn’t have a police record.
Fine. But repeat after me: Flacco is not John Unitas. Flacco is not Steve Young. Flacco is not Peyton Manning.
When it comes to NFL passer rating entering this week, Flacco isn’t even Ryan Fitzpatrick or Alex Smith.
And the quarterback is only part of the equation. The offensive line must adequately protect the quarterback to read the defense, find the open receiver, and deliver a catchable ball.
In looking at the Ravens’ offensive line, I fail to see Jonothan Ogden, Jim Parker, Mike Webster, Anthony Munoz or even Elmer Collett.
The Ravens have a hodgepodge of offensive linemen who are still learning to play together after not playing a down together in preseason. Granted, that excuse is timed out after this week. But it’s still applicable to the game against the Jets.
And their lack of familiarity with each other showed, as the Jets constantly reached Flacco in the early going with off-balance blitzes (blitzes coming from one side of the line).
So, the Ravens don’t have a great pass-blocking line in their favor, either.
What about receivers?
Again, words like "future" and "promise" and "potential" are relevant. However, "proven" is not.
The ability of underneath receivers like Anquan Boldin depend on a deep threat to attract the attention of the other team’s safeties. That deep threat seemed to emerge last week in the person of Torrey Smith, a promising (there’s that word again) rookie from Ralph Friedgen’s University of Maryland Terrapins, who caught three touchdowns on as many receptions against the Rams.
However, there is not a Jerry Rice, Raymond Berry or Charley Taylor among this bunch.
And in facing the Jets’ pass defense, you usually need Hall of Famers. The Jets’ secondary is imposing, and may be sending at least one of their own to the Hall one day.
None of this is to denigrate the Ravens’ offensive personnel. Readers of this column know that I have not only predicted a win over the Jets, but also a march to this season’s Super Bowl.
But the Ravens need to be smart. And passing with a 20-point lead is something that even Unitas may have reckoned against.
After all, the Ravens’ sure-fire Hall of Famers are on the defensive side of the ball – with a 20-point lead, just punt, and let THAT group do its thing.
With a good, but not great passing game, Flacco should have been handing off the ball to the running backs with a 20-point lead.
Instead, and despite the Ravens’ inability to handle the Jets’ off-balance blitzes and that Flacco had completed only eight of 22 pass attempts to that point, Cameron decided to throw the ball.
The results of this strategy: Jets 10 – Ravens 0.
After the usual run up the middle for a loss of one, and an incompletion (of course), Flacco was intercepted by Jets inside linebacker David Harris, who returned the interception 35 yards for a Jets’ touchdown, turning a seemingly insurmountable lead of 27-7 into a competitive game of 27-14.
Quick timeout for a little football lesson?
Momentum does not change teams on punts; momentum changes teams on turnovers.
Coaches constantly tell the media that whichever team turns the ball over fewer times will win the game, and the statistics bear them out.
Coaches never say "whichever team punts the fewer times wins the game."
Okay, back to the second quarter.
After the disastrous interception return for touchdown, the Ravens ran another boring running play between the tackles for two yards (why not a trap? A pitch to the outside to utilize Rice’s speed? A third-down draw play?), and then Flacco threw an incompletion before getting sacked by Jets’ defensive back Brodney Pool and free safety Eric Smith on yet another off-balance blitz that the Ravens again failed to block. The sack ensured that the Jets would get the ball in Ravens’ territory, and the Jets used the short field to score a field goal, and cut their deficit at halftime to 10 points.
Fortunately, the Ravens’ defense, which outscored the Ravens’ offense 21-13 in the first three quarters, was stout enough to overcome the illogical play calling.
Here’s hoping the Ravens have learned their lesson, and that Cameron is listening to Bruce Springsteen this week instead of the radio call-in shows.