BALTIMORE RAVENS 34 CINCINNATI BENGALS 3
Joe Flacco made his professional debut in Baltimore on September 7, 2008 against the Cincinnati Bengals, winning at M&T Bank Stadium by the score of 17-10. On November 30, 2008 he traveled to Cincinnati for the first time as a Raven and the results were spectacular although this time, he certainly got a little help from his friends, particularly Mark Clayton. ~ Tony Lombardi
Welcome to the Mark Clayton Show!
In a 34-3 win over the home-standing Cincinnati Bengals, the Baltimore Ravens dominated in every facet of the game, with a steady, workmanlike performance. But it was Mark Clayton who shined brilliantly and stole the show with remarkable catches and a nicely thrown pass to Derrick Mason for a score. More on his spectacular effort in a bit…
Other than Clayton’s explosive play, it was a grind-it-out win for the Ravens. They completely shut down the Bengals – aside from the drive to close the first half, forcing Bengals punter Kyle Larson on to the field a franchise record tying eleven times.
By sitting the sputtering running back Willis McGahee and starting the powerful, second year back Le’Ron McClain, with small doses of Ray Rice mixed in, the Ravens were able to grind-out an easy victory.
In the first half they ran right at the Bengals and controlled the clock, 20:45 to 9:15 minutes in time of possession. That eleven-minute advantage was stretched to eighteen minutes by game’s end. Strong defense, dominant time of possession, and taking over in the fourth quarter of games is now clearly the Ravens’ signature style of play.
In this game, the Ravens averaged six yards a play with a massive dose of 75 plays from scrimmage. Meanwhile, they held the Bengals to 153 total yard and 2 of 15 on third downs. Quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick completed 12 of his 31 pass attempts for 124 yards, which was greatly aided by a 46-yard catch and run by T. J. Houshmandzadeh to set up the Bengals’ lone points at the end of the half.
But from there, the Ravens continued to show their knack for closing-out games by completely shutting down the Bengals in the second half. In fact, since allowing the Titans to come back with ten points late in a game nine weeks ago, the Ravens have outscored their opponents 84-3 in fourth quarter action.
The grades this week, like the team, improved as the game wore on.
Joe Flacco’s numbers on the day were 19 of 29 (66%) for 280 yards and two touchdowns. That nets out to a 120 passer rating and his top statistical performance of the year. Joe was at his best staring into the teeth of a surprising Bengals pass rush while still being productive. That includes timely dump offs to his backs, or side-stepping rushers to run for a first down. He is also showing more depth to his game by reading and controlling the defensive secondary. On a 44-yard completion to Mark Clayton he looked the safety off to the right and came back to Clayton, one-on-one on the left sideline. On a touchdown throw to Todd Heap—which happened to be the exact same play called by the Eagles last week, with Kevin Kolb and Reggie Kelly—Joe Flacco showed more savvy than Kolb. A week ago, Ed Reed bird-dogged Kolb’s throw and returned an interception 107 yards for a touchdown. This week, when the Ravens called the same play, Flacco flowed to his right to draw off the coverage, and that allowed Heap to get three yards of separation on the throw back to the left for the touchdown. It was also yet another week for Flacco with no turnovers. Joe stills struggles holding the ball too long for sacks, and failing to find secondary receivers. Troy Smith came into the game on a handful of snaps, and did pick up yardage once on an option run.
Running Backs: B
Willis McGahee did not see any action against the Bengals, as fullback-turned-tailback McClain started the game and got 25 carries for 86 yards. With the Bengals starting line-up filled with undersized, 240-lb linebackers, the decision to run the 260-lb McClain at them made a lot more sense. However, it still calls into question McGahee’s future role for this team. Ray Rice chipped in with eleven runs and four pass catches. Rice continues to show the ability to squirt for extra yardage, which is making him into a great third down back. But he still needs work on pass-blocking. He was fooled on a couple of assignments and was flagged for chop block when a defender was engaged by fullback Lorenzo Neal. Neal had a very strong day pounding on Bengals’ linebackers.
Wide Receivers: A
Derrick Mason ran very crisp patterns and performed his role as possession receiver admirable. New Mexico rookie wide-out Marcus Smith got into the game and blocked well downfield despite not getting any passes thrown his way. But the day belonged to Mark Clayton. Perhaps Clayton was itchy to get his big day started, as he flinched on the Ravens’ first possession committing a false start. Cleary he atoned for the miscue with a career-best performance. He showed an ability to help his quarterback by coming back for passes, and also stretching out for a spectacular one-handed touchdown catch. He even threw a 32-yard touchdown off of an end around, to Derrick Mason. It was Clayton’s first NFL completion on his fourth career attempt. In all, Clayton had five catches for 164 yards and a touchdown against the depleted Bengals secondary. He was also helped on his 44 yard completion when the ball appeared to be trapped on the carpet, but it went unchallenged by the Bengals. Clayton had been criticized throughout much of his career for disappearing in games and not threatening defenses deep. However, he seems to have answered critics as of late as Cam Cameron gradually unveils more and more of his ample playbook. Here’s a quick snapshot of Clayton’s improving productivity:
Tight Ends: B-
Todd Heap had four catches for 39 yards and a touchdown. He and Joe Flacco seem to be developing a better rapport although that said, Heap did fail to chip pass rushers, who were able to force Flacco to throw away passes. Daniel Wilcox played as an extra blocker and was not a factor in the offense. It was interesting to see Haloti Ngata line up as a TE on the goalline and simply run over a cornerback as he tried to get free in the corner of the end zone.
Jared Gaither was able to start in this game despite continuing to nurse his sprained AC in his right shoulder. He looked a little less motivated and struggled blocking in space. He was rolled up on by the Bengals’ Rashad Jeanty early in the game, but surrendered his left tackle spot to Chad Slaughter for just one play. Willie Anderson had a solid day and was rewarded with a Gatoraid bath in front of his old hometown crowd – well at least the few hundred Bengals fans still in attendance at the end. Overall, the tackles pass blocked effectively.
Interior Line: D
Ben Grubbs was flat-out embarrassed by Bengals rookie Pat Sims. Ben was repeatedly beaten when Sims slapped him inside and stepped through Grubbs’ outside shoulder. Sims was also able to push Grubbs into the backfield repeatedly. The interior protection broke down at times, including a blitz by safety Crocker, straight up the middle. Jason Brown also struggled on occasion, particularly trying to lock up linebackers at the second level. The Ravens seemed confused by the Bengals run blitzing schemes. Chris Chester blocked well but at times had trouble finding a Bengal to put his hat on.
Chris McAlister, who? Fabian Washington played like a Pro Bowl Corner, repeatedly getting good inside position, by not allowing receivers to run past him. The Bengals receivers, with Carson Palmer at quarterback, have been a thorn to the Ravens secondary in the past, but this unit handled the Bengals. Just as they did in the season opener against Cincinnati, the Ravens flanked linebackers like Bart Scott, Terrell Suggs and even Brendan Ayanbadejo to bump the Bengals receivers off their patterns, which helped the corners play tighter at the second level. Corey Ivy was also able to pressure TJ Houshmanzadeh in the intermediate zone. Evan Oglesby subbed for Samari Rolle when the game was out of hand with little to no drop off in efficiency.
The safeties were not called on to do much in this one. Daren Stone saw some playing time and did a nice job fighting through blocks to knock down a pass at the line of scrimmage. Late in the game, Jim Leonard picked off a Jordan Palmer pass for TD return, the second time in as many weeks that a Ravens safety scored on an interception return.
Jarret Johnson chipped in with another strong performance. When he wasn’t pressuring the pass he was dropping into coverage and taking away the short routes. Ray Lewis looked as active as he has in any game this year, and was in on a team high seven tackles. Bart Scott also stepped up his play and was right behind Lewis with five tackles. Terrell Suggs was active, slapping down a third down pass attempt in the second quarter and overpowering a blocker to bulldoze Cedric Benson in the backfield.
Defensive Line: B+
Trevor Pryce continues to play outstanding football, and asserted himself early by causing Fitzpatrick to fumble (recovered by the Bengals). Marques Douglas played the run very well. Lamar Divens seemed to get more snaps this week to spell Haloti Ngata and Justin Bannan. His gap integrity was a little more uneven.
Special Teams: C+
Sam Koch continued his excellent play, with four of his seven punts pinning the Bengals inside their 15-yard line. That, and strong defense gave the Ravens the clear field position advantage, which helped Matt Stover convert easy field goals of 27 and 21 yards. However, the kick coverage unit was not good, giving up 156 yards to the Bengals on seven kick-off returns, which outdistanced the 155 net yards Cincinnati totaled on offense. The Ravens were only able to mount three punt return attempts for five yards while failing to contain the Bengals’ gunners.
John Harbaugh did a good job of challenging a poor spot of the ball by side judge Jeff Lamberth after a Derrick Mason first-down catch. The coaches continued to struggle getting the “Suggs Package” with Troy Smith onto the field fast enough. Early in the game the Bengals got the best of Cam Cameron with run blitz mismatches. However, true to his roots, coming out of the “Air Coryell” lineage of offensive scheming, Cameron kept pounding the ball with his big back to draw up the secondary and then burned the Bengals by throwing over the top for long completions. Rex Ryan did a nice job of mixing in fresh faces on defense, like Evan Oglesby, Lamar Divens, Darren Stone, and Brendan Ayanbadejo. The coaching staff should be lauded for getting a young team to overcome injuries and still look fresh playing yet another road game against a division rival they managed to sweep. On the downside, Jerry Rosburg’s kick coverage units remain a glaring weakness.
Carl Cheffers’ crew was mostly invisible, which is nearly always a good thing. They called just six penalties on the day, three on each team. The only quibble, other than the need to correct the spot of Mason’s catch, was Cheffers’ haste to announce the Ravens would accept penalties against the Bengals, only to be required to reverse the call after the Ravens clamored to decline the calls.
Solomon Wilcotts was very informative explaining various nuances throughout the game. For instance, Wilcotts announced early that the Ravens were setting up the potential for long gains off of play action, and that turned out to be rather prophetic insight. Ian Eagle kept out of Wilcotts’ way for the most part, which is what a good lead announcer needs to do. The replays were timely and adequate.
This was the Ravens’ sixth road game in eight weeks, winning four of six. Now they will be in position to play three of their four remaining games at home, starting next week against the Beltway-rival Washington Redskins, who lost in week thirteen to the Giants. With New England and the Jets both badly beaten at home by the Steelers and Broncos respectively, the Ravens should be in good shape to grab one of the two AFC Wild Card spots if they can take advantage of their upcoming home field advantage.