Remember former Steelers and Ravens QB Kordell Stewart? His nickname, “Slash,” came about because of his lack of any true position…that is, he was a QB/WR when he first joined the league. Well, after yesterday, Joe Flacco may be more deserving of that moniker. “Joe the Quarterback’s” stat line from Sunday:
Passing: 12/24 140 yards 1 TD 0 INT
Rushing: 4 carries, 23 yards, 1 TD
Receiving: 1 reception, 43 yards
Just about the most unorthodox 21 point fantasy football day we can ever remember, that’s for damn sure. Flacco’s big reception was just one of several very interesting wrinkles that we saw in Cam Cameron’s offensive game plan against Oakland. Those “Troy Smith packages” that T-Sizzle was referring to last week finally showed up and caught the Raiders off guard time after time. Conventional wisdom is that the option play can never work in the NFL, due to the speed of the defenses. Well, don’t tell that to Smith and Ray Rice, who ran the play to perfection for a 21-yard gain in the 2nd quarter. The Ravens’ offense had a very “collegiate” feel to it, to be sure, but after the kind of offenses we’ve grown used to seeing in B’More over the years (offenses that were better described as say, “kindergarten,”) we’ll take these 375-yard days any way we can get ’em.
We tend to get so caught up in any expression of offense around here that we need to be careful not to minimize another outstanding defensive effort. The D set the tone early, as LB Jameel McClain sacked Raiders QB Jamarcus Russel in the end zone for a safety on Oakland’s 7th play from scrimmage, and held them to -2 total yards in the first quarter. It was the 2nd of 4 Baltimore sacks of Russell. Oakland became the 26th consecutive team to be held without a 100-yard rusher by the purple-and-black, as they gained only 47 yards on the ground all day. Cornerbacks Fabian Washington and the much maligned Frank Walker had strong performances as well, with Walker intercepting his first pass of the season and Washington dropping what would have likely been a pick-6 in the waning minutes of the game.
Not to be outdone, the special teams of the Ravens finally put together a complete game. Ray Rice averaged 27 yards on 2 kickoff returns, and Jim Leonhard 15 yards on 4 punt returns, including a 46-yarder that he nearly took to the house. Rice and Leonhard are making a very strong case for the permanent return-men positions, even once Yamon Figurs is healthy again. Matt Stover was 2-for-2 on field goals, and looks like he has corrected whatever was causing his early season issues. The Ravens also covered well, holding Oakland’s speedy return man, Johnnie Lee Higgins, to just 18 yards per kickoff return and 1 yard on punts.
It was a complete team effort by the good guys yesterday at M&T Bank Stadium. Sure, it was just the Raiders. They admittedly seemed to dead on arrival to BWI this weekend, but we’re not going to dwell too much on that (like too many Balti-morons seem to be doing, judging by the calls to the radio shows). There were some things that certainly need to be cleaned up. There were 2 touchdowns, and at least 2 more big plays, called back because of penalties (any time you have 4X as many penalties as the Raiders, there is a problem). If not for the 70-yard busted coverage touchdown to Demetrius Williams, Flacco would have had about 70 yards passing. And LeRun McClain never seemed to know where to line up. Those are, without a doubt, the kind of things that can lose you games against quality opponents.
John Harbaugh’s squad was able to overcome those mistakes yesterday though, as they absolutely handled a lesser team for the 2nd consecutive week, and kept themselves right in the thick of things in the AFC as the midway point approaches. With the Squealer’s loss to the Giants (thank you, James Harrison), the Ravens are only 1 game back in the AFC North with a crucial road game against the resurgent-looking Browns coming up.
Especially considering everyone’s gloom-and-doom preseason expectations, we’ll take it. We’ll gladly take it.