Its probably better that this first article was written now, a day after the fact, as opposed to last night, when the still warm emotions stemming from the loss may have overwhelmed our sensibilities here at the Nest. Twenty-four hours of cooling down, along with the realization that it really is just ONE game in the standings, lend to cooler heads prevailing when looking at the opening night loss in Cincy.
“Stumbling” out of the gates would certainly be a much too kind way to describe how the Ravens started the 2007 campaign. When your offense ties the dubious record of most lost fumbles in an opening quarter in NFL history, its probably safe to say that the “dogs” weren’t “in the house” quite yet, despite what the team would have Ray Lewis believe – at least on the offensive side of the ball. The turnover virus crept aboard the Ravens’ flight the other night and spread through the team like wildfire. Quarterback Steve McNair came down with a severe case by gametime Monday, fumbling twice and throwing an interception. Kyle Boller added a pick of his own in the waning minutes, sealing the victory for the Bungles. When all was said and done, the Ravens had turned the ball over SIX times on the night. Despite this, the final score had the two teams separated by just 7 points, and the Ravens had every opportunity to win the game, as they led 20-19 with 12:44 to play. Ravens fans should not underestimate the encouragement to be taken from that.
Nor should Ravens fans fail to notice the positives to come from the loss. And there were several. First, when is the last time you remember the Ravens offense being so completely and utterly….and we can’t believe it either…unpredictable? Granted, there was certainly some VERY questionable playcalling – and we will touch on that later – but the fact remains that the offensive play calling was as creative and varied as it has been since a guy named Marchibroda was pacing the sidelines. The Ravens came out throwing on five of their first six plays. They ran when we expected them to pass, they passed when we expected them to run. It seemed as if the entire roster was getting involved, as we saw the Ravens call the numbers of Musa Smith, Le’Ron McClain, Justin Green, and Devard Darling. Make no mistake, fans of the purple and black, this is a GOOD thing, and bodes very well for the offense this season if this kind of “non-vanilla” playcalling keeps up.
Also encouraging was that it looks as if (as we expected all along) the defense will not miss a beat around here with the departure of AD to New England (hope he remembered to pack his spy glasses). The unit was flying all over the field, and hitting, hitting, HITTING. Boy, were they hitting. Carson Palmer had less than 20 yards passing in the second half, which had just as much to do with his receivers short-arming passes as it did to his inaccuracy. Chad Johnson, Rudi Johnson, and T.J. Houshmanzadeh obviously wanted no parts of several Palmer passes after the hits they absorbed earlier in the game. While it would have been nice to see us get a little more pressure on Palmer, especially early, his MO against the Ravens has always been getting the ball out quickly and avoiding the fierce Baltimore pass rush. In the last 3 years, Palmer has been sacked just 13 times by the Ravens. Cleveland and Pittsburgh quarterbacks, by comparison, have gone down 27 and 26 times, respectively. This was simply par for the course for Cincy. Some may point to the long TD pass to Chad Johnson as a negative. However, it was not a result of a breakdown in coverage or miscommunication within the secondary as we became accustomed to last season; instead it was simply a case of a second year safety getting beat 1-on-1 by one of the best wideouts in the game. The defense, as always, will be just fine.
Now, on to the things that should make Ravens fans a bit uneasy. Week 1 of the 2007 NFL season saw what seemed to be a VERY high number of serious injuries hitting starters and even stars. Eli Manning: out for 6 weeks; Orlando Pace: done for the year; Mike Brown: torn ACL. The list goes on, and the Ravens are well represented on it. Return man BJ Sams had his season end for the 2nd year in a row, in Cincinnati. We really feel for BJ here at the Nest, as he was having a great preseason and looked good prior to tearing his ACL last night. Unfortunately, it may be the last time we see BJ in a Ravens uniform, as he is an unrestricted free agent after this season. Ed Reed filled in more than adequately in his stead, returning a punt 62 yards to give the Ravens their only lead of the game at 20-19. This will likely not be the norm, though, as rookie Yamon Figurs, who was inactive for Monday’s game, will probably be asked to step up and show the team why they spent a 3rd round draft pick on him.
Highly unsettling is that the teams trio of “elder statesmen,” Ray Lewis, Jon Ogden, and Steve McNair all went off the field in pain last night. The injury to Lewis, which he described to the media post-game as a torn tricep, did not keep him out for long. Although he was in obvious pain, Ray was all over the field last night, and even with 1 arm, played what was probably his best game in 2 years. We all need to hope, pray, rub our rabbits feet, or whatever it is we do, that Ray does not in fact have a torn tricep, as this would likely end his season. With the way he was playing Monday night, it would be a huge loss.
McNair, who was under duress all night from the Cincy front 7, took several hits, getting up slowly after a couple of them. He had a noticeable limp coming off the field in the 3rd quarter, and removed himself from the game before the Raven’s final drive, citing a groin injury. McNair blamed the injury on his inability to get the ball down in the game. Several times he severely overthrew receivers, the most crucial of which was on a 3rd and 1 with under 10 minutes to play, a pass that was intercepted and set the Bungles up for the go-ahead score. His final pass sailed a good 20 feet over the head of Demetrius Williams.
The most concerning injury at the moment is that of Jon Ogden. Ogden, who hyperextended his big toe last December, missed all of training camp and the preseason. His Doctors told him it would take 4 to 6 months for him to heal at the time, and it appears they underestimated. We here at the Nest have had this exact injury, and can tell you that it is something that still hurts even 4 years after the fact. And Jon Ogden’s toe has all 6’10” 345 lbs of him to support, so it is safe to say it is probably a good deal worse for J.O. As of this writing, J.O. is out “indefinitely.” The “turf toe” injury has ended careers before, including those of such greats as Deion Sanders and Jack Lambert. Here’s hoping that J.O., a sure-fire Hall of Famer that we all love in Charm City, gets to step out on the field and dominate again at some point this season.
Finally, although we were impressed by the creativity and variations in the offensive playcalling of Brian Billick, we share the same feelings as most of Baltimore today regarding some very strange playcalling, especially late in the game. The Ravens ran the ball at will against the Bengals all night long. Willis McGahee showed the burst and elusiveness that we were all hoping to see from him, and averaged over 4 yards per carry, something we have not seen around here in years. Musa Smith had several nice runs, averaged 6 yards per carry, and even got into the end zone for the first time since 2003. And yet Billick was still having his inaccurate, fumbling quarterback dropping back to pass more than 50% of the time.
Just 2 plays after McNair took himself out of the game, Haloti Ngata forced a Rudi Johnson fumble, which was recovered by Ed Reed, setting the Ravens up at the Cin 24 yard line with 4 minutes to go. Kyle Boller came in, and for all intents and purposes, threw the game-tying touchdown to Todd Heap. This play was, of course nullified by an ATROCIOUS offensive pass interference call on Heap. Boller-haters will try to blame the loss on Kyle, which is completely unfair. Kyle made an outstanding throw on 4th and 3 to get the team within 3 yards of the end zone. This is where things get a bit kooky, at least in our minds. You have a COLD, BACK UP quarterback who is fresh off the bench, coming in to try to tie/win a ballgame in the 4th quarter, on the road. You have a $40 million running back who is averaging 4 yards per carry on the night. You are 3 yards from tying the game, in OBVIOUS 4 down territory. And you are playing a team that went 0/18 last season in keeping their opponents out of the end zone in goal-to-go situations. You would think you should try and try again to pound the ball those 3 yards, yes? Not Brian. The Ravens ran the ball on 1st down (moving to the 2), threw on 2nd (incomplete), ran on 3rd (moving to the 1), and passed on 4th, this play being the inexplicable PI call on Heap which put the team back to the 10 yard line. After the referee attempted to atone for his mistake by calling defensive holding on the Bungles the very next play, the Ravens AGAIN had goal-to-go, this time from the Cin 6. First down, Mcgahee to the left for 4 yards. Second and goal from the 2, pass incomplete. Third and goal from the 2, Boller throws a Mach 5 fastball that hits off the facemask of a not-quite-ready-for-it Todd Heap, interception, game over. WHY DID YOU STOP TRYING TO RUN?? Lets recap….out of 6 plays inside the 3 yard line, the Ravens opted to pass 4 times and run only twice. With a backup quarterback with a history of making not-so-sound decisions. We here at the nest are quite baffled.
HOWEVER – We are Brian Billick fans here at the Nest. That in mind, we will give him a pass this week, but please Brian; Baltimore begs you:
RUN THE BALL!!!