Damn Bengals.  They seem to have perfected this whole “beat the Ravens by only kicking field goals” thing.

In an effort to avoid wrapping my laptop’s power cord around my neck, or just throwing the whole thing through the television, let’s first take a look at the positives from Sunday’s game. Trust me, there actually were a few.

  1. The Ravens’ much talked-about (in a “they’ll be the weak link this season” way) defense has yet to allow a touchdown in 2010 in 8 quarters of play.
  2. The secondary in particular played well, holding Carson Palmer to just a 45% completion percentage and 167 yards.  Now, if they could only catch…
  3. Lardarius Webb made his first appearance of 2010, and contributed to the aforementioned strong play of the secondary.
  4. Ray Rice looked strong after being bottled up by the New York Jets, picking up 87 yards on 16 carries (5.4 average) and 30 yards on 4 receptions (7.5).  He also had a key block on Joe Flacco’s lone touchdown pass of the day.
  5. Cedric Benson, who gashed the Ravens for 227 yards in the two games last year, was held to just 78 yards on 23 carries.
  6. From a “big picture” perspective, most of the AFC is 1-1 along with the Ravens.  Only Houston, Miami, the not-really-for-real-at-all Kansas City Chiefs, and those who shall not be named are 2-0.
  7. There are still 14 games to play.

Reluctantly moving on to address the REST of Sunday’s action…

On the Ravens second play of their second drive, a 2nd-and-10 from their own 28, Flacco dropped back, scrambled around in the pocket a bit, and ended up diving forward for a 2-yard gain, barely avoiding the sack.  On the replay though, when analyst Rich Gannon was trying to describe how well covered the Ravens’ receivers were…there he was: Anquan Boldin, streaking down the right sideline, nary a Bengal within 15 yards of him, hand waving frantically in the air calling for the ball.  Of all the terrible plays that Joe made Sunday, THIS play may be the one that makes him slink lowest in his seat when the team reviews film this week.  If Joe even LOOKS to his right at any point during the play, he would have had the easiest 70-yard touchdown throw of his career.  Instead, the Ravens would punt two plays later, and the play was an ominous harbinger of plenty more terrible things to come for #5 and the B’More offense.

With all the talk about the Ravens’ new offense and all its fancy toys, they have now managed just 20 points in two games.  Granted, those 20 points were against the #1 and #4 defenses in the NFL in 2009.  However, the degree of ineptitude that Cam Cameron and his charges showed against Cincinnati was far higher than even the most pessimistic Ravens fan could have predicted.  Flacco was horrific against the Bengals in 2009, throwing four picks in two games.  After one game against them in 2010, he has already matched that interception total, and it’s easy to just say that Cincy has Flacco’s number.  Joe has played far worse against the Bengals in his career than he has against the Pittsburgh Steelers, and Sunday he appeared to be playing scared and timid right from the start.

In fact, I’d have never thought I would grimace and say “ew” so many times in one game watching Joe Flacco.  His mechanics are dreadful – his signature move now seems to be what I’ve deemed the “back-foot floater,” a pass that he throws high in the air while leaning back, hoping his target can run under it.  So far this year though, he has not shown near the level of “touch” needed to consistently complete these kinds of passes.  I hated on Mike Preston earlier this week for saying that Flacco needs to step up in the pocket more like a Brady, Manning, or Elway, but I couldn’t agree more with the spirit of the argument (I just thought it was funny how he pulled a few Hall of Fame names out of his hat).  Joe DOES need to step up and put some zip on the ball.  We’ve seen him do it before, so I’m as confused as the rest of you at his seeming regression.

In both games so far in 2010, there has been one play where you can see Joe just get fed up and step into a throw and put it right on his receivers’ chest, giving them no choice but to catch it – against the Jets, it was a sideline out to Derrick Mason; against Cincy, he slammed the ball into Anquan Boldin’s chest on a play where he lined up in the slot.

Where are those passes the rest of the time?

What the hell is up with this new back-foot floater?

Can I get a Ra-Ven? (Get it…”can I get an amen?” No? Ok, fine.)

Staying on Joe for a minute: Another wildly exasperating facet of his play so far this season is that he is seemingly completely unwilling to audible at the line of scrimmage.  Correct me if I’m wrong, but I don’t think I’ve seen him check out of one play in the two games to date.  In New York is one thing, but the Cincinnati crowd isn’t exactly known around the league for being one of the loudest; there is no noise-related excuse for never changing the play.  It’s especially maddening when the Ravens have some sort of slow-developing running play called, and the opposing defense walks 7 or 8 guys to to the line of scrimmage – that play is dead in the water.  Still, Joe makes no effort to change the play.  We saw him do it a couple of times in the preseason (think of the touchdown pass to Boldin in the Giants game), so why has it suddenly stopped?  I’m not suggesting Joe needs to be Peyton Manning up there, diagnosing every defensive player’s assignment, along with his fears, goals, and ambitions…but a check-off here and there would be a sight for sore eyes.

Its all a bit too disappointing to delve into too deeply.  I’m much more inclined to chalk it up to a combination of factors, including the short week, consecutive road games, Cincy “having his number,” poor offensive line play, and the failure of the Ravens’ receivers to create separation (the aforementioned Boldin play notwithstanding) or haul in catches that we’ve seen them make a hundred times before (seriously…anybody else get the feeling the T.J. Houshmandzadeh is still a closet Bengals fan?) Let’s all cross our fingers that a full week of preparation, along with a home game against a sorry Cleveland team, will be just what the doctor ordered to heal up our sputtering offense and suddenly shaky quarterback situation.

Moving on from Flacco, but sticking with the offense in general…

Cam Cameron needs to stop buying into the hype about his offense.  I don’t know if its a symptom of trying to keep all of the receivers happy or what, but on a day where his quarterback is having the worst game of his young career, and his running back is ripping off over 5 yards a carry in a 1-score game…man, come ON.  RUN THE DAMN BALL.  Rice had only 16 carries.  Willis McGahee had three.  Le’Ron McClain had ONE.

I completely understand that the days of the “three-headed-monster” in the Ravens’ backfield are pretty much over, even if I don’t 100% agree with it.  The Ravens have these highly paid guys on the outside and a young quarterback who they are trying to develop, but sometimes the game has to dictate what you’re doing as an offense.  Especially with a makeshift offensive line that is struggling mightily to pass protect, while at the same time showing that they can open holes in the running game.  Moving the ball through the air against the Bengals wasn’t happening, and the Ravens were never down by more than 6 points, so the fact that Rice had only 8 carries per half is absolutely criminal.

Goob already addressed the bogus officiating calls that cost the Ravens 6 points, so I won’t get into it.  Fact is, the key play of the game yesterday wasn’t any of Flacco’s four picks, nor was it either of those two costly penalties.  It was the kickoff return by Bernard Scott with just under 6 minutes remaining.  The Ravens had just taken a 10-9 lead, but the 60-yard kickoff return set the Bengals up in near field goal range to start the drive.  It was a hugely deflating letdown from a unit that had been solid all day, with Billy Cundiff’s two kickoffs to that point both resulting in touchbacks.

The Ravens now have a full week of preparation for their home opener against the Browns.  Identifying and correcting the plethora of offensive mistakes we witnessed on Sunday will be tantamount to not only a victory against Cleveland, but absolutely critical if this team has any hope to realize the lofty goals they have set for themselves in 2010.


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