Tuesday, September 9, 2008

"Rantin' and Raven" - Week 1

In addition to providing “The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly” for each game (which will return next week after a brief hiatus), I bring to you a new weekly piece, offering analysis with a fan’s touch, called “Rantin’ and Raven.”

Here's a final look at the Ravens' 17-10 victory over Cincinnati.


Ray Lewis’ pre-game dance to the Nelly song “Hot in Herre” creates unparalleled electricity in M&T Bank Stadium that is sustained through the opening minutes of the game. Despite the critics that say it’s self-promotion and is a distraction for the rest of the team, no one can deny its profound effect on the home crowd.

Lewis’ moves and swagger may not be loved by everyone, but the end result of a frenzied crowd and a stronger home-field advantage is a major plus.

Black Birds

The new look of wearing black pants, in addition to the white jerseys that have previously been worn in early-season home games, was a sharp, menacing way to ring in a new era of Baltimore football.


The Baltimore defense, decimated by injuries last season, proved it still has the personnel to dominate even the best of offenses in the NFL. The unit was relentless in all aspects of the game and made a talented Cincinnati offense look like the “Bungles” of the past.

Defensive coordinator Rex Ryan’s schemes are as complex and confusing to opposing offenses as any in the league. Ryan employed packages that sometimes included eight defensive backs and even exotic looks such as linebacker Terrell Suggs lining up at corner to bump Bengals wide receiver Chad Johnson (or Chad Ocho Cinco or The Artist formerly known as Number 85 or whatever he’s calling himself this week).

Rumbling Raven

Fullback Le’Ron McClain runs with a downhill style reminding fans of Bam Morris (and unlike Morris, McClain’s not running from the law) or even the hated Jerome Bettis in his early days.

McClain’s running in the fourth quarter was the nail in the coffin for a Cincinnati team that completely quit or had never really shown up, depending on who you ask.

Veteran Lorenzo Neal’s influence may be able to transform McClain into one of the best fullbacks in the league.

Joe Cool

Joe Flacco looked as calm as any quarterback seen in Baltimore since the days of Johnny Unitas and Bert Jones.

While no one knows how good Flacco will eventually be, his calm demeanor has a soothing effect on a team that would otherwise be holding its breath with a rookie at the helm.

The sight of Lewis encouraging Flacco and the rookie staring back at him confidently was a stirring image.

Heeeeaaaappp (Eeeeek?)

Todd Heap had one of his worst games in recent memory, losing a fumble in the first quarter and dropping a touchdown pass in the second.

Heap needs to get more reps in practice to improve his timing with Flacco and get back into game-playing shape. Once this happens, Flacco and the Ravens will once again have a dangerous red zone option to utilize.

F-16 becomes A.D. the II?

Yamon Figurs is known for his return ability but is quickly becoming a force on the coverage units.

Figurs has the potential to become the team’s best punt team gunner since Adalius Thomas made the Pro Bowl in 2003 as a special teams player.

He has blazing speed and continues to improve his tackling every week.

Déjà Vu?

When running back Ray Rice put the ball on the ground, and Cincinnati's Johnathan Joseph scooped it up for a 65-yard touchdown, Ravens fans could not help but think back to last season and the many debacles that plagued a 5-11 season.

The play cut the Ravens’ lead to 17-10 with over 10 minutes to play in the game.

Was the start of the 2008 season going to look exactly like 2007?

The suffocating defense and the punishing running game clearly answered that question and put the fears to rest. Cincinnati didn’t threaten again.

Offense Offensive, Nevermore?

Though it only managed to score 17 points, the Baltimore offense played with good tempo and confidence.

The double-reverse call that led to a 42-yard touchdown run by wide receiver Mark Clayton was executed brilliantly with a key block by Flacco to spring him.

The no-huddle offense kept the Cincinnati defense from substituting and maintained a quicker pace than what was typically seen in the past.

It will be interesting to see what offensive coordinator Cam Cameron does with this offense as Flacco continues to grow into the system.

Wacko for Flacco

The rhythmic chants of “Let’s Go, Flacco” echoing from nearly 71,000 fans symbolically marked the beginning of Flacco’s reign. It was difficult to listen to the chants without thinking this could be the start of something special in Baltimore.

Will Flacco be the next Johnny Unitas? That’s an unfair and unreasonable question to ask of anyone.

But maybe, he’ll be the man to stop the revolving door of quarterbacks that has plagued this franchise since its beginning.

Time will tell, but the crowd’s display of love was enough to get even the most skeptical fan excited about the debut of Baltimore Joe.

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