Here are my observations from yesterday's game between Baltimore and Houston, in no particular order:
- This is not last year's team
The 2011 Baltimore Ravens actually know how to finish out a game. They didn't panic after the Texans took the lead in the 3rd quarter, and they didn't go into a scramble like they did against Houston last year when the Ravens blew a 15 point lead and had to win the game in OT. All they did was take the ball back down the field and take control of the game back. This might be the biggest positive that we can take from this week. This is a team with a good mix of veterans and younger players. The young guys keyed off of the older guys and there was no hesitation. When the Ravens offense took the field after the Texans scored to take a 14-13 lead I saw a team that was confident that they would win. Not that they COULD win, but that they WOULD win. It wasn't arrogance, it was faith in their abilities and in each other.
- Or Brian Billick's team
Houston started off the game trying to intimidate the Ravens offense. They tried to goad them into making stupid mistakes because they knew they were outgunned (the best offensive and best defensive players for the Texans - Andre Johnson and Mario Williams - were both out/injured). The Ravens did not take the bait. The teams run by Brian Billick, the ones with Bart Scott and Derrick Mason and a younger (and football acumen dumber) Terrell Suggs would have probably taken the bait. John Harbaugh has instilled a sense of discipline and purpose to this team, and it showed. After a couple attempts to get Baltimore off of their game plan (extending that opening drive all the way to a TD) the Texans just got down to playing the game.
- You have to be bold, but you don't have to be stupid
The overriding fundamental philosophy of the Coryell offensive game plan (of which Cam Cameron is a disciple) is that the quarterback's reads go from deepest route in. It is predicated on the big play, or at least the threat of it in order to keep the middle of the field open for the mid and short range passing game and the running game. And there is something to be said for the offense dictating the game plan to the defense. But with all of that said, when a defense is giving you something you take it. The Texans were bringing the heat (trying to compensate for 1/3 of their sack production in M. Williams being out). The middle of the field was WIDE open. The one time I can remember Flacco going to a hot read of Anquan Boldin running a slant it got something like 12 yards. Why the Ravens were not flooding the middle of the field and letting Flacco throw to one guy while the other 2 or 3 guys became blockers is absolutely beyond me. I cannot figure it out. And it isn't like the Texans were working overtime to disguise their blitzes. It was obvious and there is no way that Flacco didn't notice that. So why didn't he audible out of the plays that were being called and into something that would bring about a bigger chance at success? Because...
- I don't care what anybody says, Joe Flacco is not in charge of that offense
Cam Cameron and John Harbaugh both came out this year and said that Joe was going to have the handcuffs taken off, that he was going to be given the keys and he was going to drive that offense. After 5 games I say
I could see that Joe Flacco could see what was coming. You could see it in his eyes, in his actions, in his pocket presence. He would take the snap and start almost running backwards. At the first sign of pressure he was looking for an escape route from the pocket (except for that strip sack and that horrible choice to flick the ball in the direction of Dennis Pitta while he was being sacked). He wound up missing a wide open Pitta in the end zone for a touchdown because he had to run for his life (but in reality him not seeing Pitta was probably for the best. In order to make that play he would have been forced to throw across the field, across his body, AND against his momentum. He would have had to put a LOT of air under that ball to have any hope of getting it to Pitta, and that is like a signed request to have a CB intercept the pass and have a whole lot of open field in between him and the end zone). This game was proof positive to me that Flacco is still not allowed to audible whenever he wants. Either that or Joe Flacco is the most clueless quarterback since a drunken Joe Namath tried to put the moves to Suzy Kolber.
- Joe Flacco is not Brett Favre, but sometimes I think he is trying his best to be just like him
The aforementioned ball flick and the not yet mentioned until now completion to Ray Rice when Ray had to jump in the air while contorting to his right in order to catch the ball both scared the heck out of me. Even though one resulted in an incomplete pass instead of a sack and the other netted positive yardage both were extremely bad decisions on Flacco's part (I think he is actually overcompensating a bit for the lack of control on scripted plays so when the play breaks down he tries too hard to show he can handle the job). He is finally starting to learn when to throw the ball away instead of trying to force it and always make a play. Now he needs to learn when to tuck the ball away and take the sack. It wasn't a 4th down, 4 point deficit with 3 minutes on the clock play. Eat the ball and come back on the next play, Joe. We won't think any less of you for it, I promise.
- The thing that scares me the most going forward
Billy Cundiff is a gift from the football gods. I think if he was really trying he probably could have put half of those kickoffs through the uprights. But the Ravens should not have a game where they only get 2 touchdowns out of 7 total scores. Now more than ever the NFL is a league driven by offense, and offense is driven by touchdowns. This isn't 2000 and tallying more 3s than 7s is going to come back to bite you in the end and probably when you can least afford it (like in the playoffs). Whatever this team does it needs to figure out how to get the ball in the end zone. The offense is better than it was but it is not where it needs to be, and this is something that needs to be fixed before Monday night in Jacksonville.