Monday, September 17, 2007

That's So Ravens

For 30 minutes yesterday, the second Kyle Boller era sparkled brighter than the sunshine glinting off the waters of Baltimore's Inner Harbor. The halftime score (17-3) and Boller's line (17-24, 125 yards, 2 touchdowns, 0 sacks, 0 penalties, 0 interceptions) read as if Brian Billick had written them himself. The Ravens' defense had its foot on the throat of the Jets' offense with two sacks of New York's rookie quarterback and numerous plays in the offensive backfield.

But instead of crushing the visitors' windpipe in the third, Baltimore toyed with its prey, and the emotions of its fans. The conservative passing game sputtered, and the defense went from poundcake to pattycake. Still, a field goal at the start of the fourth built the lead to 20-3, normally more than enough cushion for football fans to rest comfortably. This is the perfect scenario for lining up your power back behind your fullback and your two tight ends and crushing the spirit of your opposition as the clock ticks away. Back in the 1980s, the Redskins called this the Riggo drill although John Riggins said he never liked it much. Probably because he spent a lot of Mondays in traction.

Except that the Ravens let Jamal Lewis go to the Browns in the offseason, and his replacement, Willis McGahee, waits for holes to open rather than lowering his shoulder and knocking the defense back for a few extra yards. Not that I'd rather have Lewis. McGahee rushed for 97 yards and showed his versatility catching a swing pass for Baltimore's second touchdown. But the injury to Jonathan Ogden and the resulting youth of the offensive line showed that this group is not quite ready to close out a game. So instead, the Jets scored 10 points on their first two possessions of the final period and had Ravens' fans holding their breath until Ray Lewis intercepted a Kellen Clemens pass in the end zone with about a minute to play.

I attended a game much like this one last season where the Ravens scored quickly and built a lead against the Bengals. The game should have been over midway through the third but some misplays and clock mismanagement and a sudden resurrection of Cincinnati's offense left fans grumbling as they filed out.

So, the more things change, the more they stay the same. Take the win, enjoy the solid, controlled performance by Boller, the timely defense, and hope that McGahee and the offensive line are more in sync as the season goes on. Forget about the Ravens being in the same class as the Patriots and the Colts for now, though. Fortunately, the schedule breaks nicely for a team that is still getting its act together. With any luck, the Ravens roll into the bye week with only two losses and get rested for a visit to Pittsburgh, a home rematch with Cincy and the San Diego, New England, and Indy troika of terror.

Me, I'm hoping we'll have a bona fide quarterback controversy by then.

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