During the Ravens-Panthers pregame, the crowd in Baltimore at M&T Bank Stadium might have been the loudest it has been since Super Bowl XXXV. Ravens fans have been anticipating this since the loss to the Indianapolis Colts back in January during the Divisional Playoffs.
The first series on defense was stellar. With the multiple injuries that the Ravens have suffered at the cornerback position, it was no surprise the Panthers came out throwing the ball. But their effort was no success. The Baltimore secondary stayed with Carolina’s receivers and the defensive line kept the pressure on starting QB Matt Moore. On a pivotal third down, safety Tom Zbikowski came through with the big blitz and forced Moore to fumble, but unfortunately the Panthers recovered. When Moore fumbled, I had flashbacks of last preseason when the Ravens pressured Jets rookie quarterback Mark Sanchez and Haloti Ngata ran one back to the house. No defensive touchdown this time, but forcing a 4th-down punt was good enough.
Brand New Ravens
Now the moment of truth has arrived: the new revamped offense came on to the field to show the improvements they have worked on during the offseason. I got really excited when the offense would spread out with 4-5 receivers. QB Joe Flacco was making precision passes and driving the team down the field as if he was a 10-year veteran. About 5 plays later, the Ravens were 15 yards away from the end zone. But the offensive line couldn’t pick up the blitz on a 3rd down and Flacco was sacked, settling for a field goal.
Newcomer Shayne Graham gave me some relief because he actually made his first successful field goal attempt. Now don’t get me wrong, Billy Cundiff came through last season, but I can’t forget the kick he missed that could have sealed the win over the Indianapolis Colts back in November. I’ll give Cundiff credit though. He impressed me with three touch-back kickoffs into the wind. Graham brought my excitement back down with a 49-yard miss right before halftime. But If Graham plays like he did when he was on the Bengals, then there shouldn’t be many problems with the kicking game this year. I just won’t give him credit yet. Give me a game where he makes all of his field goals and then he can earn his respect.
It took almost 13 minutes of game clock, but it was official: the Ravens had a new big threat receiver when Flacco completed a pass to Anquan Boldin. After the 12-yard completion for a first down, the crowd erupted after waiting so long for his debut. It was the only time that Flacco and Boldin connected in the game, although they made several attempts. Flacco targeted Boldin three times, but two of those were errant passes that went incomplete. But that one completion was all I needed to see.
Everyone knows what Ray Rice can do. I like the fact that Head Coach John Harbaugh didn’t use him as much as usual. This allows us to get a glimpse of everyone else and take into consideration who needs to be put in the offensive scheme. Le’Ron McClain reminded us on how big of a factor he can be for the run game by going 20 yards in 4 carries. This gave me confirmation that the three-headed monster of Rice, McClain, and McGahee are still intact.
I was impressed with Terrance Cody, especially on the play where he chased the running back 10 yards downfield to make the tackle. He did his job stuffing the run and made tackles even with opposing linemen grabbing onto him. His performance earned him the nickname “Mount Cody” for good.
Cornerback Cary Williams made a statement on the field to show that he wanted to be a part of the team. If Ladarius Webb or Fabian Washington fail to do their job, I recommend Cary Williams to get their reps. He had an interception, a pass broken up in the end zone, and a couple big hits.
I can’t wait to see tight-end Ed Dickson get some more looks. He only had two catches in the game, but his presence reminded me of a young Antonio Gates when he first came out of Kent State. Also, Carolina’s secondary was having trouble taking Dickson down after his catches. At 6-4 and 250 lbs., Dickson will tear up opposing defenders.
Troy Smith’s 8 yard draw for a touchdown sealed the deal as the Ravens prevailed 17-12 over the Panthers. Baltimore’s defense never gave up a touchdown (Carolina’s only touchdown score was on a fumble recovery that was run back for 6 points).
Overall, I thought it was a good showing. The coaching staff will review this and capitalize on the mistakes they made before their annual beltway battle with the Washington Redskins.