11:01 PM EDT, September 26, 2010
Instead of calling the Ravens playoff contenders, for now we'll just call them a "work in progress."
The Ravens barely beat the Cleveland Browns. Almost everyone predicted a blowout, but the Ravens survived. At this point in the season, that's OK.
If this team were a serious contender and it were late in the season, then there would be serious doubts. For now, there are just some concerns. You wonder whether they'll ever get a consistent pass rush from their front four. You have questions about running back Ray Rice's health and quarterback Joe Flacco's mechanics. And in Sunday's game, where was the run defense?
Ravens middle linebacker Ray Lewis tried to blame it on "lane integrity," but the bottom line was that the Ravens got their butts kicked up front.
The Browns simply gutted the Ravens in the middle, running right at Lewis and tackles Haloti Ngata and Kelly Gregg. That doesn't happen often, and hopefully this was an aberration. The Ravens, though, did make some adjustments by using more run blitzes in the second half. They also got a strong game from tackle Brandon McKinney.
If the Browns had had a few more playmakers, this would have been a Ravens loss.
"We kind of hit them in the mouth because they are the type of team that thrives on stopping the run and getting you in third-and-longs," Browns left tackle Joe Thomas said. "We kind of had them on their heels. They were searching for answers."
That's because the season is still young, and the Ravens are a work in progress.
Apparently, some of the Ravens players didn't get the memo from coach John Harbaugh about stupid penalties.
Receiver Derrick Mason got a delay-of-game penalty for chucking the ball in the air, and safety Tom Zbikowski and left offensive tackle Michael Oher drew unsportsmanlike-conduct penalties.
Even after the game, Oher walked toward the Browns' sideline as if he still wanted to settle a dispute with Cleveland defensive end Robaire Smith.
"You know, sometimes in the heat of battle, tempers flare, but you have to understand what gets called and what doesn't," said Harbaugh, who drew a $15,000 fine from the NFL last week after making contact with an official.
This team needs a shot of discipline.
Suggs' sharp move
One player who does get it is Ravens defensive end-linebacker Terrell Suggs. On a third-and-28 from the Browns' 2-yard line, Suggs was close to sacking quarterback Seneca Wallace in the end zone but let Wallace loose even though he was draped around the bottom half of Wallace's body.
"I had him but decided not to put myself or my team in a bogus or stupid situation, not with the way they are calling things around here" Suggs said. Are you listening, Mr. Oher?
It's not only Terrence Cody's knee injury that is keeping him on the bench, but also the play of McKinney. After starting defensive end Cory Redding went down with a concussion at halftime, McKinney stepped in and played extremely well.
He helped slow Cleveland's running attack and finished with two tackles. Harbaugh doesn't want to put McKinney on the bench in favor of Cody just because Cody is a second-round draft pick. McKinney was impressive in training camp. "I'm always ready to play, and I thought I played well today," McKinney said. "It felt pretty good to get out there, and hopefully this will lead to more playing time."
Worst and best
The worst call of the day came with 4:26 left in the third quarter with the ball on the Ravens' 29. With his team ahead 14-10, Rice ran for 4 yards and then 5. On third-and-1, Flacco threw a slant-in to Mason, which fell incomplete.
Why? I don't care if there were eight in the box, pound it for a yard and a first down.
The biggest play of the game was the 14-yard completion from Flacco to tight end Todd Heap on third-and-13 from the Cleveland 46 with 11:22 left. Three plays later, the Ravens scored what proved to be the go-ahead touchdown.
The worst no-call of the day was Boldin's getting interfered with by defensive back T.J. Ward in the end zone with 5:38 remaining. This one was a no-brainer. How big a spotlight?
Boldin had a great day, but without guys like Mason, Heap and T.J. Houshmandzadeh running clearing routes, Boldin wouldn't have been such an easy target. Harbaugh, though, went overboard in trying to give the other receivers credit.
Harbaugh might be sweating this more than the receivers. After the game in the locker room, Houshmandzadeh and Mason were laughing and goofing around.
Too early to judge Flacco
Flacco redeemed himself for at least another week, but he shouldn't be judged week to week. If he stays healthy, the final judgment will come deep in the postseason when the Ravens start facing quality teams.
We already know Flacco is good enough to beat most teams in the NFL, but he has to prove he can be successful in the postseason, when good quarterbacks become great and take over games.
Ryan family tradition?
The Ryan family will never change its blitz-happy defensive philosophy.
Opposing teams have had success against Flacco playing two deep and dropping seven into coverage, forcing him to go through his progressions. The Browns, whose defensive coordinator is Rob Ryan, twin brother of Rex, tried to blitz Flacco and got caught several times for big plays.
It's the same scheme their dad, Buddy, used to win a Super Bowl in Chicago. Buddy, though, had players in Chicago. Rob isn't so fortunate in no-man's land.
isten to Mike Preston on "The Bruce Cunningham Show" from noon to 2 p.m. Fridays on 105.7 FM.
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