With all the talk about quarterback Joe Flacco and this up-tempo offense, I really hope Pro Bowl fullback Vonta Leach doesn’t get overlooked. If you get a chance to watch a tape of Monday’s game, check out the block Leach makes on Ray Rice’s 7-yard touchdown run. And while you are at it, review pretty much every one of Rice’s runs and watch what Leach does in front of him. Leach is considered by most NFL pundits as the best fullback in the NFL and he was all over the field Monday, even catching three balls for 18 yards. You could almost hear the audible groan in the crowd last year on those Flacco to Leach dump-offs. However, in the preseason and through Week One, the combination has been pretty productive. And it is always entertaining to watch the burly fullback turn the corner and lower his shoulder on a defensive back.
Three positive observations from Monday: 1. The Ravens coverage teams on both kickoffs and punts were quick, aggressive and disciplined. It’s just one game, but it was a positive sign after last year; 2. Wide receiver Jacoby Jones was targeted three times by Flacco and he caught all three for a total of 46 yards. Two of them were tough catches for Jones who has been criticized in the past for his hands; 3. I really like defensive coordinator Dean Pees sending cornerback Lardarius Webb in on the blitz. He’s fast and a really good tackler, and Andy Dalton felt his impact, including on that bogus personal foul call in the fourth quarter.
Three negative observations from Monday: 1. The Bengals ran at Paul Kruger early and often and the outside linebacker finished with just one assist on a tackle. Kruger clearly looked disappointed with his performance after the game; 2. Nose tackle Terrence Cody, who lost his starting job to Ma’ake Kemoeatu in the preseason, did not play particularly well and he also appeared to lose his cool in the second quarter when it looked like he got away with throwing a wild slap or punch in the direction of Bengals center Jeff Faine; 3. After always hearing fans complain about offensive coordinator Cam Cameron’s play calling, it was to interesting to see some of the wrinkles the Ravens threw at the Bengals. However, if I had one complaint, I would say that three reverses or end-arounds in a six-play span during the first quarter was a little excessive.
The question I got most often after the game was about the Ravens’ new-look offensive line, and the reasons for the alignment. First of all, there is no secret why rookie Kelechi Osemele is starting. He had a great training camp and preseason and was clearly one of the team’s top five offensive linemen. The one that surprised me was clearly Ramon Harewood, and that’s no disrespect to him. I knew the Ravens liked him and owner Steve Bisciotti even brought his name up unsolicited several months ago at the owners meetings. However, I was just surprised to see him at left guard after he really hadn’t played there until the final preseason game against the St. Louis Rams. Ravens coach John Harbaugh has been pretty consistent on the topic, saying that Harewood had a strong training camp and deserved to start while making sure to acknowledge that both veterans Bobbie Williams and Bryant McKinnie will remain important contributors. Like many of you, I wonder how much the no-huddle has to do with the decision in that the Ravens wanted and needed younger and more athletic linemen to thrive in that system. McKinnie, of course, has had conditioning issues while Williams doesn’t appear totally over the ankle problems that plagued him last year. For the record, Harbaugh downplayed the no-huddle situation heavily factoring in the decision. Regardless, we’ll learn a lot more about Harewood, Osemele and the rest of the offensive line Sunday because the Philadelphia Eagles’ front is supremely deep and talented.
The Ravens still insist that third-year linebacker Sergio Kindle is very much in their plans and I’m not at all disputing that. However, it wasn’t a good sign for Kindle that he wasn’t able to dress against the Bengals. The Ravens knew that they were going to need to put pressure on Dalton and that the Bengals were going to put the ball up a lot, so it would have figured for Kindle to have some role. Instead, he was inactive for the 17th time in 19 career games.
I’ll close with not necessarily a note on the Ravens, but more a commentary on their fans. Perhaps it was because I covered the Orioles for nearly six seasons for The Sun, but I have to say that highlighting several of the Orioles who were at the game on the stadium’s scoreboard during a timeout was not only a nice gesture, but it created a pretty cool scene. The group, which included Adam Jones, J.J. Hardy, Matt Wieters, Jim Johnson, Mark Reynolds and Darren O’Day, got a thunderous ovation followed by a "Let’s Go O’s" chant. MASN and Orioles broadcaster Mike Bordick brought it up during last night’s baseball game and mentioned how moved the players were by the reception. I’m hardly the expert on the topic, but in covering both teams, I feel pretty comfortable in saying that this “perceived dislike” that some people think the two organizations share is way overblown. In the last couple of months, Bisciotti, other Ravens’ officials and most of the team’s prominent players have been at Camden Yards to take in a game. And I was told 18 to 20 Orioles were at the Ravens’ game Monday.