Score one for the offense

The Baltimore Sun

It's only one game into the NFL season, but Ravens offensive coordinator Cam Cameron has already eased concerns about which direction the offense is heading.

Under the previous coaching regime, there were constant questions about coach Brian Billick's strategy and play-calling, and concerns that he lacked a feel for the game.

But after 3 1/2 hours and a 17-10 win against the Cincinnati Bengals in the season opener Sunday, fans witnessed real offensive football for the first time since Ted Marchibroda was the coach here in the mid-1990s.

The current Ravens aren't nearly as explosive as the Marchibroda teams because they don't have that kind of personnel yet, but the Ravens were always a step ahead of the Bengals on Sunday.

They ran some gadget plays and then ran wrinkles off them. They ran different combinations of pass routes but also had the basic stuff, such as screens and swing passes. But most important, Cameron had a feel for the game.

There is a two- to four-minute window in every game in which a team has a chance to seize control and win. For the Ravens, it came late in the third quarter on rookie Joe Flacco's 38-yard touchdown run that put the Ravens ahead 17-3.

From then, the Ravens imposed their will on Cincinnati by continuing to run the ball. Even after a turnover led to a Bengals touchdown in the fourth quarter, Cameron stayed with the game plan.

On the next 16 plays, the Ravens ran the ball 10 times. They ate up the final 7:15 of the game with a 13-play drive that contained only one passing play.

That's how Bill Parcells won games, and that's how Bill Belichick wins Super Bowls. And that's why the Ravens lost in the past, because they couldn't finish teams off.

We all know that in previous years the Ravens would have passed the ball because they needed more balance or wanted to run up the score. Sometimes, it was more about show than winning games.

But not anymore. All the signs of attention-deficit disorder are gone.

The Ravens went into the Bengals game with a rookie starting at quarterback, a starting rookie running back, a backup halfback who had never played halfback and an offensive line that had three second-year players.

And the Ravens punished Cincinnati. The Ravens rushed for 229 yards and Flacco threw for 129, completing 15 of 29 passes. Of 17 third-down situations, the Ravens had to go 7 or more yards just six times. Flacco was left in an ideal situation.

You can't give Cameron all the credit. The Ravens have an outstanding coaching staff, especially on the offensive side of the ball with assistants Wade Harmon (tight ends), Hue Jackson (quarterbacks) and John Matsko (offensive line).

But the organization of the offense was impressive. Most coaches would shy away from running a no-huddle with a rookie quarterback making his first start, but the Ravens didn't back away.

Flacco took charge, and he began putting players in the right position. Part of the reason the Ravens run the no-huddle is to dictate the pace of the game, and by the end of the third quarter, the Bengals had quit.

The unbalanced line was impressive, especially with halfback Le'Ron McClain running like Bam Morris. But even more impressive was that Cameron had packages off that set. He had runs that started toward the power side but also had cutbacks off them. He ran a pitch to the right out of that set to the backside, something the Ravens had not shown in the preseason.

Before the double reverse that went 42 yards for a touchdown in the first quarter around left end, the Ravens ran four plays behind left tackle Jared Gaither, forcing the end to crash down before going outside him with the reverse.

Cameron set up plays. He ran crossing routes underneath, and Flacco delivered a lot of passes where only the receiver could catch them and defensive backs had no chance to pick them off.

It's only one game, and a lot could go wrong for the Ravens this season. They're young and still missing a couple of pieces on offense. But often during the past nine years, you walked away from games scratching your head and wondering why the Ravens did certain things on offense. Some made absolutely no sense.

But Sunday, you saw a scheme. You saw strategy. The thinking was logical, and the Ravens finished off an opponent. It was a real NFL offense.

Finally.

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