Ravens Back On Track, But Questions Remain

By PFC Ravens Writer Martin Steger

Cam Cameron’s return to Miami came amidst some inadvertent bulletin board material provided by John Harbaugh. After a 27-13 Baltimore victory, he left Miami having somewhat vindicated his offense and head coach, both of which have met criticism from fans in recent weeks. But despite the win and the new momentum, this team still has some things to prove, even on defense.

The defense was missing 4 starters, including 3 from the secondary (though Chris McAlister did see some playing time). The backup defensive backs weren’t incredible—Chad Pennington threw for 295 yards—but they gave up only one touchdown pass. Safety Jim Leonhard in particular played very well, providing the pressure on Terrell Suggs’ interception-touchdown and making a clutch play to break up a pass in the 4th quarter.

It would help tremendously if Samari Rolle and/or McAlister came back to the starting lineup in a timely fashion, because the backup corners did show some cracks despite their overall strong play. Frank Walker committed a costly holding penalty in the first half, which seems to be a recurring problem for him.

The defensive line not only survived, but dominated without nose tackle Kelly Gregg. Miami’s Wildcat offense struggled, largely thanks to penetration from the defensive line. And when the linemen couldn’t penetrate enough to make a play on their own, they clogged things up enough for Ray Lewis or Bart Scott to make a play.

Gregg’s absence for the past few games has been probably the least talked about yet most important injury on defense, but the Ravens played well without him. This was the line’s best showing since losing him for the season. They’ll need to keep it up, lest his absence show up later in the season as a grueling schedule takes its toll.

For the offense, it was an “up” week in an up-and-down season. Willis McGahee dominated with 105 rushing yards and a touchdown, the latter of which made up for a fumble on a screen pass. He often hit the hole running at full steam, which is when he is at his best. Joe Flacco had his best game as a pro, leading the offense to 20 points on 17-of-23 passing with one touchdown and zero turnovers. Though he got lucky on a dropped interception, he once again showed his upside after three straight poor outings.

To continue their growth as an offense, Todd Heap needs to have a breakout game—he showed signs of life on Sunday but has yet to score a touchdown after Flacco missed him in the end zone. Derrick Mason is more than good, but he can’t carry this offense forever.

As for the third phase of the game, the special teams units showed some problems, particularly on kickoff coverage. Ted Ginn Jr. and the Dolphins’ return team took multiple kickoffs to near-midfield. The Ravens’ punt coverage was more solid, but that was at least partially thanks to Sam Koch’s booming punts. Given Harbaugh’s background in special teams and the talent present on this unit, it would be very worrisome if this trend continued. Fixing it would greatly help the rest of the team, so this could be Harbaugh’s most important job in the coming weeks.

The Ravens failed to build on their first two wins of the season. The third time has to be the charm for this to be a .500-or-better campaign.