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Ravens-Bengals: Final Second Loss Poses Big Questions

Todd McGregor@@mcgregor_toddCorrespondent IOctober 13, 2009

SAN DIEGO - SEPTEMBER 20:  Baltimore Ravens head coach John Harbaugh looks on from the sideline against the San Diego Chargers at Qualcomm Stadium on September 20, 2009 in San Diego, California. The Ravens defeated the Chargers 31-26.  (Photo by Jeff Gross/Getty Images)

What was predicted to be a one-sided ball game by many, ended up being another disappointing outing for Baltimore, and a head-scratcher for so many of their fans.

I was travelling the day of the big game, and ended up having to resort to a local bar in Orlando, Florida, where I proceeded to view the game without any audio.  Nevertheless, I still got a great impression of what happened on the field, and where the Ravens stand after this massively deflating loss.

Everyone knows that great teams know how to bounce back after a loss, and much confidence was placed in Baltimore to do the same after their loss to New England.  They were a touchdown favorite to the visiting Cincinnati Bengals, who were coming off three straight comeback wins in the waining seconds of those games.  Cincinnati easily could've brought an 0-4 record to M&T Bank Stadium, if it weren't for Carson Palmer engineering comeback drives in all three of those games. 

The margin of victory for the Bengals in their previous three wins only totalled 13 points, with the biggest win coming against the Packers, a seven point victory.  So this is why most people believed Cincinnati wasn't up for the challenge, including me.  Well, this wasn't the case at all.

First, and foremost, what I saw out of the Baltimore Ravens was completely uninspired play on both offense and defense.  Joe Flacco spent most of his time on the field, walking with his head down in-between plays.  His posture didn't exude confidence for the first time in as many games as I can remember.  His drowsy play rubbed off onto his teammates, and it showed.  He looked completely rattled for most of the game, and failed to locate his usual targets, even though the offensive line provided him with plenty of time to throw.  Flacco ended the day 22-of-31, for 186 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions.  Most of that yardage came on short screens to Ray Rice, who was the only bright spot on a Ravens squad that looked dull and lifeless. 

I'd have to look at the game footage again, but the coverage Cincinnati provided to Mason and Clayton didn't warrant constant screens and check-down passes to Ray Rice and Todd Heap.  So, is Baltimore's offense as good as people say it is?

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Baltimore's defense suffered a moral loss on top of their poor performance Sunday.  They allowed Cedric Benson to cross the century mark, rushing for 120 yards on 27 carries.  Benson was the first running back to do this since Larry Johnson of the Chiefs, 40 games ago.  This was a streak the Ravens were proud of, and prided themselves on, and all they could do was allow Benson to smash his way up the middle to rack up that yardage.  Most of this was a product of sloppy play on defense, and missed tackles all over the field.

Carson Palmer had a solid day, nothing spectacular however.  The Bengals tried to keep their offensive attack balanced, which was the game plan to face Baltimore's solid defense.  On plays Palmer made, he made to receivers that had no problem running routes and finding open holes in the Ravens secondary.  The secondary was the biggest suspect on the Ravens defense during this game, and really has played poorly all year.  So, is Baltimore's defense as good as people say it is?

The short answers to both questions I pose above are "Yes", and "No", respectively.

Baltimore does have a vastly improved offense, thanks in part to the play of second-year man Joe Flacco.  Every team and player is entitled to a poor game or two, just as long as it doesn't become a chronic problem.  Cincinnati had a little extra to play for, especially their defense, as defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer witnessed the sudden passing of his wife on Thursday. 

So needless to say, the defense was fired-up all game.  They understood sole possession of first place in the AFC North was on the line, just a little more than the Ravens seem to understand.  So just because Flacco couldn't get into a rhythm, doesn't mean he, or the offense has hit a wall.  It doesn't dwarf the good things Baltimore has done on offense this year.  Their offense is off to its best start in franchise history.  They happened to face a slightly more motivated Bengals team.

Baltimore's defense this year has some troubling problems, however.  The Ravens can't deny that problems in their secondary need to be addressed if they want to enter the post-season.  The play of both Domonique Foxworth and Fabian Washington has been terrible. 

Dawan Landry seems to be absent from every gameI don't think I've heard his name called this season.  So far, this shift in defensive strategy has failed, and all the money invested in Domonique Foxworth has been a waste.  Every team that faces the Ravens know they can exploit their secondary.  This is due to undersized corners that play overly physical, and tend to draw flags at crucial moments during a game.  The Ravens need to trade Todd Heap and a draft pick or two, for a proven corner.  Unfortunately, the poor play of Baltimore's corners and the rest of their secondary drags down the entire defense.

What the Ravens need to do, in a nutshell, to win games:

Joe Flacco and the rest of the Ravens offense are going to be under tremendous pressure unless John Harbaugh and Greg Mattison make major adjustments on defense.  Wow, this sounds strange...Baltimore's offense putting pressure on their defense to perform!  A change needs to be made at the corner position.  As I said above, this needs to happen in the form of a trade. 

The Ravens were looking to trade Todd Heap to another team, for a receiver, before the beginning of the season.  Now they need to look for a corner before the trade deadline is upon them.  This scenario unfortunately won't play out this season.

Since the Ravens aren't likely to make any big changes at corner, the offense has to remain explosive, as it was during the first three weeks of the season.  Cam Cameron has done a great job of play-calling this season.  This team needs to tune the media out, and go back to what worked for them early on.  People wanted to see a more run-heavy offense, but this isn't going to work against the good defensive teams that are yet to come. 

If Joe Flacco has to throw the ball 40 to 50 times a game to win, then that's the game plan the Ravens must stick to.  It's worked in the three wins Baltimore has had, because all those opponents didn't expect that kind of attack from the air.  It also turns out that Baltimore has enough talent at the receiver position to pull it off, which was a major question mark before the season started.  So unless we stick to the passing game, our defense is likely to be on the field more, which isn't a good thing this year.  Ray Rice needs to be a crucial part of that aerial attack.  He's proven to be the back we thought he would, and he's created major problems for every opponent thus far.

So all Ravens fans need to remain optimistic, even after these past two losses.  There's plenty of football yet to be played.  But how much do the Ravens miss Rex Ryan right now?

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