Thursday, August 28, 2008

Those Other Baltimore Birds Are Almost Back

The O's avoided a sweep yesterday, beating the White Sox 11-3. The offense showed up and Radhames Liz pitched relatively well, which was nice to see. The Birds have an off-day today, but that just provides for an opportunity to see the Ravens' last pre-season game. I am officially picking the Ravens to win the AFC North this year, though it may be with only a 9-7 record. With Kyle Boller injured, Troy Smith [Edit: I later found out that Smith is out with a whole array of illnesses. Hope he gets better soon.] and/or Joe Flacco need to play reasonably well against the Falcons tonight to give me a little more confidence in that prediction (even though I know the pre-season doesn't mean much).

Flacco is the starter, and he picks up a first down with a couple short passes after a run by Ray Rice doesn't get much. Then he throws a pass right into the defensive line, which shouldn't happen very often with a QB who's 6'5". On third and long, Flacco goes to the shotgun and completes a nice throw to the outside to Mark Clayton, who avoids a tackle and falls for a first. He looked much smoother on that play than on the previous few. That's where the Baltimore drive stops; the O-line gave Flacco all kinds of time, but Joe couldn't hit his receiver. I see a bit of the Boller jitters in Flacco, but he seems to have more talent (hopefully).

The Ravens' defense is true to form, shutting down the Falcons. They pressure Matt Ryan and stuffed the run, other than one draw play that went for 10 or so. That D is what's going to win the team games this year.

Flacco comes out with a no-huddle offense, which is interesting to see. It doesn't help much, as the go three-and-out. The crowd wanted them to go for it on 4th and inches (as they usually do) but Harbaugh declined from their own 37. Teams don't go for it enough in those types of situations often enough (when in opponents territory). I remember reading a study done that showed that teams leave something like 5 points a game on the field by not taking risks. And that's on average, which accounts for those risks that don't work out.

Nothing doing for the Falcons. It is a rookie QB and all, but I'm still happy to see the defense playing well.

Ray Rice is kind of a little guy, but he should be a nice complementary back to Willis McGahee. Flacco's lack of accuracy is on display before a Ravens' punt.

More smothering defense.

Flacco ends the first quarter with two very nice passes to Mark Clayton and Demetrius Williams. The were both right on the money and had some zip to them. Rice starts the second with a quick run that started inside and went outside for 23. The Ravens had a chance to fro a TD, but Flacco's lob to the corner of the end-zone was just out of the reach of a diving Williams and they had to settle for a Stover field-goal. Matt Stover may be one of the most important players in the history of the Ravens.

Atlanta goes to another QB, but the results are largely the same.

Flacco's night is over, as Casey Bramlet (who?) comes in as quarterback. His first pass hits Dan Wilcox in the numbers for a 21 yard gain. The next pass for Wilcox was actually picked off. Oh well.

The Falcons get backed up to their own goal-line and can't get anything going. Another punt.

Bramlet gets pressured out of the pocket and takes off. Instead of sliding, he tries to fall for a first-down, but comes up a few inches short. This time, in Atlanta territory, they go for it on fourth-down. QB keeper and they get the first. The drive stalls, but the Ravens get the ball right back as the Falcons go three-and-out again.

8 plays later another Stover field-goal makes it 6-0.

With about a minute left in the half, the Falcons drive all the way down the field (with the aid of a couple Ravens' penalties) and score to take a 7-6 lead.

The first half didn't go too poorly, but considering they were playing one of the worst teams in the NFL I'm not very happy. I did see a little more on offense than I did last year, so there is some hope that they can put up a few points and take some pressure off the defense. The second half is so boring that I'm falling asleep, so I'll end here. Why is it that I'm always surprised when the football season starts? Maybe it's because the baseball season is in the run to the playoffs, but every year someone tells me that the Ravens play their first game the following week and it always catches me off-guard.

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