Ravens-Bills 2016 Season Opener: 5 Rants

Alternate title: Buffalo buffalo buffalo buffalo buffalo buffalo buffalo buffalo.

Hello, everyone! I’m a lazy charlatan. It’s been two years since I uploaded a new post to this blog—and even that one was born more from necessity (how couldn’t I comment on Ray Rice?) than my sincere passion for blending wry, ham-fisted analysis with the disdain I feel for pretty much all other teams in the NFL. I’m trying to blog more this year! So prepare for more gif-heavy joke posts, overly critical recaps, and—my bread and butter—maniacally hateful screeds against the Steelers and Pats. LET’S DO THIS!

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Rant #1 – Defense Rises From the Ashes Like a Mighty Phoenix

This may shock you given what a festering white-hot mess last year was, but the Ravens actually ended the second half of 2015 as the 2nd-best defense in the NFL. If we could do that last year, when all was lost and mothers wept with their children over the shattered husk of our Super Bowl dreams, what could we do this year? With Suggs back?! With bearded marvel Eric Weddle to QB our secondary?!? Answer: some good stuff!

While we forced no turnovers (a little deflating given we spent all summer stressing them), we forced the Bills into miscues, sacks, no-gains, and incompletions that killed all of their drives except for one. Tyrod Taylor, Flacco’s ex-backup (and an all-around good guy, truly) leads a fast offense that finished Top 10 last year in yards-per-play; but he completed just two throws longer than 10 yards—one of them a miracle on a broken play after a missed sack. We limited the great Shady McCoy to 58 yards on 16 carries (Buffalo was the NFL’s top rushing offense last year!), and Jimmy Smith held Sammy Watkins to 43 yards on 4 catches.

Granted, most offenses won’t go as cold as Buffalo’s (as Rex Ryan offenses are wont to do). But the Bills had their lowest yardage in 10 years, and their lowest in a season opener since 1979. Numbers, like ball, don’t lie!

Gotta also give a special nod to corner Shareece Wright, who may have been the game’s best player. Last year Wright was so … well, terrible, that Baltimore message boards glistened with ragespittle when he made the 2016 roster. But he had 11 tackles against the Bills, one of which was a one-on-one takedown of McCoy—who’s as dangerous as a shark with a machine gun in the open field. It says a lot that Rex Ryan, who coached Ray-Ray, Reed, Ngata, and Suggs, praised our defense afterward.

Rant #2 – On Mike Wallace, Whose First Name Is Actually Burnell (Google This)

wallace

(Lloyd Fox, Baltimore Sun)

Seeing shiny new receiver Mike Wallace make a splash was gratifying, too. It always comes off blind—and, can we be frank? masturbatory—when fans look at underachievers and justify their front office hiring them by saying, “NATURALLY, in a winning environment like [MY TEAM HERE], he’ll get the DISCIPLINE and STRUCTURE he needs to succeed!” Honestly, this can just never be true, given each and every team either has a loud dumb homophobe or a racial slur tosser or an alleged rapist or a spouse abuser or a caught doper or a dog fighter… BUT LET ME BE THAT INSUFFERABLE FAN. Mike Wallace flamed out hard in Miami and Minnesota, but in purple and black he looks beastly. On that go-route for the touchdown, he very much resembled the sadistic frohawked fuck who tormented us for years in Pittsburgh, where he caught more passes (31) for more yards (426) against the Ravens than any Steelers receiver while he was there.

For perspective, last year with the Vikes Wallace had 473 yards in 16 games. That means when he ended the Buffalo game with 91 yards, he’d already achieved 19% of his total 2015 output. More coolness:  In the last two years, Mike’s only caught one pass 40 yards or longer. Sunday, he caught one of those bombs not even a full half into his first game as a Raven. That’s encouraging! Let me be the 408237th person to note it’s not a coincidence he’s a playmaker again now that he has Flacco. Both Flacco and Roethlisberger are bomb masters. No offense to Tannehill (well, some offense to him) or Bridgewater (RIP), but they couldn’t be elite gummy bear salesmen if they tried.

Yes, this is just the start of a long football season; teams will gameplan for him better, if only because Rex Ryan showed everyone what not to do. Namely, don’t tempt a QB who is only worth a good goddamn when he’s throwing at least half the length of the football field to DO THAT THING by calling for Cover Zero—so called because there are ZERO DEFENDERS DEEP!!!!!!—and then matching a safety on Wallace, who for five years was the only receiver in the NFL to run a sub-4.4 time in the 40-yard dash. (For reference, Cover Zero is what the Steelers ran when Tim Tebow beat them in the playoffs four years ago—which again proves Rex Ryan’s brain is the main reason Rex Ryan can’t have nice things.) But still, get pumped! All aboard the Wallace hype trainnn!

Rant #3 – Speaking Of! Rex Basically Flaunted Why the Ravens Didn’t Hire Him

Rex Ryan is the next Jeff Fisher. He’s a guy who led a couple already talented teams to fruitless playoff runs and is determined to live off that brief mirage of success for the rest of his natural life—while Michaels and Collinsworth gush over him like he’s some sort of renegade gem. (Tangent: Three cheers for Collinsworth’s unsolicited reveal on Sunday Night Football that he has “a lot of brain damage!” If you missed it, I’m not exaggerating.) Teams with C-grade quarterbacking and blitz-happy defenses are supposed to go 7 and 9. Rex Ryan is average. Except when he covers an ex-track star with a single safety and no help deep. Then, he is worse than Madden’s AI.

Now, I actually like Rex. (Animus is how I express affection; my future therapist and I will work on this.) In a league full of clenched anuses who’re fatally committed to the status quo (and oddly enough in private are likely the first doofuses to growl about America being “too PC”), Rex is refreshing. He’s entertaining. I imagine that meeting him would be like meeting Bozo the Clown, if Bozo the Clown told you he is addicted to “goddamn snacks” and has very vivid dreams about punching Bill Belichick in the liver so hard he goes into anaphylactic shock. That’s a cool guy! However, he’s not top-tier head coach material.

Rex’s players lacked awareness and self-control on Sunday. They sustained our drives with dumb penalties. His offense was Sanchezian, burning through timeouts on third downs that failed anyway. Even his defense, while impressive (hey, we only scored 13 points), couldn’t stop us when it really mattered. WHERE HAVE I SEEN THIS BEFORE??? The 2016 Bills looked like the 2015 Ravens, and the 2015 Ravens somehow managed to traumatize a city that already has deceased human beings floating in its tourist center. Rex is fun, but the Ravens never would’ve won a Super Bowl with him. We would’ve been up 10-7 on the Patriots in the third quarter of the AFC Championship Game, and right after we made a key fourth-down stop Corey Graham would’ve clotheslined Tom Brady out of sheer boredom.

Rant #4 – Sun Rises In East, Dog Bites Man, Ravens Offense Average At Best

flacco

(Kenneth K. Lam, Baltimore Sun)

One game into 2016, and our most glaring weakness is offense. Trestman must be less predictable, and Flacco & Co. have a lot of potential they have to start actualizing.

The errant snap from center Jeremy Zuttah (and Yanda’s two un-Yanda-like penalties) show the line still has to gel. Forsett and West had 73 rushing yards between them. Flacco flashed his bad habit of throwing shallow off his backfoot to the sideline when he’s under pressure, and it’s sheer luck it didn’t result in a pick-six as it has in the past. And, quickly, we settled into our old, familiar pattern: incompletion on 1st down, run dive up the middle on 2nd, 3rd and 7. It’s a shame anytime you muster one red zone trip in 60 minutes, but it’s a double shame when you’re a) at home, and b) gifted that one trip with a field goal penalty, and then still fail to make the most of it.

Where was Aiken? He who balled out last year, and double-fisted New England all night in the playoff game we should’ve won last January? Why does Joe only throw passes greater than 20 yards or closer than 7? Why are we the only team in the league that doesn’t run slants and rubs? These are burning questions. But then again they’re not-so-burning when you realize you root for the Ravens, so watching a mostly stagnant offense that randomly explodes before hibernating again for the next six quarters is your lot in life.

But good stuff happened too!

Perriman showed nice hands and body control on his contested sideline grab—good to see after a year of hearing he had couldn’t catch in college. Pitta showed his signature knack for getting open in tight spaces. Wallace and Flacco already have great chemistry, and Flacco’s strike for the TD hit Wallace in perfect stride. (It’s a sample size of one, but that’s a far cry from the days of overthrowing Torrey Smith 8 times out of 10.) Forsett didn’t have a ton of yards, but his 4.1 YPC correctly shows his burst and leg drive. Even our unsuccessful fourth-down call was well designed, and it would’ve been open if our guy hadn’t been held.

Best of all: There was killer instinct. We struggled, yes. But we churned out a deathblow drive when we needed to. The wide receiver sweep to Mike Wallace to convert 3rd and long and all but end the game was low-risk, high-reward, and unexpected.

Rant #5 – No Injuries!

This time last year, Suggs was already gone. But on Sunday, Flacco and his knee, Pitta and his hip, and Steve Smith and his Achilles all took hits—and all popped right back up! Excellent. Hopefully this year we won’t have to scour other teams’ practice squads or the lake trout corner stores on Liberty Heights just to dress enough men for a game.

Another small but lovely thing: Tucker nailed a 50-yarder. In 2015, Tucker was 4 of 10 from 50+ yards, and previously he’s said that it’s hard to kick at M&T because the Inner Harbor makes the wind swirl. With any luck that means a) his mojo is back, and b) whatever shamanic demon-curse hung over us last season has finally lifted (and perhaps moved on to more familiar grounds, like Cleveland or Detroit.)

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Next week we visit the Browns. McCown’s 2-1 against Baltimore and has thrown 4 TDs and no picks in those games. Unsettling! I would’ve preferred RG3. Anyway—see you soon, thanks for reading (I’ll be briefer next time, promise), and CAWWWWWWWW.

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