Offense continues rise against rock-bottom Bengals

December 01, 2008|By MIKE PRESTON

CINCINNATI - Beneath the rubbish known as the Cincinnati Bengals and buried underneath a 31-point victory yesterday at Paul Brown Stadium was the continued improvement of the Ravens' offense.

This is the time of year when you want to see certain things, such as a dominant running game and an improved passing game, and you saw some of that yesterday.

Of course, you have to preface it by saying these were the Bengals, but the Ravens are getting better and are possibly about to peak at the right time.

For the first time this season, Ravens rookie quarterback Joe Flacco came out throwing long passes, and he didn't stop until he had completed 19 of 29 for 280 yards and two touchdowns. We've seen Flacco throw long before but not spread the ball around as much.

Flacco might have taken another step.

"Those long passes weren't check-offs," Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. "Those were called plays."

So, what's the big deal?

"Earlier in the season, Joe did a lot of checking off, maybe because he wasn't comfortable," center Jason Brown said. "He doesn't seem to be checking off as much, maybe because he has more confidence, or maybe because our offense continues to improve."

Where's Willis?

Harbaugh wouldn't commit to a starting running back, but fullback Le'Ron McClain started at halfback for the second straight game and finished with 86 yards on 25 carries.

It's great having a big back pound away on teams in November and December, and the Ravens seem to be getting in a groove with McClain. Harbaugh, though, said he will continue to use Ray Rice and Willis McGahee as well, even though McGahee didn't play yesterday.

"We have a game plan for Willis," Harbaugh said.

The game plan with McClain is working quite well, too.

The Bungles

The Bengals are the worst team I've seen in the 21 years I've been covering the NFL. They are even worse then the 2000 Bengals, who had running back Corey Dillon once refuse to play against the Ravens and middle linebacker Ray Lewis.

The Bengals have had their share of injuries, but there are no excuses for the five dropped passes yesterday, two of those by T.J. Houshmandzadeh and one by Chad Ocho Cinco.

They bumbled two snaps, and three times quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick whiffed on passes that slipped out of his hands while throwing. Fitzpatrick and the receivers were out of sync on passing routs, and five of Fitzpatrick's passes were knocked down.

My favorite moment came with two minutes left in the first half. The Ravens went with three wide receivers to left side of the field, and the Bengals didn't cover Derrick Mason in the slot. Mason caught a 17-yard pass.

How do you not cover Mason? How do you not cover one of the league's top receivers and Flacco's go-to guy? Unbelievable.

Poor Marvin

It's sad to see Bengals coach and former Ravens defensive coordinator Marvin Lewis struggling with this franchise. Paul Brown Stadium was never more than half filled yesterday and was practically empty by the start of the fourth quarter.

There is speculation that Bengals owner Mike Brown will fire Lewis at the end of this season. But Brown likes money more than he likes victories. He is not going to pay Lewis for nothing, so Lewis is basically trapped for the final two years of his contract.

Clear the bench

Note to Harbaugh: Why was Flacco in with 6:18 left in the game and the Ravens ahead 27-3?

Come on, put the rook on the bench before he gets hurt. Plus, backup Troy Smith could use the playing time.

Playing with pain

Pro Bowl safety Ed Reed doesn't talk about it much, but that hamstring injury continues to bother him. You can see him pull up after a long run downfield where he clutches and grabs the back of his leg.

It's probably another injury that won't heal until after the season, when he can get some rest.

Let's get physicals

One of the keys to Mark Clayton's success is he is more physical than in previous seasons and does a better job of pushing off with his hands. It also helps to be covered by Bengals cornerback Leon Hall.

Question of the day

Why do the Ravens always seem to call a timeout the first time Smith steps on the field?

Listen to Mike Preston on Mondays from 4 to 6 p.m. on Fox Sports (1370 AM).

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