Five thoughts on the Ravens' 44-13 win over the Cincinnati Bengals Monday night at M&T Bank Stadium:
Offense Will Be Hard To Defend
The Ravens have had plenty of big offensive games before, more than you think. But I can't remember one that was more systematic than this. By that I mean everything was produced within the system, the framework of what the coaches drew up, as opposed to some of that mixed in with some unexpected big plays. The Ravens just rolled down the field time after time, never having to force anything or try to do more than they should; they just calmly pushed the Bengals around, letting their game plan do the work. There was a reasonably effective blend of running and passing, as well as a wonderful variety of receiving targets. Of quarterback Joe Flacco's 21 completions, nine were to wideouts, seven to tight ends and five to running backs. That kind of unpredictability is going to be hard to defend.
Who Saw That Coming?
OK, who had those five offensive linemen starting the season opener? Anyone? I didn't think so. Ramon Harewood at left guard, that came out of nowhere. Harewood was drafted as a tackle in 2010 and had never played in a game, spending his first two years as a pro on injured reserve. He was probably the longest shot on the roster to replace Ben Grubbs, admitting after Monday night's game that he wondered as recently as cutdown day earlier this month whether he might lose his job. He doesn't need to wonder anymore. He won the starting left guard job over veteran Bobbie Williams and held up fine Monday night, as did rookie Kelechi Osemele at right tackle. Basically, two young guys replaced two old guys, as Williams and Bryant McKinnie watched from the sideline, looking pretty forlorn. I admit, I didn't see it coming, especially McKinnie's benching. But the Ravens have never been afraid to take gambles, and while this is a big one (we'll see how the young guys fare in the coming weeks), they were unqualified successes in their surprising debuts.
A New Day For Ravens
I had to laugh at what Ray Lewis said after the game when asked if this was the Baltimore offense he had waited for. "I've been here a long time. You can finish that sentence," he said. He bit his tongue rather than say, "Where the heck has that been for all these years? We could have two more Super Bowls!" But he was laughing as he spoke. The Ravens had a lot to smile about Monday night, with Lewis leading the way in some respects. The 37 year old lost 30 pounds to make himself more effective and relevant in what has become a pro game of quickness and passing matchups more than straight-ahead power, and if this first game is any measure, he won the gamble he took with his physique. His stat line (14 tackles, 11 unassisted) was familiar and he spent a lot of time in pass coverage, almost always on point. It's a new day for the Ravens, and a new day for their oldest and most famous player.
Fine Line With Rice's Touches
Although their no-huddle approach obviously is working, the Ravens are walking a bit of a fine line with keeping their best playmaker involved. Ray Rice had just 10 rushes and 13 overall touches Monday night. He didn't mind, referring to his load as "smart touches," and he still had a major impact on the game, producing 93 yards from scrimmage and two touchdowns. Hey, the reason he didn't catch as many passes as usual was because Flacco's downfield targets were repeatedly open, unlike in prior years, so the quarterback didn't need to dump the ball off. But one way or another, the Ravens are still going to need to get the ball in Rice's hands more often down the line. They went down that road a year ago and it got them in trouble before they corrected it down the stretch.
Monday's Big Winners
Justin Tucker, the rookie kicker, for a perfect pro debut that included field goals of 46, 40 and 39 yards; Ma'ake Kemoeatu, the veteran defensive tackle, who seemingly has beaten out Terrence Cody for a starting job; Lardarius Webb, whom the Bengals barely challenged; Dennis Pitta, who was a matchup nightmare for Cincinnati's secondary; Dannell Ellerbe, the reserve linebacker, who may have played one of his best games ever with six unassisted tackles; and lastly, obviously, Flacco, whose 128.4 passer rating spoke volumes. Remember when it used to be a story that he couldn't handle the Bengals' cover-two pass defense? Well, now he can.