Eisenberg: Change Is Here. Ravens Have a Dangerous Offense


While the Ravens were beating the Denver Broncos Sunday, I checked on games being played elsewhere and noticed the Tennessee Titans and Jacksonville Jaguars were in a defensive-oriented "field goal fest." The score rose in small increments until the Titans prevailed, 9-6.

I couldn't help thinking, "I've seen that game. I've sat through that game many times."

With their longstanding reliance on strong defense and top-notch kicking, the Ravens have played plenty of low-scoring contests. It's part of the football DNA around here, as are, let's face it, intermittent offensive challenges. Sorry to bring it up, but the Ravens have ranked in the bottom third of the NFL in total yards 10 times in 22 years, most recently last season, when they finished No. 27.

But as Tennessee and Jacksonville played a 9-6 game Sunday, the Ravens amassed 27 points and 342 offensive yards while giving the Broncos a solid thumping. Although Justin Tucker put two kicks through the uprights, a "field goal fest" this was not.

It's part of an encouraging Ravens plot line that's developing early in the 2018 season. Quite simply, they have an offense this year. I mean, an offense that can do some damage.

Safety Eric Weddle seemingly was referring more to the defense when he enthusiastically proclaimed Sunday that "this ain't the same, old Ravens!" But it's the other side of the ball where they're really introducing a new normal in 2018.

Through three games, Baltimore is ranked No. 13 in total yards, No. 9 in passing yards and No. 5 in scoring.

Yes, the defense is also off to a strong start, having allowed the fewest yards in the league and no second-half touchdowns. But the offense is making history, becoming the NFL's first ever to convert 12 straight red-zone opportunities into touchdowns to start a season.

While excelling in the red zone is a distinct skill, I think 12-for-12 is mostly reflective of just being better on offense, period. Asked to explain it, quarterback Joe Flacco said, "We've got good playmakers. We put a lot of pressure on the defense with the guys we have out there."

That's true everywhere on the field.

Seeking to up the offense's threat level in 2018, GM Ozzie Newsome signed veteran wide receivers Michael Crabtree, John Brown and Willie Snead IV and drafted tight ends Hayden Hurst and Mark Andrews. Other than the injured Hurst, they're all delivering as Newsome envisioned, with Brown going deep, Snead and Andrews working the middle of the field and Crabtree working the edges.

Combine them with Alex Collins, who emerged as a No. 1 back last season, and Buck Allen, who has scored four touchdowns this season, and yes, the Ravens suddenly are a handful for opposing defenses.

They also have a quarterback who is truly healthy for the first time since 2015 – the most important puzzle piece.

The result is an offense that can change a game. That's what happened Sunday after the Ravens stumbled early with a three-and-out opening drive followed by a stunning blocked punt and a quick Denver touchdown.

As the home fans wondered whether a reprise of the discouraging loss in Cincinnati was about to unfold, the offense came to the rescue with a touchdown drive that tied the score and suggested more of the same was possible.

"The offense answered, and really, that was the tone setter for us as a team, to have them answer for us and really get us back to even," Weddle said. "It was big for our offense to answer."

To be clear, the offense has done plenty of tone-setting and answering over the years. It fueled the Ravens' second Super Bowl run. Even last year, Baltimore scored 40 points against the Miami Dolphins and 38 in Pittsburgh only to lose when the defense faltered.

This year, though, the offense has put up 97 points in three games and it doesn't feel illusory in the least. It feels within the range of normalcy for a unit with so much going for it.

Sure, a throwback "field goal fest" could always break out in this unpredictable league. But I don't think there'll be many, if any. As Bob Dylan once sang, things have changed.

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