Eisenberg: Ravens Need to Bottle Recipe for Winning in Oakland and Mimic it Going Forward


We're just five weeks into the 2017 NFL season, but the Ravens have already given performances spanning pretty much the entire range of possibilities.

Their season-opening win over the Bengals in Cincinnati was a dominating eye-opener. They got the job done at home in Week 2 against the Cleveland Browns. A blowout loss to the Jacksonville Jaguars in London was an international nightmare, as bad as it gets. A home loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers was disappointing.

Sunday's win over the Raiders in Oakland? That was one to bottle and re-use as often as possible.

I think it was the performance to try to mimic going forward.

Yes, it was that good, even though some things weren't perfect and the game was still up for grabs in the fourth quarter.

Never mind that or the fact that the Raiders were without their starting quarterback, which obviously helped. There were still aspects to the Ravens' performance that made it worth framing and/or repeating whenever possible. Consider:

No turnovers.

One penalty.

Zero sacks allowed.

Honestly, you could stop right there. You're halfway to winning a game as long as you don't lose it with mistakes.

The Ravens know this. They've had issues with penalties in recent years. Two years ago, they ranked in the top 10 in the league in giveaways. In their losses to Jacksonville and Pittsburgh this year, they combined to lose six turnovers and commit 16 penalties.

Sunday, however, they gave the Raiders virtually nothing. They nearly pitched a perfect game.

They also scored first, a huge difference-maker for them in recent years. Since 2014, the Ravens are 21-9 when they score first and 5-18 when their opponent scores first. Whoa.

Any team is more comfortable playing with a lead, but the Ravens really seem to benefit.

Going into the season, the organization etched out an offensive blueprint it hoped to see on Sundays. It wanted a physical, downhill running game to make enough noise that quarterback Joe Flacco didn't have to carry the offense with his arm. A blend of the two prongs was the goal.

That's exactly what unfolded in Oakland. The running game was steady throughout and dominant late. The passing game was nearly flawless, with Flacco blending completions of all distances and types. He was off target on just seven of 26 attempts, and as noted, was never sacked.

What's wrong with this picture? Why, nothing.

Replicating the overall performance won't be easy, of course. The Ravens tied a single-game franchise record Sunday by committing just one penalty. Efforts like that aren't routine.

But it's worth noting that the Ravens ranked No. 4 in the league in accepted penalty yardage last year and they're No. 23 in penalty yardage this year. Something is happening in that front.

As for the offensive formula, Sunday's game had barely ended and Head Coach John Harbaugh was already borrowing from Monty Python and warning fans to expect something completely different in Sunday's game against the Chicago Bears.

"Every, every, every week is a different week," Harbaugh said.

He reiterated the point during his Monday news conference, telling reporters, "The formula is going to be different every week."

Right now, every team besides the unbeaten Kansas City Chiefs is struggling to establish continuity from week to week. But things will eventually settle down and the season will assume a form across the league, as all seasons do.

The teams exhibiting more consistency from week to week will rise. Those that continue to experience wild swings will sink.

I think we've seen the blueprint the Ravens can use to put themselves among the teams that rise. Start fast. Don't beat yourself. Play tough inside. The injuries that continue to strike the offensive line aren't helping with continuity there, but it sure seems the best-case scenario for the offense is when the run and pass complement each other.

If the Ravens' opponent ends up needing to make plays in the passing game late against Baltimore's solid secondary, the opponent is in trouble.

Those were Sunday's winning ingredients, the secret sauce to capture, bottle and use again.

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