Eisenberg: Ravens' Week 1 Statement is Real; the Status Quo Has Changed


Here's a philosophical question: Can a team make a definitive statement while playing at home against an opponent that looks like its headed for a rough season?

The answer, I believe, is yes, because the Ravens certainly made a statement with their dismantling of the Buffalo Bills Sunday at M&T Bank Stadium.

Even though the Bills were awful, the Ravens demonstrated to the rest of the NFL that things aren't the same in Baltimore this year.

Yes, it was just one game, as Terrell Suggs repeatedly said, and the new season is certain to include ups and downs, as all seasons do. But the game offered evidence that, at the very least, the Ravens' recent status quo – an albatross of sorts for the organization by the end of last season – has been whacked into submission and replaced by a new one.

After watching 47-3, you'd have to be quite the naysayer to suggest this year's Ravens are constructed from the same stuff that has become too familiar for a franchise that began this season with a 40-40 record since Super Bowl 47.

What's different? Joe Flacco is healthier and more confident in his receiving targets. That matters. He has a quarterbacks coach zeroing in on his fundamentals. That also matters.

Bottom line, he looks more like the Flacco who won a Super Bowl than the one who posted such disappointing numbers in recent seasons that the organization drafted another quarterback with a first-round pick.

That really matters.

Oh, and speaking of that other quarterback, Lamar Jackson lined up at three different positions in the first quarter of his first NFL game Sunday. It's still too soon to know how the Ravens will consistently use him, but their days of being predictable on offense are over -- another dagger to the heart of that recent status quo.

After last season ended with their own fans grumbling that they'd become "boring," the Ravens suddenly are rolling out one of pro football's more intriguing offenses.

Their recent status quo would seem to be more intact on the other side of the ball, which isn't a bad thing considering Baltimore ranked No. 12 in the league in defense and No. 1 in turnovers in 2017. Every starter from that unit is still on the team.

But the defensive status quo wasn't quite as stellar as it appeared. The rushing defense set a franchise record for most yards allowed per carry in 2017. A devastating habit of giving up late leads cost the team a playoff berth. Most fans weren't sorry to see Dean Pees retire as defensive coordinator after the season (then abruptly un-retire to become DC in Tennessee).

The new DC, Don "Wink" Martindale, has altered the status quo in ways that are subtle but hardly insignificant. Very quietly, the unit's entire operating system has been tweaked. A variety of new schemes were on display Sunday. Players have mentioned feeling liberated by the different decision-making. There's more quality depth. Martindale certainly brings an aggressive mentality.

With Buffalo's young starting quarterback, Nathan Peterman, obviously overmatched Sunday, the defense still awaits its first bona fide test of 2018. The Cincinnati Bengals' offense will provide one Thursday night with its batch of playmakers. The Bengals' defense, so stout inside, also will test Flacco and the offense.

Having already sent one message Sunday, the Ravens would certainly send another by winning Thursday night. The Bengals opened the season with a road win, always a promising sign for a team. Thursday night's game is their home opener. It's a challenging situation for the visitors, in other words. If the Ravens win, it would send a loud-and-clear message that things really are different in Baltimore this year.

But regardless of what happens, even if the Ravens don't win, that doesn't invalidate the statement they made against Buffalo. The change in their status quo isn't necessarily quantifiable in wins and losses, especially this early in a season. It's more about what your eyeballs tell you, and what mine told me Sunday was, even taking the weak opponent into account, the Ravens have more going for them this season. A lot more, actually.

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