We've learned a lot about the Ravens in the first quarter of the 2014 season.
For instance, we've learned that one of their best qualities is their focus. As much as the coaches and players insist they aren't impacted by the off-field controversy their franchise faces, they're 3-0 since it went viral. Give credit to the coaches and especially the team's veteran leaders. It was hardly a certainty that the locker room would keep its eyes on the prize.
We've learned in the first quarter of the season that Joe Flacco is a pretty good quarterback when you give him a decent offensive line and a productive running game. Remember those?
Flacco had neither going for him last year and threw a career-high 22 interceptions as the Ravens fell short of the playoffs. After he took a lot of heat, which he would admit was warranted, the Ravens spent the offseason endeavoring to surround him with better pieces and give him more of a chance to succeed. I'd say they did.
Flacco has plenty going for him regardless of his supporting cast, starting with his strong arm and his composure, but it's not a coincidence that he is on pace to throw 28 touchdowns, just eight interceptions and surpass 4,000 passing yards for the first time now that Gary Kubiak is in charge, Steve Smith Sr. is his top target and an effective line is protecting him and opening holes for a top-10 running game.
Yes, the season is young and I'm sure Flacco will still experience some downs to go with these early ups; he's already had some, such as his lamentable brain freeze at the end of the first half of the season opener. But let's be clear: now that the rest of the offense is up to speed, one of the best things the Ravens have going for them is an experienced, Super Bowl-winning quarterback to run things.
Speaking of the line, we've learned in four games that Rick Wagner is a fine replacement for Michael Oher at right tackle. There was skepticism about that change during the offseason because Wagner was a year removed from falling to the fifth round of the 2013 draft. But can you remember a major offseason issue being quelled more quickly? Wagner took the starting job in spring practices and never looked back. The only lingering question was how he would hold up in games, and he has played well.
We've learned the Ravens can't count on cornerback Lardarius Webb to fill a major role in 2014. Several times since he went down with a back injury early in training camp, both he and the coaches have talked about him being near his point of return. But he has been deactivated for all but one game, and in that one game, looked far from ready to contribute.
Even if he is eventually ready to start playing again, it's going to take him weeks to get back to his familiar self. Meanwhile, we're already entering the second month of the season. Maybe it will all turn out fine for Webb in the end, but the Ravens can't count on it. If you still aren't sure about the idea of Asa Jackson starting opposite Jimmy Smith, get used to it.
Webb's absence is one reason why we've learned in the first four games that the Ravens secondary is their No. 1 concern. It's coming off a solid performance in Sunday's rout of Carolina, but it is so thin at cornerback that a safety is playing nickel, and its safeties keep giving up big plays. Rookie safety Terrance Brooks seemingly is coming on, which could help. But the Indianapolis Colts and quarterback Andrew Luck will provide a stern test of the unit's coverage and tackling this Sunday.
Sure, there's plenty about the Ravens that we still don't know. The pass rush has generated just four sacks in four games. Can it do better? If so, that would help the secondary. The run defense has blunted just about everyone, limiting opponents to 3.3 yards per carry. Can it keep doing that? The answers to those questions will come.
But we already know the running game is for real, Steve Smith can still play at age 35, and how well the defense coalesces could say a lot about how far the Ravens go in 2014.
Of course, we're just getting started.