Late for Work 9/10: That Was Pretty Close to Perfect

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That Was Pretty Close to Perfect

Those 42 out of 42 pundits who picked the Ravens to beat the Bills in Friday's LFW were definitely on to something. The Ravens won in a rout so complete it's almost impossible to identify anything that went wrong.

"The season debut couldn't have gone much better," The Baltimore Sun's Childs Walker wrote.

"Only three other teams — Cincinnati, Kansas City, and Washington — won by more than one possession on Sunday, and their combined margin for victory (39) still didn't add up to Baltimore's," WNST's Luke Jones wrote.

NBC Sports' Peter King even wrote, "the Ravens are winning the Super Bowl." Admittedly, it was included in King's "Overreaction Monday" segment, but Ravens fans have every reason to be dreaming big after Week 1.

Three different Baltimore receivers caught touchdowns, while three different running backs ran for touchdowns, as the Ravens trounced Buffalo, 47-3. The defense forced two interceptions and limited Buffalo to just 153 yards of total offense.

But even on a day when everything went right, some aspects of the rout had the media especially excited.

Flacco Starts Fast, Doesn't Stop: The Ravens wanted to show their new-look offense was ready for the regular season, and the unit wasted little time doing so. Quarterback Joe Flacco opened 2018 by guiding a 10-play, 80-yard drive which took six minutes, 18 seconds. He completed five of six passes to three different receivers, which included a remarkable 29-yard completion to wide receiver John Brown to convert on second-and-26, which Flacco believed was the key to the game.

"Without that, I don't know if we would've set the tone in quite the same way," Flacco said.

The drive finished with an 8-yard touchdown run by running back Alex Collins. It was an encouraging start that showed just how much better Flacco looks compared to this time last season when he was battling a back injury.

"The Ravens used that first drive as a springboard," PennLive's Aaron Kasinitz wrote.

Flacco was at it again later in the first quarter, leading a 66-yard drive that resulted in a 7-yard touchdown grab by Brown. On that series, Flacco connected with five different receivers.

It was a standout performance that led King to name Flacco as one of his two Offensive Players of the Week.

"Flacco's performance (25 of 34, 236 yards, three touchdowns, no picks, 121.7 rating) marked the first time in four years he had a day with a rating over 120 and a TD-to-pick ratio of at least plus-3," King wrote.

Beyond the numbers, Flacco was excellent. He was elusive in the pocket, and completed some difficult passes, none of which were prettier than the 12-yard touchdown grab by wide receiver Michael Crabtree.

"Flacco looked outstanding this afternoon," Russell Street Report's Mitchell Wolfman wrote. "He seems so much more poised through his patience, improved ability to navigate the pocket and a lot less backfoot throws. Most thought the running game would drive the offense today but Flacco really had control most of the game."

"Given all the talk in the offseason, all the attention paid to the Ravens' offense, Flacco's performance Monday was a significant step in the right direction," The Athletic's Jeff Zrebiec wrote.

First Team Defense Dominates: A lot of pundits thought Baltimore's defense would excel against the Bills. Buffalo's starting quarterback Nathan Peterman has a reputation for throwing interceptions after throwing five in the first half of his first career start last season. That, combined with the bad weather, made it seem like the Ravens would have a good day on defense.

What transpired was a dominant display that should make a lot of offensive coordinators around the NFL take notice. The first half was particularly encouraging, as Buffalo managed just 33 yards of total offense, and Peterman had a passer rating of 8.2. Even star running back LeSean McCoy was held to three yards.

"The Ravens have allowed fewer yards in a first half only once; it was their Super Bowl XXXV team that did it in 2000," The Baltimore Sun's Jonas Shaffer wrote.

Pro Football Focus thought a key was a consistently "fierce pass rush," which allowed "Baltimore to dictate the flow throughout the game." The Ravens finished with six sacks from five different players, with cornerback Tavon Young leading the way with two sacks. Outside linebacker Za'Darius Smith was also superb, finishing with five total tackles, two of which were for losses.

It was a total team effort as the Ravens smothered the Bills early, and didn't let them into the game. Peterman finished with a 0.0 passer rating, while Buffalo's running backs ran for 56 yards.

Secondary Thrives: A year removed from registering a league-high 22 interceptions, Baltimore hauled in two takeaways Sunday afternoon.

The first interception came from safety Tony Jefferson, who didn't get his first (and only) pick until Week 12 in 2017. The interception rounded out a superb showing for Jefferson, who finished with four tackles, including one for a loss.

"His performance in Week 1 shows that the 2018 season may be a positive change of pace," Baltimore Beatdown's Logan Levy wrote. "Jefferson was excellent in coverage, as he ran stride for stride with Charles Clay down the sidelines on one play."

Cornerback Brandon Carr, who was making his 161st consecutive start, got the second interception, and almost took it for a touchdown.

Some media members wondered how the secondary would cope without suspended cornerback Jimmy Smith, but the performances of Carr, fellow starting outside cornerback Marlon Humphrey, and slot cornerback Tavon Young, who finished with two sacks, makes it seem as though the Ravens will manage until Smith's return in Week 5. Tougher challenges lie ahead: A.J. Green and the Bengals Thursday night, Demaryius Thomas and the Broncos in Week 3 and Antonio Brown and the Steelers in Week 4.

"There were no early-season jitters from a unit that had folded late in its last meaningful appearance, a Week 17 loss last year to the Cincinnati Bengals that doomed the Ravens to their third straight postseason absence," Shaffer wrote.

New Wide Receivers Make Immediate Impact: Though nine different Ravens caught passes against the Bills, Flacco's big day was most aided by the superb performances from Crabtree, Brown and Willie Snead IV — the three free agent veteran wide receivers the Ravens signed this offseason. All three finished in the top four in receiving yards and each hauled in touchdown grabs.

"It is just one game, but this new-look Ravens offense, led by a healthy Joe Flacco and this group of wide receivers with different, varied skill sets, showed a lot of promise," PressBox's Bo Smolka wrote.

King was also impressed, writing "Ravens receivers looked good, particularly on the toe-tap, back-of-end-zone TD by Michael Crabtree."

Zrebiec believes the performances by Crabtree, Brown and Snead are early indicators that the efforts in the offseason by General Manager Ozzie Newsome to revamp the passing game will pay off this season.

"Remember last year when the receiving corps struggled to make contested catches? Crabtree, who had two drops earlier in the game, redeemed himself with a juggling 12-yard touchdown catch in the back of the end zone just before the second quarter ended," Zrebiec wrote.

"Remember last year when the Ravens had problems diagnosing mismatches and exposing them, specifically in the red zone? Of his 13-yard touchdown catch early in the third quarter, Snead said that he knew the ball was coming to him because the Bills were giving the Ravens the exact look that they studied."

Lamar Jackson Flashes Potential

There was a lot of speculation prior to the game about how the Ravens would use quarterback Lamar Jackson, if at all, and it didn't take long for those questions to be answered.

Before playing the final 25 minutes after Flacco got subbed out early in the third quarter, Jackson took the field twice during the first drive, and ended up being involved in five snaps during the first half.

The end product of those first half plays when Jackson was on the field aren't going to wow you. He ran the ball up the middle for no gain, threw an incomplete pass, and was used as a decoy three times on plays that did not result in any major gains.

"At this point in the season, the idea of Jackson is just as potent as the reality of what the Ravens achieved when they used him against the Bills," Walker wrote. "They established their willingness to use him, and that means opponents will have to account for a wider range of possibilities than they would if Jackson were plastered to the sideline."

The most productive play came when Flacco faked a handoff to Jackson, then gave it to Collins, who ran for 14 yards. Unfortunately, left guard Alex Lewis was penalized for holding.

"Just by showing Jackson in motion, faking a jet sweep, or taking a pitch from Flacco, the Ravens have given opposing defensive coordinators plenty to think about in the weeks ahead," Smolka wrote.

Not every pundit was excited about Baltimore's use of Jackson though, including Russell Street Report's John Darcey and Michael Champagne. Darcey wrote, "Too much Lamar Jackson gimmick packages for me. While I like the idea, it was a little overkill," while Champagne noted, "Interesting use of Jackson; I really hope that's not a season-long thing."

Patience. With a playmaker like Jackson, it may take time before he breaks one, but it could happen at any point.

Jackson also did well during his fourth quarter cameo. His 39 rushing yards were second most for the Ravens, which he got to on just seven carries. He finished 1-for-4 passing for 24 yards.

"Jackson looked as he has much of the summer – quick, elusive, and erratic as a passer," Smolka wrote.

Young Defenders Make Most of Opportunity

Because the game was so lopsided, the Ravens were able to rest many of their first stringers.

The extra rest for starters also meant more snaps were given to younger players, and a few of them stood out, particularly on defense.

"Seemingly every year a couple of second or third-year defenders hit their stride for the Ravens, and this year looks to be no different," Levy wrote.

Fourth-round rookie inside linebacker Kenny Young had four tackles, as well as a sack and a quarterback hit. Veteran Patrick Onwuasor got the start next to C.J. Mosley as it's a shared role right now, but Young could see more and more snaps if he continues to shine.

"Young looked impressive both in run defense and coverage," Levy wrote. "He recorded a sack late in the game, and his high football IQ was on full display. Young relied upon his instincts to make plays."

Outside linebacker Tim Williams also made an impact when he ran down Bills rookie first-round quarterback Josh Allen to record his first regular-season sack. Not only did Williams get a sack, but he "was consistently generating pressure from the edge," according to Levy.

Defensive end Chris Wormley also stood out after a sensational play that led to Tavon Young's first sack. Wormley generated a bull rush that created pressure, which led to Young being able to get to the quarterback.

Run Game Starts Slow

The Ravens beat the Bills by 44 points – it's going to be really hard to find any negatives in a performance like that.

One area that pundits feel the Ravens could've done better was in the running game. Considering the weather, and as good as Buffalo's pass defense was a year ago, it was expected to be a big day for Collins and the rest of the running backs.

Though the Ravens finished with 117 yards on the ground, the 1-2 combination of Collins and running back Buck Allen rushed for 30 yards on 11 carries. It's a performance that Jones noted, "will need to improve moving forward."

"Starting running back Alex Collins' play stands as perhaps the biggest weak point of Sunday's game," Kasinitz wrote.

Collins rarely had lanes to run through, and also coughed up a fumble. Though the rain made it a tricky day to hold onto the ball, Kasinitz thinks "it's unlikely coaches will accept the slippery ball as a valid excuse."

Running back Kenneth Dixon did have a nice performance, rushing for 44 yards on 13 carries, but he finished his game by limping off the field with the trainers.

"On a short week, it will be interesting to see how Baltimore's running game bounces back against the Cincinnati Bengals," Levy wrote.

PFF Offense and Defense Rankings for Buffalo Contest

Unsurprisingly, Flacco led the way in PFF's rankings for Sunday's game with a 3.9 rating. Right guard Marshal Yanda had a good return after missing the majority of last season with a broken ankle – PFF rated him at a 1.7. Tight end Mark Andrews rounded out the top three for the offense with a 0.5 rating.

Tight end Nick Boyle was at the bottom of the rankings for the offense with a -2.8. Collins was next with a -2.6 and Crabtree finished with a -2.0.

On defense, Humphrey was ranked as the best performer with a 3.5. Mosley and Tavon Young both finished with a 2.5 to close out the top three.

Outside linebackers Matthew Judon and Terrell Suggs were rated the lowest by PFF – Judon scored a -2.3, while Suggs had a -1.5. Onwuasor rounded out the defense's bottom three with a -1.3.

Quick Hits

·       The AFC North standings are going to look a little different this season after the Pittsburgh Steelers and Cleveland Browns opened with a 21-21 tie. The result means the Ravens will be playing for sole possession of first place when they face the Cincinnati Bengals on Thursday night.

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