Underdog Ravens Opened a Lot of Eyes Across NFL
There were few people who believed the banged-up Ravens would be victorious against the division rival Cincinnati Bengals. Outside of Baltimore, you'd be a lone wolf (see Rich Eisen below) amongst peers if you predicted a 1-0 start for the purple and black.
But then nobody, not even the lone wolves, predicted the way in which the Ravens simply beat the Bengals into submission with a 20-0 shutout that featured five turnovers, five sacks of quarterback Andy Dalton, a running attack that drained nearly 10 minutes off the clock on a single series, quarterback Joe Flacco coming out healthy and a wonderful introduction to wide receiver Jeremy Maclin with a 48-yard touchdown.
Uh, no. And don't pretend you foresaw that either.
I compiled 41 game predictions heading into the game, and only six pundits projected a Ravens win. Those who did expected a much tighter outcome.
"I wasn't banking on a shutout but did expect this unit to send a message to the NFL about being ready for primetime again," wrote CBSSports.com's Jason La Canfora.
Thanks for being honest, Jason.
But now, even more eyes are starting to open. People are starting to really buy into the hype about this defense having the potential to be historically good. The only times in franchise history that Baltimore opened the season with a road shutout was in 2000 (16-0 over the Pittsburgh Steelers) and in 2006 (27-0 over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers).
It's not a bad thing to accomplish something two of the greatest defenses in Ravens history have done.
"The 2000 defense set an NFL record for fewest points in a 16-game season, and the 2006 defense is the only one in franchise history to finish ranked No. 1," wrote ESPN.
"The last time Baltimore won in Cincinnati was in 2011, when the Ravens had Ray Lewis and Ed Reed roaming the defense. The way the Ravens were taking the ball away Sunday, it was reminiscent of how Lewis and Reed changed games."
"Now that was an old-school Ravens win at Cincinnati. Smothering defense, pounding running game, and don't try anything tricky with the passing game. Woody Hayes would have been proud," wrote Don Banks in his long-running Snap Judgements column. "It was so retro for the Ravens I almost thought I saw Trent Dilfer and Tony Banks under center at times in the 20-0 win, not Joe Flacco.
"That's why I think the Ravens defense leads the way back to the playoffs in Baltimore."
Of course, not everyone will completely buy into the Ravens after one game. And that's fair.
We'll have to see whether Baltimore is really that good, or if Cincinnati is that bad. Sporting News' David Steele, who was one of the few to predict a Ravens win, thinks the Bengals might be one of the worst teams in the NFL this season.
"The Bengals look bad. Rock-bottom bad. No. 1 pick, Suck-for-Sam, Lose-for-Lamar bad," Steele wrote. "It's possible that the Bengals just got off to an ugly start, or had a lot of kinks to work out, or had bad luck, or caught a Ravens team on a good roll. Possible, but unlikely."
How About That Run Game and the Commitment to It? It's the Equation to Winning While Flacco Knocks Off Rust
The Ravens have been talking all offseason about showing a greater commitment to the run game after a franchise-low 367 rushing attempt last season. So more balance was expected, but 12-straight run calls by Offensive Coordinator Marty Mornhinweg was definitely surprising.
"Sure, he was milking a 17-point lead in the second half on the road with a QB who missed the entire preseason because of a back injury, but still, he actually did it," wrote La Canfora.
"Baltimore's offense has been pass-happy and utterly unbalanced the past few years, but the impact of assistant coach Greg Roman, a run-game devotee, could be seen Sunday."
In all, the Ravens ran the ball 42 times, split pretty evenly between Terrance West (19 carries for 80 yards and a touchdown) and Buck Allen (21 carries for 71 yards). Flacco only threw the ball 17 times, and he didn't have a single completion in the second half.
"With that defense and Joe Flacco still working his way back, this has to be the equation in Baltimore," wrote La Canfora.
Terrell Suggs Named Defensive Player of the Week by Peter King
The MMQB.com's Peter King named four defensive players of the week, and outside linebacker Terrell Suggs was among the group.
Suggs absolutely terrorized Bengals left tackle Cedric Ogbuehi and thus Dalton throughout the day, notching two sacks (and nearly a third), a forced fumble and a tipped pass that led to an interception, another quarterback hit and a tackle for loss.
"The ageless one—he turns 35 a month from today—came up huge in a déjà vu opener for Baltimore, a defensively dominant 20-0 skunking of the Bengals," wrote King.
"With the Bengals trailing 17-0 but driving to the Baltimore 6 on the first series of the third quarter, Suggs marauded through the Cincinnati line, sacked Andy Dalton and forced a fumble, which was recovered by Ravens defensive tackle Michael Pierce. Baltimore then drove the other way for nine-plus minutes to a field goal, and that was the game. Suggs finished with two sacks, a pass deflected and the forced fumble. He's been around a while. I think he played with Unitas."
Offensive Line Deserves Props, But Needs to Cut Down on Penalties
I have to say, one of the biggest surprises of the day for me was the performance of the offensive line.
They really hadn't played together for most of the preseason and training camp due to injuries and the late signing of right tackle Austin Howard. And yet they methodically moved the ball down the field in the running game.
"The Ravens ate up most of the third quarter with a scoring drive built on 15 grinding runs. That alone earns the new offensive line a passing grade," wrote Walker.
"They probably won't be thrilled if they finish the season averaging 3.7 yards a carry as they did on Sunday. But you have to look at that number in context. The Bengals knew they were going to run up the middle almost every play in the second half. Yet the Ravens moved the ball consistently enough to salt the game away."
It's not surprising that the unit was flagged for penalties given the little time it had together, but it will definitely want to clean it up going forward.
"I can't imagine the coaching staff will be satisfied with the string of holding penalties that wiped out several nice gains and in one case, pushed the Ravens out of scoring position," wrote Walker. "Ryan Jensen, starting at center for the first time, drew three of those 10-yard beauties. If he doesn't clean up his game, he could be vulnerable to a challenge from recent acquisition Luke Bowanko."
The Run on Injuries Continues in Week 1 with Za'Darius Smith and Danny Woodhead
With the way the Ravens have been beat up by injuries before the season-opener, it should probably come as no surprise that the trend continued in Week 1. And, of course, the injuries happened to two standouts from early in the game.
After catching three catches for 33 yards and one rushing attempt for 4 yards ON THE FIRST DRIVE, running back Danny Woodhead didn't finish the series because of a hamstring injury.
"We'll see," Woodhead told The Baltimore Sun's Jeff Zrebiec before leaving the locker room with his left leg wrapped in ice. "It's one of those things ... we'll wait until we get back."
Meanwhile, after already logging a sack and a quarterback hurry, outside linebacker Za'Darius Smith left the game with a left knee sprain and never returned.
"The two potentially significant injuries were downers in an otherwise uplifting 20-0 regular-season opening victory over the Cincinnati Bengals," wrote Zrebiec.
"Woodhead's pass-catching ability out of the backfield wasn't needed in this game, but it will be at some point and this could be a significant loss if he is out for an extended period," added The Press Box's Bo Smolka.
Jimmy Smith Bests A.J. Green; Pro Football Focus Grades
Even when the Ravens were up 20-0 in the fourth quarter, I'll admit I was nervous about fourth-quarter A.J. Green, but Baltimore's defense was largely able to limit him on the day. He finished with five catches for 74 yards.
Ravens cornerback Jimmy Smith had a particularly good day while defending against the receiver who has earned the nickname "Ravens killer" for his fourth-quarter theatrics.
Below are Pro Football Focus' five Ravens players with the highest grades from the game:
DT Brandon Williams, 90.4 overall grade
OLB Terrell Suggs, 85.0 overall grade
LB C.J. Mosley, 84.4 overall grade
DI Michael Pierce, 84.3 overall grade
RB Terrance West, 82.4 overall grade