After eight months of offseason planning to rectify a 5-11 season, the Ravens kicked things off right with their first Week 1 win since 2012. Here are six thoughts from the 13-7 win over the Buffalo Bills:
1) Ravens Defense Delivers NFL's Most Dominant Week 1 Performance
The old-school, smothering defensive performance by the Ravens was the most dominant of the entire league so far this week with two games still to play tonight.
The ESPN table below shows that the 160 yards allowed (the 13th fewest in franchise history) and seven points allowed blew away the competition.
|DEFENSE||YARDS ALLOWED||POINTS ALLOWED|
"Many of the Ravens acknowledge that this is just the first step. But it was an authoritative first step," wrote ESPN's Jamison Hensley. "[T]he Ravens put together the NFL's most dominating performance in Week 1 by simplifying their defense and confusing the Bills with unexpected wrinkles."
After the game, quarterback Tyrod Taylor admitted that the Bills hadn't seen some of the "exotic"* *looks the Ravens defense gave on third-and-long plays. And Ravens defenders said they were faster because Dean Pees streamlined the strategy. Outside linebacker Terrell Suggs said Pees called "one hell of a game."
The result was the fewest yards allowed by the Ravens since 2011, the fewest points given up in an opener since 2011 and the first time not allowing a first down in the fourth quarter since 2011, per Hensley.
"What's so significant about 2011? It's the last time the Ravens finished in the top five in both yards and points allowed," Hensley wrote. "It was as if the Ravens were looking to validate themselves to [former Ravens defensive coordinator Rex] Ryan and former Ravens great Ed Reed, who is now an assistant coach for the Bills."
By the way, guess which team finished with the week's second-least amount of points behind the Bills? It was the Cleveland Browns, who put up 10 points in a losing effort to the Philadelphia Eagles. The Browns are the Ravens' opponent next week, and starting quarterback Robert Griffin III is already banged up.
2) This Was The Type Of Game Ravens Found A Way To Lose Last Year
Several Ravens players admitted after the game that the team's first win of the season was "not pretty" and even "ugly."
"[I]t wasn't a performance that will propel them up the NFL power rankings in the eyes of observers, but it was the kind of game the Ravens found ways to lose time and time again a year ago," wrote WNST's Luke Jones. "That alone was promising enough to begin the 2016 season."
Nine of the Ravens' 11 losses last year came by just one score. The Ravens showed a killer instinct on both offense and defense to close things out this time.
Suggs came up with a sack on the third down of what would be the Bills' final chance at a comeback drive, and the offense successfully milked four minutes, 29 seconds off the clock by picking up two first downs on the final drive. All quarterback Joe Flacco had to do was take a knee on the final play of the game.
"Our guys will go to work and will continue to get better," Head Coach John Harbaugh said. "But the point of emphasis is [that] they did what they had to do today to get the job done and make the plays that needed to be made in this game. I'm proud of them for that."
The Ravens managed to reverse another unlucky trend from last year, at least for the first week. They didn't have any major injuries. The Ravens lost Suggs in the 2015 season opener, and injuries never seemed to let up the entire year.
3) Mike Wallace Is Not Washed Up … And Gave The Quote Of The Night
Ravens wide receiver Mike Wallace had a message for the NFL last night: he is not washed up.
But if you're still not convinced, go ahead and cover him with a single safety again. It didn't play out well for the Bills, resulting in a 66-yard game-changing touchdown.
"If you have a safety on me, he's dead every time," Wallace said.
"A lot of people wrote me off. They think I don't have it, but I've got something for them."
The score marked Wallace's 11th career touchdown catch of at least 50 yards, according to ESPN Stats & Information. That is particularly noteworthy after he didn't catch a pass of more than 40 yards last season when playing for the Minnesota Vikings.
Reporters in Baltimore have seen Wallace develop quick chemistry with Flacco during training camp, and now national media are starting to pick up on it.
"[T]hat was the Mike Wallace the Ravens hoped they were buying low on in free agency," wrote former SI.com writer Don Banks. "The one who tormented them in Pittsburgh, rather than the big-money underachiever of his Miami and Minnesota tenures. Wallace showed he can still play the speed receiver and deep threat."
4) Secondary Could Be A Big Deal
Cornerback Shareece Wright led the defense with 11 tackles, including three for loss. He was everywhere.
Cornerback Jimmy Smith blanketed Bills first-round wide receiver Sammy Watkins, limiting him to just four catches for 43 yards. ESPN said Watkins, who was last year's deep-play threat for the Bills, was "practically invisible."
Safeties Eric Weddle and Lardarius Webb didn't allow big plays to get over their head outside of a broken play when Taylor amazingly escaped a sack and completed a 33-yard pass. The quarterback of the defense, Weddle was praised by his teammates for being like a defensive coordinator keeping everyone in the right spot on the field.
"The Ravens secondary carried them to victory Sunday — a statement we haven't been able to make around these parts for quite some time," wrote The Baltimore Sun's Childs Walker. "Ravens defensive backs stifled the Bills in every way imaginable as they held them to 111 total passing yards and no first downs in the fourth quarter.
"They did it with the greatest defensive back in franchise history, Ed Reed, looking on from the Buffalo coaching box."
5) Offensive Line Needs Improvement, But Don't Just Blame The Rookies
The Ravens were the first to admit they need to clean up some offensive line issues, including the pre-snap and cadence issues that resulted in a turnover and cluster of early penalties.
But don't just automatically point to the pair of rookies that started on the left side of the line with Ronnie Stanley and Alex Lewis. They are the first rookies to start on the left side of the line in Week 1 in franchise history,* *and the first time in league history since 1995.
"Stanley committed one of those pesky penalties, a false start. But he and Lewis were no more to blame for the shoddy performance than their veteran colleagues," wrote Walker. "Zuttah barely got a hand on Bills linebacker Jerry Hughes as he rushed up the middle to sack Flacco just before halftime. Marshal Yanda, the best guard in the league, also played an uncharacteristically sloppy game, committing two penalties and allowing one of those jarring second-half hits on Flacco.
"It's entirely possible this unit will look better after a few weeks of polishing against defenses that aren't as blitz-happy as Rex Ryan's Bills. But the line was the greatest area of concern to emerge from the opener."
6) Top Offensive And Defensive Grades
Among some of the top performers on offense was quarterback Joe Flacco, who had a strong return from a knee injury, according to Pro Football Focus (PFF).
"[A]ll eyes were on the former Super Bowl MVP in his return to action, and he certainly delivered," wrote PFF's Gordon McGuinness. "Joining a re-tooled offense, Flacco gladly spread the ball around, with 10 different players catching a pass. At his best throwing the ball downfield, Flacco completed three of the five passes he attempted traveling 20 yards or more through the air."
PFF's top offensive grades:
G Marshal Yanda, 83.5
QB Joe Flacco, 80.7
WR Mike Wallace, 80.5
HB Justin Forsett, 74.8
WR Breshad Perriman, 71.6
PFF's top defensive grades:
S Eric Weddle, 84.2
CB Shareece Wright, 81.3
NT Brandon Williams, 80.6
DE Timmy Jernigan, 77.9
LB Albert McClellan, 77.8
"Coming off something of a down year in his final season in San Diego, Weddle has something to prove with the Ravens, and got it started on the right note against the Bills," wrote McGuinness. "Our run-stop percentage signature stat measures the number of tackles resulting in a defensive stop a player registers in relation to the amount of snaps they played against the run; Weddle made a tackle resulting in a defensive stop on 28.6 percent of the run-defense snaps where he was lined up within 8 yards of the line of scrimmage."
7) Returning Injured Players Knocking Off Rust, But Show Positive Signs
The Ravens saw emotional returns from several key players, including Breshad Perriman, Dennis Pitta, Steve Smith Sr. and Suggs.
None of them lit the world on fire, but they all showed positive signs that, once they knock off the rust, they will return to being more impactful players.
Perriman gorgeously caught a 35-yard pass down the sideline, and Pitta reeled in a 27-yard catch on a route that he didn't look open. Both big plays led to difference-making field goals. Smith added five catches for 19 yards and a whole lot of jawing with Bills defenders. Suggs ended the Bills' hopes of a comeback drive with a sack on third down.
"Suggs, who'll turn 34 next month, has spent the last month proclaiming how young he feels and how confident he is that he can regain his Pro Bowl form," wrote Walker. "It's too early to say he's wrong. But it's possible that after two Achilles tears, his body cannot answer his mind's call, at least not all the time."
We have to give Suggs, and all the returning players, more time to see whether they can return to form. Perriman said this was just a "taste" of what he can do, and Suggs admitted that he's not in top form yet.
"It's definitely still coming," he said. "This was my first live action in a year. You can't really count the preseason games. I only got a couple of series. … I'm going to just continue to chop wood. You can always get better."