Breaking Down the Ravens' Dominant Performance
Following endless talk and anticipation heading into Week 1 of the 2019 NFL season, the Ravens couldn't have asked for a better start. Lamar Jackson and the offense put up historic numbers in a record-setting performance, and it's got pundits talking.
Here are some takeaways from Sunday's dominant win:
Lamar Jackson Jumps into MVP Conversation
NFL Network analyst and former cornerback DeAngelo Hall might have been up to something when he predicted Lamar Jackson as the MVP this season. Jackson put on a special performance in front of his hometown crowd, throwing for 324 yards, five touchdowns, and a perfect quarterback rating (158.3).
ESPN's Dan Graziano labeled it as one of his overreactions from Week 1 but didn't dismiss the possibility.
"Jackson has the talent to compete for an award such as this at some point," Graziano wrote. "Although we need to see him throw the ball against a better team than Miami before we make any conclusions ... the fact that this passing performance lived within Jackson at all is cause for short-term and long-term optimism."
Pundits like Sports Illustrated's Albert Breer saw a much-improved passer on Sunday and believe it's time to elevate Jackson into the emerging quarterback conversation.
"Maybe we shouldn't treat Jackson as a curiosity anymore," Sports Illustrated's Albert Breer wrote. "Maybe we shouldn't see his implementation as an NFL quarterback as some sort of experiment. Maybe we should look at him in the context of Baker Mayfield and Sam Darnold, the guys drafted with him, rather than reaching back for the Robert Griffins and Tim Tebows of the world.
"This doesn't mean Jackson's going to be league MVP. We can take it slow, at least for now, on that. But it does mean that just maybe we've all looked at this the wrong way."
The Ringer's Riley McAtee added: "[N]o one had expectations for the Ravens anywhere near what they showed Sunday. … If the Ravens offense looks even half as good in the rest of their games as it did Sunday, Jackson could be the new Patrick Mahomes and Baltimore will be a conference favorite."
NBC Sports' Peter King named Jackson his Offensive Player of the Week.
"Consider the transformation of Jackson off to a flying start," King wrote.
Buying Into the Hype? Pundits Debate Early Expectations
The Ravens entered Sunday as a touchdown favorite over the Dolphins and were one of the most popular bets to win in Week 1, but the victory sparked discussion over the sustainability of a dominant performance.
"Some pundits might even suggest that Jackson makes the Ravens a prime contender for the Super Bowl, which just happens to be played in the same stadium of Jackson's tour-de-force performance Sunday," The Athletic's Jeff Zrebiec wrote.
"Others will dismiss it because it came against the tanking Dolphins. Miami does have a well-regarded secondary, but it won't stand a chance if the Dolphins generate a pass rush like the one they featured Sunday."
As The Baltimore Sun noted, the Ravens won just three of their next eight games following a 47-3 season-opening win against the Buffalo Bills last season.
While some pundits were quick to point out caveats, others argued the Ravens can't control who they play on their schedule and there's something to be said about how they won.
"In the NFL, wins are not automatic, they are earned," Ravens Wire's Matthew Stevens wrote. "And Baltimore earned themselves a dominant win in the AFC — something that will absolutely matter in Week 17 when teams are going down tiebreakers to determine who is in the postseason and who is left out.
"No matter how good or bad Miami is, the Ravens are 1-0 and half the teams in the league will wish they had that record by Tuesday morning."
"While the competition was bad, you can't argue with results like this: 324 yards, 5 TDs, 3 incompletions," SI's Gary Gramling wrote.
Defense 'Quietly' Dominates; Smith's Injury Highlights Importance of Secondary Depth
Media members wondered how Wink Martindale's unit would fare after losing key defensive pieces in Terrell Suggs, Za'Darius Smith, C.J. Mosley, and Eric Weddle in the offseason and the defense "quietly answered a few questions."
The Ravens held the Dolphins to 200 yards of total offense and forced three turnovers.
While they recorded just three sacks, Ryan Fitzpatrick and Josh Rosen were constantly under pressure in the pocket.
"Linebacker Patrick Onwuasor set the tone on their first defensive snap with an up-the-middle blitz and jarring hit on Fitzpatrick," The Baltimore Sun wrote. "A few plays later, outside linebacker Matthew Judon pressured Fitzpatrick from the edge, forcing him to wing an ill-conceived pass into the arms of safety Earl Thomas.
"The Ravens kept the heat on Fitzpatrick, with almost every player on their front seven pressuring him at some point in the game."
All eyes were on Onwuasor as he assumed the middle linebacker role from Mosley, and Baltimore Beatdown's Frank Platko believes Peanut is ready to carry the load.
"Onwuasor has made massive strides since the beginning of last year and his impact on the team's defensive success should not be overlooked," Platko wrote. "Much has been made over the loss of Mosley in free agency but with PO at the helm, it won't be surprising if the defensive doesn't miss a beat. After Week 1, it's looking like that will be the case."
In the secondary, cornerback Jimmy Smith could be out "days or weeks" with a knee injury, according to Head Coach John Harbaugh. The injury isn't season-ending, but it served as a reminder of how important it is to have depth in the secondary.
"The Ravens have invested more in their secondary than any other aspect of the team, counting on it to bolster them against significant personnel losses elsewhere on the defense," The Baltimore Sun wrote. "We saw the upside in Miami, with both Thomas and Humphrey intercepting passes. But Smith's injury reminded us that back-line dominance cannot be taken for granted.
Pundits noted that Anthony Averett could see more time on the outside. The second-year cornerback finished with four tackles and one pass defensed after replacing Smith.
Devin Hester Hated Returning Sam Koch's 'Leaf Balls'
Sam Koch punted just once on Sunday, but his 56-yard kick was muffed by Jakeem Grant and recovered by the Ravens deep in Dolphins territory.
These struggles aren't a new development. Koch has been making life difficult for returners throughout his career. Just ask one of the NFL's best, Devin Hester, who recently said in a Reddit "Ask Me Anything" that Koch was the punter he hated fielding punts from the most.
Hester described Koch's punts as "leaf balls."
"If Sam was allowed to punt the way he did in practice, you didn't want to catch none of his balls," Hester said. "It wasn't a knuckleball. Imagine a leaf dropping 100 feet from the air the way it swoops back and forth. It looked like a leaf falling from the sky. Only faster."
In a documentary with NFL Films, Koch said he has 17 to 18 punts in his arsenal. From boomerangs, knuckleballs, to hooks, his kicks have revolutionized the punting game.
"Each returner has to think about it when they go to approach it," Koch said. "They're going to have to decide, 'Well do I go for this and risk a fumble or muff and my stats? Or do they just let it bounce and then we have the opportunity to down it inside the 20 [yard line].'"
- After losses by the Bengals, Browns, and Steelers on Sunday, the Ravens sit atop of the AFC North at 1-0.