Last week, the Baltimore Ravens stifled the creativity of the Miami Dolphins, limiting their much-discussed "Wildcat" offense to just four yards on five plays.
This week, Cam Cameron and the Ravens offense displayed a little creativity of their own on their way to a 29-10 victory over the Oakland Raiders.
For the first time since the second game of the preseason, quarterback Troy Smith took the field for the Ravens, but that did not mean that starter Joe Flacco could take a break. Running a formation that had the Raiders caught off-guard, Flacco lined up as a wide receiver while Smith received the snaps from center.
The first five times the Ravens came out in the formation, they ran the ball. Twice it was Smith taking off on his own. Twice, the handoff went to Ray Rice. And one time, Smith swept around the right side for a 2-yard gain before pitching it back to Rice on an option play, as Rice picked up another 19 yards.
The new package had the Raiders befuddled, and then the Ravens ran it once more.
This time, Flacco took the snap with Smith offset to his left. The handoff went to Smith, and Flacco sprinted down the left sideline. He had a step on his defender, and reached forward as he hauled in a 43-yard, perfectly placed pass from Smith, putting the Ravens inside Oakland's 10-yard line.
It isn't likely to be the next Unitas-to-Berry, but the Smith-to-Flacco completion will give opposing defensive coordinators plenty of sleepless nights.
"We want to use every guy who's active if we can," Cameron said after the win. "If you're active, there's something you can bring to the table to help us win."
The lasting memory of the game will undoubtedly be the 43-yard pass play, but it was an exciting day for the Ravens offense not just because of the introduction of their new package.
The Ravens beat a Raider squad which head coach John Harbaugh described as "an up-and-coming team." And they did it with some up-and-coming stars of their own.
Rookie running back Ray Rice led the rushing attack, gaining 64 yards on eight attempts. He eclipsed 100 yards in total offense by adding three catches for 37 yards. Rice twice picked up crucial third-and-long conversions for the Ravens. He took an inside handoff and eluded tackler after tackler, gaining exactly nine yards on third-and-9 with 9:02 left in the second quarter.
Two plays later, Flacco found Demetrius Williams wide open deep down the left side for a 70-yard touchdown catch.
Later in the third quarter, facing third-and-20 from their own 28-yard line, the Ravens called Rice's number again. This time, the rookie flared out to the left, where Flacco found him with enough space to scamper along the sideline for a 21-yard gain.
Without that play, the Ravens would have been forced to punt. Instead, it set up the dramatic connection between Smith and Flacco just seconds later, and Baltimore ended up with a field goal.
"Ray ran really well," said Harbaugh. "He broke a lot of tackles, made people miss, ran through some arm tackles. The big third down run was just huge. It was impressive."
For Cam Cameron, the philosophy of getting contributions from as many active players as possible did not stop with his offensive talent. The Ravens opened the second quarter just four yards from the end zone, and wanted to drill the ball home.
In came defensive tackle Haloti Ngata, who lined up as a tight end and demolished the right side of the Raiders' defensive line. Willis McGahee followed Ngata's lead to get to the 1-yard line on first down, and then struck paydirt behind the charging Ngata on his second try.
The Ravens' victory had the crowd of 71,254 buzzing with excitement over their newly potent offense. Cameron ensured that everyone would contribute, but in his fourth NFL victory, Joe Flacco once again displayed the determination and leadership which has fans excited for the future of the unit.
He extended as far as he could to reel in the reception from Smith. The rookie took a punishing hit as he released the 70-yard touchdown to Williams. And with 3:41 remaining and the game firmly in hand, Flacco took off from the Raiders' 12-yard line on a naked bootleg with a nose for the end zone.
He went untouched until the goal line was just a yard away. Suddenly confronted by two Raiders' defenders, Flacco powered his way through another bruising blow, landing safely in the end zone for the game's final score.
"We want football players," Cameron summarized. "Joe's a good athlete. Troy's a good athlete. You're seeing guys who can do multiple things. We just want good football players at every position. It's a plus to have those guys."
On Sunday, Cameron got contributions from nearly every football player on the offensive side of the ball, as their creativity and versatility will keep plenty of opposing defensive coordinators awake, as they – like the Ravens fans – wonder what is coming next.