Ravens Defense Opens Season With Dominant Performance

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The Buffalo Bills reached halftime Sunday with no points, no first downs, and virtually no chance to win.

That’s how dominant the Ravens’ defense was during their 47-3 victory in Sunday’s regular-season opener. The pass rush was ferocious. The secondary coverage was opportunistic. The defensive front manhandled the Bills’ offensive line.

The Bills had just 33 total yards in the first half, the second fewest the Ravens have ever allowed in a first half.

This is what Head Coach John Harbaugh had in mind when he said the Ravens’ defense was chasing greatness. This is what new Defensive Coordinator Wink Martindale meant when he said he couldn’t wait to see the Ravens’ defensive starters play a regular-season game.

The Bills’ offense looked overmatched. Second-year quarterback Nathan Peterman was benched in the third quarter in favor of rookie Josh Allen, but at that point, it didn’t matter. The Ravens think their defense can be special this season. Week 1 was an impressive opening statement.

After the game, the demeanor of the Ravens’ defensive players was also noteworthy. The Ravens were determined not to rest on this game. They shutout the Bengals, 20-0, in Week 1 last season, yet failed to make the playoffs. Ravens defensive leader Terrell Suggs has not forgotten.

“It’s a good start,” Suggs said. “It’s one game. We’ve got 15 more. You can’t tell anything by the first game. Y’all know, the NFL season is a marathon, not a sprint. Nobody’s going to the Super Bowl, playoffs, anything after this game. We got one in the can. It’s a good win.”

Suggs knows that beating up on Buffalo is one thing. Sustaining solid defense all season will be another. But there are legitimate reasons to think the Ravens could have one of the NFL’s top defensive units.

The Ravens pass rush looks as strong as it did during the preseason.

The Ravens had six sacks, a carryover from the preseason when their pass rush was outstanding (league-leading 21 sacks). The Bills knew it would be crucial to protect Peterman, but they still couldn’t do it. With the regular season finally here, Martindale was free to call blitzes and show other defensive looks that the Ravens wouldn’t reveal during the preseason.

The blitz may be more of a weapon under Martindale than it was under former Defensive Coordinator Dean Pees. Tavon Young had two sacks on cornerback blitzes in the first half. For one week at least, Young can say he has more sacks this season than Terrell Suggs, the Ravens’ all-time sack leader.

“I told them maybe they should put me at defensive end for a week.,” Young said jokingly after the game.

The Ravens had six sacks overall, including one each from Suggs, Za’Darius Smith, Tim Williams and Kenny Young. Facing a consistent pass rush bothers any quarterback, whether it be an inexperienced QB like Peterman, or a veteran like Andy Dalton who the Ravens will face Thursday night in Cincinnati. If the Ravens get to the quarterback consistently, it could lead to them getting back to the playoffs.

Without cornerback Jimmy Smith, the Ravens’ secondary looked just fine.

The Ravens have struggled in the past without Smith, who is serving a four-game suspension for violating the NFL’s conduct code. We will get a better reading on the Ravens’ secondary when they face elite receivers like A.J. Green of the Bengals in four days and Antonio Brown of the Steelers (Week 4). But in this game, the Bills generated just 70 yards passing, and the Ravens blanketed Buffalo’s receivers throughout the game.

Ravens safety Tony Jefferson had an easy interception when Peterman badly overthrew a pass right into Jefferson’s arms. In the second half, Ravens cornerback Brandon Carr almost turned his interception into a touchdown, making a nifty return before he was forced out of bounds just short of the goal line.

The Ravens led the NFL in takeaways last season, and that is a trait they want to continue. The return of Young as a slot corner is huge for the Ravens’ defense. He missed last season with a torn ACL, and his versatility was sorely missed. Young can cover slot receivers, he can blitz quarterbacks effectively, and he is a sure tackler. Young is one of the most versatile defensive players on the team, and it quickly showed in this game.

“I got all the nervous jitters out about being back in the preseason,” Young said. “I was ready to go.”

The Ravens have enough depth to sustain solid play.

The entire starting defensive unit has returned intact, and the Ravens have added several new pieces, such as inside linebacker Kenny Young, who had four tackles, a sack and another quarterback hit. A fourth-round draft pick, Young was pumped for his Ravens debut and played like it. He was upset when the Bills kicked a fourth-quarter field goal to avoid being shutout.

“Hell yeah, man,” Young said. “Everybody wished it was a shutout.”

Surrendering that field goal was one of the few things the Ravens defense had to complain about. As a unit, they wanted to start the season with a strong showing. Mission accomplished.

Check out all the action from the Ravens' regular-season opener against the Buffalo Bills at M&T Bank Stadium.

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