Five thoughts on the Ravens' 20-0 win over the Cincinnati Bengals Sunday at Paul Brown Stadium:
Looks Like Arrow is Pointing Way Up on Ravens This Year
I wrote on Saturday that if the Ravens came into Cincinnati and won their season opener, the rest of the league would say, "Whoa." But I'm thinking the reaction elsewhere might be even more emphatic after the Ravens completely dominated their divisional rivals with a suffocating defense and solid offense, winning in Cincinnati for the first time since 2011. Perhaps the consensus reaction elsewhere will be "Wow," or "Yikes, no more sleeping on the Ravens." One way or another, it's going to be "message received." The Ravens actually sent three messages with their performance. One, their defense isn't just tough to budge, it's also opportunistic, as evidenced by the five turnovers it forced. Two, the Ravens offense might be fine, too, after entering the season with so many question marks. And three, although this is just one game, it looks like the Ravens' arrow might be pointing up, way up, in 2017.
Joe Flacco Emphatically Answered Questions After Missing Preseason
The Ravens' biggest question was whether Joe Flacco could give a winning performance after sitting out training camp and the entire preseason with a back injury. The answer was yes, with an exclamation point. No, Flacco didn't unleash his "A" game – in fact, he completed just nine passes, mostly on short routes, and spent almost the entire second half handing off to Terrance West and Buck Allen. There's plenty of room for him to improve. But he did produce the game's biggest play, a 48-yard touchdown pass to Jeremy Maclin, and he flawlessly managed the ground-and-pound offense. Most importantly, he absorbed several brutal hits, including one that led to his being tested for a concussion, and seemed to handle it all without issue. It will be interesting to see how his body reacts, but it appears he's going to be fine going forward.
No Contest Between Ravens Defense and Bengals Offense
The game was billed as a confrontation between the Ravens' ramped-up defense and the Bengals' array of offensive playmakers, led by A.J. Green, who has bedeviled Baltimore for years. It was no contest. The Ravens defense began the game yielding little, if anything, and that never changed for four quarters. The heroes were many on that side of the ball. Let's start with the pass rush, which overwhelmed the Bengals' line and harried their quarterback, Andy Dalton, into so many miscues he heard boos. Terrell Suggs led the way with a pair of sacks, but there was steady push from the inside, too, and really, the pressure came from everywhere all day. The secondary was just as dominant. The Ravens safeties and cornerbacks seemed to know where Green and the Bengals' playmakers were going all day. After the game, Suggs appropriately gave a shout-out to GM Ozzie Newsome and the front office for bolstering the secondary during the offseason with additions such as Brandon Carr, Tony Jefferson and Marlon Humphrey. Performances like this were exactly what the organization had in mind when it added those players.
New Rushing Plays and Commitment Off to a Great Start
The Ravens' attempt to get back to running the ball more effectively is off to a rousing start. The new-look offensive line, which had never played together, dominated the Bengals inside, consistently opening holes for West and Allen. Both backs ran hard. Most importantly, the commitment was there from Offensive Coordinator Marty Mornhinweg. The Ravens ran the ball 42 times and threw just 17 passes, grinding out 157 yards on the ground. The influence of new run-game guru Greg Roman was impossible to ignore. After not showing their playbook during the preseason, the Ravens unveiled a whole new series of running plays that definitely caught the Bengals by surprise. It all came to a head in the third quarter when the Ravens held the ball for almost 10 minutes on a drive that lasted 18 plays. The drive ended with a field goal but the Bengals were not coming back after that. "It reminded me of one of the games when I was a rookie," Flacco said. "An old-fashioned game."
For a few minutes in the first quarter, it was great to see what Danny Woodhead could produce. The veteran back had four touches for 37 yards on the Ravens' opening possession, but he was gone before the drive ended, sidelined by a hamstring injury. He's clearly a major part of the team's offensive blueprint, but his inability to stay on the field leaves you wondering how much he can do … Mornhinweg definitely went with a two-headed monster at running back. Although West is listed as the starter and led the team with 80 rushing yards, Allen actually had more carries (21 to 19) … Michael Campanaro handled the punt return duties … Dalton's four interceptions were his career high for one game … The Ravens had five sacks as well as five turnovers … In a sparkling Ravens debut, Jefferson had a sack, a team-high nine tackles and helped limit Cincinnati tight end Tyler Eifert to one catch for 4 yards.
Check out all the best photos from week 1 of the 2017 NFL season as the Ravens battle the Bengals.