Five thoughts on the Ravens' 21-0 victory over the Tennessee Titans Sunday at Nissan Stadium:
I think we can safely say the Ravens were bothered by their surprising loss to Cleveland a week earlier. From the outset of this game, they played with a determined fury that said, "We aren't going to let that happen again." It was a total team effort. The defense, led by a frenzied pass rush, completely overwhelmed Tennessee's offense. Meanwhile, the offense put up two touchdowns on its first two possessions, registering an early knockout against former Ravens defensive coordinator Dean Pees' Tennessee unit. The game was already virtually over at that point with the Ravens up big on a team with such an overmatched offense; Tennessee either needed to force a bunch of turnovers or orchestrate a reprise of the Music City Miracle to make the game competitive, and the Ravens didn't oblige. The decisive win leaves them tied for first place in the AFC North, which is a sweet place to be at the end of a three-game road trip, with 75 percent of their home schedule remaining. There's little time to relax and enjoy it, but they cleared a major hurdle here.
You could watch a bunch of NFL games going forward without seeing an offense as utterly bamboozled as Tennessee's was by the Ravens' defense. The interior, helped by Michael Pierce's return, never allowed the Titans to establish a running game, leaving it up to quarterback Marcus Mariota to win the game. That was going to be a challenge given Tennessee's lack of big-play receivers, but the real issue that came up was Mariota's inability to decode Ravens Defensive Coordinator Don (Wink) Martindale's dizzying blend of blitzes. It appeared Tennessee's quarterback simply had no idea where the pressure was coming from on many plays as defenders tantalized him with pre-snap movement. The result was 11 sacks, an insane number, setting a franchise record likely to stand a long time. "A historic defensive performance," Head Coach John Harbaugh called it. It was a collective effort. The outside pass rushers garnered most of the sacks, but there also was tight coverage from the secondary, leaving Mariota nowhere to throw, and pocket-collapsing pressure from the interior, leaving Mariota nowhere to run.
To be clear, that wasn't some ho-hum defense that quarterback Joe Flacco and the Ravens' offense dominated. The Titans entered the game ranked No. 3 in the league in pass defense and No. 7 in overall defense, with Pees receiving kudos for a job well done. But being familiar with the Ravens' personnel didn't help Pees. If anything, Flacco and Ravens Offensive Coordinator Marty Mornhinweg seemed to understand how and where they could attack Pees' unit, which was set on not giving up the big play. The Ravens methodically moved the ball all day, starting with a 17-play, 94-yard touchdown drive to open the game. "That was huge; we didn't do that last week," Flacco said of the tone-setting first drive. Michael Crabtree caught three balls on that drive, including one for the touchdown, sending the clear message that he was set on making up for his tough game in Cleveland. But the real story of the offense's day was another element of that initial drive: It converted four straight thirds into firsts and Crabtree scored on a fifth. It wound up converting 12 of 17 for the day, with Willie Snead IV especially effective at making catches that moved the chains. Also crucial to the offense's success was a sounder run-pass balance (37 dropbacks, 35 rushes) and the fact that Flacco was never sacked and hardly touched.
Although the Ravens' defense had an all-time field day with those just-shy-of-a-dozen sacks, only one went to a player with Pro Bowl credentials. That was Terrell Suggs, not surprisingly, who had one. Otherwise, it wasn't the unit leaders such as Eric Weddle or C.J. Mosley making the headlines by getting to Mariota – it was a maturing generation of still-young defenders such as Za'Darius Smith, who had three sacks; Patrick Onwuasor, who had two; and Matthew Judon, Kenny Young and Chris Wormley, who had one apiece. Smith, 26, is the oldest of those players. (Anthony Levine Sr. also had one sack.) To be clear, Weddle and Mosley also played key roles and were among the team's leading tacklers, but on a day when Suggs occasionally came off the field in certain rush situations, seemingly to preserve him, the Ravens have to be encouraged about the depth and balance of what is becoming a classic Baltimore defense.
Short takes: For the record, the Ravens still haven't given up a touchdown in the second half all year … This was the rare contest in which a team dominated despite losing the turnover battle (1-0). Flacco was unlucky on his lone interception near the end of the first half. The ball was deflected … The Titans' only what-if moment came early when Mariota overthrew a wide-open Taywan Taylor behind the Ravens' defense. A touchdown would have tied the score at 7-7 and blunted the Ravens' early momentum, but I'm not sure it would have changed the eventual outcome … Cyrus Jones checked off all the right boxes in his debut as the primary punt returner. His ball security was solid, his decision-making was sound and he broke one return for 26 yards … Here's what happens when you convert so many third downs into firsts: You hold the ball for nearly 38 of the game's 60 minutes, as the Ravens did.