Five thoughts on the Ravens' 27-14 win over the Denver Broncos Sunday at M&T Bank Stadium:
During the week, I heard it said that we still didn't know who the Ravens were because their Week 1 win over Buffalo was too easy and their Week 2 loss in Cincinnati was understandable due to playing a tough opponent on the road in a short week. If so, it meant this was an especially big game for Week 3 – an identity-maker of sorts, if you will. The Ravens rose to the occasion, delivering a solid, all-around thumping of a previously undefeated opponent. Their offense was explosive and more balanced than before, their defense active and dominant. Yes, the Broncos helped out with a mistake-prone performance that included key penalties and drops, but the Ravens were more physical, more dangerous, clearly superior. We'll continue to find out more about them as they embark on a three-game road trip starting next week in Pittsburgh, but if their identity is what they revealed on this soggy afternoon, they're for-real playoff contenders. (Oh, and by the way, after Buffalo went into Minnesota and battered the heavily-favored Minnesota Vikings Sunday, that Week 1 blowout is looking a lot more legit.)
From the volume of praise the Ravens heaped on Von Miller all week, you would have thought their offense was certain to get submerged by Denver's All-Pro pass rusher. Plenty of teams have suffered that fate. But Miller was close to invisible in this game, contributing just two tackles and zero sacks. It took a village to make that happen. First and foremost, give credit to the Ravens' edge protection, specifically tackles James Hurst and Ronnie Stanley, who kept Miller in check with intermittent help from tight ends. Quarterback Joe Flacco also played a role, as Head Coach John Harbaugh pointed out, by occasionally changing the protection schemes at the line of scrimmage to keep Miller off guard. Finally, Offensive Coordinator Marty Mornhinweg concocted a sharp plan based on getting the ball out of Flacco's hands quickly, which limited Miller's ability to disrupt. Taking him out of the game was the decisive factor on that side of the ball, giving the Ravens' playmakers (yes, they have quite a few) the chance to operate.
Given how solid the defense was, allowing zero points over the final 52 minutes, it was easy to forget the unit was operating without starters C.J. Mosley (knee), Michael Pierce (foot), Jimmy Smith (suspended) and Willie Henry (hernia surgery) – a ready-made excuse if things had gone differently. But the unit never looked shorthanded; to the contrary, it was sharp from top to bottom. Kenny Young, his status now officially "fourth-round steal," was superb in Mosley's place, charging around the field and leading the team with 10 total tackles. The run defense stepped up, limiting Denver's backs to 3.7 yards per carry. (Not including the end-around that went 35 yards for a touchdown.) The pass rush re-ignited after its Cincinnati blackout, battering Denver's Case Keenum to the tune of three sacks and nine quarterback hits. (Flacco was hit three times.) But everything started with consistently airtight coverage from the secondary, which kept Denver receivers Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders in relative check and forced Keenum to hold the ball longer than he wanted. The coverage was "phenomenal," Harbaugh said.
It was evident the Ravens' first priority on offense was to start establishing the running game, which had been something of a no-show in the first two weeks. After carrying the ball nine times over the course of the entire game in Week 2, Alex Collins had seven carries in the first quarter alone Sunday. None of them popped for a big gain against Denver's stout run defense, but Collins is always threatening enough that a defense has to respect him if it's clear he'll be getting the ball. Once that point was established, Mornhinweg reverted to the largely pass-first approach he clearly is embracing this year now that Flacco is healthy and working so effectively with receivers John Brown, Michael Crabtree and Willie Snead IV, who combined for 15 receptions and 186 receiving yards Sunday. "Have to keep going for it, man; let Marty be Marty," said Harbaugh, clearly approving. In the end, Flacco dropped back on 42 of the team's 70 snaps, but Collins still rushed for 68 yards on 18 carries – a blend that proved effective.
Short takes: The stat of the year so far? That's easy. The Ravens are 12-for-12 on scoring touchdowns when they reach the red zone … It sure looked to me like Denver safety Justin Simmons illegally jumped over the Ravens' long snapper, Morgan Cox, before he barged into the backfield and blocked a Justin Tucker field goal attempt … Tucker, by the way, has converted nine straight kicks of 50 or more yards … With 13 penalties to Baltimore's seven, the sloppy Broncos continually set themselves back … I can understand why Harbaugh gave Onwuasor a game ball for his fourth-quarter interception that slowed Denver's attempted rally. This is a defense that has struggled to maintain leads late in games in recent years. "Someone has to step up and make a play," Harbaugh said, and Onwuasor did … Along those lines, the Ravens still haven't allowed a second-half touchdown in 2018.
Check out all the action from the Ravens' Week 3 game against the Denver Broncos at M&T Bank Stadium.