Five thoughts on the Ravens' 14-6 win over the Cleveland Browns Sunday at M&T Bank Stadium:
After Committing To Run, Life Immediately Improved
The Ravens came in saying their first priority was to establish their ground game after it flopped so badly in the opener. But they picked right up where they left off and threw the ball all over the place in the early going. Joe Flacco dropped back to pass on 23 of the team's 32 snaps in the first half, while the rushing game again produced little. Scoreless, out of synch and trailing as the second half began, the Ravens finally and genuinely committed to the run, with Offensive Coordinator Jim Caldwell keeping the ball on the ground on successive plays for the first time, followed by several more times. Presto, life immediately got better. An 80-yard touchdown drive ensued, putting the Ravens ahead for keeps. Yes, Flacco sustained the drive with three third-down completions, but sticking with the run throughout the second half kept the offense in a much better rhythm. In the final two quarters, the Ravens called 27 rushes to 12 pass attempts, and the offense began to dominate. That's certainly worth remembering.
Trust Your Stuff
When I saw Jimmy Smith and Matt Elam starting in the secondary ahead of Michael Huff and Corey Graham, I thought of the old saying baseball pitchers go by: trust your stuff, i.e., go with what you've got. In this case, what the Ravens have is a pair of recent first-round picks in Smith (2011) and Elam (2013). When a team focuses its draft that much on one area, that area needs to be a lot better than the Ravens' secondary was in Denver. So the Ravens effectively trusted their stuff Sunday, going with their own high draft picks over a pair of mid-career free agent signees who struggled in Denver. It was a bold move, but things worked out. Elam was solid with five tackles in his first start, and Smith was physical in coverage and led the team with three passes defended. Ravens Head Coach John Harbaugh said such moves are common early in the season "when you're trying to figure out who you are." That sounds like there's no going back and the Ravens are going with this alignment, trusting their stuff.
Boldin Trade = Potentially Best Ravens Pass Rush Ever
The Ravens have taken a lot of heat from a lot of places for letting Anquan Boldin go. But it needs to be pointed out that the money they saved on Boldin went to several defensive newcomers, most notably pass rusher Elvis Dumervil, who was all over the Cleveland backfield and quarterback Brandon Weeden Sunday along with teammate Terrell Suggs coming from the other side. It's still early, but with eight sacks in two games and 12 quarterback hits Sunday, the Ravens' pass rush is already looking like one of their best ever. It's going to be one of the defining characteristics of this year's team, a highly disruptive force … and fun to watch.
Tight End Targets Decline
It's been said that Flacco likes throwing to his tight ends too much, and indeed, he targeted Ed Dickson and Dallas Clark almost 20 times in the Denver opener. But the situation changed dramatically Sunday. After Dickson dropped one on the game's first play, Flacco never threw his way again. He also targeted Dallas Clark just once after throwing 12 balls at Clark in the opener. Throw in reserve Billy Bajema, who caught one pass, and the tight ends were targeted just three times Sunday – a steep decline from the opener. In their place, the "move the chains" completions went to wideouts Torrey Smith, Marlon Brown and Brandon Stokley, who were targeted 24 times between them and totaled 15 receptions. Week 2 was a lot better for that group. Smith was open on crossing routes all day and Brown's touchdown catch was basically a Dennis Pitta imitation – take an inside slant route, look for the ball almost immediately and dive for the end zone.
The Ravens needed some luck to hold the Browns without a touchdown. They left running back Chris Ogbonnaya completely uncovered on a downfield sideline route late in the third quarter, but Weeden overthrew him ... Paul Kruger didn't register a tackle for the Browns until midway through the third quarter. He ended with two solo tackles, one assist and no sacks … If you thought tempers were flaring on both sides, you were right. Running back Bernard Pierce said "they were playing like we did something to them" … Finally, congrats to Flacco and his wife, Dana, on the birth of their second child, a boy named Daniel, shortly before kickoff. Dana went into labor a week early, in New Jersey, so Joe stayed and played, admitting his thoughts strayed when he was on the sidelines. I'd say he lived up to his "Joe Cool" nickname, playing pretty well for a guy with things like that on his mind.