Five thoughts on the Ravens' 28-7 win over the Cleveland Browns Thursday night at M&T Bank Stadium:
Yes, Ravens Actually Produced A Blowout
When the Ravens offense began its first possession of the second half, it was working on a run of 18 straight possessions without reaching the end zone – the kind of sustained blackout that can wreck a season. The Ravens also trailed the winless Browns by a point, raising the possibility of a nightmarish upset that would seriously damage the Ravens' plans to contend for the AFC North title. But at just the right time, the offense's pilot light came on. The unit went to a hurry-up tempo, hoping to find a rhythm. "That worked," Head Coach John Harbaugh said. Receivers crossing over the middle were open and quarterback Joe Flacco hit them for gains. The chains moved. The touchdown blackout ended. By the end of the third quarter, the Ravens had a 14-point lead, and from there, the defense forced turnovers, the offense kept going and the result was (don't faint) the Ravens' first regular-season win by more than one score since December 2014. Yes, an actual blowout. "Felt good," Harbaugh said.
Encouraging To See 'Generation Next' Contribute On Offense
It was definitely a "spread the wealth" night on offense, with numerous guys in the playmaking mix. A two-headed running back monster of Terrance West and Kenneth Dixon combined for 157 rushing and receiving yards, guaranteeing you'll see the monster again. That could be how the Ravens roll at that position all year. In the passing game, Flacco completed throws to nine different receivers, with three catching touchdowns. The usual veteran suspects led the way, Mike Wallace, Steve Smith Sr., Dennis Pitta, but what I liked about this night were the contributions of "generation next." Darren Waller, a second-year tight end, caught the touchdown that broke the 18-possession end zone blackout, and he did it on a third-down play, with another field goal looming. I'd call that the key play of the game. Breshad Perriman also caught his first career touchdown, and Dixon, well, he bristled like an electric wire all night, totaling 80 rushing and receiving yards on just 11 touches. The Ravens need to get the ball in his hands more.
Improved Defense Knows It Must Carry TeamYes, it was just the Browns, but the game provided a nice yardstick for measuring the improvement of the Ravens defense since early in the season. When the teams met in Cleveland in September, the Browns almost brought the Ravens to their knees with big plays and a 20-point flurry in the first quarter. Although the Ravens rallied to win the game, it was a shaky day for the defense. Nine weeks later, the unit smothered Cleveland from the outset Thursday night, hitting for the cycle of defensive feats. The Browns managed just 33 rushing yards – 112 fewer than in the September game. Their quarterbacks were sacked four times. The Ravens forced three turnovers. When the Browns trotted out an old nemesis, Josh McCown, to play quarterback in the second half, the Ravens shut him down and picked him off twice. Ravens safety Eric Weddle said something interesting afterward, that the defense knows "if we don't play great football, it's going to be hard for us to win." To me, that sounds like the defense is aware the offense is trying to get itself together, with some days going better than others. It means the defense has to continually step up and it certainly has done that since the bye.
Get Used To A Patchwork Offensive Line With Injuries Piling UpThe offensive line has been under scrutiny all season, and that's going to continue after Thursday night – but not because it performed poorly. To the contrary, there were holes for Dixon and West to run through, and Flacco had time to throw on a majority of his dropbacks. "It seemed like the line played well," Harbaugh said. But injuries and possible absences are going to be an issue. Rookie guard Alex Lewis was carted off the field in the second half, and though X-rays of his injured ankle were negative, he appears likely to miss time. Meanwhile, center Jeremy Zuttah played with a sprained ankle so sore he came out of the game twice in the second half. With Marshal Yanda inactive due to a sore shoulder, it was certainly a patchwork alignment at times. On the Ravens' last touchdown, John Urschel was the center and James Hurt played left guard. For stability's sake, the Ravens would love to be able to trot out the same five guys every week. But that appears unlikely to happen.
Quick HitsYour eyes didn't deceive you. The Browns did indeed call a timeout before a play from scrimmage was run. Their defense opened the game with 12 men on the field and they called a timeout to keep from being flagged. What a way to start a game … After booting two field goals, Justin Tucker is now 22 for 22 for the season … Another game, another solid showing from rookie Tavon Young, who is officially settled in as the starting cornerback opposite Jimmy Smith … In what certainly qualifies as an amazing coincidence, the Ravens scored the last 25 points in both of their games against the Browns in 2016.