Five thoughts on the Ravens' 24-10 win over the Cleveland Browns Sunday at M&T Bank Stadium:
Ravens' Offensive Blueprint Is Efficient and Puts Up Points
For most of his career, Joe Flacco was known as a guy with poise and a big arm, at his best when throwing a deep ball. But in this game, he attempted just one long pass and it sailed high, like a punt, and was intercepted. Granted, it was his first deep toss of 2017, and after he missed all of training camp and the preseason, the rust was understandable. But the Ravens didn't want him throwing downfield in this game. It appears his job description is evolving. Sunday, he was tasked with orchestrating a quick-moving offense based on feints, rollouts, crossing patterns and the ground game. Flacco was a maestro, sharp in his decision-making, almost always on target with his throws. The offense was efficient, rolling up 24 first downs and 337 yards, and "the passing game made the difference," Head Coach John Harbaugh said. Remember all that concern before the season about Flacco's back and his ability to lead an offense under scrutiny? It was much ado about nothing if this game is any indication. Yes, the Ravens are going to need their passing game to become more explosive going forward, but they have a nice blueprint going that moves the chains and puts up points.
No Getting Around Major Impact That Losing Yanda Will Have
There's no sugar-coating the news that All-Pro guard Marshal Yanda is out for the season after suffering a fractured ankle in the third quarter. Yanda, 32, is a rugged and relentless interior leader, the kind of player you build your team around. Will he be missed? Oh, boy. "No one can replace Marshal Yanda. No one person," Harbaugh said. But that's what the Ravens must do now. They began training camp thinking Yanda, Alex Lewis and John Urschel would man the interior of their line. None of those three are in the picture now, with Yanda's loss obviously the toughest. If there's any point of solace, newcomer Tony Bergstrom replaced Yanda Sunday and held up well as the Ravens continued to run the ball effectively down the stretch. "We traded for him for a reason," Harbaugh said of Bergstrom. Nonetheless, I wouldn't be shocked to see the front office make a move this week.
Plenty of Teachable Moments for This Opportunistic Defense
The last thing I'm going to do is criticize a defense that forced five turnovers for the second straight Sunday – a defense that has allowed one touchdown and forced 10 turnovers in two games. You can't do much better. It's crazy that the Ravens already have more interceptions this season (eight) than they did in the entire 2015 season (six). This year's defense is simply on a different planet. But having said that, Defensive Coordinator Dean Pees will have no shortage of teachable moments to dissect when he watches the film of this game with his unit. Although the Browns did turn the ball over, they also moved it far better than many Baltimore fans surely expected. With a rookie quarterback running the show most of the day, Cleveland ended with 20 first downs, 293 passing yards and 386 total yards, leaving the Ravens defenders upset at how things went down. The Browns' receivers made several crazy-good catches, but their quarterbacks had time to throw on many plays and their receivers were open. "Too many mistakes. If we don't fix them, it will cost us down the road," Ravens safety Eric Weddle said.
Most Decisive (and Crazy) Series of Plays Came Just Before Halftime
If you want to see where this game was decided, check out the crazy reversal of fortune in the final 29 seconds of the first half. It was a jump-ball contest at that point, with the Ravens up by seven but the Browns in possession of the ball at the Baltimore 40, looking to draw closer. But Cleveland quarterback Kevin Hogan tossed an interception as the Ravens' Matt Judon nearly decapitated him on a rollout. Now the Ravens had the ball, and Buck Allen took a handoff and raced 37 yards to the Cleveland 2. With five seconds left on the clock and no timeouts, Harbaugh took a major gamble and went for the touchdown, knowing he could easily emerge with no points. He put his faith in Flacco and the quarterback delivered, tossing a touchdown pass to Jeremy Maclin as time expired. Suddenly the Ravens were up by 14 points, very much in command.
Third-string running back Alex Collins displayed enough quickness and potential explosiveness when given the ball in the second half that I'm guessing his role will expand going forward. We might be looking at a three-headed monster with Collins, Allen and Terrance West, who only had two carries in the second half Sunday … Rookie linebacker Tyus Bowser contributed a sack and an interception within a few minutes of each other in the second quarter, an impressive exacta that bodes well for his future as a three-down player … The Ravens had just 45 penalty yards Sunday compared to 85 in their season-opener … Wide receiver Michael Campanaro and tight end Maxx Williams each got a carry out of the backfield as a running back Sunday as the Ravens continued with an offensive approach that no one can call predictable.
Check out the best photos from M&T Bank Stadium as the Ravens battle the Browns in week 2 of the 2017 NFL season!