Five thoughts on the Ravens' 29-7 win over the Atlanta Falcons Sunday at M&T Bank Stadium:
Aggressive Defense Takes AdvantageWhile the Ravens' much-improved offense has dominated the headlines early in the 2014 season, the defense has dealt with some ups and downs. But the defense is finding its footing as the season unfolds. There's a lot to like. The pass rush has heated up, with Elvis Dumervil, Pernell McPhee and Terrell Suggs all making life uncomfortable for opposing quarterbacks. The cornerback slots, a major concern early, are tightening up now that Lardarius Webb is playing opposite Jimmy Smith. At safety, Terrence Brooks is on the field more and Will Hill, who suited up for the first time Sunday, could be a difference maker. You can see the pieces coming together. The Falcons have some superb offensive players, including quarterback Matt Ryan and receivers Julio Jones and Roddy White, but they have issues up front in the wake of a run of injuries, and the Ravens took full advantage. Defensive Coordinator Dean Pees called an aggressive game. Ryan seldom had time to throw anything more than a quick route before taking a hit. It was a mismatch. Impressive.
Upset Ravens Fans Should Look At Falcons Fans
Some Ravens fans were upset when their team went 8-8 and failed to make the playoffs in 2013 after winning the Super Bowl the year before. They should talk to fans in Atlanta. On the same day when the Ravens defeated New England in the 2012 AFC title game to advance to the Super Bowl, the Falcons hosted the NFC title game. They lost to Jim Harbaugh's 49ers and have not been the same since. Last year, they sank to 4-12. This year, they're 2-5 after getting shellacked Sunday in a game in which they yielded five sacks and committed seven penalties for 76 yards – ugly stuff. Bottom line, they're 6-17 since playing in the conference title game in January 2013, while The Ravens are 13-10. The Ravens are the first to admit they took a few steps backward last year, but it wasn't the disaster Atlanta experienced, and now the Ravens are 5-2 this season, looking more and more like a team with serious designs on a playoff spot. Everything is relative.
Forsett, Daniels Signings Looking Like Season-Savers
When the Ravens signed running back Justin Forsett and tight end Owen Daniels during the offseason, they didn't expect either to become the No. 1 guy at their positions. Daniels was penciled in as the No. 2 tight end behind Dennis Pitta, and Forsett looked like "deep depth" behind Ray Rice and Bernard Pierce. Honestly, the whispers were both were brought in to help new Offensive Coordinator Gary Kubiak explain his system. (Both played for Kubiak in Houston.) But seven games in, the signings of Forsett and Daniels are looking like season-savers. After Pitta was lost for the season with a hip injury and the team cut ties with Rice, Forsett and Daniels have stepped in so effectively that those potentially devastating absences have barely been felt. Forsett is on pace for a thousand-yard rushing season (503 so far) after gashing Atlanta for 95 yards Sunday. Daniels has become a Pitta clone, serving as quarterback Joe Flacco's key chain-mover. "I have a lot of confidence in him," Flacco said of Daniels, who caught six passes Sunday and ranks second on the team in catches behind Steve Smith Sr.
Don't Give Injury Excuse To Ravens
More than a few analysts have explained away the Falcons' disappointing season as the inevitable byproduct of key injuries along the offensive line. But it should be noted that the other team in Sunday's game is also dealing with injuries in its offensive interior, and holding up quite well. For the past two weeks, the Ravens have started an undrafted rookie (James Hurst) at left tackle and a rookie fifth-round pick (John Urschel) at left guard. When asked during the week if he had ever seen an NFL team man the entire side of a line with such untested guys, Kubiak smiled and said no, he had not seen that. "That's different," said Kubiak, who has coached in the league for two decades. But the Ravens are now 2-0 with those guys on the left side. Yes, Hurst had some issues Sunday and was flagged for three holding penalties. But Flacco was only sacked once and the running game was productive. "They're coming along well. They're really smart and very physical," Daniels said of the two rookies. They'll return to the sidelines when Eugene Monroe and Kelechi Osemele are healthy, but it's to their credit that the offense has thrived with them on the field.
The Ravens should petition the league office to join the NFC South. They've played three games against teams from that division in the past month, and they've won all three by a combined score of 115-34. A December road game against the New Orleans Saints will round out Baltimore's schedule against the NFC South in 2014, and that should be a tougher game than these first three against Carolina, Tampa Bay and Atlanta … Atlanta's Devin Hester might be the best return man in pro football history, but he had nowhere to run Sunday, helping the Ravens win the field position battle … Jacoby Jones' troubling season continued with another fumbled punt. I've defended continuing to give him a chance, but if the Ravens run out of patience soon, I wouldn't blame them … My eyes widened at this quote from Dumervil on Pernell McPhee, whose star is rising: "He's a special player. I've never been around anyone like that."