Five thoughts on the Ravens' 38-6 win over the Miami Dolphins Sunday at M&T Bank Stadium:
Ravens To NFL: Better Not Write Us Off
This was a statement game. And the statement the Ravens sent to the rest of the NFL was "better not write us off." Yes, they were listing badly as recently as late October, and no, their 7-5 overall record doesn't inspire confidence that they're capable of going too far. But with this battering of a Miami team that had won six straight games, the Ravens signaled that they're a) officially on a roll with four wins in their past five games, b) capable of deploying a high-octane offense that matches their formidable defense, c) quite possibly more dangerous than their overall record indicates. Maybe the overachieving Dolphins were due to lose, but this blowout was more about the team that won. The Ravens offense hummed on all cylinders for the first time in 2016, completely overwhelming Miami's defense. And the Ravens' top-five defense was quicker and tougher than Miami's offense, further establishing its bona fides as a unit that could carry you in January. The Ravens still have a tough road ahead, literally (three of their remaining four games are on the road) but they're getting better and better, and now that they've shown that their best is pretty darn good, this season is getting interesting.
No Need For A Run Game When Middle Of Field Is Wide Open
Maybe this is true every week, but I feel like the game was decided days before the opening kickoff, when the Ravens' coaches were game-planning how to attack Miami's defense. Someone certainly saw something on film that told them the middle of the Dolphins defense was vulnerable. Boy, was it ever. Throwing mostly over the middle, Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco enjoyed an epic day, one of his best ever. "We felt like we could get behind their [line]backers a bit. When they went zone, there were holes there," he said. He found so many holes that the Ravens didn't even bother to try to get their running game going. I'm normally a proponent of a balanced run-pass ratio, but on a day when the Ravens picked up chunks of yards almost every time Flacco dropped back, the running game was irrelevant. Don't be fooled: They're still going to need the run this season, especially on the road. But you take what's available every week, and the Ravens clearly saw that yards and points were available in the middle of the field against Miami. They took full advantage of the opportunity.
Both Offensive Line And Flacco Deserve Credit
There was a lot of lateraling of credit after the Ravens' offensive outburst. Flacco said it all began up front, with another excellent performance from the line – that unit's second straight strong game, by the way. But the linemen said it all began with Flacco, whose sharp passing conjured memories of his postseason run in 2012. "Joe was so on today. We've all seen that. We're hard to beat when he's like that," guard Marshal Yanda said. So which party deserves more credit for the 38-point show? Head Coach John Harbaugh elected not to choose, handing out game balls to both Flacco and the line. Sorry if this is a cop out, but I see it the same way. You can't get anything done when your offensive line is struggling, as evidenced by Flacco's struggles when he was constantly under pressure earlier in the season. The line's play is vital to the Ravens' resurgence. But the Ravens are truly a powerhouse only when their franchise quarterback is playing with the confidence and hot hand he exhibited Sunday. OK, so it's a tie – the sweetest of ties in the Ravens' eyes: both parties deserve the credit.
This Healthy, Productive Team Is What Front Office Envisioned
When cornerback Jimmy Smith played Sunday after missing two games with a bad back, it meant the Ravens were as healthy as they had been all season. That warrants a high spot on the list of things going right for the Ravens now as opposed to what went wrong earlier in the season. "We're getting healthy at the right time," tight end Dennis Pitta said. How true. Yanda, Ronnie Stanley and Rick Wagner all missed games due to injury earlier, but the offensive line is healthy now. Receiver Steve Smith Sr. also is consistently producing after sitting out games with an ankle injury. Defensively, the Ravens have been forced to go without their best players at times, but Terrell Suggs, Elvis Dumervil and Smith are finally on the field together. "It's just huge for us to have Jimmy," safety Lardarius Webb said. Bottom line, the team the Ravens rolled out Sunday was the team the front office envisioned, with a few minor alterations – rookie Tavon Young at cornerback opposite Smith, for instance. Young left the game for awhile with a shoulder stinger, but he returned, another indication that the Ravens' injury fortunes are changing.
Offensively, the Ravens reversed all sorts of troublesome trends that had hindered them in 2016. They scored touchdowns instead of field goals. They overcame major penalties that threatened to kill drives (one each on their second and third touchdown drives). And they didn't enter a long lull after starting fast ... Even though the Dolphins had to abandon their running game when they fell behind, their star back, Jay Ajayi, lived up to advanced billing as a tough runner who is hard to bring down … Even though the Ravens ran on only six of their 41 offensive snaps in the first half, they ended the game with 110 yards on the ground … With the win, the Ravens improved to 5-2 at M&T Bank Stadium this year, another example of what's going right. They were 3-5 at home a year ago.