Rookie wide receiver Zay Flowers was a huge part of the game plan in his regular season debut, which didn't surprise Head Coach John Harbaugh.
"Yeah, I saw the plays," Harbaugh joked after Flowers led Baltimore's receivers with nine catches for 78 yards in a 25-9 victory over the Houston Texans. "I'm proud of him."
Flowers' nine receptions were the most ever by a Raven making his NFL debut. The coaching staff showed confidence in Flowers by putting plenty on his plate, as Lamar Jackson kept feeding Flowers and the rookie kept eating. Not only was he targeted 10 times, Flowers also gained nine yards on two carries and showed why he's a multi-dimensional threat as a receiver and runner, lining up outside, inside, or motioning across the formation.
His talent is obvious, but Flowers has also impressed teammates with a strong work ethic and maturity since being drafted in the first round. The Ravens were confident Flowers could handle a featured role in the offense immediately because he's a quick study. After admitting that he was nervous before the preseason opener, Flowers appeared to be much calmer on Sunday even though it was a regular-season game.
"I told you that I'd get used to the speed of it," Flowers said. "Today it slowed down for me. I was just pleased to get some catches. Two catches, I'd be good with that. First game, get the win."
Flowers is super-quick even by NFL standards and watching him on film couldn't have totally prepared the Texans for his elusiveness. That showed on Baltimore's second drive of the game, when he put Texans linebacker Denzel Perryman on his pants with a juke move.
The Ravens have seen that kind of thing from Flowers every day in practice, but now opponents will have to defend it. This was also the Ravens debut for Odell Beckham Jr. (two catches, 37 yards), the biggest name in Baltimore's revamped receiving corps.
With Pro Bowl tight end Mark Andrews out of action (quad), Beckham drew plenty of attention from the Texans' defense as they dared someone else to beat them. Flowers made Houston pay, and his longest reception went for 21 yards when he got loose down the left sideline and Jackson hit him with a strike.
This was Offensive Coordinator Todd Monken's first game as Baltimore's offensive coordinator, and it took a half for the offense to find its rhythm. The Ravens went three-and-out on the game's opening possession, and Jackson threw a bad pass to Flowers on the next drive that was intercepted by Houston cornerback Steven Nelson.
However, when Flowers started to cook, so did Baltimore's offense. The Ravens went on a nine-play, 58-yard scoring drive on their third position, and it started with a 6-yard pass from Jackon to Flowers. Later in the drive, Jackson and Flowers made their 21-yard connection and Flowers had a 3-yard run that led to J.K. Dobbins' 4-yard touchdown scamper on the next play.
Nothing about Flowers' performance surprised Jackson.
"I already knew what Zay was capable of, and he showed it himself – making guys miss and running great routes, catching the ball and getting up the field, getting yards after the catch," Jackson said. "We want to get everybody involved. We have a lot of great guys on that field and in our receiving room. I feel like we're on to something special here."
The Ravens know they have plenty to clean up offensively and losing Dobbins to a season-ending Achilles injury in Week 1 was a huge downer. However, they scored 25 points without clicking on all cylinders, and Flowers showed that he's no ordinary rookie. As he gains experience, the best should be yet to come.
"I feel like next game, it'll be way better. The operation will be smoother," Flowers said. "Everybody will be way more comfortable with each other.
"I feel like we have one of the best run games in the NFL. You always have to worry about stopping that first and then you have to worry about stopping Lamar. That's just going to get us open even more, and when Mark comes back it's going to get even scarier."