BALTIMORE — Just like I predicted on the latest episode of the Charm City Bird Watch Podcast, the Ravens blew out the Bills at M&T Bank Stadium to kick off the 2018 regular season. The score was 47-3. Six different players on offense scored touchdowns. The defense forced two turnovers and collected six sacks. Buffalo never stood a chance.
Here’s eight takeaways from Baltimore’s nearly-perfect win.
1. A balanced offense is a good offense
A common knock on offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg has been his tendency to abandon the run. Due to the poor weather conditions, we all expected the Ravens to rely heavily on the run, but that wasn’t necessarily the case against the Bills.
Collectively, the Ravens ran the ball 34 times and passed 38 times. Favorable field position and numerous starters getting pulled early left the box score looking like a preseason game, and for good reason. Mornhinweg’s balanced play-calling, along with the presence of Lamar Jackson, gave Buffalo’s defense fits.
2. Ravens’ defense dominates in historic fashion
I don’t think the Ravens defense could have started off their season any better than they did on Sunday. In the first half, the unit held the Bills to 0 first downs and 33 offensive yards. It marked the first time in franchise history that the Ravens defense held an opponent without a first down for the entire first half. The previous record was two first downs in a half – set in 2000 against the Bengals and again in 2008 versus the Raiders.
The Bills finished the game with 153 total yards, but many of those came in garbage time when veterans like Terrell Suggs had already exited. The Bills even trotted first-round rookie quarterback Josh Allen out there, which they were not anticipating, but Nathan Peterman was that bad. Peterman attempted 15 passes, completing five of them for 24 yards, and came out of the game with a rating of 0. Ouch.
3. This week, Joe Flacco was elite
After coming back from a torn ACL and a back injury over the last two seasons, Ravens media spent all of training camp telling us how great Joe Flacco looked at practice every day. Whether or not his camp greatness translated to a regular season game remained to be seen, but Flacco’s first outing of the 2018 season was a successful one.
Against Buffalo, Flacco went 25-for-34 for 236 yards with three touchdown passes. He was effective and did a great job spreading the ball around to different receivers. He used his receivers (11 receptions, three touchdowns), tight ends (eight receptions), and running backs (six receptions). Flacco’s had a bad habit of relying too heavily on running back and tight-end check-downs, but on Sunday he was aggressive and took more risks, even in the pouring rain.
Cincinnati’s Paul Brown Stadium has been a house of horrors for Flacco, but hopefully he can carry his success from this game into Thursday night.
4. Jackson already proving to be a big asset
Speaking of Jackson, we saw more than him on Sunday than we anticipated. That’s a good thing. With the Ravens up 40-0 in the third quarter, Jackson got to play the final 25 minutes as the starting quarterback after being used as a decoy.
Jackson was mainly used as a runner when he ran with the starters, finishing the game with 39 yards on seven carries. Even when he didn’t get the ball, Buffalo’s defense had to account for him and send defenders his way. As the season progresses it will be interesting to see how defenses adjust to the Ravens’ packages featuring Jackson. For now, it gives opposing defenses an extra element to devote practice time to, and that can only help the Ravens.
5. The retooled receiving corps could not have had a better debut
On Sunday, their investment paid off. Snead caught four passes, while Crabtree and Brown each tallied three catches for 131 combined yards and a touchdown apiece. Each of these receivers brings something different to the table, and the Ravens found ways to use their varied skill-sets. They’ll be tested against better defenses, but the Ravens could not have asked for a better start with this group.
6. The offensive line remains a concern
Coming into Sunday, the offensive line was considered the worst position group on Baltimore’s roster, and that remains the same even after Sunday’s huge win. Flacco only got sacked twice, but he constantly had to scramble out of the pocket.
Starting running back Alex Collins couldn’t find any holes to run through, contributing just 13 yards on seven carries for an average of 1.9 yards-per-carry. Kenneth Dixon had better luck, leading the team with 44 rushing yards on 13 carries. However, he left the game in the fourth quarter with an undisclosed injury and did not return.
7. Pass rush shines with mix of youth and old-timers
With Terrell Suggs’ 36th birthday on the horizon, the Ravens will rely on their young pass rushers to step up and play a bigger role this season. Suggs continued to draft his Hall of Fame resume with a sack of his own on Sunday, but we also saw Za’Darius Smith, Tim Williams, and Kenny Young break into the backfield and record sacks. Not only that, but cornerback Tavon Young got involved too and led the team with two sacks.
It’s going to be important for the Ravens to limit Suggs’ snap count this season, especially early on. Several times on Sunday, I noticed that Suggs remained on the sideline for several pass rush situations, with Matt Judon and either Smith or Williams lined up on the ends. Not only will keeping Suggs rested help his motor in December, but he can coach up this talented group of outside linebackers. That will pay dividends in future seasons after Suggs calls it a career.
8. Despite terrible weather, Baltimore gathers a decent crowd for much-needed support
Weather-wise – Sunday, the entire weekend, the entire summer – have all been horrible. It’s also no secret that attendance at Ravens games has seen a massive dip in recent seasons. When I saw Sunday’s forecast earlier in the week, I was very concerned that the stadium would be half empty again at 1:00.
Judging from this picture from WNST‘s Nestor Aparico, along with seeing the stands on live television, M&T Bank Stadium was not full, but the crowd was a decent size in spite of the weather. The Ravens worked very hard over the offseason to revitalize a disgruntled fanbase. They drafted Lamar Jackson, they put in the corner scoreboards, and they reduced concession prices. A disappointing crowd would have brought all of those sad feelings back and put a damper on the season opener, but Baltimore avoided that on Sunday.
As the game went into the second half, a good amount of fans left after getting soaked. That’s understandable, and the stadium needs to be rocking for the next Ravens home game on Sept. 23 against Denver. All factors considered, I’m sure that John Harbaugh and the Ravens appreciate the fans who showed up and fought through the down-pouring rain.
Image Credit: Baltimore Sun