Five Things We Learned from the Ravens' 25-15 win over the Cleveland Browns
Baltimore Sun reporter/blogger Matt Vensel analyzes the Ravens' win over Cleveland.
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1( US Presswire / November 4, 2012 )
We now know that the Ravens are capable of starting fast on the road with efficient offensive play. Next, they need to show us that they can sustain it for a full four quarters.
During a dominant first 15 minutes of Sunday's 25-15 win over the Cleveland Browns, the Ravens showed no signs of the slow starts and sloppy execution that has prevented them from winning consecutive road games since December 2010. The Ravens offense hit the ground running at Cleveland Browns Stadium, as they have done the previous four seasons, using Ray Rice and the running game to set the tone on a pair of near-flawless touchdown drives. The team's offensive catalyst rushed for 58 yards and a touchdown on 11 carries -- two more carries than he got in the 43-13 loss to the Houston Texans two weeks ago. Backup Bernard Pierce got in the act, too, rushing for his first NFL touchdown to give them a 14-0 lead just before the end of the first quarter. Even fullback Vonta Leach was dusted off and given a prominent role again, both carrying the ball and crushing would-be tacklers as a lead blocker, after the All-Pro was used for less than 40 percent of the team's offensive snaps in the season's first seven games. The Ravens picked up 11 first downs on those two time-consuming drives and only faced third down four times, converting them all with either a clutch catch by wideout Anquan Boldin or a short-yardage run by Pierce. Quarterback Joe Flacco took what the defense gave him and completed his first 10 passes. As a whole, the Ravens offense was humming early as if the game was being played back in Baltimore.
So where was this in the losses in Philadelphia and Houston and the too-close-for-comfort win in Kansas City? It's a great question, and if I had the answer to it, I would have been on the team's payroll a few weeks ago. I know it seems like a copout, but it mostly does come down to execution. Communication is an issue on the road, sure, and the Ravens can thank you for having one of the NFL's best home-field advantages. But no matter where you are playing, an up-tempo attack -- or any other approach for that matter -- isn't going to work if you're not executing the plays. Offensive coordinator Cam Cameron has gotten a lot of flak for not putting his players in a position to succeed on the road, but he did an excellent job of that early. It helped that the Ravens picked up yards on first and second down and made third down manageable.
But then Rice started hitting a wall of bodies and Flacco's passes started to hit the grass. The Ravens went two quarters without picking up a first down and the Browns got back into the game three points at a time. To his credit, Cameron kept the play-calling balanced, but the Ravens couldn't get anything going. Finally, midway through the fourth quarter, they were able to replicate the success that they had on their first two drives, but executing and moving the ball on three drives is far from a complete game.
This uneven performance did little to alleviate the preexisting concerns about the offense's and Flacco's struggles on the road and, as a result, I'm sure Flacco and Cameron will be popular topics on talk radio this week, especially with challenging road games against Pittsburgh and San Diego looming after this weekend's home game against Oakland. But those efficient first 15 minutes in Cleveland should at least give the Ravens confidence that they are capable of playing their brand of offensive football on the road, too. Now they just have to figure out how to do it for four quarters, which we know is easier said than done.