It wasn’t a total renovation, but the Ravens began to rebuild on the fly as soon as the NFL lockout ended in July. One of three teams that have made at least three straight playoff appearances (the Colts and Eagles are the others), the Ravens quickly cut ties with veterans such as Todd Heap, Derrick Mason, Kelly Gregg and Willis McGahee, leaving some fans looking for explanations and others looking for new jerseys to buy.
In an attempt to get younger, more explosive and, well, better than the Pittsburgh Steelers, the Ravens then turned to draft picks from April’s NFL draft and young players who have been waiting in the wings.
To call them the new-look Ravens would be an overstatement. After all, the usual suspects all played major roles against the Steelers in Sunday afternoon’s 35-7 shocker at M&T Bank Stadium.
Terrell Suggs was named the AFC Defensive Player of the Week after recording three sacks and forcing two fumbles. He edged out teammate Ed Reed, who had a pair of interceptions. Ray Rice scored twice. Ray Lewis forced a fumble and had an interception, too. Haloti Ngata set up a permanent residence in Pittsburgh’s backfield. And Joe Flacco played like he was the quarterback who was a two-time Super Bowl champion.
“It was domination,” Ravens outside linebacker Terrell Suggs said after the game. “You can say domination but it was a team thing. The team got all those turnovers. It was a great day for the city of Baltimore.”
And there were contributions sprinkled in from less-than-familiar faces, too, and that was an encouraging sign -- and a source of excitement -- for both the present team and the Ravens of the future.
Second-year tight ends Ed Dickson and Dennis Pitta replaced the typical production of Todd Heap and then some, totaling seven catches combined for 104 yards and a touchdown. Cary Williams and Lardarius Webb helped slow down Pittsburgh’s passing game. Fourth-year safety Tom Zbikowski made up for the loss of Dawan Landry in free agency. And rookie defensive end Pernell McPhee was a factor at times.
Even more exciting is that the Ravens are still waiting for contributions from rookies Jimmy Smith (he has a high ankle sprain), Torrey Smith and Tandon Doss and from 2010 second-round pick Sergio Kindle.
On Monday, Ravens coach John Harbaugh was asked if it was hard for the team to take a “leap of faith.”
“I think it depends on your philosophy, first of all, and your willingness to take risk,” Harbaugh said at his weekly Monday press conference. “I think we have that as an organization, and it starts at the very top. Also, [it’s about] how well you feel like you are drafting, because as a coach, when you feel like you have got younger players in place that can do the job, you are more willing to go with those guys.”
So far, so good.
The Ravens looked like the younger, hungrier and more athletic team on Sunday, and they showed few signs of rust or a lack of cohesion with the new players added to the mix in a lockout-shortened summer.
“I don’t think you ever know how you’re going to go out and play in the first game, especially with all of the things that you’re talking about,” Harbaugh said. “We talked to our guys. We expected to win the game. We felt we had a chance to play really well, but you never know until you go do it. …. But the challenge now is to build on it and improve. And that’s what you have to do, because everybody else is going to improve.”
The Ravens had reached their ceiling a year ago with Heap, Mason, Gregg and other veterans taking on large roles. But if this first game -- and it was a big one -- was any indication, the sky is the limit with this team.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun