10:48 PM EDT, September 10, 2012
The Ravens have an offense.
Let's say it one more time. The Ravens have a legitimate offense with real weapons — including an accurate quarterback.
We haven't been able to say that for years, maybe since the mid- to late-1990s when Vinny Testaverde was the Ravens' quarterback, and he was throwing the ball all over Memorial Stadium to receivers Michael Jackson, Derrick Alexander and Jermaine Lewis.
The Ravens put up 44 points in a season-opening win against the Cincinnati Bengals Monday night. I know what you're thinking. It was only the Bengals. But Cincinnati was ranked No. 7 in total defense last season, 10th against the run and ninth against the pass.
It just wasn't the statistics the Ravens rolled up but this offense showed some killer instinct. When the Bengals had pulled to within 17-13 to open the third quarter, the Ravens squashed any momentum Cincinnati might have had by answering with a nine-play, 89-yard drive that was finished by a 10-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Joe Flacco to tight end Dennis Pitta.
That was the biggest series of the game. That was the proverbial nail in the coffin. For years, it has been the defense which had finished off opponents.
Maybe times have changed.
Even more impressive was the Ravens' offensive line. The team limped into the opener old and battered, but they went with a youth movement Monday night starting rookie Kelechi Osemele at right offensive tackle and third-year player Ramon Harewood at left guard.
It was unbelievable.
Not only did Harewood make it out of the tunnel without falling down and pulling a muscle, he actually played well and did a good job of working into the second level and sealing off linebackers, especially on those quick trap plays up the middle.
We still reserve judgment on the offensive line, but for one night it was time to celebrate. Break out the confetti and pass the champagne.
Cincinnati had no answers for the Ravens' offense. The Ravens had speed and playmakers on the outside with receivers Torrey Smith and Jacoby Jones. The Bengals couldn't find running back Ray Rice with a compass and a map.
The Ravens had him in the backfield or in the slot or split out as a receiver. Rice was gaining big yards inside as a runner, or turning a short pass into 18 yards as a receiver.
With Rice running so well, the Ravens' play-action game was superb. The Bengals will be seeing that delayed waggle pass over the middle to Pitta for the rest of the season.
Speaking of Pitta, he was the only Ravens tight end to catch a pass in the first half, but he helped his team take over the game in the second.
Flacco was on for most of the night. He threw three passes that could have been intercepted, but the 52-yarder to Smith to open the game was a beauty.
The 34-yard touchdown pass he threw to receiver Anquan Boldin showed excellent touch as he split safeties Reggie Nelson and Taylor Mays while throwing it over them.
The Ravens just had too many weapons and formations. They used fullback Vonta Leach as a receiver. Rice tried to pull off an option pass. The Ravens tried to run a double reverse. The Ravens stuck with the no-huddle and used power formations as well as three-receiver sets.
It worked on a night when the Ravens defense struggled for a half and the start of the third quarter when the Bengals had them second guessing and flat-footed. But once the Ravens got a substantial lead, the Ravens pass rush overwhelmed Cincinnati quarterback Andy Dalton.
This is the perfect time for the offense to dominate games. Flacco and Rice are both in their fifth season, and a year ago they were basically anointed the heir apparent leaders to linebacker Ray Lewis and safety Ed Reed.
On Monday night, they both stepped up. So did the receivers and the offensive line. The Ravens put on a balanced offensive display that we haven't seen in years against a quality opponent.
They really have an offense.
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