It is sort of remarkable -- and maybe a little sad -- how many Ravens fans seemed to be elbowing one another out of the way in an attempt to be the first to declare Smith a bust just two weeks into his rookie season. Maybe their judgment was clouded by post traumatic stress syndrome brought on by memories of Travis Taylor and Mark Clayton, but I'm not sure I've ever seen a second round pick who was subjected to that much criticism in such a short time period.
Other than quarterback, there really isn't a harder position than wide receiver to master right away in the NFL. For years and years, it's been tough sledding for pretty much every rookie not named Randy Moss. Even Andre Johnson and Calvin Johnson -- two physical freaks who are arguably the two best wide receivers in football -- each caught only four touchdowns in their rookie season. When you take into account the fact that Smith missed out on running literally hundreds of plays during the offseason when the lockout wiped out organized team activities, you can make a good case that his performance on Sunday shows he's actually ahead of schedule.
Let's be clear about something: Smith's performance against the Rams doesn't mean he has the game totally figured out. There will still be struggles. I would bet there are once again games this season when he doesn't have a catch, and that isn't a knock on him, it's just what happens in the NFL. The game plan depends a lot on what the other team tries to take away. The Rams were walking a safety up close to the line of scrimmage on Sunday and essentially daring the Ravens to burn them deep. Cam Cameron clearly anticipated this, and the game plan was obviously for Joe Flacco to go after St. Louis any time he saw a corner in single coverage.
Flacco threw a beautiful ball on Smith's 74-yard touchdown, but what was most impressive to me was Smith accelerated and pulled away from cornerback Jason King the last five yards the ball was in the air. On his third touchdown, he recognized the ball in the air and showed great body control and great hands to go up and snatch Flacco's fade at its high point.
Those two catches should serve as proof he has the potential to be very good once he figures out the nuances of running patterns and reading coverage.
The Ravens didn't draft Smith to be their No. 1 wideout right away, or even their No. 2 or No. 3. There is a reason why he was available in the second round, and it's because he was a little raw in college. He was a stone that needed polishing, but for three months, the Ravens coaches couldn't even talk to him. But now, with a few games under his belt, we're seeing his potential.
If you were one of the Ravens fans chock-full of keyboard courage and ripping him all over the Internet last week, have the guts to step up and admit you were a bit too quick to judge his progress. Here is his twitter handle @TorreySmithWR. Regardless of what happens the rest of the way, on this day, he deserves a little love.
2. As strange as this may sound, when you're a young team that's still figuring things out, it's harder to be "good" than it is to be "great."
After the Week 1 win over the Steelers, both John Harbaugh and Ray Lewis insisted that the 2010 Ravens had nothing to do with the 2011 Ravens. The team's roster had changed so much, those kind of comparisons were pointless. And for the most part, I think they were correct.
But if we concede their point, then I'm going to argue this is also true: The 2011 Ravens didn't understand that you have to be emotionally ready to play every week because they didn't have enough experience facing those situations, especially on the road. And that's part of the part of the reason they laid an egg against the Titans in Week 2.
Now, the Titans are probably going to be a much better team than anyone predicted. (They're certainly a lot better than the Rams.) But the Ravens showed up in Tennessee and played like they were there because they had an obligation to play instead of playing like a team on of a mission. We don't seem to value consistency as much as we do individual greatness in sports, but it's a huge part of building a championship team. It's actually easy to play well when you're really hyped up and you're facing your fiercest rival. Anyone can be great for an afternoon or an evening. What's hard is to be a good team all those other weeks when you have to generate your own intensity.
Steve Martin -- the actor, comedian and writer -- essentially said all this in his autobiography, "Born Standing Up," which will be this week's Five Things We Learned unofficial reading recommendation. He was talking about his stand up act, and the hours and hours he spent tweaking it in tiny clubs before he was ever famous, but I think you can apply it to anything, including this year's Ravens.
"It was easy to be great," Martin wrote. "Every entertainer has a night when everything is clicking. These nights are accidental and statistical. What was hard was to be good, consistently good, night after night, no matter what the abominable circumstances.”
The Ravens showed they could overwhelm a bad team on Sunday. That doesn't mean they have everything figured out, but it's a sign they're moving in the right direction.
3. Flacco threw some very impressive deep balls on Sunday, and he also threw several beautiful touch passes, but I think what impressed me most was how well he moved around in the pocket. It feels like he's much more aware of how to buy time this season.
I said last week I thought Flacco deserved a mulligan against the Titans because the Ravens offensive line played so poorly, and I'm glad I did because he played one of his best games on Sunday. That was the quarterback we saw in Week 1. But one thing I've noticed, even in last week's debacle, is how much better he seems to be this year at avoiding sacks. He's either throwing the ball away, dumping it off to Rice, or picking up yards with his feet. He's helping the Ravens offense stay out of situations where they have to convert 3rd-and-long, and that's huge. That alone keeps drives alive.
One thing that needs to be pointed out, though, is how absurd it is that there seem to be different rules for different quarterbacks in the NFL. Rams linebacker James Laurinaitis essentially body-surfed on Flacco in the second half after he got rid of the ball, and if that happened to Tom Brady, I'm fairly certain Roger Goodell would have charged Laurinaitis with a felony. It doesn't make much sense. Mike Vick brought up the same point after a hit in the Giants game broke his right hand. (No flag was thrown.) You can't touch certain guys, but quarterbacks like Flacco, Vick and Ben Roethlisberger get abused and referees eat their flags.
I don't like the trend of treating quarterbacks like porcelain dolls, but if you're going to treat some of them that way, you can't have different rules for the big guys or the fast guys just because it looks like they can take a beating.
4. It doesn't matter how you get Ray Rice the ball as long as he still gets the ball.
It's hard to quibble with anything when the Ravens win by 30 points, but fantasy football has so infiltrated our culture that I'm sure there will be some mild grumbling that Rice only carried the ball eight times against the worst run defense in the NFL.
That's silly, because the key to using Rice effectively is to get him touches in space, whether it's on stretch plays, dump offs or by lining him up in the slot. The move he put on Rams safety Darian Stewart (who had a rough day) was one of the sickest moves I've seen in a long time in the open field. That helped turn a 25-yard run into a 49-yard run, but that's the kind of thing Rice can do any time he touches the ball.
He also had a nice blitz pick-up on Smith's 74-yard touchdown, which isn't something that fantasy owners care about, but it is something that's helped make him one of the best running backs in the NFL.
5. The pass rush is still the key to the Ravens pass coverage.
The Ravens did a better job disguising coverages against the Rams, but they still had their issues in the secondary. (Cary Williams is no Jimmy Smith.) Sam Bradford could have made some plays if he had time to throw, but the majority of the time he was running for his life.
The defensive line got a much better push, and even the blitzes seemed move violent. I've been critical of Jameel McClain plenty of times in this column, so let me be the first to say he made a great play when he fought through a blitz pickup and still sacked Bradford. That's the kind of effort play we didn't see against the Titans, but if you're a Ravens fan, you hope you see more of against the Jets.