Five Things We Learned from the Ravens' 23-0 win over the Green Bay Packers

1. Despite the impressive final score, we saw the best and the worst of the 2017 Ravens.

This was a crucial step in the Ravens’ quest to snag an AFC wild-card spot. And whenever you go to Lambeau Field and pitch a shutout, it’s hard to quibble.

But make no mistake: We still saw most of the flaws that have kept the Ravens from becoming a surefire playoff team.

The defense ended each of Green Bay’s first three drives with a takeaway. Yet the offense converted those superb opportunities into a meager three points.

Later in the first half, Joe Flacco flubbed a golden scoring opportunity when he forced a pass to Danny Woodhead despite the fact that Packers safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix had clear inside position on the Ravens running back. It was the type of interception Flacco has thrown all too often in recent seasons. And we’ve seen the Ravens pay dearly for such mistakes against the better teams on their schedule.

The Ravens’ rushing attack, a strength early in the season, has also struggled three of the past four games. Alex Collins averaged just 2.5 yards a carry against the Packers, though he ran extremely hard behind substandard blocking.

On the other hand, the defense really is a nightmare for inexperienced quarterbacks such as the Packers’ Brett Hundley. The Ravens have now proved that their early success creating turnovers was not a fluke. And they make up for the absence of a superstar pass rusher with creative blitzes and the sheer number of quality players they roll out along the front seven.

Coming out of the preseason, we thought this defense might excel across all situations and position groups. That projection is starting to look like reality.

The Ravens also played exceptional special teams in Green Bay. Sam Koch stuck three punts inside the 10-yard line. Chris Moore and Michael Campanaro delivered a pair of fine returns. Justin Tucker was perfect.

The Ravens have shown they can dominate mediocre teams with this blend of ball-hawking defense, top-notch special teams and spotty offense. The good news for them is that their remaining schedule is full of such teams. They’ll play another one — the Houston Texans — next Monday night.

The post-bye Ravens looked a lot like the pre-bye Ravens. But in this AFC, that might be enough.

2. Despite the uneven offensive performance, the receivers showed signs of life.

Flacco and offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg had faced a barrage of recent questions about the team’s lack of productivity on intermediate passes.

So fans had to feel heartened when Flacco hit Mike Wallace for 16 yards on the first offensive play of the game.

Wallace later made the kind of play we just haven’t seen from the Ravens’ receivers this season, when he reached around Packers cornerback Damarious Randall to catch a contested pass for a touchdown to start the second half.

It’s been puzzling to watch the Ravens ignore Wallace for long stretches this season, because when they’ve made a point of going to him early — against the Oakland Raiders and the Packers — he’s delivered standout games.

Flacco also hit Jeremy Maclin for a 14-yard gain and tight end Benjamin Watson for a 33-yard gain that set up Wallace’s touchdown. He generally threw well when he set his feet, completing 22 of 28 attempts.

This obviously wasn’t a high-powered offense. Flacco still averaged just 6.5 yards per attempt, which would rank 28th in the league if it were his season rate. But with Wallace and Maclin healthy and Danny Woodhead back in action, the passing attack at least approached competence.

3. Ronnie Stanley is among the team’s most indispensable players.

With Stanley out because of a concussion, the offensive line struggled to one of its worst performances of the season.

Because Stanley protects Flacco’s blind side, we tend to think of him primarily as a pass blocker. He’s also grown into an excellent run blocker this season, and with James Hurst filling in at left tackle, the Ravens suffered in both areas.

Hurst is a decent guard and a handy utility lineman, but he’s always been overmatched when forced to play against the opponent’s best edge rushers,

He allowed Packers linebacker Clay Matthews to dart around him and sack Flacco to end the Ravens’ first drive. And he didn’t have much better luck against Green Bay’s other standout edge rusher, Nick Perry, who hit Flacco three times.

Hurst wasn’t the only culprit.

Packers linebacker Kyler Fackrell beat right tackle Austin Howard to the inside for another sack just before halftime. And Collins was hit early almost every time he touched the ball, though he made the most of what little running room he had.

With Marshal Yanda out, Stanley is the clear star of the line. When he’s on the sideline, the whole unit destabilizes.

4. Willie Henry has quietly established himself as an important defensive contributor.

Henry didn’t play as a rookie and seemed in danger of becoming a forgotten man in the Ravens’ deep pool of defensive linemen.

Then he morphed into a key player overnight when the Ravens lost Brent Urban for the season. Henry has generally made the most of that opportunity without racking up attention-grabbing stat lines.

That changed in Green Bay, where the 300-pound defensive tackle bulled his way to five tackles and two sacks.

Henry is growing into an effective inside pass rusher, reminiscent of his former Ravens teammate, Tim Jernigan. He complements the team’s pure run stuffers, Michael Pierce and Brandon Williams.

His star turn at Lambeau nicely illustrated his progress.

5. We saw hints of Danny Woodhead’s importance to the offense, despite his modest stat line.

Woodhead’s return from a significant hamstring injury was an obvious headline coming out of the bye week. Given how productive he was during the one series he played in the season opener, he seemed the best hope to spruce up a floundering offense.

His stat line against the Packers — five catches on six targets for 21 yards — won’t pop anyone’s eyes. But Woodhead did remind us of his virtues when he flashed across the middle to catch a 7-yard pass on third-and-6 to extend a Ravens drive in Green Bay territory.

The Ravens signed him to make such plays, and Woodhead gave a huge fist pump after the catch, showing how invigorated he felt to be back in his designated role.

As safety Eric Weddle explained last week, a healthy Woodhead mandates defensive attention in the middle of the field and thus creates opportunities for the team’s other receivers.

The 32-year-old’s durability remains an open question. But the Ravens certainly gained a bit of hope from seeing him in action again.

childs.walker@baltsun.com

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