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Five Things We Learned From Ravens' 24-10 Victory

1. Flacco is such a different quarterback when he comes out playing confident and decisive, it almost feels like we're watching two different players when you think about last week (against the Redskins) and compare it to this week (against the Giants).

Now, let's state up front that a lot of that has to do with protection. When the Ravens protect him, you can see his confidence soar. The protection wasn't good on the initial drive, and you saw what happened. He still has, I think, subpar pocket awareness, and some of that simply is because he didn't play in an offense in college with seven-step drops. (It was virtually all shotgun at Delaware.) But when he gets his feet set and squares his shoulders, he can look really good. I'm not an offensive guru, but I still believe when Cam Cameron puts him in the spread or the no-huddle, it seems to sharpen his focus. Maybe it's simply a case of feeling comfortable, since all his success in college came from playing in the spread, but when he makes one strong confident throw, it tends to be a catalyst for him that leads to a good night.

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Take the throw he made to Mark Clayton late in the first quarter for 20 yards. It was probably the prettiest throw he's made this preseason, even prettier than the touchdown he threw to Clayton against the Panthers. Flacco read the coverage, set his feet, then launched the ball before Clayton came out of his break. It was the kind of throw that Peyton Manning and Tom Brady have made a Hall of Fame career out of, and the kind of throw that convinces you Flacco really does have All-Pro potential.

It's hard to read Flacco's emotions because he's typically so stoic, but I swear you could see them spike after that throw. Cameron put him in the no-huddle and Flacco responded by marching down the field, making his reads and stepping into this throws. Take his first touchdown: He came to the line -- wide receiver spread out -- and called an audible, aware that Aquan Boldin's defender was playing him to the outside. But the audible was only half of what was impressive on that play. What really mattered was the look he shot to the opposite side of the field, which held the safety long enough for Boldin to get inside. Against the Redskins, it seemed like he wasn't even going through his reads before throwing check downs, but against the Giants, you could really see Flacco seeing the whole field.

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His second touchdown to Heap was just as impressive. He saw the coverage, went through his reads, pump faked to one side, then fired a laser backside post over the middle of the field, an area he seemed to avoid last year for whatever reason. (Whether it was his own preference or Cameron's instruction, it was never clear.) But if this guy shows up every week, the Ravens are going to romp through the AFC North, and he's going to have to step up considering Dante Stallworth is going to miss significant time with a broken foot.

"It was a great performance. I think we felt really good as an offense," Flacco said. "We really felt like we were clicking and moving down the field pretty fluidly. Our guys did a great job of getting open."

He even showed a little emotion after his second touchdown, pumping his fist and screaming in the direction of the sidelines, which I think is proof he aware of some of the mild criticism people have had for him, and isn't able to completely tune it out regardless of what he says in the media. That's a good thing, I think. Athletes love to pretend they don't care what people think and don't pay attention to what's written or said about them in the media, but it's rarely true. That's why the sentiment "We're out to prove everyone wrong!" is so common in sports. Because even professional athletes benefit from a little motivation.

2. I love watching Ray Lewis. I truly do. He's the greatest linebacker of my lifetime, and there really isn't anyone close to him by comparison. But anyone who stubbornly insists he's not slipping a bit -- whether they do so out of ignorance or homerism -- should do themselves a favor and watch the first quarter play where the Giants handed off to Ahmad Bradshaw and it looked like he was going to be bottled up in the backfield for a loss.

Jarret Johnson was blitzing on the play, and came through almost unblocked, so it was really his fault the run didn't get stuffed because he couldn't wrap up Bradshaw. But after Johnson, Kelly Gregg and Terrell Suggs missed the tackle, Bradshaw reversed direction and cut to the outside.

Lewis had him right in his sights. Five years ago, Bradshaw would have been lassoed to the ground like steer in a rodeo for no gain. But Bradshaw beat Lewis to the edge, left him flailing at his ankles, and picked up a good chunk of yardage. I don't write this to suggest that Lewis isn't an effective defender anymore, because he certainly is. And Bradshaw is a pretty good player (though hardly Barry Sanders in his prime). But those are the kind of gains that Lewis spent years erasing, covering for his teammates and wiping away their mistakes. He can't do that anymore. And though it's understandable, it's sort of heartbreaking too.

Two plays later, on a delay to Bradshaw, Lewis just embarrassed Giants tackle William Beatty, ducking inside of him when Betty came out to block him. He had a clean look at Bradshaw ... and whiffed. I feel like there are going to be games like this, when Lewis is going to look less and less like Batman, and more and more like Bruce Wayne. Which means, to be honest, that his teammates are going to have to step up and raise their game. Because he can no longer consistently erase their mistakes.

But guess what? On the most important play of that drive, the 4th-and-1 from the 15-yard line, the Giants tried to run right at Lewis' gap, and he lowered a shoulder and was the first guy to stuff Bradshaw. So question him at your own peril, I guess.

3. Fabian Washington and Chris Carr actually look pretty good thus far.

I know it's early, but Washington looks much better than I expected coming back from his knee injury. It will be interesting to see him when he faces Carson Palmer in Week 2 or Tom Brady in Week 6, but thus far he's not getting scorched deep, which was the most frustrating thing about him last year before he was injured. For whatever reason, he just didn't have it mentally half the time (which he acknowledged after the Minnesota game, when he was yanked for Frank Walker) so maybe he not only got himself right physically this off-season, but mentally. (Keep your fingers crossed, Ravens fans. It's a long season, but optimism never hurts.)

As far as Carr is concerned, I think he actually got criticized somewhat unfairly last season. He played well at times, and when he didn't play well, people seemed to remember it far more often. I think he has a chance to be solid for the Ravens this year, even if he's only holding that spot until Lardarius Webb is 100 percent healthy. Carr has tremendous character, which is usually something you say about an athlete when they're not very gifted athletically and you're trying to find something, anything, nice to say about them. But in his case, he's a very good athlete with smarts and the tools, and I think all the worrying this off-season over the Ravens corners might have been much ado about nothing.

4. Remember last week when I was ranting about the linebackers' pass defense? Well, this week was a lot better, and you know who made the biggest play of the night? Dannell Ellerbe.

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I've stated over and over again that I'm a big fan of Ellerbe, who made a great play when he tipped Eli Manning's pass that was intercepted by Haruki Nakamura. He just seems to be around the ball a lot. But Ellerbe isn't regarded as a particularly good practice player, and that has to be the reason he's still languishing on the depth chart. Instead of complaining that John Harbaugh and Greg Mattison need to forgive his lapses in practice and elevate him anyway because they know he'll make plays that impact the game (neither coach seems wired that way), I'm starting to feel like it's time for Ellerbe really get focused and prove himself during the week instead of just on Sunday. Jameel McClain is a good player, but I feel like Ellerbe could be a really good player. But part of being a professional is stepping up and proving it when the only ones watching are the coaches.

5. There may be some life in the Troy Smith Experiment after all. It's still unclear if that's good or bad.

I was almost getting ready to pull the plug on Smith's Ravens career after the first two games of the preseason, but this game at least gives me pause. Smith did make a few nice plays this week, throwing the ball with more accuracy and timing. His touchdown to Marcus Smith was the kind of play he made all the time at Ohio State, putting the ball right where only the receiver can catch it. He's not a scrambling quarterback -- it's nauseating every time you year Mike Vick's name brought up when people talk about Smith -- but he was really good in college at moving in the pocket, then delivering accurate passes, and he hasn't shown the ability to do that yet in the NFL. I still wonder if we'll ever see it.

Harbaugh and Cameron keep saying the right things about how Smith is going to be a starter in the league, but really what else are they going to say? You have to throw public praise on your young players, even if their performance doesn't warrant it.

I seriously doubt the Ravens would go with just two quarterbacks on their roster this year, but you have to wonder if it hasn't crossed Harbaugh's mind (and Ozzie Newsome's too). Think about it like this: If the Ravens are a Super Bowl contender, who has a chance to make a bigger impact week-to-week? A quarterback like Smith, or a linebacker on the special teams bubble like Jason Phillips, who is faster than people give him credit for?

Let's say both Flacco and Marc Bulger get injured. Even with a run-heavy offense, the Ravens aren't going to win the Super Bowl, so Smith's impact, at that point, seems marginal. I'm not sure there is room in the modern NFL for a roster spot reserved for a worst-case scenario. But throw in another linebacker or defensive end or cornerback, and that player might make a difference.

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