Torrey Smith celebrates his touchdown reception with teammate Tandon Doss during the first half of the Ravens' game against the Cleveland Browns in Baltimore Sept. 27.
Torrey Smith celebrates his touchdown reception with teammate Tandon Doss during the first half of the Ravens' game against the Cleveland Browns in Baltimore Sept. 27. (DYLAN SLAGLE/STAFF PHOTO , Carroll County Times)

OWINGS MILLS - Baltimore Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco never took his eyes off wide receiver Torrey Smith.

Noticing no safety help and Smith quickly separating from New England Patriots cornerback Kyle Arrington, Flacco merely set his feet and let go of a ball aimed in Smith's direction. Moments later, Smith pulled in the pass for a 25-yard touchdown.

Big passing plays have been a common occurrence for the Ravens' offense through the early part of the season.

Smith's scoring grab is one of Baltimore's league-high 24 completions of 20 yards or longer.

Why have the Ravens been so successful in the vertical passing game?

"We have the guys on the outside that can do it," Flacco said. "We have that. And so far, I've been able to hit on a few [long throws]."

The speedy Smith leads Baltimore with 332 yards and three touchdowns on 16 catches.

He is averaging 20.8 yards per catch, an NFL-best among receivers with 15 catches or more.

Smith and fellow speedster Jacoby Jones have combined for 11 catches that have gone for gains of 20 yards or longer.

Jones has caught nine passes for 170 yards, an average of just less than 19 yards per catch.

"If you give them an opportunity to make a play, most of the time they are to come down and make the play," Flacco said, adding, "It's not only their speed, it's the athleticism and the ability they have at the wide receiver position."

Aided by his two big play threats, Flacco ranks as the AFC's leading passer, averaging 317 yards per game, and has thrown seven touchdowns with just three interceptions.

He is averaging nearly 13 yards per completion.

The Ravens travel to face the Kansas City Chiefs Sunday.

The Chiefs' pass defense is ranked 12th out of the NFL's 32 teams, allowing 216 yards per game through the air.

"[Baltimore's receivers] have great speed," Kansas City coach Romeo Crennel said, "and they have an accurate quarterback, and he puts the ball where it needs to be put."

But the Ravens are also diverse.

If opposing teams focus on Smith and Jones in an attempt to limit big plays down the field, it in turn creates opportunities underneath for wide receiver Anquan Boldin as well as tight ends Dennis Pitta and Ed Dickson.

Boldin had nine grabs for 131 yards in last week's win against the Cleveland Browns.

He leads Baltimore's wide receivers with 19 catches for 249 yards and a touchdown.

Pitta has caught 18 passes for 188 yards and two scores.

"I think we'll start to see more teams play coverages where they have to double Torrey and Jacoby on the outside," Flacco said.

"Defenses definitely have to decide how to play us," he added. "I think as the season goes on, it will continue to open things up more and more. ... I think we've done a good job of running routes underneath and winning underneath."

Conversely, if teams focus their attention toward Boldin and the tight ends in the short passing game, it leads to one-on-one matchups on the outside for Smith and Jones, something Flacco said the Ravens took advantage of during their Week 3 win against the Patriots.

With New England paying extra attention to Pitta in the middle of the field, Flacco had more opportunities with Smith and Jones on the outside.

Smith finished the game with six catches for 127 yards and two touchdowns. Jones added three grabs for 86 yards.

Flacco completed nine passes of 20 yards or longer, six of which went to either Smith or Jones.

"It definitely helps because Dennis [Pitta] has been so productive in the first few games that teams have had to squeeze the middle on him," Flacco said, later adding, "Really all of the game [against New England], they were playing their safety in a position where they could get to those seam routes, and it opened up some room for us on the outside."

Flacco has completed passes to nine different players, including four who have 16 catches or more.

Running back Ray Rice leads the team with 22 catches.

"People can't zero in on one guy," Baltimore coach John Harbaugh said. "They can't say, 'It's Ray Rice.' There are a lot more people you have to defend out there, and that's a good thing."