As he does each week, Childs Walker shares five takeaways from the Ravens' Week 6 victory over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Sunday:
1. The game went so well that it's hard to say what we 'learned.'
Wow, I've hardly ever started that well in a video game, much less seen it in real, live football. Joe Flacco's five-touchdown first half was absurd, really.
The Ravens took target practice on poor Bucs quarterback Mike Glennon. And every time the defense handed the ball to Flacco, he punished Tampa Bay with a perfect downfield throw.
Everyone got in on the fun. Torrey Smith broke his slump with two first-quarter touchdown catches. Justin Forsett ripped off more long runs, something we're getting used to now. Steve Smith caught another long touchdown pass. Rookie Michael Campanaro scored his first NFL touchdown, showing his terrific hands as he held the ball through a rough fall in the end zone.
The Bucs entered the game as a live underdog, having pushed New Orleans to overtime the week before and won at Pittsburgh in Week 4. But Tampa Bay's pass defense was third worst in the league, and we've seen that the Ravens' offense, under Gary Kubiak, can absolutely punish a pedestrian opponent.
It's generally not prudent to judge a team on games that go too well or too poorly. Just as I didn't draw any big conclusions from the Ravens' sloppy Week 5 loss in Indianapolis, I'm not going to call them world beaters after their evisceration of the Bucs.
I'll just repeat what I said after the Ravens destroyed the Carolina Panthers. The 2013 team never beat anybody this decisively, never clicked on offense to anywhere near this degree. In fact, I'm not sure we've ever seen a Ravens offense that could suddenly look like the 2007 Patriots for a few quarters.
The fact this 2014 team has that gear makes it very interesting.
2. The offensive line, down two starters, played superbly.
After a superb start to the season, the offensive line suddenly seemed vulnerable against the Colts in Week 5. Interim left tackle James Hurst suffered one of the worst pass blocking weeks of any lineman in the league. Left guard Kelechi Osemele suffered a knee injury that would keep him out against Tampa Bay.
The Bucs didn't come in with an elite pass rush, but they managed more sacks than the Ravens through the first five weeks.
Well, all that went out the window in the first half. The Ravens' line, with Hurst and John Urschel holding down the left side, protected Flacco so well he looked like he was playing a game of touch football in the park. No one laid a hand on him.
The line also continued its excellent run blocking, giving Forsett numerous chances to dash into open ground. He posted his first 100-yard game as a Raven and is now averaging more than six yards a carry. What a story Forsett has become with help from these blockers, revitalized under Kubiak's scheme.
Osemele and left tackle Eugene Monroe will presumably return soon. But it's hard to imagine them playing a lot better than their fill-ins did in Tampa Bay.
3. The pass rush woke up.
It's weird to say about a team that starts Terrell Suggs, Elvis Dumervil and Pernell McPhee, but the Ravens entered Week 6 with fairly poor pass rush numbers. For all the areas they had improved from 2013, they'd taken a step back in hounding quarterbacks.
The team's rushers in chief got well against Tampa Bay, however, torturing Glennon nearly every time he dropped back. The Ravens hit the second-year quarterback nine times in the first half (remember, the Bucs touched Joe Flacco none) and sacked him three times.
Suggs, looking fully recovered from a groin injury, was a particular menace, racing past overmatched left tackle Anthony Collins to drill Glennon four times before halftime. He appeared almost apologetic as he helped the young quarterback off the turf after one shot.
I defended Suggs' all-around play when he wasn't racking up sacks. But now that's he's getting to the quarterback as well, he appears headed for another Pro Bowl.
With Dumervil and McPhee also playing well, expect this team's sack production to continue rising.
4. Torrey Smith got the exhale week he needed.
It's awfully hard not to like Smith. He's become a key spokesman on team issues and one of the Ravens' most committed community servants. He played well in 2013, despite the fact he was Joe Flacco's only big-play target for much of the season.<
But of all the team's star players, he had struggled the most through five weeks. His hands seemed jittery. He'd caught just 11 passes on 30 targets and averaged a mere 35 yards a game.
John Harbaugh talked about getting him more involved in the offense. Smith flogged himself on social media. Fans seemed to forget him as they grew infatuated with new wideout Steve Smith.
Torrey Smith did not explode for one of his signature deep gallops against Tampa Bay, but in a way, he did something better, snaring two touchdown passes in traffic with sure, steady hands. It wasn't clear if Flacco wanted to get Smith going or if he simply read him as the best option in each case.
Regardless, the performance had to take a load off Smith's mind.
5. Don't look now, but Joe Flacco might be having his best season.
I haven't written a ton about Flacco this year, because focusing on the quarterback every week seems too easy. Let's face it, though, he was a huge story coming into this season. Guys who win Super Bowl MVPs and sign $120-million contracts aren't supposed to throw more interceptions than touchdowns, as Flacco did in 2013. One way or another, he needed to play better if the Ravens hoped to contend.
If he maintains the same per-game averages, Flacco would finish with 4,256 yards, 32 touchdowns and just eight interceptions. Those would all be career bests.
He might never have another run to equal his historically excellent playoffs two seasons ago. But this Flacco is the guy the Ravens felt comfortable making the centerpiece of their football and financial plans.
I've always disagreed with those who see Flacco as a different player season to season. He's not an all-time great miracle worker of the Aaron Rodgers-Peyton Manning stripe. But give him a little protection, a running game to play off of and receivers to target downfield and he'll win for you.
If I never hear another debate about whether he's "elite," it will be too soon. He's plenty good.