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Mike Preston: Nothing pretty about Ravens' recipe for success, but if they follow it they'll win

Baltimore Sun columnist Mike Preston talks about the Ravens' 20-0 win over to the Cincinnati Bengals. (Kevin Richardson/Baltimore Sun video)

CINCINNATI — The Ravens' blueprint for success in 2017 was on display Sunday. It wasn't pretty, but it was effective.

If you prefer cuteness go check out the Kansas City Chiefs. If you want the long ball, then the Oakland Raiders might be a better option. As for the Ravens, they need to run the ball and play great defense.

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Those two ingredients used to be the staples of this franchise. The Ravens got away from that philosophy the past couple of years, but rediscovered the formula while pitching a 20-0 shutout of the Bengals.

Led by the ancient one, Pro Bowl outside linebacker Terrell Suggs, the Ravens harassed Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton into four interceptions and the Bengals into a lost fumble.

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The Ravens offense kept Cincinnati out of sync by punishing its defense for 157 yards rushing on 42 carries and holding an eight-minute advantage in time of possession. It was beautiful, a throwback to the past.

It was vintage Baltimore football.

"It was one of our old-fashioned games. It reminded me of my first couple games as a rookie," Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco said. "It was one of those where we had to run the ball late in the game and just run the clock out. It's good coming here to get a win. I don't care how you do it."

Of course Flacco will try to change the formula. He was already talking about how he preferred to throw for 350 yards and win, 42-0. But someone needs to pinch Flacco.

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Wake up.

Whenever the Ravens have engaged in those types of shootouts with Flacco, they usually lose. Even though he completed just nine of 17 passes for 121 yards Sunday, Flacco still came close to throwing three or four interceptions.

There will be times when Flacco needs to throw 35 to 40 times a game for the Ravens to win, but the basic concept shouldn't change. If the Ravens want to get to the playoffs they have to allow their defense to win games and not let their offense lose them.

Translation: Just run the darn ball.

The Ravens don't need a strong running game every Sunday, but they at least have to be a threat to open up the play-action passing game.

Also, the reshuffled offensive line is better at run blocking than pass protecting which is why all of Baltimore held its collective breath when Flacco was knocked to the playing surface several times Sunday.

"I'd like to keep him cleaner," Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. "We're going to have to keep working to do that."

That might happen but the Ravens put on an impressive performance in blocking the Bengals, who have one of the better defensive lines and front sevens in the NFL.

At times the Ravens looked like the old Washington Redskins when Joe Gibbs was the coach and they kept running the counter trey. The Ravens stayed with the misdirections or power plays either on handoffs or tosses. The major difference was they used different formations.

"I say we ran the same five plays but gave them different looks," said Ravens running back Terrance West, who finished with 80 yards on 19 carries, 9 yards more than backup Buck Allen.

It's only been one game, but the Ravens looked a lot better than a year ago when they had the No. 28 rushing attack in the NFL. There are two differences.

The Ravens added a new running game coordinator, Greg Roman, in the offseason and Harbaugh has talked about being committed to running the ball since the end of last season.

"It's always great to run the ball like we did today," Ravens left tackle Ronnie Stanley said. "It's a great feeling and creates a lot of pride among the linemen. We're attacking defenses from a lot of angles, making them think a lot more, keeping the defenses on their heels.

"If it all works together it allows our defense to remain fresh and it allows them to come out flying."

Ahead 17-0 at halftime the Ravens had a 17-play, 81-yard drive in the third quarter which used up 9:38. They only came away with a 25-yard field goal, but the Bengals next drive lasted three plays and 48 seconds.

That means there was less of wide receiver A.J. Green and tight end Tyler Eifert on the field, as well as running backs Giovani Bernard, Jeremy Hill and Joe Mixon. That also means the Ravens could put pressure on the erratic Dalton, who has been known to commit costly turnovers under duress.

Every game won't turn out like the Ravens' victory Sunday. Cincinnati has two young offensive tackles in Cedric Ogbuehi and Jake Fisher, who were abused by Suggs and Co. Even when they couldn't handle Suggs or tackles Brandon Williams and Michael Pierce, the Bengals had problems dealing with the Ravens' blitzes off the edge.

Dalton was pathetic. He gift-wrapped two interceptions, including one that hit Suggs in the face mask. General manager Ozzie Newsome went out of his way to build his defense by adding veteran free agents Tony Jefferson, a safety, and Brandon Carr, a cornerback, during the offseason and taking four defensive players with his first four picks of the draft.

The Ravens won their season opener against a division opponent on the road and they did it by using an old recipe that has worked for them in the past.

Will it work again?

It's a plan that worked Sunday and they need to build around for the rest of this season.

mike.preston@baltsun.com

twitter.com/MikePrestonSun

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