From the seeds of a promised offensive revolution to the promising debut for a much-maligned pass rush, here are five things we learned from the Ravens’ 59-10 season-opening win over the Miami Dolphins on Sunday.
It’s too early to tell whether the Ravens’ offensive revolution is real, but the seeds are there.
No team is as good as the Ravens were against the Dolphins. Their 42 first-half points and 643 total yards are numbers you expect to see from a high school mismatch, not an NFL opener. They could do no wrong against perhaps the least talented front seven they’ll face all season.
That said, we saw promising evidence of what the Ravens described all summer as they touted their rebuilt offense under new coordinator Greg Roman. We’ve talked about Lamar Jackson’s improved passing mechanics and consistency. On Sunday, we saw it in practice as the second-year quarterback painted every sector of the field with accurate spirals. On top of Jackson’s spectacular performance, we saw veteran Mark Ingram II’s ferocity as a lead runner, rookie Marquise Brown’s dazzling quickness as a big-play wide receiver and Mark Andrews’ maturation into a potential Pro Bowl tight end.
As Ravens coach John Harbaugh has said, this isn’t some mind-bending new conception of offense. It’s more that the Ravens are capable of becoming something different on every play.
Are they an off-tackle power team with Ingram and Gus Edwards grinding defenses into dust? Are they a read-and-pitch team that plays off Jackson’s unique talents as a runner? Or are they looking relentlessly downfield to Andrews and their speed-demon rookies, Brown and Miles Boykin?
If the defense has to guess on every possession, that’s a good place to start.
The Ravens began Sunday’s game as the power team from last season, with Ingram plowing 49 yards behind pulling left guard Bradley Bozeman and “medieval” fullback Patrick Ricard. They covered 89 yards on eight plays, with their three running backs all contributing substantial gains.
On the next possession, a slick fake by Jackson set up a simple slant to Brown, who darted away from the Miami defense for a 47-yard touchdown.
The show continued all afternoon, with one mode of offense setting up the next. Jackson is the conductor, of course, and he played with a decisiveness we did not see last season. The talk about how much he’d carry the ball in 2019 was moot. He didn’t need to lean on his running ability.
The Ravens will soon face stiffer opposition than the Dolphins, and only then will we know how to judge the promised revolution. But as unveilings go, this was a bonanza.
The Ravens defense quietly answered a few questions as well.
Harbaugh jabbed at the Baltimore media corps last week, saying he was a lot less worried about his pass rush than were the writers covering the team.
His confidence appeared well-founded in Miami as the Ravens harassed Dolphins quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick into an inefficient performance.
Linebacker Patrick Onwuasor set the tone on their first defensive snap with an up-the-middle blitz and jarring hit on Fitzpatrick. A few plays later, outside linebacker Matthew Judon pressured Fitzpatrick from the edge, forcing him to wing an ill-conceived pass into the arms of safety Earl Thomas III.
The Ravens kept the heat on Fitzpatrick, with almost every player on their front seven pressuring him at some point in the game. As promised, they did not seem to miss departed edge rushers Terrell Suggs and Za’Darius Smith. Defensive coordinator Don “Wink” Martindale’s blitzes worked much as they did in 2018.
Judon played well, as did Onwuasor in his first game standing in for C.J. Mosley at middle linebacker. Veteran Pernell McPhee, in his second stint with the Ravens, rushed vigorously. Third-year outside linebacker Tim Williams delivered an excellent series in the first half, holding the edge to set up a tackle for loss by Michael Pierce and whipping around Miami left tackle Jesse Davis to bother Fitzpatrick.
Again, all this praise comes with caveats, because the Dolphins recently traded their best offensive lineman, Laremy Tunsil, and lined up exactly zero playmakers capable of scaring the Ravens. Individual talent still matters, and the Ravens lost a lot of it from their pass rush. At the very least, however, the Baltimore defense remains capable of battering a weak opponent.
The Ravens’ much-debated offensive line dominated the Dolphins.
Who’d start at left guard? If called upon, would the Ravens’ less-proven blockers avoid the mistakes that set them back through much of the preseason?
These were questions we asked repeatedly over the past six weeks. Perhaps we should have remembered the Ravens would look a lot better once they slotted Marshal Yanda, a potential Hall of Fame guard, back into their starting lineup.
They bludgeoned the hapless Dolphins from the first play Sunday, when Ingram fired through the line of scrimmage untouched. Those 49 yards were the first of 265 the Ravens rolled up on the ground (numbers skewed upward by a 60-yard Anthony Levine Sr. run off a fake punt). And the running game was not even the canvas on which they did their best work.
Jackson seemingly had enough time to make a sandwich and brew a pot of coffee before he hit Brown for an 83-yard touchdown later in the first quarter. He was sacked once, but that came on an aborted scramble. He rarely had to rush his throws, even when the Dolphins blitzed all-out.
Bozeman, who played extensively at left guard down the stretch last season, handled the starting job without any obvious difficulty. If that continues, the Ravens will keep veteran James Hurst in the utility role where he’s best suited, and their depth might not look so bad.
Front-line talent was never the problem. Yanda remains one of the NFL’s best guards at age 34. Tackles Ronnie Stanley and Orlando Brown Jr. are massive building blocks. As long as those three and center Matt Skura are healthy, the line should be fine, even against more gifted defenses.
Here’s how the Ravens graded out at each position after Sunday’s 59-10 win over the Miami Dolphins.
Jimmy Smith’s injury reminded us how tenuous secondary depth can be.
Onwuasor fell into Smith’s right knee in the first half, forcing the veteran cornerback to limp off the field. He did not return, and Harbaugh was not sure about the severity of his injury after the game, saying only that it did not appear to be season-ending.
With the team’s top nickel corner, Tavon Young, already out for the season because of a neck injury, the Ravens’ prized depth was suddenly stretched. Second-year cornerback Anthony Averett filled in for Smith, and though he looked good at times, he fell down in coverage on the Dolphins’ lone touchdown of the game.
Fitzpatrick found openings downfield against the Ravens’ corners, including their No. 1 cover guy, Marlon Humphrey. Dolphins receivers failed to complete a few big plays, including a potential touchdown over Humphrey (safety Tony Jefferson helped jar the ball loose). But the results might have looked significantly worse against a more skilled offense.
The Ravens have invested more in their secondary than any other aspect of the team, counting on it to bolster them against significant personnel losses elsewhere on the defense. We saw the upside in Miami, with both Thomas and Humphrey intercepting passes. But Smith’s injury reminded us that back-line dominance cannot be taken for granted.
Marquise Brown showed us what the Ravens have been missing for much of the past decade.
The rookie’s first career touchdown came on one of the simplest routes an NFL receiver can run. His quickness, combined with Jackson’s perfectly timed throw, turned the play into something special.
Brown’s next, even longer touchdown demonstrated the futility of trying to shadow him one-on-one over great distances. His acceleration, which we saw in flashes during training camp as he came back from Lisfranc foot surgery, lives up to the billing. That’s saying something given the awed stories teammates told about Brown at Oklahoma.
How many times in recent years did the Ravens lose tight games because their top opponents had more dynamic skill players? How often did they outhit and outplay a rival for 55 minutes only to watch the tide turn on a few blinks of unteachable athleticism? We saw it in Kansas City with Patrick Mahomes and Tyreek Hill and in Pittsburgh with Antonio Brown and Le’Veon Bell.
It’s too early to anoint them, but Brown and Jackson could be such players for the Ravens.
“The ability to make big plays is huge,” Harbaugh said after Sunday’s victory. “It’s something we needed.”
Brown will still have to prove he can remain healthy and evade pressing corners who seek to overpower him near the line of scrimmage. Two touchdowns don’t make a career (recall that at this time last year, we were raving about John Brown’s downfield exploits). But the speed we heard so much about with the receiver named “Hollywood?” It’s real.