WHAT a start! The Ravens absolutely routed the Buffalo Bills on Sunday afternoon, demolishing them by a score of 47-3. The team clicked on all cylinders, and their campaign could not have been kicked off in a better way. It seems as if all of Baltimore is drinking the purple Kool-Aid, so I guess it’s my job to slow down the hype train, but I simply can’t do it. I am extremely excited for Thursday evening, where I think we’ll get a better idea of this team’s potential.
The first point of excitement is QB Joe Flacco, who looked better than he has since the 2012 Super Bowl run, completing over 70% of his passes for 3 touchdowns in under 3 quarters. Flacco was sharp on Sunday, and while Buffalo’s defense is nothing to write home about, it’s still an NFL defense (this thought process is going to be a theme through my blog). Joe Cool picked them apart, spreading the ball around to numerous receivers and inspiring a Ravens fan base by leading an offense that looked unstoppable.
Defensively, it could be argued that the Ravens were even more impressive. Wink Martindale’s crew applied constant pressure on Nathan Peterman, allowing zero first downs in the first half and forcing him to the sideline by the middle of the third quarter. Two standouts were CB Tavon Young, a player I think could win NFL Comeback Player of the Year, and OLB Za’Darius Smith. Both players recorded a sack, with Young forcing two, and were disruptive throughout the game. But beyond them, the entire defense flexed its muscles. Marlon Humphrey looked like a true #1 corner, Tony Jefferson excelled in coverage, Brandon Williams stuffed the run, Kenny Young looked like a 3-down linebacker, Timmy Williams showed burst, the list goes on. The unit was unreal and should continue to be so.
Even on Special Teams, the Ravens proved they are a top unit in the NFL. Justin Tucker stayed automatic in heavy rain and Sam Koch switched field position in the few times he had to, and Janarion Grant (other than the dreadful fumble, which he has to correct) was explosive and as Kevin Harlan said, “slippery.” Jerry Rosberg continues to do a tremendous job.
One grey area moving forward is the run game, which I thought was lackluster. The Ravens were unable to move the ball on the ground until Kenneth Dixon came into the game, and Alex Collins looked especially slow. Collins put the ball on the ground, too, which is unacceptable and could quickly land him in Harbaugh’s doghouse. We all expected Collins to take the reins this year and lead the offense, and while he didn’t need to do that for the team to win this week, that won’t be the case moving forward. The Ravens need to get the running backs in motion if they’re going to continue this level of success. I still believe they will do so, but it’s something worth following on Thursday against a Bengals defense that will make stopping the run its top priority.
Moving onto the matchup against Cincinnati, I have a few keys for Baltimore to win. Here they are:
- Get the ground game going.
Pretty obvious, as I eluded to it literally three sentences ago. The Bengals are no slouch on defense and Joe Flacco will certainly have a harder time in his house of horrors, Paul Brown Stadium. If Alex Collins, Buck Allen, and (maybe?) Kenneth Dixon can get going, Flacco’s job will get easier.
- Contain AJ Green.
This one is pretty obvious, too, as it’s always an issue when playing Cincy. AJ Green has feasted on Ravens’ secondaries throughout his career, even having immense success on Jimmy Smith. This week, he will likely be shadowed by Humphrey, and he will be an early test for a Ravens defense that wants to go down in history.
- Limit Turnovers.
The Ravens should have committed two turnovers last week, as Buffalo really should have scooped up Janarion Grant’s muffed punt. If Baltimore turns it over twice in Cincinnati they are unlikely to win. It’s that simple.
These keys are simple but will allow the Ravens to continue their fast start to the 2018 season and take an early lead in the AFC North. It’s going to be a close one. Will they get it done? We’ll see, but here’s my final prediction:
Baltimore: 24 / Cincinnati: 20