Now that was an ass kicking.
Here’s how the whole thing unfolded, as the Ravens pounded the Steelers, 35-7 on Sunday afternoon in Baltimore.
I’ll throw out 7 key points of the contest. It happened like this:
1. Message sent — After last January’s playoff collapse in Pittsburgh, the Ravens needed a win – badly – in this one to at least erase some of the stink that probably still resonates in their locker room. Ummmm…stink erased. Big time. This one might not be enough to make guys completely forget about that playoff ouster, but it was a great way to start 2011. It’s one thing to pull out a 20-17 win by the skin of your teeth. It’s another thing to win 35-7 and completely embarrass the Steelers. It’s only one game out of 16, but this was a real message-sender from the Ravens.
2. Offensive line dominance — Bryant McKinnie’s performance was sensational. At one point in the 4th quarter, Larry Foote tried his luck on McKinnie and the big man simply slapped him in the head and knocked him to the ground. Foote got up, gestured over to the sideline as if to say “we need a change here” and jogged off the field. No one else had any luck on McKinnie either. And his presence and terrific play made Michael Oher’s day that much easier, as Oher handled his affairs extremely well and looked much more comfortable on the right side.
3. Pressure the QB, Ravens! — I said all off-season that the way to beat the Steelers – and virtually anyone else in the league – is to put quality pressure on the opposing quarterback. The Ravens did that and then some on Sunday, forcing 7 turnovers and making Ben Roethlisberger look like a hybrid of Kyle Boller and Anthony Wright. Terrell Suggs was a wrecking machine, as was Haloti Ngata – and both of them took advantage of terrific line stuffing play from 2nd year lineman Terrence Cody. If the Ravens get that kind of pressure all season, they’ll be awfully tough to beat week-in and week-out.
4. Dickson and Pitta contribute — For one day at least, the folks in Baltimore forgot about Todd-what’s-his-name? Both Ed Dickson (TD catch) and Dennis Pitta had big afternoons and it was clear that the Steelers didn’t expect either of those players to make an impact in the throwing game. With Evans and Boldin, the Ravens have two high quality wide-outs, but coverage on those two often leaves the tight end open for short yardage completions and that’s what happened on Sunday as the Steelers keyed on the two stars and left Dickson and Pitta to themselves.
5. Where are the Flacco haters now? — While Flacco’s completion percentage (58.6%) was well below his career average, the three TD passes were a thing of beauty. Futhermore, Flacco beat Roethlisberger – finally – and also took a James Harrison sack and looked none the worse for wear. It was a big day for Joe. He, like some others, needed a performance like that to put the January playoff loss out of his head.
6. Put the game away — Up 21-7 at half, the Ravens came out and put the game away within 5 minutes of the 3rd quarter, creating an early turnover followed by a TD pass to Dickson that made it 29-7. Last year’s team would have won this game 24-21. This year’s team? Well, it was only one game, but there was no sign of a collapse in Baltimore on Sunday.
7. Even in a win, there are always questions and observations. Here are a few of those that I made during the game itself:
> Is Cary Williams going to play 10 yards off of his man all season? Once the Steelers figured out Williams was vulnerable in one-on-one situations, they put the speedy Mike Wallace on him and Wallace tortured poor Williams. I hope Cary Williams is better than he showed on Sunday.
> On 3rd and 2 in the 2nd quarter, the Ravens tried to throw the ball for a first down. Huh? Why not go with Ray Rice behind Vonta Leach there and plow away for two yards and continue the drive? I didn’t get that play call at all.
> Can someone explain why Jimmy Smith – the team’s #1 draft pick and, we assume, the starting cornerback on Sunday – was on the kickoff coverage team to start the game? Smith was injured on that play and didn’t return. I didn’t get that at all…why have him in there?
> Why the fake extra-point and Sam Koch run? I understand if it’s on, you want to use it. But in game #1? In the 3rd quarter? Wouldn’t that play be better served for storage until it was REALLY important? Helluva play, mind you. I’m just not sure it needed to be unwrapped like that in the opener.
> What happened to Torrey Smith?
DREW’S RAVENS MVP OF WEEK #1: Bryant McKinnie